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Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!
November 25, 2012 10:54 AM   Subscribe

Via io9: "The first nine Superman cartoons produced by Fleischer Studios from 1941 to 1942 are a wonder of animated retrofuturism, giving us a peek into a world that not only had a flying superstrong protector, but also filled viewers' heads with dreams of autonomous robots, comet-controlling telescopes, and machines that could shake the Earth. These films are in the public domain and have been available on the Internet Archive," but now Warner Bros. is releasing them (remastered) on YouTube. The first short, "Superman" (also known as "The Mad Scientist,") was nominated for an Academy Award. Also see: The Super Guide to the Fleischer Superman Cartoons. Find links to all nine episodes and more inside.

Fleischer Studios Superman Episodes

1) Superman / The Mad Scientist [1941]
2) The Mechanical Monsters [1941]
3) Billion Dollar Limited [1942]
4) The Arctic Giant [1942]
5) The Bulleteers [1942]
6) The Magnetic Telescope [1942]
7) Electric Earthquake [1942]
8) Volcano [1942]
9) Terror on the Midway [1942]

Per Wikipedia:
The Fleischers produced nine classic cartoons in the Superman series before Paramount took over the Fleischer Studios facility in Miami and ousted Max and Dave Fleischer. By the end of 1941, the brothers were no longer able to cooperate with each other, and the studio's co-owner Dave Fleischer had left Florida for California, where he would eventually become the new head of Columbia Pictures' Screen Gems studio. The sleek look of the series continued, but there was a noticeable change in the storylines of the later shorts of the series. The first nine cartoons had more of a science fiction aspect to them, as they involved the Man of Steel fighting robots, giant dinosaurs, meteors from outer space, and other perils. The later eight cartoons in the series dealt more with World War II propaganda stories, such as in Eleventh Hour, which finds Superman going to Japan to commit acts of sabotage in order to reduce the morale of the enemy; meanwhile, an angered Adolf Hitler had a cameo role at the end of Jungle Drums after Superman foiled another Nazi plot.

The first seven cartoons originated the classic opening line which was later adopted by the Superman radio series and in the live-action television series a decade later: "Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!" (The radio series also eventually used the cartoon series' theme music.) However, for the final two Fleischer-produced cartoons and the first of the eight Famous Studios-produced cartoons, the opening was changed to "Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to soar higher than any plane!". For the remaining Famous Studios-produced cartoons, the opening line was changed again to "Faster than a streak of lightning! More powerful than the pounding surf! Mightier than a roaring hurricane!" This series also featured a slight variation of the now-classic exclamation (also from the radio series): "Up in the sky, look! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Superman!"
Famous Studios Superman Episodes
These were American WWII propaganda, and some include racist caricatures.

10) Japoteurs [1942]
11) Showdown [1942]
12) Eleventh Hour [1942]
13) Destruction, Inc. [1942]
14) The Mummy Strikes [1943]
15) Jungle Drums [1943]
16) The Underground World [1943]
17) Secret Agent [1943]

The Internet Archive has all 17 Fleischer and Famous episodes, combined into a single, two hour movie.
posted by zarq (28 comments total) 60 users marked this as a favorite

 
For more Superman, consider Superman: Requiem. It's a fan film shot in London and Manhattan.
posted by zarq at 10:58 AM on November 25, 2012


Have these on DVD. Fantastic animation.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 11:00 AM on November 25, 2012


"taken to an orphanage. . ."

An orphanage? An orphanage?!? What did Ma and Pa Kent have to say about that?!?
posted by Curious Artificer at 11:04 AM on November 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you get the mega-mondo-crazy DVD set (not a referral link) these are one of the many amazing "extras" that come along for the ride. I revisit them, and the various documentaries, a lot more often than any of the films actually. Great stuff!
posted by trackofalljades at 11:10 AM on November 25, 2012


An orphanage? An orphanage?!? What did Ma and Pa Kent have to say about that?!?

Hard as it may be to believe today, they were not firmly established in the mythos until 1948 (Superman #53, the first attempt to sort out Superman's continuity in a comprehensive origin story) and did not get their present names (Jonathan and Martha) until the 1950s.^
posted by dhartung at 11:16 AM on November 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Heh. That last set are all "oh look, some superman cartoons I'd missed" followed by "OMG, massive racism!".
posted by Artw at 11:24 AM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Kents were present in the original Superman origin strip. Continuity was a fluid thing back in the beginning, and the needs of the story outweighed the dead hand of continuity. That's why they called it the Golden Age. ;-)
posted by KingEdRa at 11:28 AM on November 25, 2012


Fantastic animation.

Yep. The art deco design, the smart use of light and shadow and the multiple camera angles combine to make these cartoons (especially the early ones) unusually cinematic and striking. They were way ahead of their time and still look beautiful even when judged by current standards. I've linked it before in previous Fleischer Superman threads, but this is a nice page about the cartoons.
posted by mediareport at 11:28 AM on November 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


I remember seeing 'The Mechanical Monsters' programmed right in the middle of a modern experimental animation festival screening years ago. The crowd loved it (confusion and snickers at first, big cheers by the end). Yeah, technically and visually it really is impressive.
posted by ovvl at 12:02 PM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


The animation on these is fantastic.
posted by infinitewindow at 1:04 PM on November 25, 2012


Really, really great. The kind of approach to animation that's taken for granted today but is crazy inspired genius in 1941. Even just the way that Superman is depicted pulling the building upright while flying is great.
posted by Wataki at 1:07 PM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Kents were present in the original Superman origin strip.

Eh? In Action Comics #1 he goes to an orphanage, and there is no explanation of how he gets the name Clark Kent.^ Apparently their first appearance, at all, is in Superman #1 over a year later.
posted by dhartung at 1:16 PM on November 25, 2012


Oh Rao, that first short is Superman/Lois Lane/Clark Kent distilled into its purest essence. I remember watching it as a young muppet at Straw Hat Pizza in Davis CA, in between games of Battlezone and riding on the mechanical "Charley" Horse.

It's important to notice that the evil bird gets away...

THE END (?)
posted by Guy Smiley at 1:36 PM on November 25, 2012


That mad scientist seems to have a very emotionally strong relationship with his bird. They really seem to get each other.
posted by a shrill fucking shitstripe at 1:58 PM on November 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I love the Fleischer Superman cartoons. Glad to see they're getting a remaster, even if it is only on Youtube.
posted by immlass at 2:00 PM on November 25, 2012


So that skyscraper is made out of some rubbery, bendy type material?
posted by memebake at 3:31 PM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Even just the way that Superman is depicted pulling the building upright while flying is great.

Love that load-bearing spire. They really overbuilt in those days, didn’t they?
posted by El Mariachi at 6:00 PM on November 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Fantastic. I'd had these on VHS years back. The visual quality is terrific. Although I'm still wed to gray-templed Perry White.

Love how Clark Kent's voice is this reedy falsetto that drops into the chest when Superman breaks in.
posted by the sobsister at 7:00 PM on November 25, 2012


Oddly enough, a post on these cartoons was made here exactly four years ago to the day.

It's pretty cool that they're remastering them though - being so old and with a unique colour process I think it would really benefit. I recently watched Japoteurs and was struck by their idea of super-high tech ("prop planes onboard other prop planes!"). Thanks.
posted by Palindromedary at 8:36 PM on November 25, 2012


I have a DVD with these cartoons on it. It cost me like five dollars.
posted by JHarris at 9:18 PM on November 25, 2012


Worth mentioning: these cartoons were a significant touchstone for the creators of Batman the Animated Series.
posted by sleeping bear at 10:28 PM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


My favorite is Billion Dollar Limited, where Lois doesn't just wait to be saved as a shrinking flower, but picks up a machinegun and gets to work. In many ways the Floesher Lois was more independent and assertive than any version of Lois up until the Bruce Timm version. Of course she still needs to be saved- it would be nice to have more examples of a self-saving Lois like the one that showed up in Superman Adventures 12.
posted by happyroach at 11:02 PM on November 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Kents were present in the original Superman origin strip.

Eh? In Action Comics #1 he goes to an orphanage, and there is no explanation of how he gets the name Clark Kent.^ Apparently their first appearance, at all, is in Superman #1 over a year later.


I stand corrected. Still, Continuity is for chumps.
posted by KingEdRa at 11:35 PM on November 25, 2012


Worth mentioning: these cartoons were a significant touchstone for the creators of Batman the Animated Series.

Who also did a pretty awesome Superman series.
posted by Artw at 11:42 PM on November 25, 2012


I would love a version of Superman in which his being a reporter played a much larger role. Because a superhero might be able to fly, bend steel bars, see through walls, burn things with his eyes, etc., but a reporter? He can take down Nixon.
posted by JHarris at 4:15 AM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, in 1941, a woman could jump into a plane and fly off by herself? I'm impressed.
posted by Goofyy at 6:09 AM on November 26, 2012


Still, Continuity is for chumps.

It sure is in the D.C. universe.

**Checks to see if they've rebooted again...**
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:13 AM on November 26, 2012


Glad to see they're getting a remaster, even if it is only on Youtube.

The remasters were already released on DVD in 2009, as Cartoon Brew pointed out. The story here is Warner Brothers making the remasters available for free online.

So, in 1941, a woman could jump into a plane and fly off by herself? I'm impressed.

Yeah, the Lois in these, while always eventually overwhelmed and needing rescue, consistently wins in the "I don't need men to do any of this shit" department.

Worth mentioning: these cartoons were a significant touchstone for the creators of Batman the Animated Series.

And a major influence on Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, especially in the original short, where the homage to Mechanical Monsters couldn't be more obvious. Nosing around turns up this comment at archive.org, which would be neat if true:

I believe it's mentioned in the Sky Captain dvd features, but Conran's mother apparently worked for Fleischer Studios when the Superman cartoons were in production.
posted by mediareport at 9:12 AM on November 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


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