Decoding Zack Snyder's Two-Minute History of Superman (Video)
In case you don't know your Beppos from your Bibbos -- hint: one is a monkey, the other a human -- here's a guide to all of the references in Snyder's two-minute animated tribute to the Man of Steel.
The collaboration between Zack Snyder and Bruce Timm celebrating this year's 75th birthday of Superman has finally made its way online, offering up two minutes filled with Easter Eggs, homages and celebrations of the career of the Last Son of Krypton. In case you couldn't decode everything on show, here's a guide to what you might have missed.
(Spoilers: A working knowledge of DC Comics' continuity isn't a must, but will definitely be a plus for those trying to keep track of everything that follows. Also, Tom Welling fans, prepare to be disappointed.)
0:00: John Williams' classic theme for Superman the Movie, of course.
0:09: The cover for Action Comics Vol. 1, #1 (The series was relaunched in September 2011, along with the rest of DC Comics' superhero line), from 1938, by Joe Shuster -- the first public appearance of the Man of Steel.
0:12: Superman runs through the crowd and traffic before eventually leaping into the air (over the Daily Planet building, of course), mirroring his power upgrade in the early comic books -- remember that, according to the 1940s Superman cartoons, he was "able to leap tall buildings in a single bound," as opposed to actually flying (He didn't actually start flying until 1941). It's barely noticeable, but Superman becomes more simplistic in look as he runs, again in parallel to the character's visual evolution as other artists began to assist Shuster on the strip.
0:23: The character (and animation style) now resembles the 1940s cartoons from Max Fleischer's Fleischer Studios (and, latterly, the successor Famous Studios). The first of these cartoons was released in 1941, the same year Superman started to fly -- and the year that the U.S. declared war on Germany. Now you see why he attacks those planes.
0:29: That's Lex Luthor getting hit through a wall on the cover of Action Comics #47 by artist Fred Ray -- the first time that the character appeared on a comic book cover (He made his first appearance in Action Comics #23). Whether intentional or not -- and judging by the rest of this video, let's go with "intentional" -- Superman looks less like the Shuster original and more like Wayne Boring's version of the character when he flies off the page.
0:31: The change to black and white comes as Superman changes into someone that very closely resembles George Reeves, who played the Man of Steel in Adventures of Superman, which ran from 1952 through 1958. The shot of Superman standing atop a rotating globe echoes that show's opening titles.
0:38: Yes, Jimmy Olsen has become "The Giant Turtle Man" on the cover of 1961's Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #53, thanks to artist Curt Swan. We're officially into the Silver Age era of comics by this point -- when this comic was published, Barry Allen had become the Flash, Hal Jordan had taken over as Green Lantern and the Justice League of America had come together. As superhero comics were beginning a renaissance, Superman was still stuck dealing with goofy transformations and unlikely plot contrivances to stop Lois Lane from figuring out his secret identity.
0:41: Brainiac and the Bottle City of Kandor make an appearance, in a scene homaging (in a somewhat out-of-sequence manner) the cover of Action Comics #242 from 1958, again by Swan.
0:44: Brainiac is replaced by Bizarro, the imperfect clone of Superman, who first appeared in Superboy #68 (1958), fighting above the classic Fortress of Solitude, which also appeared in 1958 (this time in Action Comics #241). That square Earth in the background? That's Bizarro Earth, as built by Bizarro. He am so goofy.
0:50: Blink and you'll miss them, but that's Superman's extended Silver Age family right there -- Supergirl, Beppo the Super-Monkey, Streaky the Super-Cat and Krypto the Superdog. Missing for some reason is Comet, Supergirl's half-human, half-horse lover. The Silver Age Superman stories are kind of weird, you guys. They're flying over the Kent Farm in Metropolis, for what it's worth.
0:51: Even more blink and you'll miss him, but that's Mister Mxyzptlk for an instant, the fifth-dimensional imp who liked to show up and cause trouble until he was tricked into saying his name backwards and banished back to where he came from. Because, yes, "Kltpzyxm" is even harder to say than "Mxyzptlk" (For the record, it's "mix-yez-pittle-ick").
0:55: See? Comic books are art -- why else would Clark Kent and a brunette who's probably Lois Lane (but could be the depowered Wonder Woman of the late 1960s) be hanging out with Andy Warhol to gaze at panels from Superman comics, all Roy Lichtenstein-like? Worth looking at in particular is the panel all the way on the left -- that's from the infamous "I Am Curious (Black)!" (Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane #106, from 1970), in which Lois Lane temporarily became a black woman to live the black experience for herself. Look, everyone involved meant well, OK…?
0:57: Just in time to wash away the awkward taste in everyone's mouth, it's the Super Friends! This image in particular is based on the Alex Toth-illustrated cover to DC's DC Limited Collectors' Edition presents SUPER FRIENDS from 1976.
0:59: Barely seen as he flies offscreen, but Superman turns into a Neal Adams-illustrated version of himself, just in time for a scene that evokes the 1978 special edition Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, co-written and illustrated by Adams. In a weird moment, though, the style of Superman as he's getting punches is less Adams and more Dick Dillin, the artist who drew the character for more than a decade as part of his run as artist on Justice League of America.
1:03: This is, of course, the Christopher Reeve version of the character from the 1970s/'80s Superman movies, as evidenced by…
1:09: …Superman as a computer game! This could be a reference to the various actual video games that started with 1979's Superman, but I'm going to call it as an explicit Superman III movie reference, instead.
1:12: As anyone who read the 1992 "Death of Superman" storyline will recognize, that's Doomsday attacking the Man of Steel right there -- with the nice touch of a smashed Daily Planet globe in the style of Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding, who drew the actual death issue, in the foreground.
1:16: The cover of Superman Vol. 2 #75 (1992, by the aforementioned Jurgens and Breeding) is smashed through by the four "replacement" Supermen of the "Reign of the Superman" storyline that followed the "Death" storyline -- clockwise, starting from the top, that's Superboy (A clone mixing the DNA of Superman and Lex Luthor), the Eradicator (Kryptonian artifact that gained awareness and made itself a body; don't ask), John Henry Irons, aka Steel (A hero inspired by the original Superman) and Hank Heywood, aka Cyborg Superman, who eventually became a Green Lantern villain, unexpectedly enough. For those with sensitive ears, you will have noticed that the music has now become part of Hans Zimmer's score to Man of Steel.
1:19: The mullet and the black costume were part of Superman's resurrection. The costume only lasted until the end of the storyline; the hairstyle, sadly, lasted three years (Again, this art style echoes Jurgens/Breeding).
1:20: Superman splits in two, in a reference to the 1998 storyline that saw Superman firstly develop new powers and then find himself split into two different beings -- one who preferred to think his way out of trouble, and the other more action oriented. The visual here is in the style of Ron Frenz, one of the artists who worked on the storyline.
1:22: Back to the classic look, thanks to this return for animator Timm to the Superman: The Animated Series world. Strange but true -- when we see the crowd staring up at Superman in this scene, it's the only definite appearance of Lois Lane in the entire short. Also present: Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, Ma and Pa Kent, Maggie Sawyer, Bibbo and Terrible Turpin, amongst many others.
1:27: The Smallville logo appears on the Warner Bros. water tower that appeared in Animaniacs for years -- a surprisingly short mention for the longest-running version of the character in live-action -- while Alex Ross's Superman from the much-loved 1996 miniseries Kingdom Come floats past, glaring down at the viewer, a villain in each hand.
1:32: From out of a Boom Tube comes today's comic book Superman, who made his debut in 2011's Justice League Vol. 2 #1. He's being pursued by the contemporary version of Jack Kirby's Darkseid, who was the villain of that first Justice League storyline. The visual style here isn't directly lifted from any one artist who's drawn the new version of the character, but contains elements of Cully Hamner, Rags Morales and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez to my eye.
1:37: By the time Superman hits the safe, he's firmly evoking Henry Cavill's Superman from this summer's Man of Steel. In particular, the first publicity still from the movie from two years ago.
1:40: The new Superman flies into the sky in a scene similar to one in Man of Steel, before landing atop the 75 Years logo and standing in a pose that evokes the George Reeves version of the character.
1:52: The official Superman at 75 logo, which is based on early promotional art for DC's "The New 52" relaunch in 2011 by artist (and DC Comics co-publisher) Jim Lee.
Although the short is packed, it's surprising what didn't show up at any point -- no mention of John Byrne's 1986 reboot of the entire Superman comic book mythos is, perhaps, understandable considering the number of lives pushed into the short running time of the animation. I can even forgive a lack of Legion of Super-Heroes appearance for that same reason. But, come on, people -- no appearance by Jor-El, Lara or any version of Krypton at all? What's that all about? Beppo the Super-Monkey gets screen time but Superman's parents don't?!?