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DVD Review: Max Fleischer’s Superman – 1941-1942

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Wow. I presume that when you tour historical sites tens, hundreds, or thousands of years old you feel like you're standing on the shoulders of giants. After watching Max Fleischer's Superman, I have the same feeling. This two-disc DVD set includes 17 vintage cartoons created by Fleischer Studios for Paramount Pictures (now in the care of Warner Brothers) that were seen in theaters in 1941 and 1942. And after watching the "First Flight: The Fleischer Superman Series" feature I have even more respect for these groundbreaking cartoons.

Superman is, of course, one of those iconic characters that we take for granted. Heroes have been around for ages and are there to provide not only inspiration, but the hope that we can live up to be heroes in our own lives. Superman is the last son of the planet Krypton, granted extraordinary abilities from the yellow sun of Earth, and is both a hero as well as an everyman as his alter ego Clark Kent.

Fun fact… did you know that when Superman appeared in Action Comics in 1938, he couldn't fly? He could only "leap tall buildings in a single bound." He gained the ability to fly because when the Fleischers animated Superman jumping from building top to building top, he looked silly. They asked Action Comics if they could make him fly and they agreed. From then on, Superman was flying on his radio program, in the comic books, in Max Fleischer's cartoons, and beyond.

When you watch the Fleischer Superman series, if you're familiar with the reborn Batman and Superman cartoons from the 1990s, you can see the homage. Even today, these are beautifully done animated masterpieces. From the animation and backgrounds to the music, every part of the cartoon was created with love and care.

The 17 cartoons from Fleischer Studios and later Famous Studios (a restructured Fleischer Studios) were created between 1941 and 1943 and released by Paramount Studios. The first nine were from Fleischer Studios and the remaining eight from Famous Studios. The very first Superman cartoon, simply entitled "Superman" was even nominated for an Academy Award (Short Film – Animated) in 1942. Each panel and background of every episode was hand-drawn and colored and definitely serve as examples of the Golden Age of animation.

The first disc includes eight of the cartoons, including "Superman," "The Mechanical Monsters," and "Volcano." And the second disc contains the remaining nine cartoons, including "Showdown," "The Mummy Strikes," and "Jungle Drums."

In addition to these animated shorts, there are a number of features on the DVDs:

  • "The Man, The Myth, Superman" delves into the hero's journey throughout history, comparing Superman to many of the myths to precede him, such as Beowulf, Achilles, Hercules, and so on.
  • "First Flight: The Fleischer Superman Series" is easily my favorite feature in the set. Here we get to learn some of the Superman history and how Fleischer Studios got the call to do this groundbreaking animated series in an era when cartoons were more escapist, slapstick-oriented. Not only does Richard Fleischer, the son of Max Fleischer, talk about his father and the history of how this series came to be. It was also interesting to hear Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and Dan Riba (creators of the 1990s Superman and Batman series) speak of their reverence for this source material.
  • "A First Look at the Green Lantern Animated Feature" provides a preview of the upcoming Green Lantern: First Flight animated movie due out in Summer 2009. This gives you a bit of a history lesson into the Green Lantern's history and a bit of a sneak peek into this upcoming movie from Warner Brothers and DC Comics.

Before seeing this two-disc set I had only seen a couple of these animated classics, so it was an honor to sit and get a chance to not only enjoy them for the first time, but to share this bit of cartoon and comic book history with my family.

If you are a fan of animated comic book heroes, this is a must for your collection. Be sure to find Max Fleischer's Superman at Amazon or wherever DVDs are sold near you.

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About Fitz

Fitz is a software engineer and writer who lives in Colorado Springs, CO, with his family and pets, trying to survive the chaos!