Source: Superman, animated shorts (1941-43)
Type: FilmIf you've never seen the 17 Superman shorts from the 40s, you're really missing out. These are gorgeous, and would not have an heir until Bruce Timm put pencil to black paper for the 90s Batman animated series. The inspiration is quite obvious - the dark noir look, the way Lois and other women look, and the art deco look all left their stamp on Timm's work. The animation is truly wonderful, with cloth, hair and water all continuously flowing, no use of cheap tricks like repeat animation, painted on special effects, and even directorial flair. Squarely in the same "universe" as movie serials of the day, the stories aren't very deep - usually following the same pattern, with notable exceptions, of identifying the threat, Lois getting in trouble, and Superman flying/jumping to the rescue - they make up for it in energy, thrills and exciting music. Bud Collyer is the voice (as he was on radio and then later in the 60s cartoon), pitching it higher when he's Clark Kent, with Joanne Alexander as Lois Lane. Her voice is good, but it's in the writing and direction that Lois shines. She's more an action hero than a damsel in distress, even if she gets in way over her head eventually. I think Clark Kent gets on whole headline in the entire canon, as she's been known to go so far as to sabotage him. She's got moxie and a half!
The animated shorts come so early in the life of Superman that they are responsible for a number of things we now take for granted. One of these shorts features the very first time Clark Kent changes in phone booth, for example. The original opening narration created the "Faster than a speeding bullet" lines (which I misattributed to the TV show last week, sorry about that, the opening of which even quotes the imagery of the animated shorts) and "It's a bird, it's a plane, etc.". Indeed, Superman flew for the first time in the very first animated short. It's also where the Superman shield went from a triangle to the pentagon we know today.
But there ARE differences between this Superman and the one we recognize today as well! According to the opening narration, he was raised in an orphanage, so no living with the Kents for him. And then there's the black "S" shield, which has been used now and again (Kingdom Come and in the late 90s), which feels perfectly natural on those darkly painted cells, even if we would consider them off-model today. Just as the series isn't sure if Superman can fly or not (it vacillates, but he's usually more of a jumper than a flyer), it's never too sure where the action takes place. Metropolis is mentioned a couple of times, but the Daily Planet is at least once positioned on Manhattan Island. But as we all know, Metropolis is every large city in the daylight. Though I have to say, it was frequently night there in the 40s...