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Series / The Adventures of Superman

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"Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings at a single bound! ("Look! Up in the sky!" "It's a bird!" "It's a plane!" "It's Superman!") Yes, it's Superman! Strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men! Superman! Who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way!"note 

The first Superman TV series, running from 1952 to 1958 and starring George Reeves as the Man of Steel. The supporting cast included Phyllis Coates and later Noel Neill as Lois Lane, Jack Larson as Jimmy Olsen, John Hamilton as Perry White, and Robert Shayne as Inspector Henderson.

This show is the way most children in the 1950s were introduced to Superman, and also the main reason that Jimmy Olsen got his own comic book. As a sign of just how iconic this series was, the actors — particularly Noel Neill and Jack Larson — made appearances in Superman-related media through to the end of their livesnote  as a way of passing the torch to casts that came after them.

The show was produced during the Mort Weisinger era of Superman comics, and he and Whitney Ellisworth were even on the staff. As a result, a lot of the plots are carbon copies of comic book stories from the time (for example, the story "The Phantom Superman" became the episode "Superman in Exile".) As a result, the series is probably the purest adaptation of late golden/early silver-age comic books out there.

The later TV series Lois & Clark had the secondary title of "The New Adventures of Superman" following this show's title. Several episodes of this show were adapted for the first few episodes of Lois & Clark's first season.

Sadly, the series is now mostly remembered for George Reeves' mysterious death,note  which formed the basis of its own movie: Hollywoodland, where he was portrayed by Ben Affleck (Yes, Batman played Superman in something).

In addition to all the Superman tropes, this series provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Badass: Clark Kent. Budget reasons required that Superman only show up in the last act, so the focus for most of the episode had to be on Clark. As a result, he was made less wimpy and bumbling than in the comic book and became essentially Superman in street clothes. This interpretation of Clark as "reflecting the real person" was used by John Byrne in his "Post-Crisis" revamp of Superman's origin, The Man of Steel. Byrne acknowledged George Reeves' portrayal as his inspiration. It subsequently found its way into later adaptations like Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Superman: The Animated Series, Smallville and Man of Steel where Clark similarly isn't as wimpy.
  • After Show: In 1958, the producers shot a pilot on the same sets for The Adventures of Superpup - using little people in giant dog head masks portraying such characters as "Bark Bent" and "Puppy White". Jimmy Olsen, meanwhile, became a smart mouthed mouse (a hand puppet) that lived in Bark Bent's drawer as well as narrated the story.
  • All-Natural Gem Polish
  • Artistic License – Paleontology: Averted... sort of. To its credit, the Time Travel episode "Through the Time Barrier" featured no dinosaurs in 50,000 BC. However, it plays it straight with regard to the cave people, who shouldn't be in Metropolis (or anywhere else in North America) at that date.
  • Artistic License – Space: In reference to the Title Sequence: How many moons does Earth have, again?
  • Ash Face:
  • The Bet: The Hostage Situation of "The Human Bomb" was set off by Bet-a-Million Butler making a gamble with another man that he could control Superman for thirty minutes. Of course, he lost.
  • Bitch Slap: At the end of "The Human Bomb", Lois marches up to Bet-a-Million Butler, declares, "Now it's my turn to blow up!" and slaps him hard enough to jolt his head backwards.
  • Borrowed Catchphrase: In "Jimmy Olsen, Boy Editor", Jimmy yells, "Don't call me Chief!" at Perry.
  • Bungling Inventor:
    • Professor Pepperwinkle.
    • Also, Professor Twiddle from "Through the Time Barrier".
  • Canon Immigrant: Perry White, The Daily Planet newspaper, Inspector Henderson and Professor Pepperwinkle all originated with the radio show, then became part of the Superman franchise with their appearances in this series, the comic book, and various other media.
  • Catchphrase: Perry White had "Great Caesar's Ghost!" and "Don't call me Chief!" to his credit. One memorable episode had him accidentally summoning Caesar's Ghost after shouting it too many times. ("Caesar" turned out to be a con artist.)
  • Contrived Coincidence:
    • The Professor Pepperwinkle episodes depend on this. Any time Pepperwinkle invents something, a gang of crooks somehow learn of the invention and gain the Professor's trust so they can use it to commit crimes.
    • "Through the Time Barrier" uses this as well; Clark and company are transporting a gangster when Professor Twiddle, who is sharing the elevator with them, chooses that moment to demonstrate his Time Machine, sending them all back to the prehistoric era.
  • Costume Copycat: George Reeves gets the chance to use a Brooklyn accent.
  • Cowboy Episode: "The Bully of Dry Gulch" takes place at what is explicitly a recreation of an old west town, but Lois and Jimmy act as if they think the danger from the black-hatted baddie is real.
  • Creepy Basement: In "The Evil Three", the cellar of the hotel where Perry and Jimmy spend the night is shadowy and has the skeleton of the former owner chained to a wall.
  • Criminal Doppelgänger:
    • One episode featured a villain who was a dead-ringer for Jimmy Olsen, of all people. Even "Kid" Collins' wife and Jimmy's coworkers can't tell the difference. However, their personalities could hardly be more different. "Kid" is belligerent, aggressive, and lecherous; Jimmy is patient, mild and gentlemanly.
    • As referenced above, in one episode gangsters hired a washed up boxer who looked like Superman and sounded like George Reeves with a Brooklyn accent to ruin Superman's reputation.
  • Damsel in Distress/Distressed Dude: Lois, Perry, and Jimmy all took turns being in jeopardy (sometimes in the same episode) so that Superman could swoop in and save the day.
  • Ditzy Genius: Professor Pepperwinkle.
  • Don't Call Me "Sir": Perry White hates it when Jimmy calls him "Chief", but can never get him to stop doing it.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The first season is not weird, exactly, but it is very different in tone from the subsequent seasons. Season one, shot in black-and-white, has a lot of Film Noir influences, such that Clark Kent comes across more as a hard-boiled tough-guy fifties newsman than as the "mild-mannered" reporter he is described as in the opening narration. The later seasons, shot in color, tend to conform much more to what people think of when they think of Superman in the fifties, with a much brighter, more innocent, and sci-fi style.
  • Electrified Bathtub: A gullible rich person is told by a Phony Psychic (hired by the rich guy's heirs) that he would chase away the evil spirits around him if he stepped into a bathtub while holding a live electrical cable. Superman saved him (of course).
  • Episode Title Card: During the first two seasons.
  • Everyone Knows Morse: Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane are trapped in a room with a flue with a closable hatch. Jimmy realizes that he knows how to signal SOS with smoke, but the only thing to burn is a large amount of cash a rich person gave him. With much regret, Olsen agrees it is the only way and burns the money to do the smoke signaling. Fortunately, at least Superman sees the distress signal and rescues them.
  • Evil Cripple: In "The Evil Three", one of the titular three is a wheelchair-bound woman. Subverted in that she protests the other two's plans to murder Perry and Jimmy, if only because she "don't want no more [blood] on [her] conscience" after what one of the others did to his uncle.
  • Fair Cop: Sgt. Helen O'Hara, the titular character in "Superman's Wife".
  • Five Temperament Ensemble:
    • Sanguine: Jimmy Olsen.
    • Choleric: Lois Lane.
    • Melancholic: Perry White.
    • Phlegmatic: Clark/Superman.
    • Leukine: Inspector Henderson.
  • Flowers of Romance: In the episode "The Wedding of Superman", Lois Lane awakes after dozing off to a delivery of flowers from Superman, and events quickly lead up to a marriage proposal from the Man of Steel.
  • Fun with Acronyms/Have a Gay Old Time: "The Lucky Cat" features a group of skeptics called the Anti-Superstition Society.
  • Gentle Giant: Atlas, the kind-hearted but naive circus strongman from "Three in One". Unfortunately, he becomes part of a Terrible Trio when two other circus performers who have gone bad (an Escape Artist and a human fly) take advantage of his trusting nature to trick him into helping them commit crimes.
  • Go Through Me: Jimmy puts himself between Lois and the innkeeper and a trio of gangsters in "Night of Terror."
  • Hanging by the Fingers: Jimmy ends up hanging from the ledge by his fingers in "The Human Bomb." The Villain of the Week steps on his hand to speed up the process. Then a cop tries to grab him, but he falls and has to be caught by Superman.
  • He Will Come for Me: "Don't worry. Superman will save us!" OK, not a direct quote, but c'mon, they did it at least once every other episode. Jimmy, Lois, Perry, or Inspector Henderson would be in a trap or some kind of predicament but be confident that Supes would rescue them. Unfortunately, the villains were quite aware of this.
  • I Have Your Wife: In "Superman's Wife", Superman invokes this trope when he pretends to marry police sergeant Helen O'Hara as part of a Batman Gambit. Mr. X, the mysterious crime boss of Metropolis, takes Helen hostage — All According to Plan, so she can get close enough to his operation to help destroy it from the inside.
  • Improvised Weapon: In "The Human Bomb", Jimmy takes up a golf club to confront Villain of the Week Butler and save Lois.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Lois Lane. Perry at times blows his top at the trips she takes to get a story, but she tends to be following solid leads. On at least one occasion Lois was scheduled to be a key witness of a senatorial committee investigating organized crime.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: In "The Defeat of Superman", a Terrible Trio (a gangster, his henchman and a Mad Scientist) discover that kryptonite can harm Superman, and use a tiny sample of the real substance to create synthetic kryptonite. They lure Supes into a trap, using Lois and Jimmy as hostages, then leave all three of them to die. Lois and Jimmy save Superman by wrapping the kryptonite in lead, and the Man of Tomorrow throws it into the bay—which is where the karma comes in. The three villains see it streaking through the sky as they're driving back to Metropolis, and they're distracted enough that their car goes over a cliff, killing them all. To make it even more karmic, they tumble down the cliff they planned to throw Lois and Jimmy's car over.
  • Losing a Shoe in the Struggle: In "The Human Bomb", Lois loses a shoe when Butler drags her further out on the ledge.
  • Most Definitely Not Accompanying Us: A non-child example; Jimmy Olsen once sneaked onto the plane Lois and Clark took to search for a missing group in the jungle. The morning after they left, he casually revealed himself and asked for breakfast, now that there was absolutely no way they could send him back.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: The anti-gravity formula in "What Goes Up". Justified as it was created by accident when Jimmy Olsen was playing around with a chemistry set.
  • Opening Narration: One of the most memorable, one that sums up everything you need to know about Superman. Very much based on that of the radio show. And interestingly, the visuals accompanying them resemble those of the theatrical cartoons, complete with a static shot of Superman transforming between Superman and Clark Kent.
  • Phrase Catcher: Jimmy Olsen. Who did you think kept calling Perry White chief?
  • Plot Hole: In the first/pilot episode, the rocket carrying the infant Kal-El explodes and burns after the Kents get him out. While the rocket seems to indicate he is from another world, there is no way and certainly no leftover tech to confirm this, let alone the name of the planet the baby came from. This Superman may never have heard his parents' names, or his own birth name, yet somehow, later on, he seems to know at least about Krypton.
  • Pocket Protector: Inverted. The bad guys are holding Clark, Lois, and Jimmy hostage, and their boss insists Clark is Superman. The boss shoots Clark, who in turn reacts with surprise, and Lois and Jimmy are both convinced. Clark, however, reaches into his jacket and feels around thoughtfully. After the situation is resolved Clark reaches into his jacket, finds a silver dollar and dents it with his superstrength before pulling it out and claiming the bullet deflected off the coin.
  • The Precarious Ledge: In "The Human Bomb", the titular character handcuffs himself to Lois and drags her out onto the Planet building's ledge.
  • Prefer Jail to the Protagonist: At the end of one episode, one villain tells another he can call the police: "Better a hundred of those guys than Superman!"
  • Prematurely Marked Grave: In "The Bully of Dry Gulch", Clark, Lois, and Jimmy find Jimmy's tombstone in the local boot hill, a threat from the local gunslinger who dislikes him.
  • Protectorate: Superman will never let anyone hurt the Daily Planet staff.
  • Pro Wrestling Episode: "No Holds Barred"
  • Rescue Reversal: In "The Defeat of Superman", Superman gets locked in a room with Kryptonite while trying to rescue Lois and Jimmy. Jimmy neutralizes the radiation by shoving the Kryptonite into a lead pipe and stomping its ends closed.
    Jimmy: For once, we had to save him.
  • Revenge by Proxy: Lampshaded. The Villain of the Week comments that while he can't hurt Superman physically, he can "strike at him through his friends." To this end, he ties Perry to a log in a sawmill (and Lois to the train tracks), uses acid on Jimmy's brakes so that he'll crash when he has to take a twisting road, and lowers Clark into an acid bath.
  • Reverse Cerebus Syndrome: The first season was dramatically different from the rest of the series. The villains were more intense, there were several on-screen deaths, Superman fought with his fists, and Phyllis Coates played Lois as a tough, serious Action Girl type. Subsequent seasons dialed the zaniness way up to eleven, the villains never died anymore, and Superman almost never laid a finger on anyone—instead, the villains would obligingly knock themselves unconscious by barreling headlong into walls, doors, and each other's heads. The new Lois, Noel Neille, was much Lighter and Softer too.
  • Secret-Keeper: "The Defeat of Superman" ends with Lois and Jimmy promising not to reveal the existence of kryptonite.
  • Series Continuity Error: In one episode, Jimmy gives his middle name as "Bartholomew". In another, his name plate reads "James J. Olsen."
  • Shadow Discretion Shot: In "The Evil Three", Jimmy struggling with one of the bad guys and the other knocking him out with a blow to the head is shown in the shadows thrown on the wall.
  • Shooting Superman: Probably the first TV series to feature this trope (duh).
    • "The Mind Machine" in particular features an infamous scene where Superman actually ducks a gun thrown at him after all of its bullets were used up.
  • Skewed Priorities: In "The Bully of Dry Gulch", Lois calls Clark for help after Jimmy gets in trouble with the local gunslinger. Clark appears unconcerned. Then Lois mentions that the villain has also been "making eyes" at her.
    Clark: He's what?!
  • Snarky Inanimate Object: In one episode, a curious scientist asks his computer Superman's secret identity. The computer answers, "Wouldn't you like to know!"
  • Some Nutty Publicity Stunt: In the episode "The Human Bomb", Clark pretends that he believes the Hostage Situation is a publicity stunt so he can go change.
  • Speak of the Devil: In an episode, Perry White says his catchphrase, "Great Caeser's Ghost!" so many times, he accidentally summons Great Caeser's Ghost, causing his insanity to nearly unravel completely until said ghost is revealed to be a con artist.
  • Superman Can Breathe In Space: In Panic In The Sky, Superman not only flies through space and lands on an asteroid without trouble, but the asteroid itself apparently has birds on it.
  • Telephone Teleport: In "The Phony Alibi", Professor Pepperwinkle invents a system for transporting people through telephone wires. As usual with Pepperwinkle, a gang of crooks befriends the naive professor, then uses his invention for evil; they commit crimes in Metropolis, then phone themselves to distant cities and make sure plenty of people see them to set themselves up with a (seemingly) perfect alibi.
  • That Poor Plant: Superman gets exposed to Radiation and goes into self-imposed exile. He's lonely and wants to be around others, so he put his hand out over a potted plant. But he's so radioactive and deadly, the plant dies on the spot.
  • There Was a Door: Superman bursts through a wall to rescue Lois and Jimmy, and Jimmy comments that he "could have come in through the door."
  • Throwing Your Gun at the Enemy: Typified trope, in tandem with Shooting Superman, above. Criminals would fire their guns at Superman while he'd just stand there with his fists on his hips while the bullets bounced off his invulnerable skin. Then, after failing to harm or impede the superhero, criminals would, rather comically, throw their now-empty guns at Superman, as if doing that could stand a better chance of stopping him than the bullets, yet Superman, more humorously, would (in a few early episodes) duck or dodge a thrown gun.
  • Unique Protagonist Asset: Superman is the only person with superpowers we ever see (and by implication the only one on the entire planet).
  • Villain Ball: The villains of the series had a tendency to do the "evil thing" regardless of whether it was wise.
    • "The Human Bomb": After finding out that his plan failed and being forced to release Lois, Butler knocks Jimmy, who's standing in his way, off the ledge. That makes some sense if he wanted to escape, but then he pauses to make sure the young reporter loses his grip rather than just scramming now that there's no one in the way.
    • "Czar of the Underworld": Gangster Luigi Dinelli is upset about being seen as a criminal,. His response? Violent attacks on the set of a film being made about him called Czar of the Underworld.
    • "The Mysterious Cube": Not only does Paul Barton not have any reason to order Lois and Jimmy killed after he's declared legally dead, but also it would have gotten in the way of his plan of getting away without prosecution. While the police (and Superman) couldn't legally nab him for any crimes he committed before the seven year period, being responsible for the reporters' deaths would mean he could be prosecuted for that.
  • The Walls Are Closing In:
    • Superman, Lois & Jimmy are trapped in a concrete bunker, with Supes out of commission due to a Kryptonite ray. Then the walls start closing in. Luckily there happened to be a discussion of hypnotism earlier in the episode. Superman hypnotises Lois, which somehow makes him able to levitate her (horizontally, as in the classic magician's "levitating woman" illusion). Somehow, this makes her body rigid and strong enough to stop the walls (her head stopping one wall, her feet the other). This allows Jimmy to climb up to the top and redirect the Kryptonite ray.
    • In the episode "Drums of Death", the Villain of the Week tries to use a wine press to dispose of Perry, Perry's sister, and Jimmy. Superman arrives and tears apart the bars, allowing them to escape.
  • When I Was Your Age...: Perry tells Jimmy that "when I was your age, a few mosquitoes didn't bother me."
  • Worthless Currency: One episode centered around an old man trying to keep his loot safe from robbers. Turns out to be Confederate money.