Meets Computer Crook"
Kids today have it easy. Between
videotapes, DVDs, TiVo and YouTube, they have plenty of
options for watching their favorite programs whenever the
mood strikes them.
For my generation, the closest
we got to "video on demand" was the GAF View-Master,
a handheld viewer that gave us 21 "stereo pictures"
on three discs we inserted and advanced manually with a
small lever. If we were lucky, we had a lighted viewer,
so we weren't dependent on sunlight or a nearby lamp to
see the pictures. If we were very lucky
we had the "Talking View-Master", which added
narration and voices.
Of course, "lucky"
is a relative term. The sound was provided by discs attached
to the back of the reels which, when loaded into the viewer,
spun around and played like a real record. That is to say,
like a record that had spent an afternoon on your car dashboard
in mid-August. Even brand new, most Talking View-Master
reels had the warbled, garbled sound of a badly warped LP,
resulting in voices that managed to sound comically tipsy
and unsettlingly creepy at the same time...like Foster Brooks
possessed by Beelzebub.
Like Superman himself, the GAF
viewmaster made a splash at the 1939 World's Fair, where it
debuted as a 3-D alternative to the traditional picture postcard.
In a variation on the old "stereopticon" concept,
each circular reel featured 14 color transparencies, 2 each
of 7 scenes. For each scene, two photos were taken of the
same subject from slightly different angles, so that when
they were viewed together an illusion of three dimensions
was created. In the early years, reels focused on tourist
attractions like the Grand Canyon and Carlsbad Caverns, but
as time passed many popular sets were unveiled featuring licensed
characters like Popeye, the Peanuts gang and the Flintstones
and many live-action TV shows (including "Batman")
and movies. (For a great history of GAF View-Master and complete
list of reels, see this
Superman reels date to the mid-70s, as reflected in the
artwork. Superman looks much as he did in the Filmation
cartoons of the 60s and the Superfriends show of the early
70s, while Lois Lane features a stylish, bobbed haircut
and then-trendy mini-skirts. Another element tying this
set to the early 70s is its complete lack of violence. Just
as the Super-Friends gave us a parent-approved TV Superman,
the View-Master reels are long on super-feats and rescues,
but utterly bereft of fisticuffs. Superman's only real opponent
in a physical sense is "Computer Crook," a robot,
and even this mechanical menace never gets punched. Still,
despite coming late to the game, and in one of the character's
less exciting eras, "Superman Meets Computer Crook"
seems to have been a big seller for GAF, remaining in circulation
well into the 80s and perhaps beyond, in various forms of
Thanks to modern techonology,
I've managed to recreate the "Talking View-Master"
experience for you here on the Web. The first step was to
capture the images with a transparency scanner. I worked
from two sets of images; a regular (non-talking) Superman
set and an abbreviated 2-disc set included in a multi-character
"Superhero Good Guys" gift pack. The records on
the backs of the talking reels made it impossible to scan
them. The next step was to record the audio and remove skips
and stutters; the "warped" effect remains intact
for your "enjoyment." (Listen for the "lightning
bolt" on slide 3...it sounds more like a sick mosquito!).
Finally I brought all the elements
together in a Flash file (see below). You'll notice that
the quality of the pictures varies. While the 2-disc set
still looks new, the images from 3-disc set have taken on
a reddish tint over time. Below each image, I included the
text that displayed with each image on the reels. Please
note that errors in syntax, etc are from the original discs,
You'll notice that the narration doesn't exactly
match the text on the reels, making for two slightly different
story-telling experiences. Yet a third version of the story
appeared in an accompanying booklet, complete with illustrations.
I've reproduced it here in PDF format for anyone who might
be interested. It's reproduced at the original size, too,
so if you've lost your own booklet (or bought your reels
in the days of "blister packs" with no booklets),
you can print this one out as a replacement.