Tabloid Movie Tie-Ins

Everything about Superman: The Movie was larger than life, from the pyrotechnic destruction of Krypton to the "spin the world backwards" climax, so it only made sense that any DC publication celebrating the film would have to be just as huge.

So it was that the tabloid-format All-New Collectors' Edition C-62 featured neither reprints of old comics nor new comic content, but instead served as a scrapbook of interviews, behind-the-scenes trivia and scores of black-and-white and color photos from what was termed on the cover -- with blushing modesty -- "The Most Spectacular Movie Ever Made."

I must have been pretty caught up in the excitement over this film back in 1978, otherwise I wouldn't have shelled out the princely sum of $2.50 for this book. The bulk of the content is photos from the movie and text that attempts, with limited success, to tie it to the comics which inspired it. The story of Krypton's destruction, for instance, is a constant in most interpretations of the legend, even if Richard Donner's Krypton looked nothing like DC's, but beyond that it's a strain to reconcile the film with established comics canon. Where's Superboy? Why did Pa Kent die but not Ma? Is that supposed to be Jor-El's ghost advising Superman? There's a four-page, Neal Adams-drawn diagram of the Fortress of Solitude in this book, complete with giant dinosaur, interplanetary zoo and an ocean liner hanging from the ceiling; so how come in photos the movie Fortress looks like a big empty pile of Pick-Up Sticks™?

At one point there's a two-page spread showing the Superman cast of characters next to photos of the actors who play them in the film. In almost no case is there even a slight resemblance. One highlight of the book for me, then and now, is a trio of photos showing original (serial) Superman Kirk Alyn and his "Lois Lane," Noel Neill. In a neat nod to Superman history, Alyn and Neill are cast as the parents of a young Lois Lane. In the "Smallville" section of the film, the Lanes are taking a cross-country train trip when Lois spots the teenaged Clark Kent outrunning the train. The scene was greatly trimmed in the theatrical release, but in some extended versions you'll see Lois telling her parents what she's witnessed, only to be lectured about her overactive imagination.

Another highlight of the book is production drawings like these storyboards illustrating the bus rescue near the film's climax. You don't usually see these things in full painted color, and they're really quite lovely. I wouldn't have minded if they'd used the whole book to tell the story of the movie like this:

Then there are some nice drawings showing production designer John Barry's concepts for Krypton and Jor-El's laboratory...

Also kind of fun is a page on "The Great Superman Movie Contest" which, as fans of a certain age will remember, promised to put winners in the movie itself. In the fall of 1977, banners ran above the mastheads of all DC titles alerting fans to the contest, which involved clipping letters out of comics to form words, then mailing the words to the DC offices.

We'll never know how many readers mutilated their comics for a shot at stardom, but only two winners were selected to visit the DC offices and yes, appear in the movie, and we get to meet them here. I'd be hard-pressed to spot them in the film itself, but if even Kirk (Superman) Alyn ended up on the cutting room floor, why should a couple of fans fare any better?

Rounding out the book are interviews with the cast. Here we learn that Christopher Reeve went to Julliard, starred on a soap as a bad guy and grew up as a Superman fan. We learn Margot Kidder fled life as a Montana housewife to pursue her movie career (well, I never knew that, anyway). And we learn that Marlon Brando was as crazy as everyone always said he was, offering this cogent insight on the making of the film: "We must preserve the myth. There's no point hanging pumpkins on a morning glory." Deep, Marlon. Really deep.

Three years later, DC gave Superman II the tabloid treatment with DC Special Series #25. It's pretty much the same sort of stuff as the first book, except now the price has gone up, up and away to $2.95 (even Superman is powerless against inflation!).

In keeping with the increased emphasis on action in the second film, this time out the cover is a frenetic mish-mash of images showing Lois in peril and Superman in combat with Kryptonian villains Zod, Ursa and Non.

Inside we once again have the attempts to draw parallels to the comics (Phantom Zone villain Quex-Ul looked a lot like Terrence Stamp's General Zod), and the interviews with the stars (Reeve: "This time we come out swinging." Stamp: "If I weren't an actor, I could be dangerous").

This time, there's a lot less in the way of production art, though we do get a storyboard image from the Eiffel Tower rescue and another of Non and Ursa threatening to pull Lois apart. There's also a pretty, if not very detailed painted image of Superman flying Lois over the Metropolis skyline at night, on the way to their hot date at the Fortress of Solitude. Actually to me it looks more like the "Can You Read My Mind" sequence in the first film, but whatever. It's nice.

Otherwise, what do we get for the 45 cent price hike? Ads, son. Full-page ads. Actually, I don't mind all that much, as they have their own kooky appeal, especially the ad for a Superman game cartridge for the Atari video game system (you didn't miss anything, kids...the game was lame, trust me). And in a weird way, it's almost worth the cover price just to have the ad for a pair of exceedingly tacky "character phones" featuring Superman and Wonder Woman and ridiculously expensive even in 2009 dollars...

Besides the ugly colors and less-than-inspiring sculpting (is that you, JFK?), the phones hardly seem practical. Notice you have to reach behind the hero to lift the handset off the base. Good luck if you have an incoming call and move too fast picking that thing up; you'll probably break Superman's cape. It is at least nice that they "plug directly into standard Telco jacks" (otherwise you'd be stuck with, in essence, a really goofy paperweight) but you have to feel sorry for the money-conscious fans who opted to save twenty bucks with the "rotary" option. Good luck placing that call today, champ. And is it just me, or does that insanely happy guy using the Superman phone look a lot like DC President Sol Harrison?

Maybe I should ease up, though. The copy says it's "certain to become a collectors' item." Wonder which collector it was?