Well, it’s the 75th Anniversary of Action Comics number one, volume one which invariably means that Superman has reached his 75th birthday. It can be said without a doubt that Superman is the greatest, the most iconic, the Socratic form of the idea, ideal, and idol that the superhero represents. Personally, I’ve always played favorites and Big Blue is my favorite (despite historical mismanagement in my lifetime) and to commemorate the event I’d like to share some thoughts on a few of the men who have filled in corporeally for Superman in television and film.
I will always hold a soft spot in my heart for the Christopher Reeve Superman movies. Sure, you can complain about…well…a lot of stuff in them but all in these movies had a wonderful spirit and, the first one especially, really captured the heart of the character. Whether it was the phenomenal first movie, the Frankensteined second one…or those others you have to admit, Reeve not only filled the boots, but he simultaneously defined and filled the boots perfectly. Particularly fun to watch in the movies is the way the Christopher Reeve played both Clark Kent and Superman—but not at the same time. In those movies the characters were separate, or even more meta (DC pun there ubernerds) He was playing Superman, playing Clark Kent. To be fair, I’ve always preerred the interpretation that Superman is the assumed identity, while Clark Kent is the real man, but in any event Reeves played it perfectly from different tones in voice, to different mannerisms, to speaking softer and higher as Kent and more surely and deeper as Superman. No matter what, all other portrays of Superman—comics included—are merely chasing Reeve portrayal of the Last Son of Krypton.
Dean Cain always struck me as being entirely too short to play Superman. That said, Cain was charming and endearing in the role of Clark Kent, and the Superman scenes were always shot in a way that didn’t let you think too long about how he was too short to be the iconic Man of Steel. The interesting thing about Cain’s portrayal of the character was that it was right in step with the contemporary take on Superman that Kent was the real person and not the disguise. In a show called Lois and Clark that was an essential understanding required for the idea to work. Cain’s super-hip (see what I did there?) 90s Clark Kent deftly eschewed the bumbling klutz Clark Kent persona for the truly likeable quarterback version of the character. While his Superman wasn’t terribly inspiring, it was Cain’s work in defining a more realistically human, and relatable Clark Kent that really makes watching Lois and Clark a worthwhile affair (from a character development perspective that is!).
I’m gonna be honest here, I’m not a big fan of Smallville. I was really excited when the show came on because I thought it was going to be a much better version of the Superboy Saturday morning television show of my little childhood. It…well…it was and it wasn’t. I didn’t care for the show in its first few seasons because it seemed to me that every time I watched the show some other poor teenager had been turned into Atomic Skull by Kryptonite exposure. Welling, for his part looked like a young Superman (until his stubble overtook his face in a very Dawsonesq way). The problem for me was that Clark was not so well rounded in worldly way, and his drive to do good was invariably overcome by his super-emo (yup I did it again) feelings for Lana. I tried to watch the show in later seasons as it seemed more and more likely that Clark would become Superman but I got tired in seasons 7 and 8 and clocked out again. All in, they should have done better by such good physical casting with better plotting, planning, and writing.
Brandon Routh, despite having an awesome first name, was not the best Superman he could be either. This however, was not entirely his fault. In Bryan Singer’s quest to recreate the classic Superman series he never seemed to let Routh be anything other than a guy who looked like Superman’s son try and fill another man’s boots, and while Kevin Spacey seemed to have great fun channeling a totally unhinged Gene Hackman Luthor Routh could not capture the intrinsic Superman-ness of Reeves and wasn’t able to explore in finding his own. This of course, was the general problem with Superman Returns: it was trying to be something old rather than something new. In that, there isn’t really much to say about it, besides…did that kid kill a dude?
So those are the Supermen I can really speak to, I didn’t want to get into George Reeve as I really haven’t watched the 50s Superman show in a way I could speak to, and I’ll leave Superman animated portrayals for another day—and comics for several months at another time. The only thing I can add to this is that the forthcoming Man of Steel movie looks genuinely good for a variety of reasons…not the least of which is that its not trying to be something else, someone else’s vision, or a Superman for another time. Hopefully, it’ll live up to that, and rest assured you’ll be reading a review here from me in no time!
Up up and away!
Written by: Brandon Melendez