Monday, October 24, 2011


I have one of the new iPad touch-screen portable computer-like devices. It's what I'm reading my comics on now.

But I'm also using it for other applications, including watching videos/movies. High on my list of early purchase (right after the Filmation cartoons of Aquaman, Swift and Powerful Monarch of the Ocean) were the Fleischer Superman cartoons. If you've never seen them... well, do; they are still astonishing today, and even more astonishing when you remember when and how they were made.

Entirely aside from being masterpieces of the art of animation, the Fleischer cartoons had an enormous impact in cementing much of the Superman mythos in the public mind (including the idea that Superman could actually fly, not just leap tall buildings in single bound, a transition that he made over the course of Fleischer series itself).

Superman does many amazing thing in the Fleischer cartoon. He fights lions, and robots, and Japanazis, oh my. He lifts heavy objects, he does moves quickly, and he withstands violent attacks by man, machine, and nature. But there is one thing he does not do (or hardly ever does, that I can tell)...


Granted, there's not a lot of talking in these cartoons at all. There's just enough palaver to set up the situations and for some lightly humorous/ironic epilogues with Clark and Lois. But once the fit hits the shan, Superman is all about ACTION. Superman has stuff to do, it's difficult stuff, and he has to do it fast. He has no time for chatter and no one really to chatter with any way. And it is bracing to see.

It makes for an interesting disjunct. Clark Kent is a man of words. He talks; he types. He's not cowardly, by any means, but while he's trying to talk his way around situations, Lois is stealing his press pass, jumping into robot's backs, and slipping onto top secret aeroplanes.

Superman, on the other hand, does not talk. It's nearly definitional: if the situation is dire enough for Superman to go in to action, there is no time or opportunity for talking and talking won't do any good any way.

It's an interesting and refreshingly simple approach. I'd like to see in tried in comic books. I'd like to read at least a year's worth of Superman/Action comics where Superman gives no monologues, be they inner (those are for supporting characters) or outer (those are for villians), engages in no dialog (if you want an interview, talk to Clark Kent), and just... DOES stuff.

I'd buy that for a year. Would you?


Anonymous said...

I don't know, that means abandoning useful storytelling techniques and limiting Superman to fights that are easily explained with just physical action. Seems a bit like trying to tell stories without using the letter "j" -- occasionally fun but I'd hate to commit to it.

You might want to dig up some old "Warlord" comics with Mike Grell art; there's always at least one sequence that is told wordlessly. Also, it's Mike Grell art.

Nathan Hall said...

I'd enjoy seeing Superman doing more in WWII times. No moral ambiguity, just dead Japanzais. No one lecturing him for not spotting her husband's brain tumor, HE'S FIGHTING HITLER, DAMMIT! That's right, just good ol' fashioned heroic populism, like what made him popular the first time. Tikkun Olam like it was in grandpa's day.

Also, Fleischer's animation is surprisingly smooth and quite vivid, even in today's digital age.

Bryan L said...

The Fleischer animation is quite wonderful. Is this the first time you're seeing it, Scipio? 'Cause there have been dirt-cheap DVDs floating around forever. I bought the full set un-bowdlerized (is that a word?)for less than $10, as I recall.

Your observations do intrigue me. I vastly prefer Superman when Clark is a person and Superman is just a -- tool, if you will.

Scipio said...

Oh, no, I owned them on VHS tapes, if you remember what those are. But I only had the bowdlerized versions.

dan said...

At $4 apiece, I want writing. I want feel like I've just read something.

Comics with action and few words read too thin, leaving me feel like I'm not getting my money's worth.

And I felt that way even when they were a dollar. I feel quadruple that when they're four dollars.