Monday, December 5, 2011

Superman aka "The Mad Scientist" (1941)

"Up in the sky ...  Look ...  It's a bird ...  It's a plane ...  It's Superman ...  "In the endless reaches of the universe there once existed a planet known as Krypton, a planet that burned like a green star in the distant heavens ...   With this opening statement we are introduced to the "man of steel" in the first moving picture appearance of one of our favorite superheroes.

Nominated for an Oscar for "Best Animated Short Subject" in 1942, but beaten out by Disney's Lend a Paw, this beautifully drawn short released by Paramount and shown in Technicolor, was produced by Max Fleischer, and directed by his brother Dave Fleischer.  It's based on the Superman comic strip created by Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster, and as seen in Action Comics and Superman Magazine.  Unlike other versions of the story of Superman, in this episode we learn that after crashing on Earth the last survivor of the planet Krypton was found by a passing motorist who took the uninjured child to an orphanage, where as he grew up he found he was possessed by amazing physical powers.

When a mad scientist uses an "Electrothanasia ray" to destroy buildings and bridges and pretty much just terrorize the civilian population in general, it's Superman to the rescue to save the world and protect Lois Lane as she tries to scoop Clark Kent on the story.

As the series of shorts progresses you can see how the animation process was honed and developed over time.  As each short was released the drawings seem a bit cleaner and backgrounds more detailed. 

I always seem to find something in films or shorts to pick on.  In this short, after Kent changes into Superman he sticks his head out of the doorway of the stockroom to peek down the hallway, when I'm assuming he could have just used his X-ray vision to look through the wall to see if anyone was around, but that's just me throwing a wrench into the works.  Don't forget, I'm not trashing the short.  I just seem to pick up on the strangest things.

According to The Super Guide To The Fleischer Superman Cartoons written by Russ May, these cartoons were originally released monthly in theaters from September 9th 1941, to July 30th, 1943.  "Paramount obtained permission to make a series of cartoons based on the comic strip.  The pilot cost $50,000.  This is three times what the Fleischer "Popeye" cartoons of that time cost.  Subsequent cartoons in the series had a budget of $30,000.  And the cost for all 17 of the "Superman" cartoons was $530,000."

The voices for the characters were provided by Clayton "Bud" Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane), and Jackson Beck (Narrator/Perry White) but the names were never shown in the credits.

Unlike other serials you won't have any problem watching multiple episodes in one sitting as each is an individual adventure rather than a continuing storyline.  With 17 cartoons in total for the series, and with a running time between 8 to 10 minutes each, this episode is the first one in the series.  Overall this a great collection of animated shorts to watch.    A must see for fans of the early days of animation or admirers of the Superman character.


  1. I remember the first time I saw one of these cartoons at San Diego Comic Con in the early 80's. I snapped up the VHS, went home and popped it in the old VCR. It was two hours of pure escapism. Great stuff.

  2. Cap - They are really very nicely done and at a pretty good price right now for the complete set on DVD. For anyone who doesn't have them yet it would be a good opportunity to pick them up.