Superman is the first installment in a series of seventeen animated Technicolor short films (cartoons) based upon the DC Comics character Superman. Also known as The Mad Scientist, Superman was produced by Fleischer Studios and released to theaters by Paramount Pictures on September 26, 1941. Superman ranked number 33 in a list of the fifty greatest cartoons of all time sourced from a 1994 poll of 1000 animation professionals, and was nominated for the 1942 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Subject.
The short's prologue sums up the origins of Superman, and are as follows:
"In the endless reaches of the universe, there once existed a planet known as Krypton; a planet that burned like a green star in the distant heavens. There, civilization was far advanced, and it brought forth a race of supermen, whose mental and physical powers were developed to the absolute peak of human perfection. But there came a day when giant quakes threatened to destroy Krypton forever. One of the planet's leading scientists, sensing the approach of doom, placed his infant son in a small rocket ship and sent it hurtling in the direction of the Earth, just as Krypton exploded. The rocket sped through star-studded space, landing safely on Earth with its precious burden: Krypton's sole survivor. A passing motorist found the uninjured child and took it to an orphanage. As the years went by and the child grew to maturity, he found himself possessed of amazing physical powers. Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, the infant of Krypton is now the Man of Steel: SUPERMAN! To best be in a position to use his amazing powers in a never-ending battle for truth and justice, Superman has assumed the disguise of Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper."
The story cuts to the Daily Planet building, where editor Perry White reveals to his two best field reporters, Clark Kent and Lois Lane, that an anonymous figure has mailed another threatening note to the Planet. White assigns Kent to help Lois follow up her lead, but Lois instead insists that she'd "like the chance to crack the story on [her] own."
Lois takes off in a private plane to an undisclosed location on the top of a mountain, where the villain's secluded lair/laboratory is located. He is preparing to fire his futuristic weapon (perhaps a particle beam or death ray), until his pet bird spots Lois's aircraft and alerts him. Upon her arrival, Lois is kidnapped, bound, and gagged, as the scientist boasts to her about the success of his plan, and then demonstrates the weapon's power by aiming it at a bridge and destroying it. While listening to the radio, Clark and the other journalists learn of the coming disaster, as the police alert everyone to stay in their homes. Instinctively, Clark steps into a storage room and changes into Superman before flying away.
The Mad Scientist (voiced by Jack Mercer, voice of Popeye and Felix the Cat) then has the beam weapon weaken the foundations of the Daily Planet skyscraper, causing it to tip over. Fortunately, Superman arrives in time and prevents the structure from crashing into neighboring buildings or falling to the ground, successfully restoring the skyscraper to its upright orientation.
Superman then pushes the death ray away from the base of the skyscraper and attempts to fight it back to the source, but the scientist increases the weapon's power, which also sends erratic "pulses" of energy Superman's way. However, Superman remains determined to fight it, persevering against the beam and punching out each pulse as they come, gradually pounding the beam back to the scientist's lab. Seeing that the beam has been overpowered, the horrified Mad Scientist increases power, but Superman uses that against him by twisting the weapon into a knot, preventing the beam energy from escaping, and the buildup of pressure causes the machine to overheat and explode. As the scientist's lab disintegrates with the weapon's demise, the scientist and his pet bird attempt to escape, while Superman arrives to rescue Lois. Superman then captures the scientist just before his lair explodes, and takes him to jail and a newspaper headline shows the capture of The Mad Scientist. The scene dissolves back to the Daily Planet building, where Clark Kent and Lois report back to Perry White. She has gotten a scoop on the story of the Mad Scientist with "thanks to Superman", and Perry commends her on doing it. Seeing she hasn't suspected a thing, Clark looks at the camera, winks, and nods to the audience, and the story ends.