Max Fleischer's Superman: 1941-1942

Max Fleischer's Superman: 1941-1942
Though DC Comics and parent company Warner have previously issued a slew of mostly slapdash assemblies of the Fleischer Studios-produced Superman cartoons, this latest two-disc set is the first to collect all 17 theatrical shorts, boasting remastered transfers from "superior original vault elements!" Shuster and Siegel's Superman was in his infancy during the early '40s and in many ways, these nine-minute shorts (or "one reelers," in the parlance of nickelodeon) laid the groundwork for the character's classical iconography. From the quintessential "Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!" preambles, Fleischer's cartoons invigorated the static frames of the Action Comics pages, visually defining the Man of Steel's dynamic range of movement. It was Fleischer who quite literally gave Supes his wings, granting the character the power of flight, where in the comics he merely, well, leapt. The cartoons are fairly similar: in her tireless quest for the latest scoop, pro snoop Lois Lane runs afoul of some mobsters (or Nazis, or giant robots) and mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent tosses his glasses, ties on his trademark red cape and races to the rescue. The real gems here are the WWII-era pieces, which have Superman sinking brigades of U-Boats in "Jungle Drums" or foiling the plots of enemy spies. Because these cartoons belong to the public domain and are widely available online, this modestly priced set comes packaged with a two fairly humdrum, short documentaries. "First Flight" features current DC employees, former Fleischer animators and cartoon historians convincingly attesting to the consequence of Fleischer's shorts, and "The Man, The Myth, Superman" traces the popularity of the character to the Nietzschean notion of Übermensch and the labours of Hercules. There's nothing especially new here but the shorts are brilliantly remastered, their saturated Technicolor more vibrant than ever, making this set a definitive artefact not only for collectors of all things Kyrptonian but any fan of Golden Age American animation. (Warner)