Superman: Why Haven't We Had a New Man of Steel Animated Series Yet?

Can you think of a more impactful, long-lasting character in American history than Superman?  For nearly 85 years, Superman has not only remained the archetypal face of the entire superhero mythos but has often been the groundbreaker in superheroes dipping their toes into other mediums across the entertainment and technology landscape.  He's still incredibly popular and is still a merchandising machine.  So with all of that on the table in front of us, I have to ask, why have we gone over 22 years without the Man of Steel headlining an animated series of his own?

superman
Image: Screencap

Superman's first animated adventures came in 1941's still awe-inspiring Fleischer Studios series of animated shorts.  These 17 films not only gave life to the still drawings of the pages of comic books but created cinematic imagery and a sense of gravitas (that in many ways hasn't been matched) for the character that filmmakers across numerous mediums still look back to for reference over 80 years later.

His animation debut on TV came 25 years later with Filmation's The New Adventures of Superman, which came with the studio's foray into animating other DC Comics characters, such as Batman, Superboy, and the Justice League of America.  The animation in this series is an objective step backward, but it did the job just fine for kids of that period.

Throughout the next two decades, the animated Superman was plenty busy on TV, but as the leader of different teams on various incarnations of Hanna-Barbera's beloved Super Friends.  He wouldn't get his own solo show again until 1988, when the criminally underseen Superman animated series by Ruby-Spears debuted on CBS's Saturday morning lineup.  Basically, a "best of" for fans, featuring the iconic movie theme by John Williams, writing by comics legend Marv Wolfman, and a more contemporary take on the character with more modern designs and state-of-the-art animation, the series was truly something to see.  And yet, not many people got to as it only lasted 13 episodes and was quickly canceled.

There wasn't an animated version of Superman again until 1996, when hot on the heels of their megahit Batman: The Animated SeriesBruce Timm and his team created an animated Superman show for the new WB Network.  Superman: The Animated Series was set in the same world as Batman and carried over much of its style, though with a much brighter and more colorful approach that suited the character.  The series was another hit that is still much beloved by fans.  By combining a ton of influence from the Fleischer Superman shorts (that inspired their approach to Batman earlier) and John Byrne's character-revolutionizing 1986 comic, The Man of Steel, Timm & Co. gave fans a fresh, modern animated take on the character and his wide catalog of friends and villains, many of them making their debut in another medium outside of the comics where they were created.

While the show is still regarded by many as the gold standard for adapting the character, WB got impatient after three seasons and wanted something else.  After the success of Pokemon, the network wanted more shows featuring young main characters.  This resulted in the canceling of both the Superman and Batman animated series in favor of a new teenage Batman in Batman Beyond and having the two more senior characters headline the new Justice League series by the same creative team for Cartoon Network.

While Justice League and Justice League: Unlimited were great shows that ran for many more years, something was lost in abandoning the hero's solo adventures, especially Superman, seeing as his series ended on a rushed cliffhanger.  Originally conceived as the gateway to a season-long fourth season arc, the two-part episode titled Legacy instead became the series' close.  The loose threads of Superman's self-anger and desperation in regaining humanity's trust in the aftermath of Darkseid's brainwashing of him were addressed later in Justice League: Unlimited, but that condensed denouement just leaves one wondering what could have been explored and accomplished with an entire season as originally intended?

And since then, we've got nada.  While Superman has appeared on animated television since then, on other character's shows mostly, we have not seen a proper animated series starring the big guy since 2000.  And honestly?  That really sucks!

Along with being maybe the world's most iconic superhero, since day one in 1938, Superman has been something of a security blanket for kids out there.  He debuted in the darkest days of the Great Depression and World War II, where kids in America and around the world honestly wondered if they would see tomorrow when it seemed like the world was falling on them.  Then came the Man of Tomorrow to reassure them, even if just through fiction, that there's still good out there and there are still good things to believe in and even fight for.  Here is a symbol for truth, justice, and the American way, and while, of course, he's not real, a symbol can be just as powerful as a real man if he inspires real people to better their world or if he just inspires hope in someone who has none.

We find ourselves in a dark, uncertain time again now.  There are genocidal madmen who want to conquer other nations, economic turmoil and inequality around the world, battles over basic human rights that we should all be guaranteed no matter what we are or who we love, and the rise of popular fascism and hatred that threatens to undo everything decent America and the free world were founded on.

Superman is an immigrant.  An illegal one, if you think about it.  A child of circumstance and tragedy that made his way through pure luck to America and to two loving people who represent the best of it.  While he has great physical abilities, his greatest strength is empathy and the need to help others.  This sometimes requires his superpowers, but often it requires just his heart.  To find and tell the truth as a reporter in an attempt to inform the world and free it of corruption.  Or to just sit down and listen to a kid in pain and let them know that if you keep going, it can get better, and this pain will pass.

We're Long Overdue For A New Superman Animated Series
A page from All-Star Superman #10 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely (DC Comics)

Kids have it rough today.  Between online harassment and legitimately having to wonder if they'll survive each school day, they could use something to not only assure them of hope but inspire them to work past all of the negativity.  I had some great cartoons to help with my issues growing up.  There's something about them, whether they're comedy or action, that just accomplishes something so purely and so beyond what live action can.

If I got bullied for being different or had to get through my parents' divorce, or just needed to fight any hopelessness, I could always put on Superman, and that helped.  It didn't solve my problems, but it helped me escape them and helped me find hope to overcome them.  Superman is a source of hope for me and many others.  I think the world, especially the kids in it, could use that right now, and an animated series could help them find it again.

There's an animated Superman series in development at HBOMax right now titled My Adventures With Superman that, based on the very limited info we have on it thus far, looks pretty nice.  Hopefully, it accomplishes all I've laid out here and more cause there's a lot to address in today's world, and I think that's a job for Superman.

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About Ryan Fassett

As a lifelong fan of movies, comics, wrestling, and collectibles, Ryan is excited to share his thoughts on all of it with you. He is also an active filmmaker and published comic book writer, along with being a connoisseur of soda.
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