The Fleischer Studio produced the first films of Superman, in a cartoon series that ran from 1941 – 1943. A new DVD collection of the series, MAX FLEISCHER’S SUPERMAN 1941 – 1942 was released on April 7, 2009.
The cartoons in the series were:
SUPERMAN, the pilot cartoon, released September 26, 1941, running time 10:22. This cartoon earned the last Academy Award nomination for Fleischer Studios and lost to Disney’s LEND A PAW, starring Pluto. After a brief origin portraying the last survivor of an exploding planet rocketed to Earth as a baby, being found and turned in to an orphanage and growing up to be reporter Clark Kent, the story involved a mad scientist who threatened the city with a destructive ray at midnight.
THE MECHANICAL MONSTER, November 28, 1941, 10:14. Another mad scientist used an army of robots to rob the city on solo missions.
BILLION DOLLAR LIMITED, January 9, 1942, 8:35. Superman protected a train, loaded with gold and bound to the National Mint, from a masked gang who attempted to hijack the train and steal the gold.
THE ARCTIC GIANT, February 27, 1942, 8:35. A frozen dinosaur was discovered in Siberia and shipped to Metropolis to be displayed, still frozen, in a museum. After the refrigeration generator malfunctioned, the dinosaur awoke and threatened the city.
THE BULLETEERS, March 27, 1942, 8:02. A gang, piloting a bullet shaped flying car, terrorized and robbed Metropolis. This cartoon included the first specific mention of Metropolis.
THE MAGNETIC TELESCOPE, April 24, 1942, 7:38. Another mad scientist used a magnet on top of an astronomical observatory to pull celestial bodies closer to Earth for observation. One fell out of control and crashed into the city, coming to a stop in the water off the docks. The city authorities warned the scientist to stop his dangerous experiments.
ELECTRIC EARTHQUAKE, May 15, 1942, 8:42. A Native American scientist used an underwater base to cause earthquakes in Manhattan, because the island rightfully belonged to Native Americans, in his opinion. This was a less objectionable portrayal of a minority because, even though the villain was a Native American, he was brilliant, which differed from the portrayal of Native Americans in this era. Also, there were no racial comments by any of the characters. When he told the Planet staff his claims, Clark asked, “Well, what do you want us to do about it?”. The villain answered, “Print the truth.”
VOLCANO, July 10, 1942, 7:56. Clark and Lois covered the threatening eruption of Mt. Monokoa on an island. Lois was trapped on the volcano slope when it erupted, and a lava flow threatened the population.
TERROR ON THE MIDWAY, August 28, 1942, 8:22. Clark and Lois covered a circus, where a giant gorilla escaped from its cage and terrorized the crowd.
JAPOTEURS, September 18, 1942, 9:05. Japanese spies attempted to steal the world’s largest bomber plane and fly it to Tokyo. This cartoon contained the typical racial caricature of oriental people in this era. As mentioned before, this was the first Superman cartoon produced under the Famous Studios name after Paramount took control of the studio.
SHOWDOWN, October 16, 1942, 8:14. A criminal wore a Superman costume while performing robberies for his crime boss, who was based on Al Capone. The real Superman was wanted by the police for the crimes.
ELEVENTH HOUR, November 20, 1942, 7:58. Clark and Lois were held in a Yokohama hotel with barred windows. At 11:00 every night, Clark, as Superman, would remove the bars from his window and fly away to sabotague the Japanese military. Lois faced a firing squad as a spy. This was another cartoon that continued the racial caricature of oriental people common to the era.
DESTRUCTION, INC., December 25, 1942, 8:32. The body of a munitions plant guard was found in a swamp. Lois went undercover at the plant and was discovered by a shady manager and two of his henchmen.
THE MUMMY STRIKES, February 19, 1943, 7:46. An expert Egyptologist was found dead near the mummy of King Tush in a museum. His assistant Janet Hogan was convicted of his murder. A Dr. Wilson contacted Clark Kent about evidence he had found that might clear her name. Lois, suspicious of s story, secretly followed Clark into the museum. It was unusual to watch a cartoon with a character who had the same last name as me.
JUNGLE DRUMS, March 26, 1943, 8:00. Nazi soldiers used an ancient African temple as a base to radio the coordinates of Allied convoys to German submarines. Lois’s plane was shot down and she was captured by members of an African primitive tribe loyal to the Nazi leader. He portrayed a high priest that the tribe worshiped. The African tribe was portrayed in the typical racial stereotype common to the era.
THE UNDERGROUND WORLD, June 18, 1943, 8:13. The Daily Planet financed an expedition led by an explorer of hidden caverns discovered by his long lost father. Clark and Lois accompanied the explorer where they discovered an underground civilization of winged humanoids.
SECRET AGENT, July 30, 1943, 7:39. An undercover woman had infiltrated a Nazi spy organization. She broke her cover to carry information about the group to her superiors in Washington, D. C. She was being chased by Nazi agents. This was the only cartoon in the series that did not include Lois Lane, but it is possible that Joan Alexander voiced the female agent. This cartoon was the last episode of the series.
For more information about the 1940’s Superman cartoon and the Fleischer Studio:
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