Have you ever heard of the Fleischer Superman cartoons? They were a series of animations about the now-iconic superhero Superman, with 17 episodes produced over the course of 1940-1943. The episodes produced from ‘40-42 were done by Fleischer studios, and the last few episodes up until 1943 were produced by Famous Studios.
For those not in the know, these Superman cartoons are often regarded as the pinnacle of western animation. They certainly have high quality and they are quite memorable despite there only being 17 shorts produced.
Well…Supposedly, there is a ‘lost’ episode. DC Comics and Paramount Pictures vehemently deny the existence of any such episode. Going by the accounts of those few people who claim to have seen this lost short, it’s understandable why DC and Paramount wouldn’t want this cartoon to be associated with them.
From what little information exists, this cartoon was apparently commissioned in 1947 by the US war department soon after the Cold War began. They reassembled all the staff from Famous Studios who worked on the Superman shorts, and told them they wanted a propaganda piece.
The short doesn’t seem to have been completed and was never shown to an audience, yet somehow it has found its way online. Those who claim to have watched this short say that they found it on a torrent site (The site varies for each person) with all the other episodes bundled on it. The other 17 episodes are normal, utterly unaltered from the originals. Yet, when they speak of the ‘lost’ short, they are overcome with a sense of nausea and dread.
The episode begins in much the same way as the other cartoons did, with the opening credits and the same heroic music as there are in all the other intros. The section in the opening where the narrator describes the destruction of Krypton and Superman’s origin seems to be unchanged, though some viewers claim that the narrator sounds more aggressive this time around.
The episode opens in the Daily Planet office, with Lois Lane and Clark Kent having a conversation. All seem to agree that the colour pallet of the episode seems to be dull compared to the older shorts, but some say that this is simply due to the age of the recording while others say the dull colours are due to budget issues. Clark is standing beside Lois’ desk, while Lois herself is looking over the newest issue of the Daily Planet.
Clark asks “Hard to believe that it’s been two years since the end of World War 2, eh Lois?” People agree that it seems to be the same actor from the old shorts, Bud Collyer, but like the narrator from before he sounds aggressive and a little afraid when he reads his lines. “Seems the world is safe for now with the Axis dealt with.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that Kent.” Lois replied. Joan Alexander, the voice actress of Lois, is noted to sound rather shaky and nervous when she reads her lines. “Have a look at the story I got done on the front page.” The camera moves around to show the headline story: ‘Red Menace Working on Nuclear Weapons.’ “It seems the Commies are conspiring against America.” Said Lois.
It was at that moment that the animation shifted. Now the animation looked as if the black and white storyboards had simple been pasted onto the tape with choppy stop-motion quality lasting for the next 25–27 seconds or so. The audio for this ‘storyboard’ segment as incredibly fuzzy and distorted and the people who have watched this lost episode give varying accounts of what Clark and Lois are saying. Most people agree that Lois says “Superman should put a stop to those dirty Commies.”
What’s even more bizarre about this sudden art shift, is that people claim Clark is staring directly at the viewer during this part of the short. Others claim he has no eyes at all during this segment. Some say that the storyboards are of such a poor quality that it’s impossible to tell where Clark is even looking.
Those who have watched this episode state that the episode fades to static at the end of the bizarre storyboard segment, and when the cartoon returns to normal it shows Superman talking with President Truman. Despite the normally fantastic nature of the Fleischer Superman shorts, this one segment is noted to be oddly sombre in tone. Low, tense piano music is playing throughout the conversation. But it’s so soft that at times people forget it’s even playing. The oval office is filled with a thick darkness, as if the conversation is taking place at either dusk or early dawn, with very little light present to illuminate the characters.
“You understand what has to be done, Superman?” President Truman asked. What’s odd is, to this day, nobody has been able to identify the voice actor of this character. Some claim that it’s the real Harry Truman…but that’s impossible, isn't it?
“Of course, Mister President.” Superman replied “I understand the threats the Soviets pose. I’ll do the patriotic duty of any American, and do what I can to stop them.”
The camera focuses in on Truman, and many people note that his face is far more detailed here than it was earlier. More detailed than any character in the entire short. “Good to know Superman. America won’t stand idly by and let another threat rise up against us. I want you to strike those dirty Commies down like the hammer of god and show them what they’re up against.”
The people who have given accounts on this lost episode, while they all have differing views and opinions on Superman, all find this behaviour to be wildly out of character for him. They don’t seem able to believe Superman acting as some sort of government agent, nor can they believe Superman using his powers to attack a nation of people.
As the conversation between Truman and Superman ends the screen cuts to static again, before fading back in and showing Superman flying through the air. This segment is utterly devoid of sound, save for small crackles that are just barely noticeable.
He flies directly over one land mass, with Russia written over it, almost as if the image was taken from an atlas. Superman suddenly divebombs straight down with an almost deafening sonic boom, breaking the silence from earlier. Just as Superman impacts against the cartoon representation of Moscow, the art style shifts again. This time it appears to be stock black and white footage of the Hiroshima bomb exploding, showing the mushroom cloud ballooning up into the air while a distorted version of the Soviet Union’s national anthem plays in the background.
It’s from this point on that the people who saw this lost episode begin to recall the nausea they felt. While most people mention watching the destruction of Russian landmarks at Superman’s hands, some who had watched this segment in slow motion have found subliminal imagery implanted into the footage. The imagery is graphic to say the least, and doesn't appear for more than frame or two. Those who have seen the subliminal imagery describe it as being grainy black and white photographs likely taken during World War 2. The images include a picture of a mass grave at an unidentified concentration camp, an American soldier with a bayonet jammed into his throat, a picture of several people being torched by a flamethrower, and lastly a three-frame long picture of several charred corpses in the ruins of Hiroshima.
The last scene of the episode is described as being equally traumatic.
Superman stands on a mound of flaming rubble, with a deformed caricature version of Stalin cowering before him. Superman lifts him firmly by the neck, his vice-like grip causing the cartoon Stalin to make realistic gagging and choking sounds. He flails against Superman, but of course as it’s Superman he can do nothing to break free.
Superman smiles. Not a demonic rictus or a psychopath smile, an honest and friendly kind of smile that Superman is best known for. In this context, such a warm smile is just as disturbing. The camera zooms in slowly, Superman smiling all the while, and then his eyes slowly start to glow various shades of red and gold.
While nobody can feel any sympathy for Stalin for what happens next, for the simple fact that it’s Stalin, people to agree that his fate is overly graphic and gruesome.
A burst of heat and light explodes out of Superman’s eyes, the scene seems to go in slow motion as we can see the caricature of Stalin’s skin being peeled off of his body by the force of Superman’s heat vision. The force peels off Stalin’s muscle tissue then and vaporizes his organs, until there is simply a skeleton left. Then, his bones break apart and are reduced to dust, scattered by the wind. People have noted that, while these shorts normal have very high quality, this scene is incredibly detailed.
The camera zooms into a close-up of Superman’s smiling face, the fires of the ruined city flickering behind him. He looks directly at the viewer and winks. It’s at this moment that the image of Superman winking freezes up and the warped music lingers on one drawn-out note. This lasts for little over 7 seconds, and then the episode ends.
People are conflicted about why the episode exists in a state like this. The most common belief is that Famous Studios protested what the war department wanted to turn Superman into, and made the short overly graphic so that it would never see the light of day. Others think that, while the audio clips in the episode are real, the animation is simply an elaborate hoax. With the correct resources, anything can be done, right?
The last mystery about this lost episode is that, as soon as a person finishes watching it, the file completely deletes itself from the viewer’s computer and leaves no trace of its existence. If said viewer attempts to find the same torrent again, they simply can’t no matter what site they check.
Any attempts to find the uploader of the torrent, assuming it is being done by just one person, have ended in failure.
Written by Crossbones116