Max Fleischer's Superman (DVD)
Cartoon impresario Max Fleischer was the among the first to bring the printed Superman comics to a wide audience in these fanciful 1940s shorts featuring the Man of Steel saving his true love, Lois Lane, battling mad scientists and overthrowing Nazis. Many of the slogans and attributes we ascribe to Superman today originated in this series, including the famous "Faster Than A Speeding Bullet" introduction. Bud Collyer performs the voice of Clark Kent/Superman, with Joan Alexander as Lois Lane.
More than just a landmark in superhero animation, Max Fleischer's Superman shorts were no less than the foundation for so many shows that succeeded it. Playing in theaters in 1941-42, only a few years after the Man of Steel made his debut in Action Comics
, these 17 exciting films were produced by Fleischer (and often directed by his brother, Dave) and made famous the phrase "This looks like a job for Superman!" At 10 minutes, each film had just enough time to run the opening credits, establish the threat, let Lois Lane make a headstrong rush into peril, and allow Clark Kent to change to his alter ego and save the day. The films show a remarkably dynamic and atmospheric storytelling style that enables them to hold up for modern viewers. At first the films followed a science fiction-fantasy theme (mad scientists, giant robots), but not unexpectedly for that time soon focused on wartime concerns (e.g., "The Japoteurs" from September 18, 1942).
These cartoons have been in the public domain and thus available in inexpensive, poor-quality collections. This 2009 set from Warner Home Video is reproduced from the original film elements, and while some source damage is still visible, the improved color and clarity make previous versions nearly unwatchable. (These are the same remasterings that were released in the 2007 Superman Ultimate Collector's Edition.) Also, rather than cramming them onto a single disc, the shorts are given two discs, adding a featurette on Superman the hero and a 12-minute history of the Fleischer project, including interviews with Max's son and modern animators such as Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, who discuss the Fleischers' influence on the highly regarded Superman and Batman animated series from the 1990s. --David Horiuchi