Retro Review – Fleischer Superman – “Electric Earthquake”

Fleischer Superman

Superman Homepage reviewer Micah Pickering reviews the Fleischer Superman animated shorts for those nostalgic for the 1940s.

Check out his review of the cartoon titled “Electric Earthquake”.

This episode has a strange premise that doesn’t quite get explored. It also has a big revelation regarding where it takes place. Now on to the review!

2Rating – 2 (out of 5): For an episode titled “The Electric Earthquake” this cartoon doesn’t make much of an impact. Don’t get me wrong this isn’t a “bad” episode by any stretch of the imagination, but I believe the story doesn’t work well with the overall format of the show.

The cartoon opens with our villain in the offices of the Daily Planet, talking with Perry, Lois, and Clark. The villain is a native american who asserts that since the island of Manhattan was stolen from his people, it should be returned to them immediately.

This is the first time in the series that named the setting. That leads me to wonder: Does this whole series take place in Manhattan, or is this just a one time venture? I know Metropolis was officially named in Action Comics #16 back in 1939.

The villain then threatens that the city will be taught a lesson with “modern science.” Earlier in the episode, we see miles of strange electrical wire stuck into ground beneath the city all leading back to the villain’s undersea lair. When activated, the wires seemingly detonate charges causing earthquakes.

Clark and Perry think that the villain is simply making empty threats for attention. However, Lois follows after him and is subsequently held captive in his undersea lair. The earthquake machine is activated and begins to destroy the city. Buildings crumble, and the earth shakes as Clark Kent changes into Superman. In a funny note he is actually buried under the rubble as Clark, but comes out from underneath it as Superman.

Before we talk about the climax I’d like to take a minute to talk about the villain in this episode, and how it affects the episode mechanically. I think the concept of a native american using unethical means to reclaim the land of his natives is a great concept for a superhero story. It sets the villain up with a specific mission that means something to him. It could help the audience understand the underlying cause of why someone would go to such great lengths to accomplish their goal.

However, this short cartoon format does not serve the premise well. There is more dialogue in this cartoon than many of the others. While that sounds like a good idea an eight minute runtime (intro included) does not grant the story any room for depth or nuance. These cartoons work best when the threat is instantly presented and Superman and Lois march forward into the fray.

If this cartoon had a 20 minute runtime we could have plenty of time to set up the conflict between the villain and the society that made him that way. We could see an interesting story play out with an exciting super powered climax.

Instead we got a pretty straightforward ending. Superman dives underwater and disconnects the wires from the earthquake machine. He then storms into the villain’s lair, rescuing Lois in the nick of time before the control room fills with water. The villain is easily caught trying to make his escape in a speedboat. In the aftermath, some witty banter by Clark and Lois brings the episode to a close.

The Fleischer Superman cartoons are available to watch for free online, due to the fact that they are in the public domain.