Superman has been around since June 1938, with his alter ego Clark Kent, first appearing in DC Comics’ Action Comics #1. As we approach the restart of the DC universe with a new Action Comics #1, and the coming Man of Steel feature film beginning production, let’s run down how television and film has reflected the Man of Steel over the past seven decades.
It took ten years before Superman made it to the silver screen. Kirk Alyn was the first actor to don the cape as the man from Krypton who could leap tall buildings with a single bound. Here he is in 1948 in the first Superman feature film, titled simply Superman:
And here is how Superman appeared in the comic book at the time:
Not a bad match at all! But there are two sides to Superman. Here is Alyn as Clark Kent:
Pretty familiar? Let’s move on to the next actor to play Superman, George Reeves, in the 1950s series Adventures of Superman:
And Superman in the comic book in the 1950s:
And Reeves as Clark Kent:
Maybe because I grew up watching reruns of George Reeves as Superman when I was a kid, I really think Reeves was the best actor cast as the Man of Steel of all the actors to take on the role. His Clark Kent is both serious when required and slightly humorous, especially when excusing himself to change into his suit.
In the 1960s? No Superman on TV or on film. A sign of the times, maybe? But here is Bob Holiday in a stage production on Broadway in 1966.* Good casting!
Here is Superman from the 1960s comic books.
The next actor to take on the role was Christopher Reeve in 1978’s Superman and its three sequels in the 1980s:
And Superman in the comics in the 1970s-1980s:
Reeve seemed to reflect a leaner Superman in the comic books series. And yet his Clark Kent was in step with the Kents of the past:
In the 1990s we had a successful TV series, Lois and Clark, starring Dean Cain as the Man of Steel:
And here is Superman in the comics of the 1990s:
Definitely a more “pumped up” Superman was favored in the 1990s. But again, a hardly changed alter ego compared to past actors (maybe minus the hat and definitely Superman is younger in this incarnation):
And even younger yet, between 2001 and 2011 Smallville focused on the teen years of Clark Kent with actor Tom Welling hardly donning a cape at all (as a reflection of decade of the 2000s, is this a statement of the times–who needs a costume?):
And Superman in the comics of the day–can’t get away with no suit in the comic books!
But as Clark Kent, Welling veered far from past incarnations. But that was the point of the show, much as Lois and Clark did, appealing to modern, young viewers, Smallville was more of a teen soap a la 90210 than an action show:
With Superman Returns in 2006, an apparent sequel to Superman II, the studio made an effort to take us back to probably the most popular actor to play Superman, Christopher Reeve, with the young Brandon Routh, who seemed to summon Reeve in putting forth a great performance. Overlapping the span of the Smallville TV series, Routh looks the part, too:
The heroic Superman of the comic book in 2006 still stands strong:
And Routh carries off the classic Clark Kent, too:
By all accounts, Routh was being primed to play the Man of Steel in the next feature film. Any why not? He nailed the character in Superman Returns. But then the studio changed its mind and went with someone new. The new actor must be someone far superior or they wouldn’t have moved away from someone as solid as Routh, right?
Then the studio announces Henry Cavill and reveals this photo:
He sort of looks like Adam Baldwin (Chuck, Firefly), doesn’t he? Not really consistent with prior casting. A darker vibe, no bright colors, maybe appealing to the Dark Knight audience, since the Batman franchise has been more successful lately? And the suit material looks like some type of mottled rubber. Hrm. Here is a photo of Cavill in glasses, before being cast:
So maybe there’s hope yet? Here is a recent photo of Cavill with the “Superman curl” that has been circling the Net:
He may just look the part after all. Of course we won’t really know for a few years. And finally, here is Superman in Action Comics, as we approach the end of a comic book era:
Man of Steel is planned to hit theaters June 14, 2013, starring Henry Cavill as Superman, Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Russell Crowe as Jor-El, Diane Lane as Martha Kent, Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent, Laurence Fishburne as Perry White.
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*Updated. Thanks for the heads up on Bob Holiday from William Alexander.
No Bob Holiday?
No, but I will update the article with a photo of him and find a comic page from 1966. Thanks!
For me, the best films the Superman are: Superman-The Return and version Christopher Reeve played the hero.