The Superman Anniversary Short: 75 Points of Annotation
As most of you know, Superman is celebrating his 75th Anniversary this year. To help commemorate this impressive milestone, Man of Steel director Zack Snyder teamed up with artist and animator extraordinaire Bruce Timm to create a two-minute short that traces the Man of Steel’s history from Superman’s debut on the cover of 1938’s Action Comics #1 all the way to Henry Cavill in Man of Steel. It’s a must-see for any fan of Superman or comic books in general, and if you haven’t seen it, you can check it out below:
Of course, if you have seen it, you’re going to want to watch it again because there’s a lot to take in. In fact, there’s so much going on that no one could blame you if missed a few references or if a few moments had you scratching your head. So to help you keep track of all of the details, nods and references in the short, we thought we’d put together a list of annotations. Seventy-five of them. That’s right, in honor of Superman’s 75th year, we present our 75 points of annotation about the Superman 75th Anniversary short.
Here we go…
#1 The Superman 75th Anniversary short was directed by Zack Snyder, who also directed this summer’s Man of Steel. However, he was assisted by many other luminaries of DC Comics animation, including Bruce Timm and Jay Oliva.
#2 Truly starting at the beginning! The opening image is a recreation of the cover of 1938’s Action Comics #1, which featured the first appearance of Superman. As any good fan knows, Superman was created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster.
#3 No, your eyes don’t deceive you! The glyph on Superman’s chest isn’t the iconic one that everyone knows. That didn’t arrive until later.
#4 Interestingly, the only place this shield-like version of the glyph first appeared was on this cover.
#5 Why doesn’t Superman fly off the cover of Action Comics #1? That’s because he didn’t yet have his power of flight in 1938. That also came later.
#6 By 1939, with the debut of Superman’s self-titled comic book, the glyph on his chest had started to shift into its more familiar shape, which we see as Superman runs through the crowd of onlookers.
#7 Talk about blinking in missing it! Eagle-eyed viewers (or those who pause the short at just the right moment) will get a very quick glimpse of an early Lois Lane in the last row of onlookers. She’s wearing a maroon dress with a tan belt. Did you see her?
#8 As Superman first takes flight in this short, you’ll notice that his appearance has changed slightly. This reflects the rise of early ‘40s Superman artists like Fred Ray and Wayne Boring, who brought their own style to the character.
#9 The tall building Superman leaps over in a single bound is the Daily Planet. Only it wasn’t named the Daily Planet when Superman was first created—it was the Daily Star. The name was changed to the Daily Planet in 1940.
#10 Everyone knows the iconic globe on top of the Daily Planet building, but did you know it didn’t originate in the comics? Its first appearance was in the Fleischer Studios cartoons. (Specifically, “The Arctic Giant,” which first aired in 1942.)
#11 Which allows this leap to serve as the perfect transition to the next segment of the short, which is animated in the style of Fleischer Studios.
#12 Actually, this shot from behind Superman’s back in the Superman 75th Anniversary short is one of the very few moments that combines elements from two different Superman eras into one scene. The flying robots are from the Fleischer Studios era, but for now we’re still looking at the Superman from the comics.
#13 Once the camera angle switches from behind Superman to in front of him, we’re purely in the world of the Fleischer Studio, as indicated by the change in Superman’s appearance.
#14 Note that not only is Superman clearly flying now, but the glyph on his chest has changed yet again. This version of the glyph is most associated with the Fleischer cartoons and features a red S against a black background instead of the typical yellow.
#15 Also note that Superman’s yellow belt is now gone. It also wasn’t used in the Fleisher Studios cartoons.
#16 The flying robots are from the 1941 short, “The Mechanical Monsters.” This was the second of the Fleischer cartoons. However, the robots never attacked Metropolis en masse like they are in the short.
#17 One popular Superman incarnation that isn’t represented in this short is the Adventures of Superman radio show. Starring Bud Collyer as the voice of Superman, it would have been airing during this era as well, and along with the Fleischer cartoons, really helped build Superman’s popularity to mainstream audiences nationwide.
#18 Welcome to the Golden Age! The comic books and panels you see in the background here (and in later segments) were chosen by a special “Superman 75th Anniversary advisory committee” to represent other significant artists and moments of the era.
#19 The most prominent image is the cover of Action Comics #47, drawn by Fred Ray. It’s the first appearance of Lex Luthor on a comic book cover, and his first and only appearance in this short.
#20 Superman’s iconic glyph has changed yet again, this time to a shape that’s more familiar to fans. His yellow belt has also returned.
#21 But don’t get too attached to that yellow belt! We’re switching to black and white, and leaping ahead nearly ten years to the 1950s and the Adventures of Superman TV show.
#22 The Adventures of Superman starred actor George Reeves as the Man of Steel, and while it was Superman’s first television appearance, it wasn’t his first live action appearance. That was in the 1948 film serial.
#23 One reason Reeves stands out in the minds of fans is the length he embodied the role. The Adventures of Superman aired for six seasons and filmed over 100 episodes.
#24 This image of Superman standing with his hands on his hips against a background of stars is a recreation of part of the show’s opening sequence.
#25 While most people think of The Adventures of Superman as a black and white TV show (and it’s represented as such in the Superman Anniversary short), this isn’t entirely correct. More of the episodes were actually shot in color!
#26 Hey, hey, it’s the Silver Age! Much like the earlier Golden Age bridge, what you’re seeing here are some noteworthy moments from Superman comics drawn by the Superman artists of the era.
#27 The central image here is the cover of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #53, as drawn by Curt Swan.
#28 It also marks Jimmy Olsen’s first appearance in “Superman Through the Years.” (Fortunately, it’s the only time he appears as “The Giant Turtle Man!”)
#29 You’ll notice that once again Superman’s appearance has changed slightly. Now he’s being drawn to reflect how he was drawn during the Silver Age, by artists such as Al Plastino and the aforementioned Curt Swan.
#30 This sequence is a homage to 1958’s Action Comics #242, which marked the first appearance of Brainiac!
#31 The quick skirmish here represents the issue’s “Super-Duel in Space!,” but there are some key differences. The most obvious is the background—on the comic’s cover, Superman and Brainiac are fighting against the dark, starry abyss of space. But here, the sky is yellow and you can see clouds in the background.
#32 Another difference? You can see the shrunken city of Kandor bottled and resting on the rock behind Brainiac here in the Superman 75th Anniversary short, but you won’t find it on the Action Comics #242 cover.
#33 We’re still in the Silver Age, and there’s an interesting pastiche of imagery here. Superman’s fighting Bizarro, and you can see Bizarro’s square-shaped Earth in the background. However, you can also see Superman’s Fortress of Solitude with its giant key along the ground.
#34 This combination wasn’t meant to represent a particular storyline. Many popular Superman characters and settings—such as Bizarro and the Arctic Fortress of Solitude—emerged during the Silver Age and the filmmakers wanted to include nods to as many of them as possible.
#35 Aw… Would ya look at that! It’s Superman and the Super Family! Here we see Supergirl, Krypto, Streaky and Beppo the Super-Monkey. No sign of Comet the Superhorse, though.
#36 All of these characters made their first appearances in the Silver Age, most of them in the late 1950s.
#37 The Kara Zor-El version of Supergirl debuted in 1959 in Action Comics #252, and she looked pretty similar to how she does here. But not exactly. Kara’s skirt was blue rather than red.
#38 Let’s not neglect the background here. That’s the Kent farm!
#39 As the Super Family flies off, Superman encounters an unwanted visitor—Mr. Mxyzptlk! While Mr. Mxyzptlk was created in the Golden Age, he appears here because the Silver Age introduced his familiar orange and purple costume and white, wild hair.
#40 There’s quite a bit going on in the art gallery scene! While you can’t see his face, that figure in the center of the screen looks very Andy Warhol-like, doesn’t he? It’s fitting since the piece of art in the center of the wall that everyone seems to be admiring is a Warhol print.
#41 The gentleman on Warhol’s left is clearly Clark Kent, but if you were thinking that’s Lois on the right side of the screen, you’d be wrong. It’s Diana Prince—Wonder Woman! Diana’s drawn as she appeared in the late 1960s.
#42 So where’s Lois? Believe it or not, she’s on the wall! The piece of art to the very left of the screen is a panel from Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #106. And yes, she’s black.
#43 In this infamous Lois Lane storyline, Superman turns Lois black so that she can both experience life as an African-American during this tumultuous time of mistrust and segregation and effectively report on what she finds.
#44 Finally, the print on the right is inspired by a Peter Saul painting entitled “Superman and Superdog in Jail, 1963.” For those unfamiliar with him, Saul is a Pop Artist who referenced Superman and Krypto in many of his ‘60s-era paintings.
#45 It’s the Super Friends! This image represents the first incarnation of that long running Saturday morning staple. It’s taken from the show’s opening and is drawn in the style of Alex Toth’s iconic Super Friends character designs.
#46 Note that this version didn’t include the Wonder Twins. They didn’t come along until Super Friends’ second incarnation. Instead, this first season featured Wendy and Marvin—who you see on the right—and Wonder Dog—who’s off on the left.
#47 From Super Friends to a super fight! This next sequence pays tribute to 1978’s infamous Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, an oversized one-shot that pitted the famous super hero against the equally famous boxer.
#48 Why can we see planets and stars above the boxing ring? Because as readers of this story know, the fight took place off earth on a planet orbiting a red sun. Without Superman’s powers, they could have a fair fight!
#49 Superman is drawn here in the style of Neal Adams, who illustrated the Muhammad Ali comic.
#50 Ooh! Supes seems to be taking a beating. It’s only fair. In the story, robbed of his powers, Superman actually loses the fight to Muhammad Ali.
#51 However, as that lens flare reminds us, 1978 was best known for the release of Superman, the blockbuster film directed by Richard Donner.
#52 The score we’ve been hearing up until now is also taken from the film. If you’re watching this, you surely know it—it’s the Superman theme composed by John Williams (who also composed the scores to Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, ET, Jurassic Park and far too many cool movies to count)!
#53 Hey, it’s Christopher Reeve! It’s hard to imagine now, but the actor almost didn’t get cast in the role since he was largely unknown at the time and the filmmakers wanted an A-list actor.
#54 This sequence, one of the most widely recognized from the film, is actually the final sequence of the movie—the last thing we see before the credits roll.
#55 No, this isn’t that other Superman game you may have heard about. We’re still in 1978 here. This brief sequence pays tribute to the very first videogame to star the Man of Steel: Superman for the Atari 2600.
#56 What’s happening here? Well, we’re back in the realm of comic books, and we’ve leaped ahead to the Modern Age.
#57 In addition, there’s been a change the music. What you’re hearing is a brief bridging sequence composed by Hans Zimmer specifically for this short. It allows us to smoothly transition from the John Williams theme to Zimmer’s Man of Steel score.
#58 Uh-oh… Fans know that if we’re looking at Doomsday, we’re looking at 1992’s popular “The Death of Superman” storyline, as that was Doomsday’s first appearance.
#59 In this storyline, Superman finally meets his match, defeating the relentless killing machine that is Doomsday, but at the cost of his own life. This storyline shook up the world of Superman comics in some fascinating ways, as we’ll see in a moment.
#60 This Modern Age comic art montage is the only one that doesn’t kick off a new comic book era. Instead, the previous Doomsday sequence brought us into the Modern Age.
#61 However, in acknowledgement to the importance of the “Death of Superman” storyline, the central image here is of the cover to Superman #75, which was the actual issue in which Superman died. The art’s by Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding.
#62 Remember above when we said that “The Death of Superman” shook things up? This is what we meant. Flying out of the cover of Superman #75 are the Supermen, four Superman-inspired heroes who briefly took over Kal-El’s four ongoing comic book titles in an event called “Reign of the Supermen!”
#63 To the left we have Cyborg Superman, who became the central character in Superman’s self-titled comic. To his right is the Kon-El version of Superboy. This young Superman clone became the protagonist in The Adventures of Superman. To the far right is the Last Son of Krypton, who took over Action Comics. And finally, down below is Steel, the former ironworker determined to carry on Superman’s legacy. He occupied the pages of Superman: The Man of Steel.
#64 When Superman was finally resurrected, he was sporting a new, darker looking suit, as seen here. He also had longer hair.
#65 But if you think that was a dramatic image change, check this out. In a 1998 storyline, Superman was split into two people—a blue Superman and a red one. The two Supermen were nearly polar opposites of each other and boasted a new set of electricity-based powers, represented by the lightning bolt you see in this brief sequence.
#66 We’re back to the world of animation now with a segment that pays tribute to Superman: The Animated Series, the popular late-nineties series that was produced by Alan Burnett, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, who also produced the earlier Batman: The Animated Series.
#67 This scene is an original piece of animation, but if it feels like something from the show, it’s probably because Bruce Timm helped create “Superman Through the Years.”
#68 Fans of the show will recognize many of the characters in the crowd, including Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen (camera in hand) and Perry White, all in the center of the crowd.
#69 That’s the water tower from Smallville, the popular live action series that ran from 2001 to 2011, first on The WB and then on The CW. However, the Superman emerging from the upper right of the screen is not the Smallville version. After all, he didn’t fly!
#70 Instead, what you’re seeing is the older Superman from Kingdom Come, as drawn by Alex Ross. Note that Superman’s S-glyph once again has a black background. Kingdom Come’s glyph bore many similarities to the earlier Fleischer Studios glyph, plus a few modern touches added by Ross.
#71 Boom! We now switch back to comics books. This sequence pays tribute to 2011’s Justice League #1, in which Superman and the rest of the newly formed league battle Darkseid.
#72 Justice League #1 not only relaunched the Justice League, but also the entire DC Universe. Every comic book published by DC Comics started over at issue #1 in September 2011 in what’s called The New 52.
#73 Note Superman’s Jim Lee-redesigned costume, which reflects how he’s drawn in current DC Comics titles.
#74 Recognize this? You should! We’re now looking at Henry Cavill in last summer’s Man of Steel.
#75 After his dramatic flight upwards, Superman lands atop a logo designed by DC Entertainment to mark Superman’s 75th Anniversary. We have to say, he looks really good for someone in his 70s. Heck, he looks GREAT!