Superman Gets Animated: From The Depression Until Now, A Man (Of Steel) For All Seasons.

With all the hype surrounding “Man of Steel” director Zack Snyder’s rebooting of the stagnant Superman franchise, now seemed as good a time as any to go back and review The Last Son of Krypton’s animated adventures.

From Max Fleischer’s startlingly real cartoons of the 1940s to the high camp of “The Superfriends” in the 1970s right on through to the animated series of the 1990s and his straight-to-DVD adventures of the last decade, there’s been no shortage of animators who have had their way with Kal-El and his crew.

Here’s a quick review of some of my favorites:

1. “The Electric Ray,” Max Fleischer Cartoon, 1941
Best-known for bringing Popeye and Betty Boop to theaters, Fleischer cartoons were inescapable in the moviehouses of the 1940s. The studio produced a total of 17 shorts on the Man of Steel, using a process known as Rotoscoping, or the tracing of live action onto animation cels, to give the cartoons an added realism. They’ve been repackaged and resold for years and are pretty easy to get hold of.

2. Superman, 1966-67, Fimation
In the 1960s, Filmation got hold of the D.C. superheroes, producing a series of cartoons on a wide variety of heroes, including Green Lantern and Hawkwman. Here’s the intro:


3. The Superfriends, 1970s.
This was my first introduction to Supes’ animated adventures. I was in elementary school when these cartoons debuted. And I vividly remember spending Saturday mornings eagerly plunked in front of the TV waiting for them to come on. From 1973, here’s a retelling of Supes’ origin tale.

4. A late addition. A friend of mine alerted me to the existence of this short-lived series, which aired on CBS in 1988. Thanks to Chuck Wisniowski for the history lesson.

5. Superman, The Animated Series, 1990s.
With the success of Batman, the Animated Series in the 1990s, Supes got his own reboot, taking on the same sharp art-deco lines as Batman, but with the futuristic optimism that marked his early comic book adventures. He was voiced by “Wings” actor Tim Daly.

5. Justice League Unlimited.
Animator Paul Dini’s ensemble show is still the gold standard as far as I’m concerned. There was nothing even remotely kid-like about this show.

6. Superman/Batman, Public Enemies.
A few years back, DC/Warners animation had the presence of mind to start adapting Jeph Loeb’s excellent Superman/Batman team book to the direct-to-DVD market. The comics hearkened back to the old World’s Finest comics I read when I was a kid. This 2009 release captured the spirit of the comics.

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