For any diehard comic book fan, you may be aware of Superman being one of the oldest comic book superheroes created by DC Comics in 1938 via Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. But did you know there was a short feature cartoon series made in the early 1940s with the Man of Steel? In the era where Warner Brothers and Disney animated shorts were popular at large, the Superman animated shorts were created by Fleischer Studios, whom some animation fans may recognize as the creators of popular 1930s cartoon characters Popeye and Betty Boop. The Superman animated shorts were notable for having a couple unique elements that stuck out compared to other short feature animated titles of its era.
The first major element that stuck out was its animation. Whereas many animated shorts of the era relied on a more exaggerated drawing style due to their comedic focus, the Superman animated shorts employed a more realistic drawing style in the design of its characters and settings, with more fluid movement than was the norm for many animated projects of the time period. This was employed by rotoscoping, an animation style where animators traced over live-action motion picture coverage frame by frame. While considered a controversial animation style by some, this allowed for more lifelike character designs and movement. Remarkably, the animation holds up quite well today as some may be mistaken to think these were more recent animated works. The Superman shorts were actually the most expensive animated shorts made during the early 1940s, costing almost $50,000 per short to make, and this certainly shows in how nicely animated the Superman shorts were during their era.
The other element that stuck out with the Superman shorts were their more serious storytelling. Many animated shorts of the era were comedic shorts filled with slapstick and exaggerated humor, with the occasional pop culture nod to appeal to audiences. The Fleischer Superman shorts depicted serious situations such as crimes, war, natural disasters, and monster threats that Superman would have to overcome to save Lois Lane and the city of Metropolis. Each animated short had a plot formula it followed where a criminal or disaster made its presence felt, Lois and/or Clark Kent are sent to investigate it for a news story, they are eventually affected by the crisis, Lois gets in over her head with trying to directly investigate it, Clark becomes Superman, Superman rescues Lois and overcomes said crisis, and Lois and Clark have a brief banter before the episode ends. This plot formula is obviously rather dated for modern audiences used to more complex plots and characters with comic book superhero titles. But for its time, the serious plotting for the Superman shorts allowed it to stick out from the comedic animated shorts put together by popular studios such as Disney and Warner Brothers.
There are some things that need to be noted about the Superman shorts before you try seeking them out, the first being about Superman himself. These older cartoons adapt the Golden Age incarnation of his character who is nowhere as overpowered as his more modern incarnations. While Superman still has superhuman levels of strength and durability, they are not to the ridiculous degree of modern incarnations and his abilities to fly and use x-ray vision were recently included in the Fleischer animated shorts during the time period.
The second thing to note is that some of these shorts have not aged well in regards to political correctness and racial sensitivity. Over twenty years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, racial stereotyping was still the norm in various animated shorts and movies up to that point, including a number of Warner Brothers animated shorts that have some rather unflattering depictions of African and Native Americans. In addition, some animated shorts made during World War II were used as propaganda to promote the American war effort and often demonized foreign enemy threats such as Nazi Germany and Japan. The Superman shorts were no different in this regard as some shorts made for it had stereotypical depictions of some villains that Superman has to overcome and actively show him fighting some Nazi and Japanese soldier threats. I have a compiled list of the questionable shorts and the concerning content that you should watch at your discretion if you may get offended from watching it…
• “Electric Earthquake” - Depicts a Native American scientist utilizing a machine to trigger earthquakes to destroy Metropolis and reclaim land once owned by his people. • “Japoteurs” - Depicts a trio of Japanese spies trying to seize control of an American military war plane. • “Eleventh Hour” - Features Superman sabotaging Japanese military efforts and their military later taking Lois captive to try dissuading his efforts. • “Jungle Drums” - Features a Nazi spy disguised as a high priest for a tribe of African natives trying to get information on an American military convoy.
The last thing I need to mention is that all the Superman animated shorts from Fleischer Studios are in the public domain to freely access from online. The 17 animated shorts were originally owned by National Comics (DC Comics’ company name at the time), but they never renewed the copyright for the shorts in the late 1960s and there is no longer any legal ownership of the shorts from any entity connected to their creation.
In short, the Superman animated shorts are a rather interesting piece of animated history in regards to depicting the Man of Steel’s earliest animated adaptations and sticking out from the many comedic animated shorts made for its time period. While the plot formula for the shorts is dated and some of their plots would be considered politically incorrect for modern audiences, the animation still holds up surprisingly well today and its development by Fleischer Studios has some interesting history to read up on it if you’re a fan of classic American animation like it. I would at least recommend checking out the animated shorts at least once so you could get a sense of what made it stick out to audiences that seen it during the early 1940s.
Rating: 6.5 of 10
Someday I’ll be gone To somewhere that we belong And God has never played his role 'Cause I’m the one who saves my soul It’s a perfect world we’re longing for
I remember watching these on VHS. Not all of them. I remember the Native American one way before I was young and not recognize racism. This was a quite informative review on the background.
I found these shorts on the DC Universe app. The animation was certainly fluid. Did not notice the rotoscoping. I had assume wrongly that rotoscoping was rebuilding a real face because I had the Flower of Evil faces on my mind when rotoscoping is mention.
Dream: Taka: Looks like you didn't click on the link in my last comment. You'll get the DIO nod when you click on it.
Jan 7, 2020 22:15:55 GMT
Master Menos: Dream: I've always been a PC guy anyways. (Yeah, that was funny!)
Jan 8, 2020 4:09:50 GMT
Master Menos: Sidebar updated! Taka: My turn to scratch your back, Taka. 2019 me got really messed up with the job. @_@
Jan 8, 2020 4:53:59 GMT
Taka: Thanks Master Menos! I'll work on finishing the Winter 2020 guide.
Jan 9, 2020 4:50:29 GMT
Dream: My second Funi poll is done. Titles I will be watching and reviewing will include Chobits, Samurai Champloo, Spice and Wolf, Gankutsuou, and Dance in the Vampire Bund. Will let folks know which one I start off tomorrow at some point.
Jan 11, 2020 5:39:30 GMT
Dream: First anime I will sample among the Funi titles is Chobits. As a heads up, the series on Funi's Youtube channel is missing the two recap episodes the series aired. Not that I'll be missing those however.
Jan 11, 2020 15:13:09 GMT
Dream: Wow, never knew Shinbo was Gil, Sousuke, and Domon. More you know.
Jan 11, 2020 17:52:00 GMT
Dream: Just completed Chobits. Will get a review up for it at some point this afternoon.
Jan 18, 2020 18:37:22 GMT
Dream: Will post a little later what the next voted anime will be that I will watch and review.
Jan 18, 2020 19:48:38 GMT
Dream: Next anime up to cover will be Dance in the Vampire Bund. Suppose a short anime will do for now following Chobits.
Jan 18, 2020 21:32:36 GMT
Dream: Concluding things at episode 2 with Vampire Bund for the night. Hoping to get back to Basquatch tomorrow, as long as I'm not swamped with anything.
Jan 19, 2020 3:00:33 GMT
Dream: Geez, it's really quiet. No activity in the forums since I posted my review from yesterday.
Jan 19, 2020 15:57:41 GMT
Taka: I'll email the receipts. The best anime and manga of 2019 will be extended to Wed. I don't get time off for Mon because of community service. Please vote if you haven't yet. Thank you!
Jan 19, 2020 20:44:07 GMT
Dream: Hmmmm... looks like the version of Vampire Bund I'm seeing on Funi's YouTube channel's an edited version. A couple minutes of episode 2 were clearly removed with Mina in nothing but underwear battling human assassins. Then again, recall there was a good...
Jan 19, 2020 22:49:15 GMT
Dream: ...deal of controversy with the series a decade earlier thanks to the seemingly underaged nudity of Mina while in her younger form.
Jan 19, 2020 22:50:13 GMT
Dream: Not sure if I should be donning the nostalgia goggles or not giving a damn. Looks like the original Digimon Adventure series is getting a reboot airing starting in the Spring season.
Jan 21, 2020 3:21:13 GMT
Taka: I'll watch it if there's nothing catching my eye in Spring. winter 2020 was a weak anime season for me.
Jan 22, 2020 18:29:46 GMT
Dream: Wouldn't say it's all bad for me. Have a few titles holding my interest. Just it typically doesn't have as many major titles of note that would hold me over.
Jan 22, 2020 23:54:44 GMT