Exclusive Interview: Marv Wolfman On the Ruby-Spears Superman Series

Back in 1988, CBS premiered a new animated series focusing on the adventures of Superman. The "A" story was a Man of Steel tale based in Metropolis, while the "B" segment was a visual scrapbook of sorts, flashing back to Clark Kent as a child in smallville. Veteran writer Marv Wolfman was the creative guiding force of the show and as the series is released on DVD, he took the time to reflect with Voices Fromm Krypton on the show.

VOICES FROM KRYPTON: What was the genesis of this particular series -- what made them want to do it, were there any early development ideas that evolved into the final show?

MARV WOLFMAN: CBS was interested in doing a Superman show although Judy Price, the head of CBS kids at the time, was not; she didn't care for superhero shows but since her bosses wanted it, she did it. I was called in by CBS and hired by them to write the pilot. Once they approved the story I did, it was assigned to Ruby-Spears to do. By the way, despite not liking super-heroes, Judy came up with the idea of the Superman Album stories at the end, which I think were some of the best stories we had.

VOICES FROM KRYPTON: Since this wasn't so far removed from the days of the various incarnations of Super Friends, was there much of a struggle to give the show or the stories within it an "edge"? In other words, much in the way of problems with "standards and practices"?

MARV WOLFMAN: We had a lot of problems with S&P, but still managed to get away with some stuff. I would like to think the slight edge we gave the material was interesting enough for them to okay it. I would have liked to go further, but they were pretty strict. For example, I ended my pilot episode story with a big fight between Superman and the robots which they forced me to change. Superman couldn't crash through the robots because, and I quote - "Even robots have souls." I had to come up with something non-violent, so I had Superman reprogram the robots to collapse. I would have liked the show to go more into the kind of material done in the old Fleischer cartoons, but there was no way to do that then. Also, R&B liked lots of dialog and I would have liked to eliminate most of it during the action. If you look at the pilot there's less dialog in that one than later shows, but even that had more than I would have preferred. By the way, Joe Ruby and Ken Spears were great people to work with and I loved my time at the studio. They asked me to stay on but there were no shows for me to work on so I moved onto other things. But I very much enjoyed my time there. and especially working with Joe who was the creative head of the studio while Ken handled most of the business, at least while I was there.

VOICES FROM KRYPTON: The show's opening incorporated the John Williams Superman theme. I loved it, but I'm curious why it was there and if it was a challenge to get the rights.

MARV WOLFMAN: I actually named the show The Adventures of Superman for the old TV show and asked if they could get a little bit of the John Williams score (it was expensive) and put it with new music as well as the old TV show dialog to give it a best of all possible worlds feel. It was a pure fan thing for me.

VOICES FROM KRYPTON: On a creative and personal level, what was the appeal of doing this show?

MARV WOLFMAN: Creatively, I got to do Superman stories I had not seen in the kid's cartoons before. I got to blend the Lex Luthor I re-created [in the comics] with the movie version. He acted like the businessman Luthor I came up with, but talked like the Gene Hackman version which was a lot of fun to do.

VOICES FROM KRYPTON: You've obviously been involved with the character a number of times. Why do you like him?

MARV WOLFMAN: Maybe because I saw my first Superman TV show when I was between 5-7, but I always felt Superman was the epitome of what a super-hero should be. He represents the right in people. The goodness. But he's now a boy scout. I just like that completely optimistic viewpoint he has. He does what's right because it's the right thing to do, not for any ulterior motive.

VOICES FROM KRYPTON: I've loved the character since I was a kid and always get excited when there's a new incarnation. However, today he seems like SUCH a hard sell to the modern audience. Do you agree? And in your opinion, what needs to be done to make the character connect with people?

MARV WOLFMAN: Actually I disagree. Smallville has been on TV and popular for nine years now. Very few TV shows, let alone SF shows, last nearly that long. That indicates they found a way to make him connect with the modern audience. Follow their lead; make him human and with faults, but ultimately believing in doing what's right. Smallville makes him cool. You don't need to go dark with Superman; you need to remember he's a human being. He was raised since a baby in Smallville. He's more man than super and if you keep it that way, you'll make him interesting. Once you care more about the super aspect of him you lose the humanity.

For more Voices From Krypton exclusives take a look below:


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Featured in our premiere issue:

• Behind the Scenes on the "Aquaman" TV Pilot* Exclusive interviews with creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, and director Greg Beeman
• A conversation with actor Justin Hartley, who played Aquaman before becoming Green Arrow on Smallville
• Never before published behind the scenes photos

• The making of all 52 episodes before the show became Justice League Unlimited
• Go behind the scenes on each episode with producers Bruce Timm, James Tucker, Dwayne McDuffie and others
• An interview with voice director Andrea Romano
• Exclusive interviews with the voice cast, including George Newbern (Superman) and Kevin Conroy (Batman)
• Previously unpublished behind the scenes images

For the latest news and interviews on science fiction television, just click on the image below.

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