Superman Comics

By Jacobus Dixon

If you love comic books, then there’s a pretty good chance that you like movies as well. So isn’t it great when the powers that be decide to put the time, money, and effort into a motion picture that gives these characters a chance to jump off the page? Well…it can be when it’s done right. But while movies and comics are very similar, they do have their differences. With illustration, the only thing that can hamper the artist is a lack of imagination and/or a decent hard surface to draw on with good light. With cinema, you’ve got all these different lights, sets, props, actors, sound technicians, visual effects technicians, assistants, studio hands…woof, it’s a lot. And what’s happening is that you have this virtual army of people bringing to life something that took maybe one or two guys to create. So to say that things get messy is a bit of an understatement. Fortunately though, there are times when the planets align, and this army is able to adapt a piece just beautifully. But…like I said, it’s once in a blue moon.

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Since he has such a knack for getting things started, the honor of the first comic book adaptation goes to Superman. Superman and the Mole Men was not the first time the Man of Tomorrow appeared on screen. He had starred in two live-action serials (Superman, and Atom Man vs. Superman), as well as the famous cartoon shorts from Fleischer studios. Like cartoon shorts and newsreels, a serial was an entertainment show that lasted about ten minutes and was usually shown before a feature motion picture during matinees. Like the comics, these Superman shorts were popular. They were so popular that it wasn’t long before studio executives were eyeing him for bigger features to cash in on.

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At the time, DC Comics (or National Comics as it was known as during the 50s) wasn’t locked in with any major film studio until it came under Time-Warner’s umbrella, so really it was open season when it came to finding a movie studio to produce this Superman film. It wound up being Barney A. Sarecky of Lippert Pictures Inc. who would be the guy to get this film off the ground. Sarecky had extensive experience producing movies…B movies that is. As a result, Superman got the B treatment (which was a cheaply made movie that probably wouldn’t garner a huge audience).

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With a budget of about $275,000, Superman made his feature debut. So the sets, special effects, and costumes were cheaply made (and this was cheap even by 1950s standards). So at first glance this seems like a “why did they even bother?” production. Well hang on now…it may not be the fanciest movie around, but that doesn’t mean it’s without merit. So what went right in this cheap tawdry flick?

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Well, the casting of George Reeves as Superman/Clark Kent for one. There are very few people who can wear Superman’s classic outfit and not look stupid, George Reeves was one of those people. The way he carried himself not just as Superman, but Clark Kent as well, really gave a good-natured vibe as to how America’s favorite hero would behave in the flesh. Another high point of the film was the maturity that was found in the themes of the script. The basic plot is that this town constructs the deepest well in the world, but unknowingly disrupts the lives of a subterranean race of mole men.

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The mole men are curious to see what’s above and venture out to explore the top of this well. Their strange appearance along with their unusual ability to make whatever they touch glow, frighten the townspeople to the point where they actually become violent to these mole people. Essentially Superman has to step in to make sure the mole men don’t retaliate with their superior weapons. He gives them back their well and allows them to destroy it so that the silly townsfolk won’t intrude on them. During the era of the Red Scare, this is a very poignant message to send out — The idea that the alien travelers are actually peaceful explorers and that the average fear-fueled American is the true danger. It’s the dominant theme in the classic movie, The Day The Earth Stood Still (and no, not the Keanu Reeves one).

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While its financial limits as a B movie prevents Superman and the Mole Men from having that Hollywood sheen that blockbusters need to make it big, it gets by. It’s well cast, and the storyline contains themes that honestly are still relevant in 2014. And even though it didn’t rake in the cash, enough of the right people saw this to think “hey…this is a bit cheap for a movie, but it could make for a great TV show!” and that’s exactly what happened. This movie was essentially a 58 minute pilot episode for The Adventures of Superman which ran from 1952-1958 and was one of the defining television shows of the decade. So the success of this movie wasn’t instant, but it came in the long term and is fondly remembered (cheap sets, effects and all) as a fine first for the Man of Steel.

The views expressed herein are solely those of the writer, and not Midtown Comics. Additionally, Midtown Comics makes no representations as to the accuracy of any of the information expressed herein.

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