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Superman Classics

Other // Unrated // May 30, 2006
List Price: $6.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Todd Douglass Jr. | posted June 1, 2006 | E-mail the Author

The Show:

Faster than a speeding train and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound; Superman has become an American icon. He was one of the original "superheroes" and nearly seventy years later his popularity has never been higher. Stuff like Smallville, Justice League and the upcoming Superman Returns simply prove that the man of steel isn't going away any time soon. Yes, in the comic world Superman is a classic among classics. Depending on the generation you were born into though you may or may not be familiar with just how far back Kal-el goes.

Any comic geek worth their salt could tell you that Superman's first appearance was in the first issue of Action Comics back in 1938. They could also probably tell you that Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel were his creators. I wonder though if someone from today's Superman generation could tell you about the 1940s cartoon series by Paramount Pictures.

Between 1941 and 1943 a total of seventeen episodes were produced for the show and in that time two different studios worked on them. Fleischer Studios started the series but when Paramount gave them the boot Famous Studios came in to pick up the pieces. The change in the animation quality wasn't that much different due to the larger than normal budget for the time period. As the show changed hands though some things were altered including more of an emphasis on world war plotlines and the changing of some classic phrases.

Anybody who is a fan of Superman will enjoy Superman Classics as long as they have an appreciation for original material. Like many television series from this particular time period the Superman cartoons have lapsed into the public domain. That means everybody and their grandmother has the ability to get their hands on it and not really have to worry about shelling out big bucks for publication rights. Instead of looking for a way to make a cheap buck it would have been nice if a company got their hands on a classic like this and turned it into a labor of love. Alas the disc in question gets little attention.

What it does offer is a retro look at the entire run of the series from the moment Fleischer Studios started it to when Famous Studios ended it. That means all seventeen episodes are featured here in the order that they were produced. The quality of said episodes varies great and you have to watch it with the understanding that this stuff was meant for a different time period.

Things start off simple enough with a brief introduction to the character before the action gets underway. A mad scientist makes a death ray of sorts and begins shooting at metropolis with wanton abandon. Naturally Superman steps in to save the day and instead of saving the city he has to rescue Lois Lane as well. After that a bunch of remote controlled robots come to town to start stealing stuff, a train full of gold bullion is robbed with Lois in board and Godzilla runs amuck in Metropolis. Okay, maybe it wasn't Godzilla (this show predates the Japanese classic) but the T-Rex that is let loose behaves and looks an awful lot like the monster. Maybe this cartoon was an inspiration for Godzilla? Who knows?

Beyond that point all manner of stuff happens from Superman spying on the Japanese to fighting a mummy. The content varies greatly and like I said it was greatly influenced by the time period and what was going on in the world. Despite the age of the show I particular loved the style of the artwork. Everything had a certain science fiction design to it that was appropriate for that point in time. The animation was pretty fluid too and it says something about the budget this show had for back then.

Episode List:

The Mechanical Monsters
The Billion Dollar Limited
The Arctic Giant
The Bulleteers
The Magnetic Telescope
The Electric Earthquake
Terror on the Midway
Eleventh Hour
Destruction Inc.
The Mummy Strikes
Jungle Drums
The Underground World
Secret Agent

The DVD:

The Video:

Taking into consideration the fact that this content is over sixty years old it should be no surprise that the image is riddled with problems. The fullframe picture is presented in color but no effort in restoration was made. There is a slew of dirt, grain, compression, washed out imagery, and all manner of flaws with the video. I suppose that's just to be expected with something of this age, but for anything beyond nostalgic value there is little to get excited about.

The Audio:

What's that I hear? Dolby Digital AC-3 Stereo awaits those of you who drop the seven bucks or so for this release. The quality is extremely poor with a great amount of distortion, static and audio that sounds like it's emanating from a tin can. The volume pitches horribly at times as well. No subtitles are featured for the disc and there are no other language options either.

The Extras:

There is nothing included here other than the episodes themselves unless you want to include some temporary tatoos and a maze on the inside cover.

Final Thoughts:

From what I have read the content here is all public domain so it shouldn't surprise anyone that some ultra cheap collections have hit the market. It's a shame because something like this could have been really special if someone had turned it into a labor of love. Clean up the video as much as possible, trying to fix the audio issues and maybe even give some supplemental features like interviews or documentaries. As it stands you almost get what you pay for with the $7. Superfans will love getting their hands on the complete 1940s animated run, but to be honest nobody else needs to bother.

Check out more of my reviews here. Head on over to my anime blog as well for random musings and reviews of anime, manga, and stuff from Japan!

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