Superman Cartoons

Between depression and job hunting, been really behind on writing. So instead of any new original fiction, I’m just plugging along offering you works I like. And I’ve got a treat for you today: the first three of Dave and Max Fleischer’s original Superman cartoons.

My goodness, the artistry on these old cartoons is amazing. Look at the shadows, the expressive movement. There was such a great style to these things, where they didn’t feel like they were supposed to be imitating real life, but were following more of a loose, imagination-based set of rules. These particular ones are more ‘realistic’ than most of the time, but even they keep that exaggerated, animated style. And of course the great use of music and sound to supplement the animation (the main ‘Superman’ score sounds like an embryonic version of the John Williams theme, which I’m sure is no coincidence).

The imagination on display is fantastic as well. I love those mechanical monsters: such a cool, weird, science-fiction design. And I like the way they move: like how the one just walks through the door without breaking stride.

I also like the simple, straightforward storytelling. You don’t need to know the Mad Scientist’s whole backstory, just that “people laughed at me and I will show them all!” The other villains are just after money. Simple enough, even if they use some rather extreme measures to get it. We don’t need anything else.

The Clark – Lois – Superman dynamic is nicely realized, even in shorthand. She blows off Clark and cheerfully plays dirty to try to get ahead of him (though they seem to have a friendly dynamic), while Superman anonymously keeps her safe and Clark quietly lets her take the professional credit.

(By the way, I like how Lois just grabs a plane to fly up and ask for an interview with the mad scientist. That right there pretty much sums up her character. Also love her taking charge of the crisis in Billion Dollar Limited).

This is Superman’s first appearance in cinematic form, and a key step the character’s development since this was when he gained the ability to fly (in the original comics he could simply ‘leap tall buildings in a single bound’ The Fleischers rightly judged that this would look ridiculous on screen and so just had him fly, though the influence of his original powerset can be seen in some of the action scenes, especially in Billion Dollar Limited). The streamlined origin story leaves out Ma and Pa Kent – who had been part of the comics, though their names and role varied between issues – and neither Lex Luthor nor Jimmy Olsen were yet staple characters (although the Mad Scientist in the first short is reminiscent of the early Luthor).

And in conclusion, this is another work that I’m giving canon status, and twice over. In the first place the cartoons themselves are a pivotal piece of American animation and culture: one of the Fleischer brother’s key contributions (along with Popeye and Betty Boop). Anyone interested in animation really needs to watch these.

And in the second, the Superman story as such in at least one of its classic forms is certainly part of the canon. Whether its Siegel-Shuster comics, Fleischer cartoons, Kirk Alyn serials, George Reeves TV, Christopher Reeves films, Lois and Clark, or the DCAU, or, best of all, all of them, anyone interested in western fiction should be familiar with Superman (no, Snyder does not count. And let’s just get ahead of things and say neither does J.J. Abrams).

Enough chat: enjoy pure, classic Superman.

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