By: Ginger De Los Rios (Voyagers Guidebook)
I loved Superboy from its first season, but I had a problem. In 1988, Superboy originally aired on Saturday afternoons somewhere between 12:00pm and 1:00pm. I was hardly home to enjoy it! Those were the days when kids actually played outside with their friends and went on outings. Over the next four years, the syndicated series bounced around networks more than a basketball.
My earliest memories of Gerard Christopher in the role was the episode, Nightmare Island. I'd lost track of the series after Season 1. In the episode, Superboy, Lana, and Andy are trapped on an island with a malevolent alien dwarf who takes away Superboy's powers and kidnaps Lana because of her red hair. I was so enthralled that I held my rabbit-eared Antenna up for the entire half-hour because the TV was a mess. (These were the pre-cable, pre-digital days.) A grainy screen was better than none! This new Superboy actor thrilled me like no other and I never stopped watching. At that time the show was moved to the fantastic Saturdays at 7:30pm time-slot on NBC channel 4, right after Mama's Family. (I got hooked on that show while waiting for Superboy to come on. Laughs and thrills!)
I can recall the traumatic evenings when Superboy was pre-empted by sports or moved around stations. At those times I would get a double dose of Vikki Lawrence in a curly wig on Mama's Family or watched The Golden Girls. Whenever Superboy was pre-empted I'd angrily swear off television forever. I've wanted to be a writer as long as I could remember and I used to write out some of the episodes in story format or tried to continue the adventures from the episode. It's what fan-fiction writers today call 'missing scenes' or 'missing moments' that you didn't get to see or really wanted to have seen on the show. I wish I had kept those little papers and notebooks.
Superboy was contemporary (For 1989) and I related to all the young college kids way more than the adults in the Superman movies. I had a lovely chat with Gerard Christopher and told him that kids don't want to watch all the 'boring' banter between Lex Luthor and Otis. We want to see Superman in action! The show was fast paced and it warmed this little girl's heart to see the spurts of romance between Lana and Superboy. In season 2, Gerard had the nerdiest portrayal of Clark Kent ever, but it was endearing and very funny. Nerds were hot stuff at the time.
By seasons 3 & 4, nerdy Clark faded and was replaced by mild-mannered, gopher Clark – go for this, go for that, yes, Mr. Jackson, no, Mr. Jackson. He was so mild-mannered at times that he blended into the wallpaper of the Bureau of Extra Normal Matters – A pretty cool and spiffy Government funded agency that investigated supernatural phenomena. I'm not faulting Gerard's performance. Mild Clark made Superboy shine all the more. I always felt that Clark Kent wasn't supposed to be showy and all involved as he has been portrayed in the years since the Superboy series. Gerard pulled off the contrast very well. He still managed to keep those quirky little nuances I particularly enjoyed – the knowing grins, smirks, and eye-rolls that were a staple in season 2. Clark wasn't afraid to be a little aggressive either. Clark Kent had a stand-out episode in one of my favorites from season 3 – A day in the double life. And Clark was the hero during a small hostage crisis in Stand-off.
Knowing the Superman mythos, I venture to say that Lana Lang is a tragic character. Smallville took care of that by the end of her character arc. If Clark Kent moves on to Metropolis, she undoubtedly gets left behind. But after all Lana has done for Superboy and all they've been through in this series, I find it impossible to believe they would part ways.
By season 4 of The Adventures of Superboy, you could tell that Clark's deception, and the expectations postponed for a solid romantic relationship, took its toll on the poor girl. I felt bad every time Superboy would kiss her and fly off. And the tender moments when he'd actually told her he loved her? She was near death and/or unconscious. For me, Superboy and Lana were the 'It' couple of the eighties and early nineties. Lana Lang was the first female TV character that I truly admired.
Part of the show's humor was watching Andy desperately try to get a date with Lana and hearing her snappy refusals. But Andy was content to be a loyal friend and helped Superboy save her life numerous times in episodes such as Nightmare Island and Tiger Eye. Despite the very different personalities between Clark, Lana, and Andy, you really believed in this unlikely trio of friends. It was great to see him guest-star on a Season 3 episode called Special Effects. Andy moved on to become an intern at a movie studio.
A hero is not worth his salt without awesome villains! Let's start with Sherman Howard as the maniacal and vicious Lex Luthor. Howard took over the role in season 2. The fact that Luthor aged fifteen-twenty years from season 1 is explained in a macabre two-part episode called, With this ring, I thee wed. Lex kills a millionaire industrialist and steals his identity so he could destroy Superboy with a heat-seeking missile. He also finds time to kidnap and emotionally cripple Lana Lang by forcing her to marry him. (Good thing Superboy didn't forever hold his peace!) It was all in a day's work for Luthor and it was just the beginning.
Sherman Howard brought unstoppable manic energy in the role. It was also a treat to see him play Lex out of his element as the good guy in many episodes. Particularly in the popular Roads not Taken series that dealt with alternate universes. In one of my favorites, Body Swap, Lex and Superboy switch minds like Freaky Friday.
The episode gave Gerard the opportunity to ham it up as the fiendish villain. Not to be missed is the episode, Mine Games. Both Gerard and Howard were outstanding. A desperate Lex and a kryptonite weakened Superboy are literally at each others throats, waxing philosophical, and bonding long enough to help each other escape the air-tight lead mine. And of course, Superboy saves Lana in the nick of time before a cave-in.
Lex Luthor wouldn't be complete without his number one gal and emotional punching bag, Darla. She was played to witty and ditzy perfection by actress Tracy Lewis. (Tracy Roberts when the show aired) I loved Darla. She gave Miss Tessmacher from the Superman movies a run for her money and ran circles around Kitty Kowalski, Lex's girlfriend in 2005's Superman Returns.
Darla strutted her stuff in her own episode, Darla goes ballistic. It was a switch seeing her have all the smarts and telekinetic powers after drinking one of Lex's brain serums. She flirted shamelessly with Superboy and was set on taking over the world. But she couldn't control it.
Darla was the bad girl right from the start, but you can't help pitying her. Her love and desperation for Lex come to a head when she makes passionate pleas for him to stop the nuclear bomb in the fantastic two-parter, Know thine enemy.
Know thine enemy is another key episode to see Gerard out of his Superboy element when his mind gets trapped in a surreal loop of Lex's memories. It's such a fascinating concept, even today. You sympathize with Lex Luthor because of his abusive childhood, and empathize with his real love for his little sister Lena. Gerard acted out the various memories with a lot of pathos, and also displayed the beginnings of Lex Luthor's psychotic turn to evil when he straps a bomb to his parents for revenge.
What about other villains? Michael Callan played Metallo as a chilling grease ball gangster, he was perhaps the most murderous of them all. Gerard had his first crack acting evil when Superboy was exposed to mind-altering red kryptonite. Gilbert Gottfried was the insanely annoying toy master, Knick Knack, and awesome Richard Kiel played Vlkbok, an enemy from the fifth dimension hunting down the impish Mr. Mxyptlk. Christine Moore was excellent as the alien Punk Princess Neila, and Justina Vail decidedly wicked as the scorned Dr. Odessa Vexman. Lost in Space's Bill Mumy played insidious mind control scientist Tommy Puck in a great Season 4 episode, Change of Heart.
Superboy also had allies – Peter J. Fernandez and Robert Levine were stand-outs as Clark and Lana's friendly co-worker and cantankerous boss in season 3 and 4. The great scientists, Einstein-like Professor Peterson, and eccentric Dr. Winger, created many challenging situations for the boy of steel. All of these recurring characters, good and bad, added a ton of fun to the show!
The mega-talented Barry Meyers played Bizarro in eight episodes! Bizarro is created in a science experiment gone awry. Superboy steps in front of a duplicator machine during a lightning storm to protect Professor Peterson. They are brothers in essence and Superboy must constantly assure him of that. Bizarro's episodes were so involved they always needed two parts. Bizarro teams up with Lex Luthor in Bride of Bizarro. Lex steals the duplicator machine and promises to make him a mate if he will kill Superboy. Lex keeps his word and Bizarro gets a mate in the form of Bizarro Lana.
An aspect of the Bizarro episodes I loved was the tenderness and brotherly compassion Superboy showed for Bizarro, despite all his confusion and near lethal mistakes. Gerard was always the best out of the 'Super men' at showing this fine attribute of the iconic character, both to the victims and villains. Superboy displayed patience, empathy, and kindness, but managed to balance it with a will of steel against the evils.
Is Superboy dated as a Television series? Somewhat in the aesthetics. But season 3 and 4 takes a dark noir turn and you get a sense of timelessness with a dash of the forties style in the costumes and settings. Think Batman – the 1989 movie. Is the show cheesy to a certain degree? Some Superman fans think so, but I'll take Ritz crackers and wine with that cheese and call it a night, practically any night over most of the new stuff on television today…especially reality TV!
Was Superboy campy? I'd rather call it charming. Watching as an adult, I will even venture to say that Superboy is superior to the latter Superman revisions. It showed respect for its comic book roots. Many episodes were written by famous Comic Book writer Mike Carlin. If look closer, you can easily see the thematic influences of The Adventures of Superboy on shows like Lois and Clark: The new adventures of Superman, Smallville, and even the X-Files.
Superboy was filmed at Universal studios in Orlando, Florida and the special effects were very good for a half hour series. Superboy could really fly and Gerard's take-offs and landings can't be beat.
Nearly all the effects in the later seasons were on par with the Christopher Reeve films, particularly the flying and take-offs. It was the best live wire-work on a Television series because Salkind used some of the same technicians who'd worked on the Superman films. Gerard had the strength to make impressive and fluid take-offs and landing.
Watching this colorful series is exactly the experience it should be. The Adventures of Superboy is overrun with some outlandish and menacing villains and fantastic plots, it's truly a comic book come to life. Superboy encounters any kind of super-threat you could imagine, from plain old crooks and hopelessly deranged individuals, androids, robots, and aliens. He battled wizards, vampires, werewolves, and the devil himself. And always prevailed to vanquish any threat.
I feel that the current generation of Superhero fans are spoiled and conditioned by an onslaught of moody, angst ridden, and reluctant anti-Superheroes. Superboy is a forthright young man. He doesn't wallow in his problems, even though he occasionally has them, like in the thrilling episode, Rebirth. At the end of the day, he rises to the occasion to do what he must for the greater good. Superboy has an honest heart and strong values. These heroic virtues are seen less and less in the modern day superheroes. The very idea of Superman in today's cynical world has become a running joke to the new generation of fans and I find that very sad. This wasn't Shakespeare, it was Superboy. It was the late eighties/early nineties, have a little fun!
It was rumored that The Adventures of Superboy was set for 2 additional seasons before trouble came in the form of copyright Kryptonite and killed it with legal liens and wrangling. The show went into limbo and a new generation came that never even heard of it. In mid-2000's Warner Brothers released Season 1 with John Haymes Newton in the title role. After much pushing and effort by fans, Gerard's three seasons were officially released by Warner Brothers on December 11th, 2012!
I can go on and on talking about many episodes in greater detail, but I shall humbly leave it to the experts. There are some awesome and informative sites out there to spark new, and/or renewed interest in the Boy of Steel. With much thanks to these extremely dedicated fans, The Adventures of Superboy will never again be pushed into the Phantom Zone! And Gerard Christopher has sealed for himself a very fine place in the grand history of Superman.