I found this tape last night at a thrift store I seldom visit; this particular place rarely has much that interests me, but what it lacks in Northeast Ohio Video Hunter-appropriate fodder it more than makes up for in irritation, though to their credit visits there have resulted in several scores.
I wouldn’t be a good whatever I am if I didn’t make the occasional trip to the place, even if it’s just a token visit. And that’s really all I intended last night’s pilgrimage to be. Make no mistake, last night’s visit wasn’t exactly one for the books, but I did come away with the above-seen Superman tape, and I did leave without the overwhelming desire to hit somebody, so I’m calling it a successful visit. It doesn’t hurt that I’m a total sucker for budget Superman tapes.
That has much to do with my formative years, though. I mean, did any of us not grow up with the Fleischer/Famous Studios Superman cartoons of the 1940’s? I know they were a balanced part of my childhood, and given the sheer number of cheapo VHS (and now DVD) releases over the decades, I suspect the same for untold numbers of other people. Not that Superman is unique in that area; the public domain status of the cartoons (not to mention the enduring popularity of Superfella in general) have made them easy fodder for countless fly-by-night company releases, but the same can be said of any number of Popeye shorts, or Looney Tunes/Merry Melodies, and so on and so on. Needless to say, the tape seen above is one such release.
As a young babychild, I had three similar Supe tapes, only one of which has survived to the present day. The one that’s still with me is a fairly competent release in terms of packaging and whatnot, but the other two were, to the best of my recollection, both from the same company and were much more slipshod affairs. I can’t remember the last time I saw those two tapes (literally, God only knows what happened to them), but the amateurish packaging was apparent to even my 4-5 year old eyes. We’re talking sad artwork with mismatched colors and so on. I’d like to think if I came across copies of those tapes somewhere, I’d be able to recognize, but hell, for all I know, I already have identical copies, and I’m just not realizing it. By no means is this the only budget Superman tape I’ve bought over the years, and considering pitiful artwork is a hallmark of said releases, they tend to all sort of blend together in my increasingly cluttered mind.
Actually, part of the personal appeal of this particular release is that it’s decidedly more competent than your average budget VHS release. Seriously, the quality-level falls somewhere in between those childhood Supes tapes, leaning more towards the “competent-but-still-only-worth-the-$2-it-originally-retailed-for” end of the scale. No one’s going to be fooled into thinking the tape contains anything pulled from the archives of whoever, of course, but the artwork is good and, despite the absence of any kind of description on the back, there are no misspelled words, which is a mild surprise. It really all comes down to the artwork: it almost looks too good for a tape of this nature. Really, aside from the yellow on Supe’s boots (which may have been standard at one point, I really don’t know), it’s a darn fine representation of the Man Of Steel. Even the logo, which usually looks decidedly hand-drawn on these releases, is pretty professional looking. I wouldn’t be surprised if the pic and logo were ripped from an actual Superman comic or press release or something somewhere.
The semi-slick lookin’ artwork on my copy is marred only by the presence of two pieces of tape that must have been coated with the most adhesive substance in the universe. Look close at the pics of the front cover and you’ll see. This tape can not be removed without tearing the box, which in a bizarre way is kinda sorta fitting; Superman may be indestructible, but so is the thousand year old scotch tape on his box.
Yeah, I’m thinking the logo and pics used on the front and back of the box were pulled from somewhere else. I mean, as much as I love Superman, I’m not exactly a die-hard, hardcore Superfan, but I’m still pretty sure I’ve seen these images before, especially the artwork on the back of the box. So, is that sort of thing allowed? I’d guess not, since most budget releases of the Superman cartoons featured clearly ‘homemade’ artwork (no joke, some of them were legitimately ass-ugly creations.) That said, considering the distribution of this tape was probably in the tens of, well, tens, I’m assuming it either never came to the attention of DC Comics, or it did and they totally laughed it off with the wave of a hand and an “aw pshaw!” Or, maybe the artwork was slightly redrawn for this box, thus somehow legalizing it?
The only reason I’m mentioning all that is because isn’t DC Comics or Warner Bros. or whoever owns all this insanely protective over that sorta thang?
Also, how long was New Generation Video around? Internet searches are of no help whatsoever, regardless of what combination of words I type in. At any rate, I can’t think of any other releases by them, and the sad but true fact of the matter is that I have more knowledge on this subject than should probably be legally allowed. That said, I’m far from an expert on the matter, and the world of public domain cartoon VHS tapes was a murky one indeed, often consisting of tapes with hazy-at-best origins. Now, I’m not suggesting this NGV should be lumped in with those other, more mysterious tapes or their companies (at least we get an address and barcode on the back), just merely observing.
While on the subject, I remember Mom taking my Brother and I to the D&K Discount Store in the State Road Shopping Center waaaaay back in the summer of 1997, and there were tons of tapes similar to the one we’re looking at today. Who made them? Where did they come from? That info is lost to time, but what I can tell you is that I strongly suspect this NGV tape came from a similar store.
Three cartoons doesn’t seem like a lot, and of course they’re not, but that was par for the course for tapes like this. To New Generation Video’s credit, at least it’s not one or two Supes shorts and then unrelated ‘toons padding out the rest of the tape, as was so often the case. The episode titled “Superman” is actually “The Mad Scientist,” which is one I’m well familiar with from my childhood, and the one I’d consider my favorite not only of this bunch, but of all the Superman cartoons. The other two, I’m actually not that familiar with. I don’t recall them from my childhood tapes, and thus am less nostalgic for them.
There’s a close-up of the New Generation Video info at the bottom of the back of the tape’s sleeve. Innit the logo cute? The approximate 30 minute running time is close enough; the tape runs around 27 minutes, so, yeah.
The label, obviously. This is the only place on the tape that any kind of copyright date is found. Note the presence of “NGV Vol. 13,” which is also found on the sides of the tape’s sleeve (scroll back up and look if you don’t believe me.) So, there were ostensibly12 other New Generation Video releases, at least. I love the defective tape warranty on the label; rather than simply shelling out another $2-$3 for a new copy from wherever this originally came from (I refuse to believe this cost more than that, even back then), someone would rather piss away $2 on shipping and handling, plus the cost of sending the defective tape itself back, and then waiting 4-6 weeks for a replacement? Dude, screw that.
Uhhh Ohhh!!! Is my tape’s defective?! Has that warranty expired yet?!?! I guess that explains the rattling I’d heard ever since I picked the tape up. To be fair, I discovered this in the store before I bought it, but since the other side of the tape’s flip-door was still attached, I figured it would work fine. I’m a renegade that way.
And I was right, my VCR accepted the tape without qualms, and spit it out without blowing up, so all is well on that front. That said, go back up two pics and look at the tape label. Notice the standard “adjust tracking” line. Never has that disclaimer been more apt than this tape. The tracking was really rough, and the following screencaps were the best results from the fruits of my labor.
(To be fair, I was running this tape through a VCR that has at this point ran through approximately 500 million ancient VHS tapes, including some of questionable quality from a condition-standpoint. Maybe the part of my VCR that handles the super-fine trackin’ required for this video is just shot, I don’t know.)
As for the cartoon themselves, the best I can say is that I’ve seen worse. If the tracking wasn’t constantly throwing hissy fits, these would be unspectacular-but-serviceable representations of the Superman cartoons. Of course, there were scratches, there was dust, and as the screencaps attest, the color varied from cartoon to cartoon.
But, these shorts have certainly looked worse over the years. I was actually kinda surprised to find these looking as decent as they do. Maybe back in the day when there wasn’t 25 years under the tape’s belt and it was played on a decent VCR, things looked even better.
Like I said, I’m not all that familiar with these two. I could watch them and write out a dissertation, but I’ve already invested far too much time into a budget VHS that only I and maybe 8 other people care about. Apparently, “Terror On The Midway” was the final Supes short produced by the Fleischer Bros., before they were outed by Paramount and “Fleischer” became “Famous Studios.”
I can also say there seems to be odd cuts between the Superman intro screens and the episode titles seen at the beginning of the shorts. “The Mechanical Monsters” is missing an end card entirely, merely fading out and then into the start of “Terror On The Midway.” Also, “Superman”/”The Mad Scientist” was the very first in the Superman series of cartoons, but includes a Famous Studios intro card, rather than Fleischer. As much as I like these shorts, I don’t know every detail of their history, so maybe these are all aspects common to other tapes.
Uh oh! Cool splicin’! Or something like that. This Paramount ending card comes from the conclusion of “The Mad Scientist,” and it was did done treated poorly at some point. In general, the body of all the cartoons look okay, but the beginnings and ends typically look rougher, as it so often goes.
That’s it, New Generation Video’s 1989 Superman tape. I never thought I’d be able to find as much to say about it as I did, but now that I’ve given it a semi-thorough review, I suspect Superman Superfans the world over will now be climbing over each other for their own copy.
If nothing else, at least I got something out of that thrift-trip last night.