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Western Animation / The Mad Scientist

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"In the endless reaches of the universe, there once existed a planet known as Krypton, a planet that burned like a green star in the distant heavens. There, civilization was far advanced, and it brought forth a race of supermen, whose mental and physical powers were developed to the absolute peak of human perfection. But there came a day when giant quakes threatened to destroy Krypton forever. One of the planet's leading scientists, sensing the approach of doom, placed his infant son in a small rocket ship and sent it hurtling in the direction of Earth, just as Krypton exploded. The rocket sped through star-studded space, landing safely on Earth with its precious burden: Krypton's sole survivor. A passing motorist found the uninjured child and took it to an orphanage. As the years went by and the child grew to maturity, he found himself possessed of amazing physical powers. Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, the infant of Krypton is now the Man of Steel: SUPERMAN! To best be in a position to use his powers in a never-ending battle for truth and justice, Superman has assumed the disguise of Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper."
The Opening Sequence

The Mad Scientist note  is a 1941 theatrical animated short (ten minutes) produced by Fleischer Studios, and the first of seventeen Superman Theatrical Cartoons.

An extended prologue establishes the origins of Superman, how his parents sent him to Earth after Krypton blew up, and how he assumed the public identity of Clark Kent, mild-mannered Daily Planet reporter. After the prologue we get to the main story: a mad scientist has sent the Daily Planet a letter announcing that he has a deadly death ray. Lois Lane goes off to pursue the story, but her Intrepid Reporter fearlessness gets her kidnapped by the mad scientist, who promptly zaps out a section of a bridge with his death ray. Clark Kent, upon finding out that both Lois and the city of Metropolis are in peril, puts on his Superman costume and saves the day.


The short was nominated for the 1942 Academy Award for cartoon short subjects (losing out to the Pluto the Pup short Lend a Paw).

This short has slipped into the Public Domain, and can be viewed here.


  • Adapted Out: Ma and Pa Kent are apparently absent from Superman's origin—the unidentified person who found him as a baby instead brought him to an orphanage. The person was identified as a "passing motorist", which was true in Superman's first story in Action Comics #1.
  • Animation Bump: Compared to the Fleischers' previous flop of a series, Stone Age, the animation quality of this first short is a HUGE upgrade in contrast. (This is in part because its comparative budget at the time was so high, it may as well have been infinite.)
  • Artistic License – Physics:
    • The beam melts the support beams in a build, causing it to fall over. Inexplicably, Superman stops the beam and props the build back up, and it stands without doing anything to repair its foundation.
    • Advertisement:
    • Punching a laser in order to deflect it. This looks like a job for the Rule of Cool!
  • Aside Glance: Clark Kent winks at the audience at the end.
  • Black Bead Eyes: Lois, which is rather bizarre in a short that's otherwise fairly realistic.
  • Bowdlerise: Several home video copies of the first short (even Warner's "Authorized Edition" and Superman Ultimate Collector's Edition DVDs) cut short the scene where Clark asks Perry White, "Don't you think that's a dangerous mission for a woman?"
  • Clark Kenting: Maybe never more nakedly obvious than here. When he hears that Lois has been captured by the mad scientist, Clark mutters "This sounds like a job for Superman!" Then he ducks into the office's supply closet. The supply closet has a glass window, so we can see the outline of Clark changing into his Superman outfit. Then we see Superman emerging from the closet. None of the other reporters in the office notice Superman emerging from their closet and flying out the window.
  • Collapsing Lair: The scientist's lab after Supes overloads the cannon.
  • Death Ray: Complete with a great big Jacob's Ladder, and an elevator-floor gauge for showing its Power Level.
  • Digital Destruction: The version included on Warner's DVD compilation has an audible jump in the prologue ("Superman fights a nevereding battle for truth-justice"), and also makes one of Perry White's lines sound garbled. A prolonged pause also occurs in between the closing shot and the Paramount logo.
  • For the Evulz: The mad scientist doesn't seem to have any goals other than showing off his death ray.
  • I Will Show You X: "So you want a story! I'll give you the greatest story of destruction the world has ever known!"
  • Intrepid Reporter: Lois Lane, going off to chase the big story—too intrepid in this instance, as she gets kidnapped by the mad scientist.
  • Mad Scientist: But of course!
  • Mickey Mousing: The pulses of the beam don't seem to make a sound in-universe when they hit Superman, but are emphasized by the soundtrack. The same happens when Supes is punching the it back to its source.
  • No Name Given: The eponymous scientist.
  • Non-Standard Character Design: The vulture pet of the Scientist looks out of place; it would fit better in a typical slapstick cartoon.
  • Oh, Crap!: "It's Superman!"
  • Origins Episode: Being the first one in the series, it has an intro briefly summarizing how Krypton blew up, but not before baby Superman was sent to Earth in an escape pod.
  • Parrot Pet Position: The Mad Scientist's bird sidekick, shortly.
  • Plot Hole: How does Lois know where the mad scientist's lair is? Maybe the note had a return address.
  • Public Domain Animation
  • Rotoscoping: Prominently used to animate the characters. It is pretty rough here, but it would improve as the series ran its course.
  • Villainous Breakdown: The Scientist when Supes starts overcoming the laser.
    "I don't believe it! He isn't human!"
  • Wave-Motion Gun: The Scientist's laser cannon.


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