The fourth and final season of The Adventures of Superboy is now available from the Warner Archive made-on-demand online DVD store.
As with the previous season, this one begins with a two-parter, “A Change of Heart”. While Clark Kent (Gerard Christopher) is upset over Lana Lang (Stacy Haiduk) dating rich bad guy Adam Verrell (Michael Des Barres, wonderful at monologuing ominously to himself), incidents of random violence are breaking out all over the city. Meanwhile, former supervillain Tommy Puck (Bill Mumy, not really up to the emotional swings of the character) has been released from jail after a change of heart caused by his diagnosis with a deadly disease.
Because The Adventures of Superboy is a show suitable for kids, the violent acts are cheesy things like a mind-controlled priest pushing a baby carriage into traffic. In the second part, we add “losing inhibitions”, as a woman starts a strip tease for her co-workers. It only consists of shaking her hair out of its ponytail and taking off her suit jacket, though. I was mildly tickled by how the whole thing was due to the giant new city TV screens sending out a subliminal signal. I’m always amused when TV shows blame TV for being bad.
This isn’t the place to start for a new viewer, if you care about continuity, since character interactions and history are referred to but not really explained. However, the motivations are broad enough that it all can be pieced together sufficiently, particularly if you’re familiar with typical comic-book-style plotting.
Selected Episode Notes
The next episode, “The Kryptonite Kid”, was written by former DC editors Andy Helfer and Michael Carlin. It’s about a scientist (Jay Underwood) who gets infected by the deadly mineral and gains superpowers after a lab accident. Plus, there’s a gum-chewing musclehead type who happens to look just like Superboy. “Paranoia” guest-stars Jack Larson and Noel Neill (wonderful to see them both again!) in a murder mystery involving aliens.
Lex Luthor (Sherman Howard) returns in the fifth episode, “Darla Goes Ballistic”, which Howard also wrote. Darla (Tracy Roberts) is his brassy gal pal, and she gets super-intelligence and other mental abilities after an experiment, which makes her a tyrant. (I’m noting an odd anti-science theme on the show, or maybe it was just an easy plot on the show’s budget.)
J.M DeMatteis wrote the two-parter “Know Thine Enemy”, also starring Lex, where he threatens to destroy the world by exploding a dirty bomb. Plus, we learn more about Lex’s past, including his love for his sister Lena, as Superboy explores Lex’s youth in a virtual reality recreation. DeMatteis also wrote “Into the Mystery”, with a ghost and Clark’s dying aunt, and the two-part “To Be Human”, with Bizarro wanting to be normal (after his happy home life with Bizarro Lana is disrupted when she suddenly explodes).
Bizarro and Lex appear again in “Who is Superboy?”, but only as part of a clip show. The bureau where Clark and Lana intern has a new supercomputer that can recreate events on video given news photos and history information. Using the computer, Lana reviews past adventures in an attempt to figure out Superboy’s secret identity. It’s followed by another clip show, this one written by Gerard Christopher. In “Cat and Mouse”, Clark has to avoid revealing his secret identity to a psychiatrist, played by Erin Gray.
The last few stories are a bit grim. “Obituary For a Superhero” uses a fake news show structure to talk about what Superboy meant to various people when he’s thought to be dead. “Metamorphosis” involves a gym owner (wrestler Roddy Piper) killing teenagers by stealing their youth, and Lana’s one of those affected. The series concludes with “Rites of Passage”, a two-parter by Andy Helfer and Michael Carlin in which Superboy’s powers go haywire. That’s interspersed with his parents’ memories of raising him, a mysterious crystal found in Smallville, and the risk of him losing his powers forever.
The Set Overall
There are 22 episodes, each about 21 minutes, on three discs in The Adventures of Superboy fourth season set. The material is good quality, given that these DVDs are made from videotapes of a TV show that first ran over twenty years ago. In fidelity to the original airings, the “In Stereo Where Available” opening screen and the “Superboy will return after this message” ad break announcements are included in the episodes. I also appreciated smart chapter markers, so you can skip the opening the ending credits when you’re watching a bunch at once.
The Adventures of Superboy is lightweight, often cheesy, but it’s a pleasure to see simple superhero stories that wrap up with the hero doing the right thing, beating bad guys without ever stooping to their level or angsting over his powers. For a limited time, orders will receive copies signed by Gerard Christopher. (The studio provided a review copy.)