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Director: Dan Gordon
Release Date:
 April 26, 1943
Stars:
 Superman
Rating:
 ★★★★★ 
Review:

Jungle Drums © ParamountThe Superman cartoon ‘Jungle Drums’ blends the war theme with the adventure setting of ‘The Mummy Strikes‘.

This time the setting is a vague African island, populated by scary natives who are under control of some mysterious Nazis. They shoot an American plane out of the sky, which contains Lois and some secrets concerning the American fleet. While the natives try to burn Lois, Clark Kent/Superman only arrives just in time to save her.

Superman beats the Nazis, while Lois warns the US Air Force against Nazi submarines threatening the fleet. The last shot is that of an angered Hitler listening to the radio how his plans were frustrated.

Although this short, like most Superman cartoons, contains a weak and badly build story, it stands out for its great shots of scary natives, with their original camera angles, stark color designs and large shadows. The end result is arguably Superman’s best film.

Watch ‘Jungle Drums’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Superman film No. 15
To the previous Superman film: The Mummy Strikes
To the next Superman film: Underground World

Director: Isadore Sparber
Release Date: 
December 25, 1942
Stars:
 Superman
Rating:
 ★★★½
Review:

Destruction Inc. © Paramount‘Destruction Inc’ was Superman’s third war cartoon, after ‘Japoteurs‘ and ‘Eleventh Hour‘  from earlier that year. Like ‘Japoteurs’ it features saboteurs on American soil, a paranoid idea, well-fed by government propaganda.

This time the danger comes from the inside: some American gangster saboteurs threaten a munition plant. Lois discovers them at a factory, but she’s captured and put inside a torpedo. Luckily Superman is in the neighborhood, not as Clark Kent, but as an elderly general. However, he only arrives just in time to rescue Lois from a certain death in a short that belongs to Superman’s more entertaining films.

‘Destruction, Inc’ opens with a shot of someone being murdered. Such a shot would open the next film, ‘The Mummy Strikes‘, too.

Watch ‘Destruction, Inc.’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Superman film No. 13
To the previous Superman film: Eleventh Hour
To the next Superman film: The Mummy Strikes

Director: Dan Gordon
Release Date: November 20, 1942
Stars: Superman
Rating:
 ★★★
Review:

Eleventh Hour © Paramount‘Eleventh Hour’ is Superman’s second war cartoon, after ‘Japoteurs‘ from earlier that year. It’s one of the earliest World War II cartoons dealing with Japan.

In this short Superman himself is the saboteur, destroying ships, bridges, airports and tanks in Yokohama, Japan. The furious Japanese capture Lois, who stays with Clark Kent in Japan, and threaten Superman to execute her if he doesn’t stop his sabotage.

Superman reads this ultimatum all but too late and he’s only just in time to rescue Lois from the firing squad. Lois returns home, but Clark Kent stays behind, implying that Superman keeps on doing his sabotage work, a message that must have been comforting to the home-front.

The story of this cartoon is quite original, if not very well-constructed. Unfortunately, by now Superman has been reduced to an expressionless figure, making him a boring character to watch.

Watch ‘Eleventh Hour’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Superman film No. 12
To the previous Superman film: Showdown
To the next Superman film: Destruction, Inc.

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: July 17, 1942
Stars: Superman
Rating:
 ★★★
Review:

Volcano © ParamountIn the aptly titled short ‘Volcano’, a dormant volcano is starting to erupt again on the island of Monokoa.

Daily Planet reporters Lois and Clarke are present, but Lois steals Clark’s press pass to work alone. She sneaks away to visit the volcano by herself, but when she’s up on the volcano, it suddenly erupts. Superman saves her and the village below by redirecting the lava to the other side.

Together with ‘The Arctic Giant’ and ‘Terror on the Midway‘, ‘Volcano’ is noteworthy for featuring no villain, let alone an evil scientist. Moreover, this Superman short probably contains the most spectacular effect animation within the series in its terrifying depiction of floating lava.

Watch ‘Volcano’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Superman film No. 8
To the previous Superman film: Electric Earthquake
To the next Superman film: Terror on the Midway

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: 
June 15, 1942
Stars: 
Superman
Rating:
 
★★½
Review:

Electric Earthquake © ParamountIn the seventh Superman short New York is threatened by – whattaya know? – an evil scientist. But this evil scientist is more original than all the others before him: he is of Native American origin and he claims Manhattan for his own people.

Nonetheless, like all other evil scientists before him, he has a machine. His ridiculous machine causes earthquakes by using electricity. Oddly enough, the scientist first makes his threats at the Daily Planet. And when he returns to his secret hideout, Lois, of course, follows him. In his laboratory below sea level the scientist makes Lois watch the destruction of the city.

Luckily, Superman saves Manhattan by destroying the machine. However, he’s only able to rescue Lois because the scientist tells him that she’s still down in his laboratory, which is rapidly filling with water…

In any case the result is yet another routine entry.

Watch ‘Electric Earthquake’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Superman film No. 7
To the previous Superman film: The Magnetic Telescope
To the next Superman film: Volcano

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: April 24, 1942
Stars: Superman
Rating:
 ★★
Review:

The Magnetic Telescope © ParamountIn ‘The Magnetic Telescope’, the sixth entry in the Superman series, yet another evil scientist attracts ‘flaming comets’ with a ridiculously looking magnetic telescope.

As one comet has destroyed part of the city, the police tries to stop the villain from hauling in another one. But their attempts make the professor lose control over the comet, and while destruction is at hand, Lois phones the Daily Planet from the laboratory. When her call ends in a scream, Clark Kent rushes… er… takes a cab to the laboratory. Only when the cab is stopped by one of the comet’s offshoots, he changes into Superman and flies up there…

Superman, of course, saves the day. He first tries to stop the comet itself (which falls remarkably slowly), but surprisingly, this is too much for him, and his antics produce more offshoots, which destroy bridges and such. So, in a bright moment he restores power to the magnetic telescope, telling Lois to put the machine on ‘reverse’… (how Superman came to know how the telescope works, we’ll never know…).

The whole story is amazingly ridiculous, especially because the story is told in the most sincere fashion. It shows the Fleischer studio’s discomfort with realism all too clearly.

The all too powerful comet is a minor surprise within the formulaic Superman series. But ‘The Magnetic Telescope’ has two other deviations from the story formula: in this entry Clark Kent doesn’t say his usual ” this looks like a job for Superman”,’ and Lois manages to kiss Superman, who, unfortunately turns out to be Clark Kent, after all…

Watch ‘The Magnetic Telescope’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Superman film No. 6
To the previous Superman film: The Bulleteers
To the next Superman film: Electric Earthquake

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date:
 March 26, 1942
Stars:
 Superman
Rating:
 
★★
Review:

The Bulleteers © ParamountAlthough it’s only the fifth Superman cartoon, ‘The Bulleteers’ already feels so formulaic, it’s depressing.

Like in Superman’s first two cartoons some evil scientists with some crazy machine threaten the city, Lois gets into trouble, superman saves her and Clark Kent discusses her story in the newspaper with her. This time the novelty is that we’re watching three villains.

The evil trio has invented a ‘bullet car’ (part car, part plane, part rocket), with which they destroy the police headquarters and a power-plant by flying through it. Lois foolishly climbs aboard the car, but Superman drags her and the villains out of it in flight.

The spectacular angular staging and effective lighting in this cartoon cannot hide the fact that with ‘The Bulleteers’ the series had reached an inspirational low point story-wise. Later in 1942, the war became a major theme in the Superman series, which fortunately led to more inspired story ideas.

Watch ‘The Bulleteers’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Superman film No. 5
To the previous Superman film: The Arctic Giant
To the next Superman film: The Magnetic Telescope

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: November 21, 1941
Stars: Superman
Rating:
 ★★★½
Review:

The Mechanical Monsters © Paramount‘The Mechanical Monsters’ was Superman’s second cartoon, and it is almost a copy of the first one.

Again, there’s an evil scientist, this time a jewel thief, who robs jewelry using huge flying robots. Again, Lois gets herself into trouble by her curiosity and, again, after Superman has saved the day, Lois and Clark discuss Lois’s article in the newspaper.

This copying of a formulaic story format is the main weakness of the Superman series, and it’s saddening to see it already happening in the second cartoon. Luckily, the execution of the formula is better than in the first cartoon. This evil scientist is drawn more realistically, and the sidekick has gone. The elaborate intro has been shortened into a few seconds, leaving more room for the story. Moreover, watching Superman knocking down giant robots is more enjoyable than watching him defeating a ray.

Watch ‘The Mechanical Monsters’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Superman film No. 2
To the previous Superman film: Superman
To the next Superman film: Billion Dollar Limited

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: September 26, 1941
Stars: Superman
Rating:
 ★★★
Review:

Superman © Paramount‘Superman’ is the first Superman cartoon, the very first cartoon series to feature realistic characters, and the Fleischer Studio’s most ambitious cartoon series.

Superman, of course, was based on the comic strip hero who made his debut in 1938. For his screen debut, the studio made a long introduction of the character, which lasts almost two minutes.

After this intro a very simple story develops, which contains many elements to be reused in later Superman cartoons, becoming a routine all too soon:

1) an evil scientist
2) something big to beat (in this cartoon a deadly ray, which Superman ridiculously punches away)
3) Lois getting intro trouble due to her curiosity, and
4) an ending with Lois and Clarke reading a newspaper article written by Lois Lane.

Despite elaborate shadows and special effects, this first realistic theatrical cartoon (not counting the works by Winsor McCay) hasn’t aged very well. The scientist is still half cartoony, and he has an animal sidekick, which mimics his moves.

The rest of the characters are drawn realistically, but also stiff and expressionless. They look forward to the wooden realistic cartoons of the TV era. The character was very popular, however, and inspired a couple of parodies, most notably the Bugs Bunny cartoon ‘Super Rabbit’ (1943). It’s ironic that after Popeye the Fleischer again had to rely on a character created elsewhere to achieve success. Unfortunately, this meant they couldn’t exploit Superman’s popularity as much as they could have with a character of their own.

Superman would star in seventeen cartoons, all from 1941-1943, nine by the Fleischer Studios, and eight by its successor, Famous studios. In 1943 the series was dropped because it was too costly to produce.

Watch ‘Superman’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Superman film No. 1
To the next Superman film: The Mechanical Monsters

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