How the End of the Superman TV Show Forever Changed the Superman Comics

Summary

  • The popular TV series “The Adventures of Superman” had a significant impact on the world of Superman comic books.
  • The style of the comics during the airing of the TV show were likely influenced by the show’s popularity.
  • After the show ended, the comics underwent a major change, introducing new characters like Supergirl and expanding Superman’s mythos.


Welcome to the 916th installment of Comic Book Legends Revealed, a column where we examine three comic book myths, rumors and legends and confirm or debunk them. This time, in our third legend, see how The Adventures of Superman TV show ending changed the world of the Superman comic book world forever.

In the history of comic books, few characters have become quite so ingrained in the hearts and minds of the people of the world as Superman, and a major part of that popularity has been Superman’s appearance in other media. Soon after the character debuted in 1938’s Action Comics #1, Superman was appearing in newspapers across the country as a comic strip, followed soon after by a popular radio series, The Adventures of Superman, and an animated film series (followed eventually by a number of live action film serials). Perhaps the most significant piece of popular culture for Superman was the 1952 TV series, The Adventures of Superman, which ran from 1952 until 1958. The show was initially produced by Robert Maxwell, a serial film producer.

The series turned its star, George Reeves, into a superstar, and well after the show stopped running new episodes, reruns remained popular for years (heck, even to this day, reruns are common on various cable channels). However, the ENDING of the series had a surprisingly important impact on the world of Superman comic books, as it led to an explosion of new characters, but WHY it did so is still up for a fascinating debate.

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What were Superman comic books like during the airing of The Adventures of Superman?

When the 1950s began, the Superman titles, like the Batman titles, were really leaning into science fiction stories. Both Bill Finger, who had become one of the main Superman writers in the late 1940s…

Superman fighting a beast from Krypton

but more importantly, the well-respected science fiction author, Edmond Hamilton, had started working for DC, and naturally, he was ALL about science fiction…

Superman fights against Luthor

Even as The Adventures of Superman started, the stories remained more or less the same, as no one could tell whether the show would even be a hit, ya know? They produced the first season in 1951, but did not air it until 1952 because National Comics was waiting for someone to sponsor the show (they were willing to do a single season on speculation, but they weren’t going to do more than that, which is quite natural, of course). Eventually, Kellogg’s, who produced the radio series, agreed to sponsor the TV show, and so it was released in 1952. It was a big enough hit that they went back to production in 1953 (the delay in the production forced them to have to recast Lois Lane, as the show’s original Lois, Phyllis Coates, was no longer available. Luckily, the producers just went to Noel Neill, who played Lois in the earlier film serials). National Comics took over production of the series, with DC’s head editor, Whitney Ellsworth, being in charge. He brought one of his top editors, Mort Weisinger, to help him plot the series.

The comics both referenced the TV show’s popularity (like Perry White’s famous catchphrase)…

Superman fights Caesar's Ghost

but generally went back to some “laid back” style stories that were more in keeping with the style of stories on the TV show…

Superman is attacked by gangsters

In The DC Vault, the late, great Martin Pasko noted that Ellsworth specifically wanted to keep the comic books’ content similar to the style of the TV show. When Pasko went to work for DC as a young man in the 1970s, he made a point to talk to the old guard a lot, and generally speaking, if Martin Pasko says something like that, he is likely correct. However, he doesn’t cite a source, so I can’t confidently say that he IS correct. It could just as easily simply been a preference that Ellsworth had for these types of stories.

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How did Superman’s comics change after The Adventures of Superman went off the air?

Once the TV show was over, however, Ellsworth decided to remain in California and try to make a go of it in production (including trying to do a number of spinoff versions of Superman, one of which was a normal enough Superboy series, while one was the decidendly ABnormal Superpup), so Weisinger was now fully in charge of the Superman titles.

Now, if you believe Pasko, Weisinger was no longer limited by the TV series and the desire to keep the comics close enough to the TV show, and that is why suddenly things got much more otherworldly. On the other hand, it could be that Weisinger was simply now free to reshape the comics the way that HE wanted them. I can’t say which reason is the “real” reason, but it is clear that whatever the reason, Weisinger was now dramatically reshaping the Superman mythos, introducing an AMAZING collection of new characters into the various series beginning in 1958, like the Bottled City of Kandor…

The introduction of the bottled city of Kandor

and Supergirl a year later…

Supergirl debuts

There were many other changes, like Krypto (a Superboy character) coming to hang out with Superman in the present, as well. The Legion of Super-Heroes had debuted early in 1958, but it was during this period that they became a regular fixture in the comics. Essentially, the comic books went from Superman as The Last Son of Krypton to now a man with LOTS of Kryptonian-related characters running around. The comics then started doing “Imaginary Stories,” as well, which were quite over the top (in a very good way).

So, whether it was specifically the end of the TV series, or just the departure of Ellsworth FROM the end of the TV series, the end result was a major change to Superman’s history.

Thanks to the late, great Martin Pasko for the interesting information.

Comic book legend about the Superman TV series

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That’s it for Comic Book Legends Revealed #916! See you in next installment! Be sure to check out my Entertainment Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the world of film and TV. Plus, Pop Culture References also has some brand-new Entertainment and Sports Legends Revealeds!

Feel free to send suggestions for future comic legends to me at either cronb01@aol.com or brianc@cbr.com.

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