In a previous post about all of the cool Superman stuff coming out because of Man of Steel hitting theaters I mentioned that all sorts of DVD box sets were available on the cheap. When I saw them in both Wal-Mart and Best Buy it reminded me the sheer amount of Superman material that is available on DVD. Just about every animated series, live action series and film is available for purchase in one format or another. It is a good time to be a fan of comic book adaptations in general and Superman adaptations in specific.
At the risk of sounding like an old man it wasn’t always like this.
In fact this is a rather recent phenomenon. For the better part of two decades there were only a handful of Superman movies and television shows available on home video. Sure you had the four feature films and the serials and selected episodes of the various live action and animated series from across the decades but that was pretty much it. There were no season box sets. The reason for this was simple; VHS tapes were expensive and most of the series that ended up on video came two to four episodes per tape, depending if it was an hour long show or a half hour long show. Why so few episodes per tape? Because tapes produced in SP (which stands for short play and gives you about two or so hours worth of play time) gave you better viewing quality in terms of both picture and sound than LP (standing for long play which gave you four or so hours of tape) or EP (which stood for extended play and gave you six or so hours of tape). It’s not like a DVD, which can hold more information. So a season that had, on average, twenty two episodes would break down into about a massive box set of tapes. This would take up a whole lot of real estate both at home and at the retail level. Also…and this is a personal theory mind you…I think that Warner Bros. didn’t think that there was enough interest to release the entirety of the various shows and such on video.
There were exceptions though and back in 1988 Warner Home Video made a huge push to get some Superman stuff out there for purchase just in time for the 50th Anniversary. They even had a nifty poster to support this.
In the interest of full disclosure I yanked this image from an eBay auction. So it’s not something I scanned on my own or took a picture of.
Note that the poster says that prices started at $24.98. If memory serves those were the movies and not the serials, which came out as two tape sets and were a bit more expensive. And all you got were the movies. No trailers. No bonus materials. No audio commentaries. Just…the movie and at the risk of sounding like an old man again we were pretty thankful for it. Media is much more accessible these days. You can buy the DVDs fairly cheap or you can buy digital copies and watch them virtually anywhere. When I was a kid if you didn’t have a taped copy of the movies (either from Warner Home Video or the homemade kind) it was a huge deal every time any of these movies or shows came on television. I vividly remember one of the ABC airings of Superman The Movie coming on in 1982 or 1983 and there was even the Easter of 1988 where they showed the extended version of Superman II on one of the major networks that I tried to tape but messed up when I forgot to hit the pause button after one of the commercials.
I really envy the kids of today. Just about everything is available. You don’t have to depend on syndication to watch the Super Friends or Nick-At-Night to watch George Reeve’s adventures as the Man of Steel. I do wonder if it watching the various incarnations of the Man of Steel has as much meaning to those of the current generation as it had to my generation and the one before me. One of the reasons those shows were special was that they were rare to one extent or another. There was something really cool about spending Thanksgiving Day parked in front of the television watching Jack Larson host a marathon of Adventures of Superman episodes on Channel 9. Now I and anyone else with the box sets can do that whenever they want to. In the end I think it is awesome that so much is available and at a fairly decent price. It is better to have it and not need it then needing it and not having it.
Still, that poster is really cool and brings back memories of seeing those tapes in Walden Books through most of the late eighties. I always wondered what it would be like to own them but as a 12 to 15 year old they were expensive. I finally bought the two serial sets in 1998 when I had more in the way of disposable income. I still have those tapes too despite owning the serials on DVD.
Some things you just never want to part with.