Superman: 75 Years Faster than a Speeding Bullet
“Look, up in the sky!”
“It’s a bird!”
“It’s a plane!”
No, it’s Superman, and he is 75 years old. Zack Snyder, the director of Man of Steel, and Bruce Timm, the mastermind behind the DC animated universe, created this two-minute animated short chronicling the highest points of Superman’s historical life. Superman, an icon, has been, seen, and done so many things, and is still, even after 75 years, one of the most recognized and loved characters. This animated short was created to quickly cover everything from Superman’s first appearance in Action Comics #1, through his many TV and movie iterations, to the classic battles of the comics, and even manages to throw some recognition to Andy Warhol and Superman’s influence on pop culture.
Entertainment Weekly interviewed Bruce Timm and asked him some great questions. Check out that interview here.
The short, produced by Warner Bros. Animation, begins with an extreme close-up of that classic car-lifting cover from Action Comics #1, which Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created in 1938, while the familiar build-up to John William’s triumphant theme from the 1978 movie thrums on the soundtrack. The music eventually merges with Hans Zimmer’s theme from this summer’s Man of Steel, with Zimmer scoring and orchestrating the combination himself, using an 80-piece orchestra.
How did this all come about?
“It was Zack Snyder’s idea,” says Timm, the designer, animator, writer, and producer whose credits include Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League Unlimited. “We had approached him about maybe doing a short for the DC Nation program on Cartoon Network. He said, ‘I’ll think about it,’ and then he had this idea to do basically the entire history of Superman in, like, a minute. We said, ‘Okay … whoooo.’ We started working and quickly realized there was no way to do it, even in a minute.”
So the length of the short quickly doubled — although they would have needed even longer to do a complete history. So while there are many little details for fans to identify, there are also many other favorites that didn’t make the cut as Superman morphs through his past iterations.
“There was just too much stuff,” Timm says. “So we tried to put in little nods, even if only in the background.”
Keep an eye out for those in the margins.
“There have been so many different artists in the comics who had important moments in Superman’s history. One of the things we came up with was, you’d have a Curt Swan segment – Superman vs. Brainiac – and the background is full of comic book panels, a floating montage background of lots of different artists. So there’s John Byrne, Gil Kane, and Jim Steranko in there.”
Inevitably, someone is going to turn heat-vision on them over what’s missing, but Timm says that’s part of curating such a vast history.
“People are going to be arguing about it. ‘Why is that in there, but this isn’t?’” Timm acknowledges. “We had lots of different meetings about it. ‘What has to be in here? What would be nice to be in here but is not absolutely essential?’”
After that bit of Superman triage in the conference, the hardest hit were the live-action versions.
“I would have loved to have Kirk Alyn in there, the first live-action Superman from the serials, but he didn’t quite make the cut,” Timm says. “And there have been several different Superboy shows, but we were like, ‘Okay, those are Superboy, not Superman, so they don’t make it.’”
Christopher Reeve — in, of course. Brandon Routh and Dean Cain … out.
Apart from trying to figure out which actors to include, the animators had to figure out how to make the subtle differences in these various Supermen stand out within the animation.
“It got really tricky dealing with the comic book versions, because it’s hard enough for somebody who’s not a hardcore geek to know the difference between a Curt Swan Superman and a Wayne Boring Superman. That took a lot of trial and error and a lot of retakes with the animation,” Timm says.
Snyder’s original idea was to do the entire short without a single cut, with the point of view just constantly moving. “There are a few cuts in there, but for the most part we stuck to that. It’s pretty seamless,” Timm says. The first cut is actually a great one: Classic comic book Superman becomes the hero from the Fleischer Bros. animated films, the character’s first film appearance — and the place where he went from jumping high to actually flying.
We see him leap atop the Daily Planet building in a single bound … then fly down through the air, smashing through the flying robots in an homage to the 1941 Fleischer Bros. film The Mechanical Monsters.
From there it fades to black and white for a tip of the hat to George Reeves’ 1952-1958 TV series. At various points, we also get to see the 1978 Atari 2600 video game, the aging Superman from Alex Ross and Mark Waid’s 1996 series Kingdom Come, and Andy Warhol’s take on the Man of Steel — or at least a variation on it.
“We think we’re kind of safe, copyright wise, since his image was basically traced from a Superman panel,” Timm says with a laugh. “But that’s what we did – just traced the same panel in his style. Zack wanted to get the way Superman impacted the world and pop culture, even outside of comics.”
On the more obscure end …?
Jimmy Olsen’s unfortunate turn as Turtle Man. “Basically, it was a way to get Jimmy Olsen in there. We were having a hard time getting the supporting cast in,” Timm says. “But Turtle Man is a really iconic cover. We tried to cover all the bases, and wanted to show both the serious Superman and the wacky Superman.”
This is a great homage to a comic book hero and icon. In addition to being able to see the video short here, you will also be able to capture this piece of history on the upcoming Blu-ray release of Man of Steel on November 12th.