“Up in the sky, look! It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s Superman! Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, this amazing stranger from the planet Krypton, The Man of Steel: Superman! Empowered with X-ray vision, possessing remarkable physical strength, Superman fights a never-ending battle for truth and justice, disguised as a mild-mannered newspaper reporter, Clark Kent.”
One of my first introductions to Superman was in an old VHS tape my mother had bought my brother and I that had two Superman animated shorts on them. Back in the old days when VHS dominated the market, you could buy them anywhere. Bargain bins, dollar stores, cashiers, pharmacies, et al. To keep my brother and me occupied my mom took every opportunity to spring for a VHS of animated movies, and Superman was among a long list of cartoons including Popeye, Felix the Cat, and Casper the Friendly Ghost. Something about Superman stuck with me, and he’s been a lifelong obsession that’s been a part of my life and a huge influence since I was in grade school. In honor of the 80th anniversary of the man of steel, I list my top five Max Fleischer Superman shorts.
5. The Bulleteers (1942)
In “The Bulleteers,” Superman faces what is essentially kamikaze bombers driving indestructible, really speedy bullet shaped vehicles. Said vehicles can crash in to buildings demolishing them and demand a ransom. Creative in the way it shapes terrorists, “The Bulleteers” has a good time with its unique concept offering quick pacing, and brilliant animation.
4. The Magnetic Telescope (1942)
When a local scientist is banned from operating his very deadly magnetic telescope, he barricades himself inside his lab and puts Metropolis in jeopardy threatening to destroy them with passing comets and space debris. It’s up to Superman to stop his power hungry urges and stop his machine. It’s another case of Superman fighting a super powerful weapon and putting himself in danger to help Metropolis. I love it.
3. The Arctic Giant (1942)
Another very science fiction type of short featuring the man of steel involves a giant monster that’s brought to Metropolis. When it’s accidentally thawed out it’s up to Superman to stop it. The monster is beautifully realized with a clear resemblance to Godzilla, and its fun to watch Superman tussle with the creature. This is yet another of the earliest Superman shorts I remember watching.
2. The Mad Scientist (1941)
Exquisitely animated and action packed, “The Mad Scientist” is one of the first exposures to Superman I’ve ever had. It has everything there is to love about the character, including a pretty excellent steam punk aesthetic with a scientist who has a giant laser that he’s using to hold Metropolis hostage. With Lois in jeopardy, Superman has to lessen the destruction of the laser, while also saving Lois. There’s a lot of great moments including one of my favorites where Superman battles the powerful laser by will alone.
1. The Mechanical Monsters (1941)
One of the most influential shorts from the series, “The Mechanical Monsters” has it all. There’s Superman, Lois Lane, giant robots, and a mad scientist! When a mad scientist builds an army of anthropomorphic robots to loot local banks from Metropolis, Lois on the case and sadly gets kidnapped. Now Superman comes to her rescue and makes it his mission to end the robots’ reign of terror. “The Mechanical Monsters” is packed with iconic scenery, and a damn good villain, not to mention Superman doing what he does best.