Fleischer Superman Cartoon Reviews
Episode 2: "The Mechanical Monsters"Reviewed by: Micah Pickering
There's nothing quite like watching the world's greatest superhero punch a giant robot. In this review we'll be taking a look back at the second of the Fleischer Superman cartoons: "The Mechanical Monsters!"
Now onto the review...
Rating - 4 (out of 5): I gave this the same rating as "The Mad Scientist" because it has a lot of similar qualities in a good way. Both feature Superman rescuing Lois from an unnamed Mad Scientist. However, "The Mechanical Monsters" delivers a bit more action than its predecessor.
The classic intro is largely unchanged, with the exception of one minor change. Before the part where the narration would tell us about Superman's identity as Clark Kent, Superman's X-Ray vision is mentioned. It comes into play later in the story.
The story begins with Metropolis being terrorized by the aforementioned "Mechanical Monsters", which are an army of giant robots committing high profile robberies. The robot's blocky design will remind viewers of classic science fiction, however this cartoon was released in 1941 so it was quite contemporary with the time in which it was released.
The robots also had an unexpected feature. When they finished their act of mayhem, they could transform into a plane to make a hasty getaway. I wonder if the folks at Hasbro watched this cartoon when they were coming up with the idea for Transformers forty years later?
Naturally, the robots are going to target a rare collection of jewels worth millions. Clark and Lois are on the scene covering the jewel show when one of the robots attacks. As many would expect, the robot takes Lois back to the unnamed villain's lair.
Two very interesting things happen next that set this cartoon apart from "The Mad Scientist." When Clark discovers Lois has been captured, he runs into a phone booth and changes into Superman. This would be the first time in this series that Clark would use the phone booth to change, and it now stands as a classic Superman trope. In "The Mad Scientist" Clark ran into a broom closet at the Daily Planet office.
Second, this also marked the first time in this series that Superman used his X-Ray vision. It was teased in the opening narration that it was one of his abilities. When Superman leaps into the air to pursue the fleeing robot. He uses his X-Ray vision to see Lois trapped inside the robot's chest compartment.
I also wanted to note that even though Superman was still technically jumping and not "flying", the animators made it look awfully close to the flying Superman we would all eventually come to know.
It's a known fact among fans that Superman went from jumping to flying in the comics thanks to the animators from this series. Flying was easier to animate than constant jumping, and now it's hard to picture the Man of Steel without the image of him soaring through the sky. It's funny how an iconic part of Superman lore owes its existence to the animators' need for convenience.
Superman dials up the action when he storms the villains hideout and discovers the robot army. The robots are armed with flamethrowers, but Superman is undeterred. Superman punches and tears through the robots in a phenomenal display of strength before going deeper into the villain's lair to rescue Lois.
I really liked how devilish they made the villain's lair. It starts out looking like a secret laboratory, then we discover that the innermost chamber looks like the heart of a volcano. Lois is perilously suspended over a cauldron of boiling lava when the villain drops her in. Superman rescues Lois and the cartoon's best scene follows shortly thereafter.
It comes when the villain tries to dump the cauldron full of lava onto Superman and Lois. As Lois lays there defenseless, Superman shields her from the lava by standing with his back turned and extending his cape with his hands. It's a memorable scene that demonstrates Superman's invulnerability and heroic nature.
This story ends as most of these do: Superman catches the villain, Lois writes a story about the adventure, and Clark smiles at the camera. It's a simple formula, but there's a charm and beauty to it that keeps me coming back for more.
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