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  • Michael W. Rickard II

Review: "Back Issue" #109 and the 40th Anniversary of "Superman: The Movie."

Copyright 2018 by Michael W. Rickard II

You’ll believe a mag can fly in BACK ISSUE #109 (84 FULL-COLOR pages, $8.95), as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of

Explore the Superman movies’ effects on comic books, media, and collectibles with commentary from many of their creators. Plus: CARY BATES discloses his plans for the un-produced Superman V, ELLIOT S. MAGGIN’s Superman novels, and exclusive interviews with Superman executive producer ILYA SALKIND, JACK O’HALLORAN (Non), AARON SMOLINSKI (baby Clark), JEFF EAST (young Clark), and DIANE SHERRY CASE (teenage Lana Lang). 10% of the proceeds from this issue’s comic shop orders will be donated to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. Christopher Reeve Superman cover by GARY FRANK (from Superman: Secret Origin #4), with cover design by MICHAEL KRONENBERG. Edited by MICHAEL EURY.

-Promotional Blurb

With the 40th anniversary of Superman: The Movie around the corner, the good folks over at TwoMorrows have released Back Issue #109, an 84-page magazine dedicated to the film’s release and impact on culture and the comic book industry itself. However, is this enough to warrant a full issue of a magazine or is this a case of one or two good articles with a lot of filler? Join me as I look back at the release of Superman: The Movie and review Back Issue #109's 40th anniversary celebration.

TV adaptations of character such as Spider_man just couldn't cut it when it came to special effects.

Fans who grew up in the 70’s still remember the barren wasteland of media available for comic book fans. Comic book fans were still recovering from the live-action Batman, which saved the comic book in the short run, but damaged the public’s perception of live-action productions of superhero shows. Marvel fared well with its television adaptation of The Incredible Hulk but few fans would agree the television series was anything remotely close to the comic books. Other Marvel fare such as The Amazing Spider-Man, Captain America, and Doctor Strange suffered from laughable special effects and often equally laughable writing. The closest comic book adaptation at the time was Wonder Woman, but there seemed to be little hope for a television series or film that captured the magic and sheer scope of their comic book counterparts. Fans had cartoons such as Super Friends and The New Adventures of Batman, but these were restricted by censors’ restrictions on violence for Saturday morning cartoons. For many fans a good adaptation of any superhero property seemed unlikely, which is why fans were excited and equally anxious when they learned Superman: The Movie was being made.

The fans fears were dispelled when Warner Brothers released Superman: The Movie. Not only did viewers believe that a man could fly, they realized that superheroes were a great medium not only for action and adventure, but for compelling drama. The film was a fantastic success, launching three sequels. Even today, many fans consider it the best adaptation of Superman whether on the small screen or the silver screen.

Ads promised, "You'll Believe a Man Can Fly" but would the film deliver?

Warner Brothers did a great job marketing the film and building up suspense for it. DC Comics “You Could Win a Part in the Superman Movie” contest was a fantastic example of corporate synergy as fans cut out pieces from issues (just as Marvel’s Value Stamps, the Superman movie contest makes buying any comic from that era a minefield as you need to inspect any issue to ensure there’s no missing piece). I remember seeing a teaser trailer for Superman and it did its job-it whetted my appetite for the film without showing much of anything. “You’ll Believe a Man Can Fly” was a terrific tagline too.

I still remember anxiously awaiting the film’s release and attending a screening around Christmas. This was the first film where I remembered seeing merchandise sold at the cinema (I would later learn it wasn’t the first, but it caught my attention with fake Kryptonite that sold for more than the cost of a movie ticket). Jaws, Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind had established the blockbuster film, and Superman: The Movie was ready to take it to new heights.

The real question was whether the film would deliver, and deliver it did. Superman: The Movie proved that a superhero movie could tell an engaging story without dumbing down the material or insulting the character’s core elements. The film delivers a punch to the gut when Clark is unable to save his adoptive father’s life, letting the audience know this is unlike any superhero property they’ve seen. Superman’s Metropolis debut and his various rescues (including the still impressive helicopter rescue of Lois Lane) gave the fans the excitement they were looking for. The film is well-paced and its climax had viewers on the edge of their seats. As many fans have written about, Lois’ death was shocking as viewers expected to see Superman save the day at the last second and were shocked when she slowly suffocated in her car, buried alive. Lois’ death almost had me in tears and I simply had no idea how Superman would save her. The resolution was exhilarating as Superman defied Jor-El to save the woman he loved.

As strong as the story was, the film needed to deliver in the special effects department, particularly after the majesty of films such as Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Superman’s fabled super powers are the core of his character and filmgoers would not be happy with anything less than a spectacular display of his powers. Fortunately, the film over-delivered, with the flying effects in particular surpassing anyone’s expectations.

Films such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind raised the bar on filmgoers' expectations for special effects.

Superman: The Movie was everything I hoped for and more. It wasn’t Star Wars, but it was the superhero equivalent (at least to me). I would watch it many times on HBO and was even more thrilled when ABC ran the extended version during the 1980’s. I’ve watched it numerous times including the wonderful sequel and the not-so-wonderful Superman III and IV. While some fans enjoy the Richard Donner cut of Superman II, I still prefer the cinema version.

While Hollywood dropped the ball with superhero films for many years (1989’s Batman being an exception), there is no denying Superman: The Movie’s impact on pop culture, including the Superman comic books. Now, thanks to TwoMorrows latest Back Issue magazine, people can learn more about the making of the film, the persons involved, and the film’s impact on the Superman family of comic books.

DC gave fans an opportunity to win an appearance in the Superman film, albeit at the cost of mutilating their comic books.

Back Issue #109 features a number of articles covering everything from merchandising, comic book tie-in’s, Superman novels, proposed sequels, and interviews with the producer and actor/author Jack O’Halloran who portrayed Phantom Zone exile Non. No stone is unturned as it even features an interview with the kids who won an appearance in the first Superman film. There is a lengthy article discussing the film’s lasting impact on the Superman comic books (as well as other media), an interview with famed Superman scribe Elliot S! Maggin, and much more for fans of the film and/or the comic books that inspired the film. The magazine also features a plethora of photographs and images and is printed on glossy paper that enhances the illustrations. Back Issue #109 is a great trip down memory lane for comic book fans, but this issue is particularly well for those looking for a look back at one of the most important superhero films ever.

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