fleischer superman

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Superman Throughout Animation

anonymous asked:

It's implied in Animal Man that the REM song "Superman" exists in the DCU. It still totally flows, but how would other songs/movies/etc be changed in the DCU to reflect that Superman's a celebrity and not a fictional character? We know he's licensed his image out to cartoons for charity work, for instance.

I’d say that obviously anything directly referencing his secret identity would be right out, but maybe not. The Golden Age story “Superman, Matinee Idol!” (the first marked as an “Imaginary Story”) had him and Lois go to a movie with a Superman cartoon serial at the front…a sequel to the classic Superman versus The Mad Scientist Fleischer short, which reveals Superman’s secret identity! With no more explanation than pondering if the creators - credited from “Action Comics and Superman Magazine, Based on the famous comic strip created by Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster” - were clairvoyant, Superman spent the whole story making sure Lois’s attention was divided whenever ‘Superman’ changed on-screen. You’d think this would be pretty pointless given everyone’s going to know now anyway, but I admit, if it was my secret identity that was blown wide open, I’d probably use my last few minutes of privacy to screw with a friend too. And logic be damned, it got us this panel:

So Superman as a fictional entity in-universe has been established for awhile; as you said, he licensed his image out to charity, and Gregory Reed is consistently his most prominent actor in the movies (in one version he hitchhiked to Metropolis from Chicago and made a living as a pizza delivery boy while fighting “Dr. Cosmos”). He exists in the in-universe DC Comics, too; in a Mark Millar short where he interviewed Wally West it was mentioned that Superman didn’t have a secret identity in the comics since they didn’t believe he had one, whereas I know Young Justice once mentioned his comics self had a name that Impulse referred to him as for months. According to Jimmy Olsen’s Big Week, he also had a video game made by Lexcorp of all companies, because money’s money no matter who your arch-nemesis is.

So Superman’s out there in all media in the DCU, but that invites the question: what did comics and movies and whatnot look like before superheroes arrived, stripping away their influence on pop culture? We can assume Iron Munroe was around in comics given he’s been cited as a childhood hero of Clark’s once or twice, but what else is there to fill the gap (unless you’re assuming the JSA was already around long before Superman and his allies, but that was always dumb so I’m ignoring it)?

I have a semi-serious suggestion on that front.

If you’re not familiar, America’s Best Comics was a Wildstorm imprint run by Alan Moore, and while it’s most well-known for being the starting place of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, its main accomplishment as far as I’m concerned was in the shared universe it built between Tom Strong, Top 10, Promethea, and Tomorrow Stories. Top 10 was the only one of the bunch to prominently feature ‘traditional’ superheroes, and even there it was about the police-procedural adventures of cops in a city full of them; almost everyone else was more directly inspired by superheroes’ pulp predecessors, or comics outside the traditional superhero genre like MAD Magazine or The Spirit. They were universally excellent - as indicated by them all being written by Alan Moore, with the likes of Chris Sprouse, Gene Ha, J.H. Williams III, Kevin Maguire, Rick Veitch and more in tow - and one of Moore’s explicit driving ideas behind it was wondering what comics would have looked like had Superman never been created, i.e. adventure comics would still have reigned, and superheroes inevitably still would have emerged, but multiple genres would have had a better shot at coexisting.

In that light, I definitely could see little Clark Kent reading about Tom Strong growing up. The ABC universe is probably the biggest expansive superhero concept DC has its hands on that it hasn’t attempted to integrate into its main universe one way or another, and unlike Watchmen, these were at least actually meant to be eternal ongoings in the same way as Superman or Batman. You could just suggest that all the most explicit superhero stuff are additions from a recent reboot to account for Superman and his kin - the original ABC #1s all acted like these were preexisting concepts being relaunched that we were all already familiar with, so Top 10 being a retcon could easily fit - and just having them pop up as comics in the background would be better than trying to shove all the decades of history implied into DC’s own setup. Not that any of this needs to happen, but DC has a habit of not leaving anything alone, and this would be a way of slotting them in that addresses an aspect of how the DCU works without stepping on the actual original comics.

How Superman sold his soul and lost the power of hope.

My love for Superman began in Kindergarten when I saw the Fleischer Studios Superman animated shorts. It wasn’t long until I encountered the comic book version of Superman. I can still remember the feeling those animated movies and comic books stirred within me. It’s the same feeling countless children have experienced for over 75 years. His powers, “beyond those of mortal men”, were incredible and his adventures could span galaxies. There was exuberance and wonder when you read a Superman comic book. Who didn’t want to be Superman? For me he was a character of hope and inspiration.

From the 1930s to the 1970s the popularity of comic books among children was staggering. Superman led all superheroes with the most cultural significance for many of those years. To this day his trademark ‘S’ is one of the most widely recognized symbols in the world. As the first superhero he is the ultimate American myth, bearing the mantra “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.” Superman could always be counted on to make the right choice even when it meant sacrificing his desires for the greater good. He has survived many periods of social, political, cultural, and stylistic change. Yet, through all these changes Superman steadfastly carried on as an ambassador of selflessness, integrity and morality. That is, until recently.

Comic books felt the first rumbling of this change in the mid 80s when two graphic novels redefined the genre. Watchmen by Alan Moore deconstructed the superhero myth and gave us a world of heroes flawed and more graphically raw than anything seen before. However, it was Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns that struck a cultural nerve with the mainstream media. Miller took Batman back to his roots and put the “dark” firmly back in the Dark Knight. The details of this story can read elsewhere, but it not only redefined Batman, it cast Superman as a villain with outdated ideals. Frank Miller’s Superman was a Regan-era staunch conservative who became a super-weapon at the beck and call of the U.S. government.

The ramifications of these two stories were felt immediately in the world of comic book superheroes. In less than a decade a new breed of superhero dominated the market. Violent heroes more despicable than 60 years worth of villains were now marketed to an increasingly violence obsessed youth culture.

Superman was losing his footing in popular culture and in 1992 DC Comics killed the Man of Steel. The Death of Superman storyline was both a brilliant marketing ploy and a statement on the relevance of the “Big Blue Boy Scout”. For a time interest in Superman was revived and sales of Superman comics reached numbers not seen in decades. Eventually he returned from the dead, sales dropped, and writers tried to find new ways for Superman to continue his never-ending battle.

23 years have passed since The Death of Superman and DC’s multiple attempts to revive his popularity have left him a shadow of the hero he was in my childhood.  2006 saw Superman return to the big screen under Bryan Singer’s direction.  In this his first movie in over 20 years, Superman is portrayed as having left earth for years in search of his home planet’s remains.  Upon returning to earth he spends nearly two hours moping and questioning whether he is needed at all. To top off this triumphant return to film we find out Superman is the father of a bastard child he has neglected while off planet. The best part of the movie features Lex Luthor viciously stabbing Superman with Kryptonite. Not surprisingly the movie failed to reinvigorate the franchise and a reboot was inevitably ordered.

In 2013 Zack Snyder was chosen to bring direction to a new Superman film franchise. In Man of Steel Snyder continues Bryan Singer’s mopey Superman theme. Clark Kent is shown as a lonely outsider, and in one scene destroys a man’s livelihood because he makes fun of Clark. In one of his more heroic moments Clark allows his father to die in a tornado to keep his own alien identity safe. The whole movie is weighed down with a feeling of dread too heavy for even Superman to carry. Following a climactic battle that destroys half of Metropolis and takes thousands of lives, Superman then savagely executes the main antagonist. This plot point has been debated ad nauseam, but the fact remains Superman killed and did so in front of a family with a young child.

This Superman is no hero for children and Man of Steel fails to elicit exuberance, wonder or fun of any kind. His greatest power was his ability to transcend humanity’s failings and give us something to look up to. Zack Snyder, with DC’s blessing, has stripped that ability from him and made Superman an earthbound, sinful, mortal.

The comics have followed suit and currently Superman is a buzz cut brute, nearly powerless, wearing jeans and a t-shirt. He cusses and takes pleasure in beating thugs with his bare hands. This is not Superman. It is a sad reflection of a culture that has lost its imagination. Superman’s writers say it’s a different day and age and Superman must mature. Is this true, or is it too hard to write a hero who stands for something and is inspiring? A Superman not written with children in mind is a Superman I cannot enjoy.

As a child who spent many days in hospital rooms recovering from illnesses and surgeries, Superman was a safe escape that gave me hope. Today’s Superman can no more lift a locomotive than lift the spirits of a child. One day DC may realize how seriously lost their flagship character has become, but until that day I will not follow the Man of Tomorrow into a dark, hopeless future.

Scene from Man of Steel, following his killing of General Zod.


Superman as he now appears in comic books.