The first Superman cartoon was a masterful, essential portrayal of the most iconic Superman there is, rivaling the prowess of Walt Disney and essentially founding the genre of animated action adventure series. At least, that's the conceit of a new video by indie film essayist Kaptainkristian. Superman - The Golden Age of Animation argues that Max Fleischer, whose name you recognize from iconic cartoons like Popeye and Betty Boop, injected a professionalism and attention to detail into the series that continues to outperform the superhero's most recent iterations.
Fleischer was exploring the intersection of art and technology even back in the 1940s. His invention of the rotoscope, a tool used even today to capture human movements and convert them into animated frames, lends the original series a sense of life unmatched by some actual live-action movies. "Every element in these films, from the movement to the color to the sound design worked so synergistically that sometimes you forget these cartoons were made in the 40s," Kaptainkristian says in the video. "Even the lighting is realistic. It looks almost like an oil painting, being dark and shadowy while maintaining that beautifully saturated color."
Kaptainkristian also dissects the impact Fleischer's series had on popular culture, with apparent influence on titles as diverse as Godzilla and Hayao Miyazaki's Castle in the Sky. With Batman v Superman earning mixed reviews, now's a great time for casual fans to investigate the classic series, and hardcore superhero connoisseurs to revisit it.
See more of Kaptainkristian's work on his YouTube channel.