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My Hero


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It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s … the Max Fleischer Superman cartoons from 1941-43. Whenever Time-Warner regurgitates yet another dull version of its caped cash cow, I always go back to these original screen versions. They’re the coolest, certainly the most handsome looking, and they adhere best to the patriotic “can do” spirit of Siegel and Shuster’s original comics. Buildings, vehicles and even humans are modeled with Streamline Moderne crispness. Lois Lane is characterized as the chic yet plucky ’40s gal we all remember, and every cartoon winds up with the shot of Clark Kent all smug and happy that he fooled Lois again. The storylines are often ridiculous — The Arctic Giant with a giant dinosaur on the loose is typical — but I love the economy of storytelling and the variety of dramatic angles, pans and that sort of thing. These cartoons are amazingly sophisticated, even by 1940s standards.

Luckily, since Paramount let these films lapse into public domain, most of them can be viewed online. Archive.org hosts 14 of the original 17 cartoons for download. Wikipedia’s entry links to each of them. This page of production sketches from the 1944 effort Terror on the Midway gives some indication of the incredible visual detail that went into each production. Up up and away!

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