Superman is the first superhero ever created. He’s the reason DC Comics are where they are today. Being the world’s biggest hero, Superman has appeared in numerous animated adventures. Today, we’re going to look at a brief history at the Man of Tomorrow’s life in animation.
We’ll start by going to his first debut on television. Before his movies and live-action series, Superman starred in a few animated shorts in 1941. These 10 minutes episodes were created by Dave and Max Fleischer, creators of Popeye and Betty Boop. This series still holds up remarkably well and can be enjoyed by almost anyone. It stays true to the character, showing him doing his best to save/protect anyone who needs his help. It was also the reason Superman his ability to fly (because him jumping took too long to animate), and what brought him to the forefront. For people who didn’t read comics, this series was their introduction to the character.
After his Fleischer run, Superman went on to star in The New Adventures of Superman. Now, with this being made 20 years after the Fleischer cartoons, you’d think the animation would’ve gotten better, right? Wrong. While TNAS was a big hit, but it pales in comparison to the original. It did, however, lead to more DC characters getting a chance to shine like Batman and… nope, just Batman, but it was a start. In 1973 the Super Friends made their debut. We see Superman leading a team of heroes; Batman, Robin, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman; with two random kids, Wendy and Marvin. This was where we started to see the larger DC Universe seep into the Man of Steel’s world.
The Super Friends were once a huge success. At this point, almost everything involving Superman turned to gold. After Super Friends finished its long 13-year run, the Last Son of Krypton returned in the 1980s with a new series. The series was simply titled Superman; it was a throwback to his early days in animation. It was his 50th Anniversary and was a nice homage. It even recreated the 1940s intro with John Williams score. Unfortunately, it got overshadowed by what was to come in the 1990s.
|Superman: The Animated Series|
After the success of Batman: The Animated Series, which was inspired by the Fleischer Superman shorts, Bruce Timm and company decided to try their hand at Superman. It was a hit critically, but not a hit ratings-wise like the other shows. It did, however, lead to numerous team-ups with Batman. The Animated Series was the first solo series to fully utilize his rogues gallery. Taking on the likes of Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Darkseid, Toy Man, Livewire (a villain made for the series), Lobo, Bizzaro, and Lois Lane’s death wish. Superman: The Animated Series is the definitive version of the character in any medium outside of the comic books. This series, along with Batman: The Animated Series paved the way for Justice League and Justice League Unlimited.
Justice League was the first time we’ve had a proper team-up series since the Super Friends in the 1970s. Justice League and its sequel series Justice League Unlimited gave a new generation a gateway into the DC Universe. Superman leads a team of heroes in the never-ending battle of good vs. evil. This would be the last time Superman had a television series aside from a short-lived Legion of Superheroes series.
Instead of more animated shows, DC decided to start making animated movies. Big Blue has had tie-ins to the animated series such as Brainiac Attacks and the Superman/Batman Movie, but his first real animated film was Superman: Doomsday. The film is an adaptation of the Death of Superman story, leading to plenty more animated features. Films like All-Star Superman, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, and Superman vs. the Elite are just a few films that were released in this new age of DC Animated movies.
The Legacy of Superman in animation is something that lasted the test of time. Superman has survived many incarnations, good and bad, but a truly great character knows how to adapt. Whether he’s flying solo or with a team, one thing is always a constant; he continues to inspire.