Look, up in the Sky!

February 8, 2007 at 9:28 pm 1 comment

No post tomorrow; I’ll be spending a solid 20 hours in the City of London, which leaves precious little time for sleep, let alone entertaining all my imaginary readers which hilarious and insightful blogging.

There’s also going to be a week later this month where I don’t post because I’ll be in Paris. But at this point, I’m just bragging.

Anyway! Today I have a special treat for you all. Today, I’m going to tell you a story about something amazing and marvelous; a thing from beyond the edges of imagination and wonder! Today, I shall tell you about:

The Max Fleischer Cartoons

Back in the early 40’s Fleischer Studios where contacted by Paramount Pictures in an effort to bring a popular new hero to the screen; Superman, the Man of Steel, who first appeared in 1938. The Fleischer’s asked for a then unheard-of $100,000 per episode to produce the series, and were frankly shocked to get the deal. The result? Nine solid cartoons of superpowered badassery. For now, though, I’ll just focus on the first one.

If there’s anywhere this cartoon suffers in comparison to the others, it’s the long build-up. This story opens with a telling of Superman’s origin, the familiar “Last Son of Krypton” stuff. Only in this instance Krypton was shaken apart by earthquakes and Clark Kent was raised in an orphanage. Odd.

What is great about this bit, though? The theme music, which evokes a wonderful sense of joy, triumph and adventure, combined with the classic introduction that urges viewers to “Look! Up in the sky!”. Every Fleischer Superman short from here on out opens with the “faster than a speeding bullet” monologue, and you can easily see why it’s so thoroughly entered popular culture lexicon.

As we move into the main story, we’re thrown into one of the most common Superman themes; Superman VS The Scientist. In this case, a mad scientist has built a giant laser to destroy Metropolis (with a rather specific warning that he’ll strike at midnight), and it’s up to Superman to save the day. For what it’s worth, I’ve always seen Superman’s continual conflict with the scientific elite to be representative of humanity’s fear of technology, known by the working class since the start of the Industrial Revolution and spread to the Middle and Upper Classes through the horror of the first World War. After seeing machine guns tear a generation apart there’s something therapeutic about watching a man who shrugs off bullets, and who through great power and humanity continually overcomes the depersonalized forces of technology.

But enough historical analysis. It’s time for Superman to kick some ass.

After capturing Lois Lane (as villains are wont to do), our Mad Scientist of the day starts blasting apart Metropolis, destroying a bridge and taking out the support from the Daily Planet building. A quick change of costume, and Clark Kent becomes Superman, who averts disaster by holding up the Daily Planet skyscraper with his bare hands.

This is how you have Superman be a badass

After tilting it back into place with some unusual jumping, Superman averts further destruction by throwing himself in front of the laser beam. And then punching it.

Yes, imaginary ladies and gentlemen, Superman punches a laser. Repeatedly.

What follows is a tense back in forth with Superman fighting his way to the source of the laser while our Mad Scientist tries desperately to increase it’s power. Finally cowed by Superman’s might, the Scientist attempts a mad getaway while yellingy “He’s not human!”. Clearly he missed the intro about Krypton.

Superman, showcasing his ever-present HATRED for science, destroys the laser and rescues Lois Lane. The Mad Scientist goes to jail, Lois gets her big story, and everyone is happy.

Especially the people who just watched Superman punch a laser.

In the future, expect more posts on this subject, with a rundown of each of the Fleischer shorts, a discussion of Lois Lane, the switch to Paramount studios, and Superman fighting both robots and dinosaurs.

Trust me, it’s going to be great.

Editor’s Note: Wait, I spent 20 hours straight in London? What the hell was I doing? I can’t remember that at all.

This retrospective on the Fleischer Superman shorts started when I checked a DVD of them out of the school library. It didn’t finish until Milkshakes & Dinosaurs went live. The long delay can be attributed to absolute sloth on my part.


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