Animation can be one of the most creative forms of artistic expression. It all starts with someone sitting down and drawing something. DC Comics has always invested in cutting edge animation that continues to be unlike anything else out there.
Max Fleischer’s Superman
Superman made his first animated appearance in Max Fleischer’s theatrically released shorts. These animated shorts were made in the 1940s and the amount of detail going on in the movement is truly impeccable. Superman was created in 1938 and somehow a couple of years later a team of animators figured out a way to accurately recreate his fluid movement outside of a comic book.
These animators implemented their own style while also staying true to Superman’s look in the comics to keep the movement as smooth as possible. It was unlike anything seen in animation before because it implemented the use of rotoscoping to its full potential, which is the technique of drawing and tracing over film footage to achieve a human-like fluidity in animation.
A lot of comic book cartoons of the past fell under the trap of just trying to make their animation look as much as the comic as possible, resulting in stiff movement. Before Christopher Reeves’ films, this was probably the best way to watch Superman in motion because it didn’t suffer from the real-life limitations of live-action films. Its only limit was the imagination of the animators, so Superman’s adventures could be as colorful and visually striking as possible.
The impact of these animated shorts is still felt to this day. Animators and artists cite how influential Fleischer Studio’s animation was. During DC Comic’s 50th Anniversary one-shot publication titled Fifty Who Made DC Great, Fleischer Studios was mentioned for their contributions to Superman.
The shorts are inspiring, heroic, charming, well animated, and capture the essence of a comic book superhero. Any superhero fan should give them a watch to appreciate its cutting edge animation that laid the groundwork of what animation can be. All of the shorts are in the public domain, so they can easily be viewed on the internet today.
DC Animated Universe
Batman: The Animated Series premiered in 1992 and is considered one of the greatest animated shows ever. Everything from the mature writing, stylish animation, and its all-encompassing portrayal of the Caped Crusader that paid homage to his history made it so memorable. This was a Saturday Morning Cartoon, but it was so much more than that. Like Fleischer’s cartoon, it didn’t try to directly look like the comics, rather it had its own style so its main hero could move as fluidly as possible. This show was so successful it birthed a bunch of spin-offs that led to the creation of the DC Animated Universe.
Superman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Static Shock, Justice League, and Justice League: Unlimited all accomplished the same goal of Batman: The Animated Series using that stylish animation in order to properly adapt those iconic characters mannerisms and movements.
Modern animation can heavily focus on the younger audience, but these shows can be enjoyed by people of all ages because they never talk down to the people watching. Audiences of all ages can escape for 30 minutes and enjoy the amazing adventures in this stylishly animated DC Universe full of heart, charm, and thrills.
DC Animated Films
There was always a more mature tone to the DCAU shows, especially in Batman: The Animated Series, that’s quite surprising when comparing it to cartoons today. Batman Beyond: The Return of Joker was rated PG-13 because of how violent and dark it was, which is shocking because it was a show that aired on Kids WB. That can be considered the start of what’s going on today with DC’s Animated films. Once Justice League: Unlimited ended, the DC Animated Universe seemed to end with it. But that didn’t mean DC would stop investing in animation.
In 2007, Warner Bros. Animation released Superman: Doomsday straight to video. It was a mature action-packed animated Superman film based on The Death of Superman. Since then there’s been a boom of mature DC animated films. These are films that aren’t afraid of going all out because they go straight to home video. Every year since then there have been films that focus on a plethora of iconic DC characters. Like the Fleischer films or the DCAU, these particular films have a distinctive style that properly brings the characters to life while also allowing for smooth and striking action scenes
While not all of them perfect, films like Batman: Under the Red Hood, Wonder Woman, Justice League: Doom, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1/2, Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, and Batman: Assault on Arkham all encompass the creative freedom these films have to amazing results.
These films also have their own universe going on with films like Justice League: War, Justice League: Throne of Atlantis, and Son of Batman that are heavily inspired by the New 52. And then there are films like Justice League: Gods and Monsters, Batman and Harley Quinn, and Justice League vs The Fatal Five that have the same exact animation style as those DCAU shows paying direct homage to them. So there’s something for all types of fans.
While not part of the DCAU or the above-mentioned films, Young Justice deserves a mention for its mature storytelling that focuses on developing its young heroes. The original Teen Titans show also was important for the way it developed the Titans, as well for its style that mixed American animation with anime. Also, Teen Titans Go! To The Movies is a surprisingly clever film that DC fans of all ages should definitely check out. Any fan of superheroes or animation should check these shows or films out because it’s quality animation that aims to tell amazing stories with great characters.
DC has always respected animation as a creatively expressive art form. From the 1940s to today, it’s always paid respect to the characters first and made sure the animation and the stories being told did them justice. And it looks like it will continue to do that in the future with promising new films like Wonder Woman: Bloodlines and Batman: Hush. DC Universe is also developing a mature animated Harley Quinn show that aims to be a self-aware action-comedy.
Animation doesn’t have to be just for children. It can be experienced by people of all demographics and it seems like DC has understood that from the very beginning. DC Animation can provide that cutting edge thrill of the Fleischer studios shorts, an epic comic book universe for all ages in the DCAU, something for the children in Teen Titans Go!, and the mature storytelling in Young Justice or the current films releasing today. There truly is something for everybody.
What do you think about DC Animation? Are there any particular projects you’d like to see in the future? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter and Instagram!