Looking back at the animated adventures of Superman

We celebrate the life and times of Superman's animated adventures, and pick out the many highlights...

For any Superman fan, it’s hard to have favourites and almost impossible to choose a winner between ‘Fleischer’ cartoons (later produced by Famous Studios) and the modern day cartoons, as they all serve well when it comes to Superman history. But I’m going to take a look at Fleischer and Famous Studios’ Superman contribution and then at the more modern day Superman cartoons to see which ones are better suited to the heart of the comic book series.

The Fleischer Superman cartoons were massive hits back in the 1940s, running from 1941 to 1943, with Famous taking over roughly midway. They’re responsible for making the Man of Steel fly, for originally he was only supposed to be able to “leap tall buildings at a single bound”.  Having tried this during the animation process and being unhappy with it, they decided to allow Superman to fly instead. And he’s been doing so ever since.

The cartoons were all in colour and there were seventeen released altogether. They were and still are seen as some of the finest looking cartoons on screen, and they have certainly stood the test of time by still looking great today.

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The show received much praise from producers and fans all around the globe, and was nominated for numerous awards, with the premiere episode even finding itself charted in the 50 Greatest Cartoons of All Time (As Selected By 1,000 Animation Professionals) at number 33.

You may recognise the phrase “faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings at a single bound” from this show. And although the phrase was often changed quite a lot, this is the most familiar.

Radio personality, Bud Collyer, provided the voice of Superman, whilst similarly trained Joan Alexander was the voice of Lois Lane. The voice acting was great, and although they sound a little corny and tinny today, they’ll always be remembered and associated with this show.

The show itself included Superman fighting all sorts of weird creatures. These included robots, dinosaurs and creatures from outer space. The later cartoons focused heavily on the war that was raging under Hitler, and he even made a cameo appearance! 

Superman and Hitler were common enemies in the 1940s comic book era, with Superman fighting him and his army, and succeeding. It helped people in the real world forget the devastation that was happening around them and made them believe that there was hope out there for them, despite the terrors of war.

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The cartoon represented the comics of the time very well, and although it only lasted a couple of years, the show will always be up there in cartoon and Superman history as being one of the best.

We have a gallery of all seventeen episodes here, so you can enjoy them anytime.

The modern day Superman cartoons came thick and fast. The majority were short films, more than an actual series that focused on major Superman villains and storylines adapted from recent comic books.

There was a Superman: The Animated Series, which ran from 1996 to 2000 and was very popular with the kids, as it was aired on cartoon networks. Adults alike would admit to watching the show with their children, for the cartoons had great stories, villains and depth. You could collect merchandise from the show in toy stores and in Happy Meals, which really showed how successful, and popular, the show was.

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The show itself often strayed away from the current comics, with Clark’s ship designed to have had a pilot, and having been retuned to autopilot instead. This allowed for Clark to have a safe landing on his journey to Earth, and he used the ship for travelling around space.

The show included regular guest stars from other DC comic characters, including Batman. Midway through the show’s run, it was renamed The New Superman Adventures and then a spin-off show was introduced which included all of the members of the Justice League.

The show introduced the villain, Darkseid (voiced by Michael Ironside), to our screens and was portrayed slightly differently than had been seen in other Superman shows and comics. As for Superman, he was voiced by Tim Daly. 

The cartoon included many Superman twists and the writers changed some Superman history into the way they wanted it. Who knows, maybe this was to make it more appealing for the younger generation.

One of my personal Superman favourites has to be the Doomsday animated film. Based on the Doomsday comic, it was gripping and action-packed right from the start.  Many will argue, however, that it differs slightly from the comic, and this put some fans off. Whilst I agree, I also think that it would have been hard for them to have placed every single little detail into the film. 

They didn’t want the film to be just a straight comic to screen flick. They wanted it to differ slightly, to surprise. And surprise it does. Lois figures out that Clark is actually Superman quite early on in the film, after much speculating.

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The film mixes both science fiction and action together, as Lex Luthor is responsible for creating a Superman clone in his lab, designed to respond to everything he tells it to do, set in place of the real Superman, who was killed by the monster Doomsday.

I think James Marsters, who does the voice of Lex, is excellent, as his voice is just perfect for the role. Lex looks very different in the film to how he looks in the comic.  In the comic he has thick red hair and a beard, a disguise he made to trick people into thinking that he wasn’t the real Lex Luthor.

The way Jimmy Olsen is designed to look in this cartoon is rather a surprise. Instead of the dorky, geeky ‘not very cool’ Jimmy, we see a Jimmy who shows off an earring and looks, er, well, kind of cool!

The real Superman comes back from the dead dressed in black, with long hair, a disguise Superman is not associated with, and this helped make the film fresh, whilst also moving it away from the norm.

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The Superman All Star Comics is one of my favourites, as it has an interesting storyline. Superman is dying after having his body overdosed with solar radiation and the film makes you feel sorry for him, as he tries to keep the secret that he’s dying away from the general public. Yet, he chooses to tell Lois his secret of being Superman and the fact that he’s dying, because he loves her, and before he dies he wants her to know everything.

The film ended too abruptly for my liking. Superman went up to the sun to save the world one last time after the sun had become infected (down to Luthor) and then it ended. It would have been nice to have had a happy ending, which is what often happens in most Superman movies, but this one ended on a cliffhanger and makes you wonder what happened to the Man of Steel.

It does stick to the comics very well, from the character appearances, all the way down to the plot. It’s the only Superman film out there that does base itself so near to the comic it is trying to be, but I personally preferred to ‘read’ the story, rather than ‘watch’ it. This is because you can fit more into a comic, feel more for the characters, whilst at the same time it feels more indulgent.

I didn’t like the way Superman looked facially in this film. His lips were too big and his face was too slim. His costume, however, was perfect and I loved the way his cape hung loosely over his shoulders.

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The plots in the modern day cartoons are much more in-depth than the ones in the Fleischer cartoons, with the villains designed to be modernised for youthful audience. 

If you see yourself into the less serious and more heroic adventures, then Fleischer’s cartoons are for you. If you’re more into the action-packed, violent, gripping fast-paced adventures, then you’ll find yourself most suited to the modern cartoons. 

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