Suspended Animation #209
Few animation fans realize that there was a sequel to the first Fleischer Superman cartoon released in September 1941 and it featured the return of the Mad Scientist from the film.
The story only appeared in an issue of the Superman comic book published a year after the release of the cartoon and around the same time as the release of the second animated Superman short The Mechanical Monsters.
In the story, Clark Kent takes Lois Lane to the Empire movie theater because a Superman cartoon is playing there. “And that’s why I want to go!” exclaims a stubborn Lois. “I missed the first few in the series.”
“I hear Paramount Pictures did an outstanding job,” Clark replies. “In the first cartoon release, Superman sent a mad scientist to prison – but first had to battle a heat ray and smash the savant’s laboratory!”
Once they arrive at the theater, Clark worries, “How did I ever get into this fix? Lois is liable to see something that will give away my true identity!”
In the comic book, the motion picture is surrounded by film sprockets so the readers will know it is part of the movie cartoon and not the regular Superman story. Clark drags Lois into the lobby so he can get a drink of water or knocks her pocketbook underneath the seat at opportune moments so that Lois doesn’t see on the screen any hint that Clark is actually Superman.
It is never explained why he never worries that the rest of the audience as well as audiences around the country can be privy to this information about his secret identity.
The story appeared in Superman #19 (October-November 1942) in a story entitled “Superman, Matinee Idol”.
In 1994, I talked with my friend, Superman expert Richard Morrissey who responded, “For once, the story is exactly by who it was said to be – writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster. Siegel wrote all the Superman stories with one or two exceptions through mid-1943 when he was drafted.
“This is one of the then increasingly rare stories Shuster drew or at least did detailed pencils or breakdowns for. Probably inked by John Sikela. The Mad Scientist, in particular is a quintessential Shuster character in appearance even though he was taken from the first Fleischer cartoon. I suspect that character may have been one of the contributions from Shuster when he visited the studio in Florida.”
Both writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster visited the Fleischer Miami studio when the shorts were in production. Shuster (in a 1970s interview with historian Thomas Andrae) stated, “I was down in Miami for a visit, and somebody who knew me said, ‘How would you like to come down and visit the studios?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’d love to see them doing Superman’. They were just starting on it.
“I went down there and I was fascinated with it. And I suggested, ‘I wouldn’t mind drawing some shots for you showing how Superman looks in side view, front view, three-quarter view; how Clark Kent would look and Lois Lane would look.’ They said, ‘Fine” that they’d love to have me do it.
“So I just sat down and spent a couple of days there drawing model sheets. I loved doing it and I loved being involved in it. And we were lucky enough to receive a credit line in the cartoon afterwards.”
One of Shuster’s adventures in Florida became legendary. Shuster apparently dressed in a manner that looked disheveled. The local Florida police picked him up as a vagrant one night and tossed him in jail. His claims of being the co-creator of Superman were met with derision until he dutifully drew several sketches of the Man of Steel and was released.
The comic book story was later reprinted in Superman #183 (January 1966) where the first page caption was changed completely to explain the 1940s cartoon series to a new generation who may not have been familiar with them.
The story was re-titled “Superman, Cartoon Hero” and the circle in the upper right that held the credits given to Siegel and Shuster was replaced by a circle proclaiming “Our Very First Imaginary Story”, the designation used at the time for stories outside the usual continuity.
The story with the same omissions was reprinted in the books Superman from the ‘30s to the ‘70s and the updated version Superman from the ‘30s to the ‘80s. The entire comic book was reprinted in The Superman Archives Volume 5 and The Superman Chronicles Volume 10.
Also on page two was a credit on the screen stating “Based on the famous comic strip by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster” prompting Clark to think, “How they know so much about me is a puzzle. Perhaps they’re clairvoyant!”
Lois says, “Siegel and Shuster – who are they?” In the reprint, Lois says “I don’t believe I’ve seen those magazines!” referring to Action Comics and Superman Magazines which is the credit on the screen with Siegel and Shuster’s names removed.
The removal of Siegel and Shuster’s names was understandable in 1966. They had just returned to court to try once again to acquire the rights to Superman, since in those days copyrights expired after 28 years and had to be renewed so it reopened the question of who had the right to renew. The case dragged on until a settlement was reached in 1976.
In the cartoon story, the Mad Scientist has been locked up at Prison Island “where only the most dangerous of criminals are confined” but manages to escape his cell and the island. In the months that follow, he has built a secret laboratory in the heart of a mountain surrounded by a forest.
He has used the time to create a massive mechanical monster (large enough to grab the fuselage of a plane and crush it) that is radio controlled by the madman.
He unleashes it on Metropolis for “the greatest wave of destruction the world has ever seen”.
Clark Kent is assigned to cover the story but Lois Lane locks him in a room and goes out to take photos of the robot destroying ships in the harbor and buildings. Clark changes to Superman just in time to rescue Lois from being stepped on by the robot’s huge foot.
Superman battles the robot and finally defeats it by grabbing its foot and spinning it around until it crashes apart when it hits the ground. He tracks down the Mad Scientist, captures him and returns him to prison.
The last panel has the “reel” Superman exchanging winks with the “comic book” Clark Kent leaving the theater with Clark thinking “Well, pal, our secret is still a secret from Lois!”
Loving this series of Paramount Superman cartoons, I was excited to find this “sequel” that is generally forgotten by most fans.