Thursday, January 15, 2015
SUPERMAN THE 40S CARTOON (FLEISCHER STUDIOS)
As some of you may or may not know, I was never a Superman fan growing up. I don't know why, I just found him to be a very boring and unappealing hero, not to say that I don't acknowledge what makes him a popular superhero, he just never really interested me. Well, two years ago, I reviewed the pilot Episode from the 50s show, and I started to take a little bit of an interest in the hero. Last year, I looked at franchise that I didn't get into as a kid, which was "The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" as I reviewed the pilot to the 80s cartoon and the movies; and while I didn't like the films that followed after the first film, I still felt like I missed out on a few good things, not to mention the fact that I started becoming very attached to a bunch of characters that didn't interest me when I was a kid. Since people have been asking me to review the latest Superman film "Man Of Steel", I think now's the time I start getting more acquainted with this hero as I review the popular 40s cartoon, and all the live action films. I did want to review the pilot episode of the popular animated series in the 90s, but I want to finish reviewing "Batman The Animated Series", before I start reviewing the Superman animated series. So join me this year, as I get acquainted with Superman! So lets start with the famous cartoon from the 40s of "Superman".
Created by the Fleischer Brothers, this cartoon's take on "Superman" was famous for being the biggest budgeted animated film series in history; as well as being a very dark and gothic take on Superman, as opposed to being bright campy and colorful. In fact, the animation style in this series is what helped inspire the animation for the 90s cartoons of Batman and Superman. I remember seeing one of these cartoons as a kid, and as you may have guessed, I was bored to death. Now that I'm an adult, will I not only appreciate the animation in this series, but find it more interesting and entertaining, then I found it to be when I was a kid? ON WITH THE REVIEW...
SUPERMAN (AKA THE MAD SCIENTIST)
In our first Superman episode, we learn about Superman's origins, and then the plot shifts to a Mad Scientist who plans to use a giant ray to destroy the city of Metropolis. It is up to Superman to stop him. I got to say, while I find myself more invested in this cartoon, than when I was a kid, I still have a few problems with it. Let's start with Superman our hero. Outside of his action scenes, when he's fighting against the Mad Scientists laser and saving the city, I sadly found him boring. I know this is before we all started getting deep into Superheroes, when at the time it was just fighting crime, hide your identity, save the world, and get the girl, but his personality doesn't interest me at all. Yeah, he has cool scenes when he's fighting as Superman, but just because the action scenes are cool and interesting, doesn't mean the character himself is interesting. The guy voicing him does have the proper voice for the character, but he sadly doesn't save the blandness of this heroic character. We also learn about Superman's origins, and while it's done to the point where you can follow and understand his back story, as well as being the first to introduce the famous Superman introduction to the film and TV media, it feels very rushed. In fact, I'm kind of annoyed that we learn very little and never see Superman's home Planet, before he was sent to Earth. However, that's a nitpick and something I'd want to see, as opposed to being an actual criticism, and at the very least, we at least know a few important things about Superman's origins, then learning nothing about him at all. So I give the cartoons take on Superman's origins credit for at least including it.
Next we have Superman's love interest Lois Lane and yes, she's just a bland damsel in distress who foolishly gets kidnapped by the villain; has very little to no personality; and of course is just a trophy for our main hero. The Mad Scientist who is voiced by Jack Mercer (Who has voiced Popeye dozens of times), while just a typical cliche Mad Scientist with no motivation but to cause chaos, to later get his ass whooped by our hero, he's pretty decent. The design for him is cool; Mercer does sound both fun and threatening as this cliche villain; and his pet bird is fun.
The animation is really great. The shadows; the angles; the gothic designs; the lightening; the character designs are all really cool and awesome. For a short cartoon, it does look like a big and epic, gothic Superhero Film-Noire, and I can totally see where the inspiration for the 90s Batman and Superman cartoon came from. The music also plays a big part in this cartoon as well! It completely matches the cartoon's tone from being suspenseful and eerie; to sounding big and heroically epic! As for the climax with Superman saving the city and stopping the death ray is beyond cool and awesome, especially for its time.
In terms of story and character, the cartoon is pretty bland, however, that's not to say that I can't picture a comic-book fan or a fan of Superheroes in general not enjoying the simpleness of it. I guess with a 10 minute cartoon, you can't really expect them to go into full-depth with character and story; you just want to see Superman fight against the villain, save the city, and get the girl, and if you're expecting that going in and don't mind it being cliche and predictable, then you will really enjoy it, as well as being exposed to groundbreaking animation, and awesome music. So overall, if they didn't make the characters so wooden, I'd actually give it my highest rating, however, since they are, I guess this cartoon is going to have settle for my second best rating.
THE MECHANICAL MONSTERS
A rich Mad Scientist uses robots to carry out his evil deeds in the city of Metroplois, and its up to Superman to stop them; save Lois; and bring the Mad Scientist to justice. If you haven't already guessed, this episode follows the exact same formula as the previous episode, and just like the previous episode it pretty much has the same hits and misses. I will admit Superman and Lois have a tiny bit more character than they did in the previous episode, but I think the only reason why I say that is because they're given more facial expressions, when in the previous episode, they pretty much had one expression throughout the whole thing, which was pretty dull. Other than having more than one expression they're still boring. Superman has no personality and Lois is the same old dumb damsel in distress. As for the villain, outside of his cool design, he's actually really, really boring. At least the Mad Scientist in the previous episode had a fun and threatening personality; this villain has none of it.
The animation in this, while really good, is actually really different, comparing it to the first one. Instead of being dark, gritty, and Gothic; this one looks comic-book colorful. While I do prefer, the dark, dramatic look from the previous episode, the animation is still really incredible, and has actually improved! Again, Clark and Lois have more facial expressions; the scenes of Superman flying are really cool to look at, especially when looking at the places he's flying over, it almost looks like Miyaziki film; the designs and action sequences with the robots are cool, which by the way Miyaziki homage these robots in his film "Castle In The Sky" (Which, I did review); the action scenes in general are really cool to watch; the shot of Superman using his X-Ray vision is beyond amazing; the colors and designs for the locations are really beautiful to look at; and the size and scope of this cartoon is just as big as the previous episode, only this time having lots of detail.
Aside from our characters having really wooden personalities, it's still just as great as the first one. The story, while really simple, and following the same exact formula as the previous episode, is still really entertaining and action packed; the animation, while not looking as dark as the previous episode is still not only incredible to look at, but the adult look and feel is still there; and the improvements that this second episode has made in the series, along with being one of the most influential episodes of the series.
BILLION DOLLAR LIMITED
A group of masked gangsters is planning on robbing a train full of gold, and it is up to Superman to stop them. Remember how I praised about the characters getting more facial expressions in the last episode, we're sadly back to square 1. Our two main characters still have boring personalities, and the bad guys, are just masked crooks with machine guns, that's it.
The animation is not only just as great as the first two episodes, but we're back to that big dark and gritty look that the first episode had. I have to admit, as simple as the premise is, I was really on the edge of my seat, while I was watching this episode. The many obstacles that Superman has to go through to save this unstoppable fast moving train, is both really cool, and really suspenseful (Though, I wonder why no on the train has attempted to find or pull an emergency break, but who cares); the sequence when the crooks hi-jack the train is both dark and awesome; seeing the bullets fly off of Superman's chest is just as cool as seeing him use his X-ray vision in the previous episode; and Lois, despite being a damsel in distress, she actually gets to pick up a machine gun, and tries to stop the bullet proof car.
With boring characters aside, the action, the premise, the thrills, and the animation still what make this episode just as great as the previous ones.
THE ARCTIC GIANT
A frozen giant monster from the Dinosaur age is put on display at the Metropolis museum. However, a worker foolishly jams the works of the machine that keeps the creature frozen, and within seconds the ice melts (Which in reality is impossible, but who cares, we wouldn't have an episode) and the monster breaks free to destroy the city, which is a job for Superman to stop this giant creature. I'm not going to lie, comparing this episode to the previous ones, this one is the first one that comes across as silly and cartoony, than being dark and adult. The serious tone is still there, but at the same time, the episode still feels kind of silly,
The characters really still bore me. I'm trying really hard to get attached to them, but I simply just can't. Superman himself is still really boring; and when he's Clark Kent, he does have a little bit of a fun personality, but I'm still turned off by him. Lois, I know she's supposed to be this reporter that's trying to get the inside story (Kind of like April O'Neil in "The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles") but her personality not only feels bland, but when she tries to be fun and interesting, it kind of annoys me. Plus the many times that she foolishly and idiotically gets captured in the series is kind of getting on my nerves now.
The monster I guess is kind of threatening, I mean it is cool seeing Superman fix the destruction that its causing, but the monster itself, I don't know, considering how dark the previous episodes were, this monster looks a little bit campy and silly, than dark and scary. I was also disappointed by Superman's confrontation with it, I honestly wanted to see him actually fight the creature, than easily tie it up. I also find it silly that a bunch of fireman tries to stop the thing with their fire hoses, if bullets won't hurt it, what makes you think water will? As for the animation, we're now back to the bright and colorful comic-book look that the second episode had, as well as giving our main characters back their facial expressions, which looks good, but it's not enough to save the campyness from this episode.
While the animation is nice, this episode is sadly the starting the unintentional silliness of the series. Clark and Lois not only bore me in this episode, but kind of annoy me; the monster while threatening, is not as dark and villainous as the previous episodes, heck even the bird that accompanied the Mad Scientist in the first episode, while being silly at times, still looked darker and sinister than this monster; the climax was a let down; I wasn't as thrilled or got as invested in the action as I was in the previous episodes; and while the adult and dramatic tone is still there, it doesn't feel as powerful and engaging as the previous episodes, as well as feeling very downplayed. So it's not a bad or awful episode, it's just not as good or as epic and dark as the previous episodes.
A trio of crooks called "The Bulleteers" plan to destroy the city, while stealing goods in their powerful bullet proof rocket car, obviously "this is a job for Superman". Yeah, yeah, same old criticisms with our two characters, dull and bland. The villains are just your typical cool looking dark henchman with a cool car, NOT to say that's a bad thing, just wish they had a bit more personality. This episode has really brought us back to the dark and serious, but action packed and heroic outlook of the series, while the previous episode was...well, silly. The animation looks not only as good as the previous episodes in the series, but instead of jumping back again to the animation style in the first and third episode, it seems that the series is sticking with animation from the second and fourth episode, by giving our characters more expression; being bright at day time; and dark and gritty at night time. Maybe the series, might go back to its old roots in animation, but either style they choose works for me, since they both manage to be big and epic.
The action is very promising, and pretty violent and tense at times. I mean the buildings that these villains destroy my god, millions most be dying in those buildings. Just because we don't see people die, that doesn't mean their aren't people inside them, and the animation and music for those scenes look and sound pretty tense. In fact, Superman even fails to stop a building from getting destroyed, and gets taken out in the process. Even though we know that Superman will somehow defeat these criminals, it almost seems hopeless. Lois also tries to sabotage the criminals vehicle, but come on, we know what's going to happen to her.
Aside from the problems that I've kept talking about in every episode in the series by far, it's still a really great action packed and tense episode, and while I know what was going to happen, I was still at the edge of my seat with my eyes glued to the screen just like all the other episodes, that is, all of them, except the previous one.
THE MAGNETIC TELESCOPE
A scientists magnetic telescope goes completely out of control, and sends a comet hurtling towards the city, it is once again "a job for Superman". Once again, Superman and Lois, not interesting! However, there was one interesting character, and that's actually the scientist who created the telescope. Instead of being the typical mad scientist, he's actually just a regular guy, who's so proud and devoted to his work that he'll take on extremes to prove his invention is a success. Plus, he's not the reason why his invention went out of control. Now how will his invention benefit science, I don't know, in all honesty, it sounds more like a villainous device than something to do good for others. With that flaw aside, I am still pleased that we have a more fleshed out antagonist, now if only the series can flesh out our two leads more.
What more can I say about the animation in this cartoon series, it still looks just as great as every other single episode. The darkness, the shadows, the designs, the angels, the comic-book look, the colors used for the comet and destruction its causing, it's really epic to look at. The climax was just as tense, epic, and thrilling as the previous episode (As well as many of the other episodes) and the best part is, Lois actually gets to help Superman.
While the invention makes very little sense on how it can benefit mankind, and that Superman and Lois have been in 6 episodes together and haven't yet became interesting or fun characters, the episode not only has all the good things that I praised throughout the series, but I'm glad that the series gave us a more fleshed out antagonist, if not an actual villain.
A Native American Mad Scientist, threatens to destroy the city, if they don't give the City back to his people, since they used to own that land. Of course, with no one giving into his demands, he decides to carry out his deed by creating an Electrical Earthquake on the city, it is up to Superman, to stop him. Superman and Lois, again, still aren't interesting characters. I also must admit, that the Climax of Superman stopping the Mad Scientists device, didn't hold me on the edge of my seat, or got me just as invested as most of the other episodes.
However, the episode does carry two good things. First,being the animation, it still looks just as incredible as all the other episode. The other one, is the villain! Yeah, making him Native probably wasn't that good of an idea, especially dealing with the fact that the guy voicing him isn't even a Native American, but I think he's by far the best villain the series has had. His motivation of wanting his people's land back, as silly and stereotypical as it is, the Electrical Earthquake he causes does become a very dangerous and intense threat in this fictional city. I also love his underwater secret lair, which I'm not going to lie is really cool. I even love that he makes an attempt to kill Superman and Lois as he's on the run, even if you know that Superman will survive and stop him. He's also voiced by the same guy who voiced Bluto in the "Popeye" cartoon, who not only does a decent job with the Native accent by not making it sound over the top, but he really gives the character plenty of personality. He's threatening, calm, polite, and even fun.
So, while not having an exciting climax (Which is a major downer), and still giving our two leads little personality, the episode does at least deliver us a great villain. Could they not make him Native, yeah, but he's still an awesome villain, and the animation hasn't failed yet.
Clark and Lois are reporting on a Volcano on an Island that is about to erupt on a small village below, and as usual "it is a job for Superman" to save the village, and of course save Lois in the process. I'm going to admit something, Superman as Clark Kent is starting to kind of develop a character. I can't explain how, he just is. Let's just say, despite looking an awful lot like Superman, even with the glasses, his personality does differ from his heroic identity. Not just as acting like a mild manner loser, but the fact that he has more personality as Clark, than he does as Superman. Lois, is starting to grow one too, but man do I hate her in this episode. Not just the fact that she has to be constantly saved by Superman, but also because she's really a bitch. I mean, she and Clark are sent out to do an assignment together on the volcano story, but wanting all the credit to herself, she steals and hides Clark's Press Pass so that he doesn't get to report on the erupting volcano. You know, I'm really beginning to cringe at her on screen presence. I mean there's nothing likable about her. She's a careless dimwitted self centered woman, who gets herself into danger, not to help humanity, not because she loves her job, but just so she can become famous. I know when she's in danger, the right thing to do would save her, but I'm sorry, I'd tell Superman to let her fend for herself.
There's a character that I have not talked about yet, and that character is the Editor-In-Chief of the "Daily Planet" Perry White. The reason why I never brought him up is because he's a complete bore, and has a very tiny bit of screen time. Why do I bring him up now, no reason, just wanted to let you know that he's in this cartoon series. The animation is of course still amazing; still cool to look at; and it seems that the series is taking more and more steps forward with it. As for the climax with the erupting volcano, it was pretty awesome. Ok, maybe not as on the edge of your seat gripping as the other ones, but it is a better and cooler climax than the previous one. There was one other thing that I should mention by the way, that changed the series. In the intro to the cartoon, instead of hearing and seeing Superman being "able to leap tall buildings in a single bound", we instead see a cartoon plane as we hear "able to soar higher than any plane". Why did they change that? Seriously, the original line is so iconic that replacing seemed to be a flat out insult to the fans. Plus, I enjoyed seeing Superman leaping a tall building, why did they change, was it because of World War 2. Whatever the case is, the change seemed very unnecessary. However, that's just a small nitpick.
The animation is once again amazing; the setup is great; the climax, while not all that thrilling, is a lot cooler then the last episode; and Clark is starting to become a little bit more interesting, or at least not as boring, as he was in the previous ones. If they didn't make Lois such a stupid self centered bitch, or at least gave Superman a personality, then the episode would have gotten my highest rating.
TERROR ON THE MIDWAY
Lois goes on to do a news report at a circus, however, a monkey accidentally lets loose a giant wild Gorilla, and all of hell breaks lose. "This looks like a job for Superman". As silly, as the premise sounds, it's actually done really, really well. Clark's personality has definitely improved, in fact, I actually enjoy being around him, especially the comments that he gives to Lois and the situation itself. Lois, well, I'll admit she's not as bitchy as she was in the previous episode since she does risk her life to save a little girl, but she's still a boring and shallow damsel in distress.
The giant Gorilla that Superman has to fight is a much better monster than the Arctic Giant. He looks scary and threatening, instead of looking silly and cartoony; the amount of damage and chaos it causes makes the situation more and more tense and outrageous than it already is; and on top of it, it actually does put up more of a fight than what the Arctic Monster did. In fact, there's a brief shot of struggle and pain on Superman's face, how often do we see him have a struggling reaction. The animation is not only great, but I love the creative, colorful and dark circus look of the episode, it just makes it an even more visual treat to watch.
Aside from Lois and Superman still being boring, this is one of the best episodes I've ever seen from the show. The setup, while sounding silly, is executed really well; the giant gorilla is really cool and scary; the action and chaos never stops once it starts, and just keeps building and building; the animation is not only great, but it's very creative with its Circus look; and I'm glad that Clark is starting to flesh out his personality. If they at least gave Superman a personality, I would actually give it my highest rating, but sadly, it's going to get my second best rating, which pains me, since it's a really great episode.
OVERALL ON THE FLEISCHER YEARS OF THE 40S CARTOON OF SUPERMAN
So those were my reviews of the 40s cartoon of Superman when the Fleischer Brothers ran it, before "Famous Studios" took over, and it's awesome! Ok, when it comes to characters, not so much. Clark doesn't start getting fun or interesting personality till the last two episodes; Superman, while doing cool things, doesn't have a personality at all; Lois is by far one of the worst female characters that I've ever seen in a Superhero cartoon; Perry White does and shows up so little that he's forgettable; and the villains with the exception of a few, are more based on design and causing trouble for our hero, than actually having a personality. With that said, I don't have much to fault the 40s cartoon, while the Fleischers were in control. The episodes, while being simple and always following the same exact formula, at the very least always do have an interesting, tense, and creative setup to keep you invested or at the very least interested in what's going on, and how Superman will save the day.
The number 1 reason what makes this cartoon so awesome is the animation. The animation is so incredible to look at, that it not only brought a different look to animated Superheroes on the big screen, but is also one of the most influential pieces of animation of all time! On top of it, I not only love the style, look, and tone for this take on Superman, but the action scenes, in almost every episode are where the animation and our hero really shines the most. They're so cool, action-packed, and intense that it really does expose the awesome factor of this uninteresting hero. Plus, adding it with the Superman theme song increases the awesomeness of these action scenes. The characters may be boring and dull, but the rest of the series has enough awesome things to get you invested in what's being placed right before your eyes.
RATING FOR THE FLEISCHER YEARS 4/5
So that's my review of the 40's Superman cartoon during the years when the Fleischer Brothers were in control, and don't worry, I'll review the 40s cartoon when "Famous Studios" took over it in the near future.