It’s time! We all watched our gifts, right? We know what we’re going to say? Remember, someone thought about giving you a movie to watch, and even if it was generic and not “because I thought [user] would really have interesting things to say about it,” it’s always at least a way of getting to know one another better when we find out what people suggest.
Since this is my article, and the whole thing is set to go up Really Stupid Early my time, I’m going to put my reaction here, and that’s just how things are going to go.
Babalugats very kindly gave me not one movie but a collection of shorts—the Max Fleischer Superman shorts, to be precise. Only the first nine of them are technically produced by Fleischer; the remaining were from Famous Studios. They are all in the public domain, though Superman and all his merchandising are owned by Warner Bros. The collection is on Amazon Prime—and any number of other places, including YouTube, because public domain. The set on Amazon are in pretty decent quality, though.
At the time, Superman was only fighting his never-ending battle for Truth and Justice; the American Way would come in the ’50s. This is in the old days, when Lois was way more competent than he was at the whole newspaper thing, but he balanced it out by using the Superman bit to his journalistic advantage. Though with Lois, he needs to take all he can get—she flat-out steals his press pass in one episode after specifically being told by Perry to work with Clark.
What’s interesting to me is that the nine Fleischer shorts are all the sort of vague “Superman fights some scientist or natural disaster or something” stories that we know so well from older Superman stories. However, more than half the Famous shorts are “Superman helps the war effort” sort of thing, generally with Racist Japanese Caricature villains. None of them feature Lex Luthor as a villain, but I believe this was before he became quite as iconic as he would in later years.
Despite Superman’s pop culture status, these cartoons are not the best remembered of the theatrical release cartoons. The Fleischers asked for, and got, a budget considerably higher than that for Disney cartoons, and the budget is definitely visible—if you’ve got a good enough transfer, of course; some of the transfers out there are terrible. Interestingly, the only of these to be nominated for Best Animated Short lost to a Pluto cartoon, the only time Mickey won a competitive Oscar. (It’s technically a Mickey cartoon, but really, Pluto.) They are visually striking, and each story is self-contained and holds together. It’s not my favourite iteration of the characters, but it’s good stuff.
It’s also true that a lot of the iconography of Superman is from these cartoons. Oh, it’s hard to piece a lot of it together—who first said he was more powerful than a speeding locomotive? Action Comics 1 declared him able to run faster than an express train, which is not the same and doesn’t have the same flow! But it’s believed that this is where Superman first flew, and you do kind of have to admire the work the title sequence goes through, because he no longer just Leaps Tall Buildings In A Single Bound. Unless that’s what the story requires, of course!