The Adventure Continues 40 years later… with this rad merch!
Superman II debuted 40 years ago in the US on June 19, 1981 — a superhero cinematic touchstone beloved for decades. To celebrate, we’ve invited the hosts of the ever-popular Superman Movie Minute podcast — 13th Dimension regulars Rob Kelly and Chris Franklin — to take bring you an INSIDE LOOK at one of the greatest comics films in history. Here, Chris ranks the TOP 13 SUPERMAN II COLLECTIBLES — and you can click here for Rob’s latest REEL RETRO CINEMA column. Dig it. — Dan
By CHRIS FRANKLIN
Although the son becomes the father, and the father, the son, the son of Superman: The Movie didn’t get the merchandising blitz the first film did.
Despite huge anticipation for its release stateside on June 19, 1981, Superman II lacked some of the material promotions that had flooded retail in 1978. No coloring books, no Pepsi glass promotion, and strangely enough, no action figures! The movie versions of Ursa and Non have NEVER been made into action figures to this day! Mego released tie-in figures for the first film, but although kids could probably still find some of those on the shelf (especially the oddly out of proportion Pocket Super Heroes figures of Zod, Jor-El and Luthor), the company was in freefall at this point, and would soon be out of business.
But that’s not to say there isn’t Superman II merchandise out there. You just have to look for it a bit harder, like a glowing green crystal hiding in the disheveled remains of an alien fortress. So with that in mind, here are the TOP 13 SUPERMAN II COLLECTIBLES from the time of its release!
Note: I have not included the movie posters, because aside from a few promotional items, they were not widely available at retail at the time.
13. The Super Heroes Monthly Vol. 1, #7 (Mar. 1981), London Editions Magazines. Not only did our friends across the pond get to see the movie a good six months earlier (Dec. 4, 1980), they also got this special movie tie-in issue of London Editions Magazines’ The Super Heroes Monthly.
The magazine normally reprinted U.S. DC comics (mostly from the late Silver and early Bronze Ages), but this time there were bonus articles about the film. Not to mention a cheeky painted cover by Alan Craddock featuring Christopher Reeve as Superman chastising Terence Stamp’s Zod, Jack O’Halloran’s Non and Sarah Douglas’ Ursa for using their not-fully-developed heat vision to smoke up the town. There’s even a “DON’T SMOKE” sign on the theater’s marquee!
12. Superman: Miracle Monday, by Elliot S. Maggin – Warner Books. Original Superman: The Movie and Superman II screenwriter Mario Puzo had enough clout after the success of The Godfather to demand a hefty payday if his work was adapted into other media. So publishers responded by NOT adapting the films’ stories into books or comics.
Just as he had done for the first film with his Last Son of Krypton novel, Superman comic writer Elliot S. Maggin delivered Superman: Miracle Monday. The excellent novel can be seen as “The Last Temptation of Superman” in many ways, and would make one heck of a film! But what ties everything into Superman II is the cover featuring Reeve in flight, and Metropolis ablaze below, as well as eight pages of black-and-white photos from the film.
11. TV Lap and Bed Tray, Marsh Allan. Maybe some lucky kid had rich parents who could afford the original VHS or Beta copies of Superman: The Movie that cost around $100 upon release, or maybe they had access to an early video rental store. If they did, they could enjoy their snack of choice from the comfort of the couch while eating popcorn off the faces of Superman and Lois Lane!
This metal lap tray features an image of Reeve and Margot Kidder as the Man of Steel shows his lady love around his swinging bachelor pad in the Arctic. One would think maybe a more action-oriented scene would be more appealing, like say four super-powered aliens throwing down? But maybe this tray could also work for teens on date night? Or perhaps even pack it on your trip to Honeymoon Haven?
10. View-Master Reels, GAF. That Superman and Lois image from the TV tray got a lot of mileage, appearing again on the sleeve for the Superman II View-Master set. Like all View-Master properties, the set came with a booklet (and this one has some fun-and-games features, as well as photos from the film), and reels that could be inserted into GAF’s long-running 3D viewer. Before videotapes were affordable, this was the cheapest way for kids to relive the action of the film, one click at a time.\
One does have to wonder why they went with such a boring image of the two main characters for the packaging, though. You don’t have to wonder why the narrative skips over the relinquishing of powers, just for a super sleepover, though. I remember getting this set and clicking through the film over and over, on one of the many View Master viewers floating around my childhood home.
9. T-Shirts/Iron-On Transfers. You can’t throw a rock in a retail store without hitting a shirt with some comic-based graphic on it nowadays, but that was not the case in 1981. Aside from shirts packed with Underoos (the Underwear That’s Fun to Wear), it was hard to find any Superman shirts for kids, let alone adults. But there were a few options.
The above-mentioned Super Heroes Monthly #7 had a half-page ad for genuine Superman II T-shirts, featuring images directly from the film! I’m particularly fond of the circular vignette featuring Reeve, and the “Arch Villains” shirt with the Zoners. That image of Zod was also used on an iron-on transfer as well, and the general has a sweet logo that looks like it belongs on an ’80s prog-rock album. Actually who WOULDN’T want a spoken-word rock album by Terence Stamp?
Of course you can’t go wrong with Truth, Justice and the American way, and an iron-on with Reeve carrying the stars and stripes is about as good as it gets. Put me down for an adult XL.
8. Soundtrack Album, Warner Bros. Records. For Superman II and III, composer/conductor Ken Thorne took the all-time great score from the first film by the inimitable John Williams and reworked its main themes to fit the storylines of those films. He did an admirable job, particularly in “darkening” Williams’ Krypton theme as musical cues for the destructive action of the Phantom Zone villains. Warner Bros. Records put some serious effort into promoting the soundtrack, laser-etching Superman’s “S”-shield all over the vinyl of the record!
The sleeve of the US release features that familiar image of Reeve flying toward us with both fists out (because this is Superman TWO, get it?), as not-quite-convincing painted figures of the Zoners fly toward him, although it looks like they will probably go UNDER the Man of Steel, given their trajectory. Behind them, New York… er, I mean Metropolis is ablaze from their battle. This image is from one of the U.S. movie posters. For a more exciting, fully painted album cover (and movie poster), look for the U.K. edition, where Superman flies in from top left, heading straight toward the ascending Zoners, who rise from a wrecked Metropolis below. Vignettes of Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder, Jackie Cooper and Valerie Perrine adorn both versions.
7. The Great Superman Movie Book!, Scholastic. Available through schools via Scholastic Book Fairs and other means, this magazine-style book was the first “behind the scenes” publication I ever read. I received my initial copy upon the U.S. release of Superman II in 1981 (I was in first grade) and learned not only about the stars and making of Superman: The Movie and Superman II, but also Superman history I never knew before, including seeing the Siegel and Shuster origin pages from for the first time. I watched George Reeves on TV reruns every day, but I had no idea Kirk Alyn had preceded him as Superman! There is some aesthetic and informational carryover from the DC treasury editions, due to this book also being designed by DC’s Joe Orlando and Michael Fleisher.
My original copy from 1981 is long gone, but I so loved the book I ordered the updated version in 1983, now featuring photos and articles about Superman III! Both versions feature a pull-out poster of Reeve as Superman. That has long been missing from my copy, unfortunately!
6. Action Transfers Offer, Nabisco. Man, the U.K. got the best Superman II stuff, didn’t it? Our British friends were graced with a wonderful promotion through Shreddies cereal. Inside specially marked boxes were Action Transfers by Letraset (similar to the Presto Magix transfer sets we had in the U.S. at the time).
There were four sets of transfers you could rub down onto cutout action scenes printed on the back of the cereal boxes. The background images depict the destruction in East Houston, Idaho (although the Zoner-reworked Mount Rushmore is in the background!); the siege on the White House; and two scenes set during the epic battle in Metropolis. Surprisingly there’s not one for the final confrontation in the Fortress of Solitude, but with great action scenes like this, and multiple images of Superman, the Phantom Zone villains, and Lois Lane, as well as bystanders, police and military figures, who’s complaining?
5. Daily Planet Special Superman II Movie Edition, Random House. Until researching this article, I had no idea this odd curio existed: a “real” copy of the Daily Planet, covering the events of Superman II! I found it available at an online bookseller, and a few days later, this magazine-size, 40-page book was in my hands. One look at the cover tells you the creators of this “facsimile” copy of the Great Metropolitan Newspaper had their tongues firmly in their cheeks when crafting the coverage of the film’s story.
Articles such as “THEY CAME TO RULE THE WORLD, AND THEY STARTED IN IDAHO” and “MEET THE ALIEN TERRORISTS: Two Guys and a Gal with a Yen for Power!” give you an idea of the tone to expect. This magazine leans into director Richard Lester’s’ more humor-driven take for his vision of II, and of course Superman III. Perhaps this is best illustrated in an article purportedly written by East Houston, Idaho’s Sheriff Hal “Woodie” Barsky, who informs readers, “First of all, don’t be deceived by the way these terrorists dress. It’s important not to confuse them with people from Los Angeles, even thought they wear leather jumpsuits.” This takes the film’s humor, and runs wild with it.
Lots of great color photos are included, and my copy had a special bonus: a card “Hoping your New Year is only Good News” from the DC Comics executive team of Jenette Khan, Joe Orlando, Paul Levitz and Dick Giordano! When I shared this on the Back Issue magazine Facebook page, BI editor Michael Eury suspected this book was a gift given to DC freelancers that year!
4. Lunch Box, Aladdin Industries. Although a step down from Aladdin’s gorgeous, embossed metal lunch box that was released with the first movie, this red plastic Superman II lunch pail features decals depicting a painted image of Reeve’s Superman, standing tall, hands on hips, with the story-pivotal Eiffel Tower in the background. To either side are “Villains from the Phantom Zone” and “Friends from the Daily Planet”. The actors’ likenesses are very well done, but one wonders why Clark Kent is shown instead of Jimmy Olsen. Is this lunch box trying to give us the equivalent of a super-amnesiac kiss, making us forget the Man of Steel and Mild-Mannered Reporter are one and the same?
The likenesses don’t quite carry over to the included Thermos, with a very Curt Swan-like Superman flying in front of the Eiffel Tower (again?) as the central image, along with vignettes of Clark Kent and Lois at Niagara Falls, the couple in romantic super-flight, and of course the three villains, with Zod bending the barrel of a gun! Pack a hot dog and freshly squeezed orange juice and you’re good to go. It certainly beats eating at Don’s Diner with Rocky around!
3. Trading Cards – Topps. If you wanted to be a blockbuster movie back in the ’70s and ’80s, you HAD to have a series of Topps trading cards. And of course, like its predecessor, Superman II was no exception. Behind colorful wax packaging, and encased alongside a razor-sharp piece of unchewable gum was the story of the film, profiles on its stars and one sticker. New to this series was the “Kryptonian Crystal Bank Archives” which were essentially dossier files on the main characters of the film… except strangely the text on the back of the cards didn’t correspond to the image on the front in many cases!
The rest of the series told the story of the movie on the front, while the backs featured occasional text overviews and anecdotes from the stars, and a series of puzzle pieces used to assemble multiple images of Superman and the three Phantom Zone villains. And as mentioned, there is that one sticker per pack, featuring profiles of all our leads, the villains (with one exception) and Superman logos and “S” shields. Perfect for sticking to your bed headboard and infuriating your mother.
One thing you will NOT find in this card set is one single image or mention of Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor. Hackman famously refused to return for any of Richard Lester’s reshoots, and I guess that meant the Topps cards as well! Ned Beatty’s Otis is even featured in his own spotlight card, but Mr. Luthor is nowhere in sight! Apparently, Lex took Miss Tessmacher with him, as Valerie Perrine is AWOL as well. Maybe Hackman’s body double from the Lester shoots should have gotten a card…
2. Board Game, Milton Bradley. The only Superman II-branded item widely available in toy aisles in 1981, this board game by Milton Bradley is your standard set-up. Roll dice, pull cards and move your pawn (in this case, little printed punch-outs of Reeve as Superman running). The object of the game, according to the box is: “Be the first player to capture each of the three villains, collect at least 24 Power Units, gain entry to the Fortress of Solitude, and correctly guess the Mystery Villain Card.” Is the Mystery Villain really Lex Luthor? I don’t know, because I haven’t played the game in almost 40 years, and I’m not going to open the sealed cards I have now! My nearly mint copy came as a generous birthday gift from my Superman Movie Minute partner and frequent 13th Dimension writer, Rob Kelly!
I don’t really recall playing the game as a kid, but I did love the graphics! Yes, there is a lot of reuse, from the box, to the board, to the insert that keeps everything from rattling around. The images of Reeve, Kidder, Stamp, Douglas and O’Halloran make you feel like you are somehow in the movie as you’re playing along. The use of hexagons now make you feel like you’re playing a WandaVision game, however. I love how they use Reeve’s “S” shield, and not the usual generic one you see everywhere on merchandise as well. This is a game set solely in the Superman cinematic universe, and that makes it feel very unique.
1. Superman II, The Adventure Continues Treasury (DC Special Series #25), DC. If Superman fans had to have ONE item on this list in 1981, it would be DC’s own special publication, the Superman II treasury/tabloid edition. As stated earlier, DC couldn’t adapt the movie’s story into comic form due to a financially crippling contract with Puzo, but they could put out a magazine-style special in their large treasury/tabloid format, normally reserved for publications where Superman got into a slobber-knocker with someone (Spider-Man, Muhammad Ali, Wonder Woman, Shazam!). The formula had worked for the first film, and some of the content creators and designers familiar to DC readers, like Joe Orlando, Michael Fleisher, Jack Adler and Todd Klein, were back on board.
This edition skirts the Puzo clause a bit by presenting the basic story of the film in a spectacular picture-novel format through a good chunk of the book. The coverage of the epic battle of Metropolis is almost blow-by-blow. Of course there are profiles on the actors, and some rather revealing photos of Sarah Douglas that made this young reader wonder if he was supposed to be looking at this!
One of my favorite features of the book is the inside front and back covers, which juxtapose stills from the film with similar panels from Superman’s 40-plus-year history in the comics. Despite some cosmetic changes, it’s easy to forget how faithful the films were to the spirit of Superman, when they honestly didn’t have to be. There was no internet to tear them down upon the release of their first teaser trailer, after all.
The front cover is a dynamic collage of images from the film that becomes a bit messy and off putting if you stare at it too long, but it certainly grabs the reader. The back cover? Well, once again it’s that image of Superman showing Lois around the Fortress, and if we’ve learned anything from this article, it’s that image could move some merchandise! One look at this book, and you were likely to agree with a certain disgruntled Metropolis cab driver, “Man, this is gonna be GOOD!”
— SUPERMAN II at 40: A Euphoric, Enduring Classic. Click here.
— RETRO HOT PICKS! On Sale This Week — in 1981! A SUPERMAN II Special. Click here.
Chris Franklin co-hosts several shows on the Fire and Water Podcast Network, including Superman Movie Minute (with Rob Kelly), and Super Mates and JLUCast (with his wife Cindy). The latter two he also produces.