‘Man of Steel’ Countdown: A Guide to Superman’s Theme Music – Part 2

‘Man of Steel’ Countdown: A Guide to Superman’s Theme Music – Part 2

Aug 07, 2012

We’re back for PART 2 of our interactive look at past Superman theme songs in anticipation of what we might expect when Hans Zimmer writes his score for Man of Steel, due out next summer. Catch up on part one right here.

Ruby Spears Cartoons (1988)

The Ruby Spears cartoons were sadly short-lived with only 13 episodes on CBS for Saturday mornings at the end of 1988, which coincided with Superman’s 50th anniversary. Each episode began with a longer story, followed by a brief back-up piece called “Superman Family Album.” Although the plots were mostly original, many of the characters reflected their comic book counterparts from Superman’s 1986 comic book reboot that was shepherded by John Byrne.

The theme music was clearly reminiscent of the John Williams movie score, but with clear departures. As with past cartoon series, an announcer narrated all the basic story a new viewer would need to know about Superman before watching an episode. After all, his full origin can be a lot to take in with less than 60 seconds.


The Adventures of Superboy (1988-1992)

Although Superboy has often been largely separate from Superman, this show certainly bears mentioning. Several fan sites like The Superboy Homepage and Superboy Theater are continuing to clamor for the last three seasons to finally be released on DVD. There is a strong base of followers who would be angry if I skipped it. Plus it was a pretty good show that continued to improve with each season.

It was produced by the same team that brought us the first three Superman films, but the music was markedly different, especially its use of synthetic sound and rock guitar, at least in the first season, in which John Haymes Newton portrayed the Boy of Steel.

The music and opening credits went through several changes, as did the cast. Gerard Christopher replaced Newton as Superboy, but the rest of the cast was shuffled as well, with the sole exception being Stacy Haiduk as Lana Lang. The video above is the credits as they appeared in both seasons three and four.

All versions of the music were the same basic melody, but as always the words “Superman,” or in this case “Superboy,” can clearly be heard in the main phrasing of the melody. For the second half of the series, an announcer once again explained Superboy’s origin, except this time it built up to the main music instead of speaking over it all.


Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993-1997)

In many ways, Lois & Clark was a breakthrough for the 1990s Superman. The series began airing soon after the popular “Death and Return of Superman” arc from the comics came to an end. That story brought in a number of new fans who had previously ignored the character, and Lois & Clark bolstered his fame once again with a Sunday night slot at ABC… at least for a while. Unlike Adventures of Superboy, this series seemed to go downhill each season. But there is no doubting that the first season was mostly a triumph. There are even cases of middle-aged men and women becoming serious collectors based entirely on this show.

The premise was a different take on the Superman story with a romantic comedy twist where Clark and Lois were both main characters and Superman sometimes made only one or two appearances per episode. Dean Cain played Clark/Superman and brought a lightness and humor to him. Although the acting would never quite reach the level that Christopher Reeve had set, Cain’s charisma and hard work made up for it. I have been told he’s a really nice guy too, which I still argue is an essential trait for any actor playing the character.

The theme music was outstanding with a full orchestra. The trumpets and higher brass took the melody with support from the lower bass brass and high-pitched flutes to add a sense of flight. It followed just about every rule that past Superman themes had set up, with one exception: In order to hear the name “Superman” in the melody, you basically have to make a conscious decision to hear it because it’s not really there. The only complaint I’ve ever heard about this song is that it wasn’t the John Williams theme.


Superman: The Animated Series (1996-1999)

The Animated Series was created by the same team that brought Batman: The Animated Series to Saturday mornings. Eventually it even aired as The New Batman/Superman Adventures. It had some excellent stories, but ran into some trouble with time slots in its second season, leaving kids having to search for it in the TV listings. There might be two or three new episodes in one week and then none for a month.

The team clearly had a handle on the fact that synthetic sound was not ideal for the Man of Steel and stuck with a real orchestra like Lois & Clark did. The name “Superman” is more obvious here though. It more closely follows the formula that Williams set up in the films with the main theme, followed by a cooling down section that might represent Lois Lane or Clark Kent in his mundane life, and then it’s back to the epic theme.


Smallville (2001-2011)

This was an obvious departure from previous opening sequences. In fact Smallville never had an actual heroic theme that carried through the series, but that worked well because it was always about a young Clark Kent who was already becoming a hero, yet hadn’t reached the status of “superhero” until the end of the final episode.

Running for 10 seasons, the series can be almost split in half once Clark had left high school and began being an adult.  The first half was made and primarily marketed to young people in their teens and 20s, so much of the music was picked right off the pop music charts (which was what I disliked most about the show for years). Although the second half of the series used less of it, the opening music with the credits remained the same. Remy Zero’s “Save Me” turned out to be a fortunate use of a song.  If it hadn’t been, then watching the series on DVD would be almost unbearable.


Superman Returns (2006)

For the opening, John Ottman specifically copied the John Williams theme with just some minor variations, but he did a fine job with it and that’s what a lot of audiences were hoping for. The film itself loosely followed the previous stories from Superman I and II, so the choice for a theme was obvious. Ottman also delivered some fine work in the rest of the film, some of which was an adaptation of other established music from the first film, but most of it was original.


Superman/Doomsday (2007)

This was the first in a long line of direct-to-DVD DC Animation features. It was the story of Superman’s death and resurrection, even though it departed drastically from the comic book story it was based on. But those themes led to a much more somber, yet still kingly theme for the character. There were a few marked differences such as a synthetic orchestra and it takes some self-convincing to hear the word “Superman.” If you can't hear it, that's because it's not really there.

The same theme was recently revisited for another recent DC Animation project called Superman vs. The Elite.


All Star Superman (2011)

This was a very different Superman story from anything else done in the past several decades. It made for a good animated film too. By using Silver Age (1950s and '60s) style stories set with modern flair, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely crafted a definitive Superman work that was separate from other continuities.

The music was equally different from anything recent. It sounded like a full orchestra and this overture captured many different themes from majestic to somber that can be heard in different moments in the film. Not only did it break from Superman’s traditional formula, it can also give fans hope that if Hans Zimmer breaks entirely from tradition, that there’s still hope that it can work for us.

But what are Zimmer’s plans for the score? Chances are he’s in the middle of figuring that out right now while you’re reading this. But based on what we know of past Superman themes and his other works, we just might be able to make some predictions. Stay tuned to Movies.com and Man of Steel Countdown for a further look in just two weeks.

What would you like the new Superman music to sound like?

And here’s a little something just for fun….

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