The title’s a bit misleading; I couldn’t possibly cover all the various TV & filmic Supermen, boys, women, etc., let alone the text and graphic versions. Hey, it’s late at night and I don’t want to be writing this till way early in the morning. No, this is a short column about my favourite live-action Superman and why I like him over the others. I’ll have a few words about the movies the actors are in, as well.
But why Superman? There are now dozens (if not hundreds) of superheroes and supervillains to choose from. Well, except for C.C. Beck’s Captain Marvel (now called Shazam!), which is really a kids’ comic book, the 1950s Superman TV series was my first live-action Superman. I wasn’t allowed to have superhero comics at home—my mother, who was the dominant force in raising us kids—forbade them because Dr. Fredric Wertham said comics were bad and would warp our little minds. (His book, if you’re too young to remember, or just didn’t care to remember, was called Seduction of the Innocent. I’ve never bothered to read it because I got a good grounding on its contents from my dear mother. Supermen are from Nietzsche; you know, the Nazi stuff. Batman and Robin had an unnatural relationship; etc., etc., etc.) Standard ‘50s parental stuff. Why they let me watch the TV show with George Reeves, I’ll never know. Anyway, he was my first superhero for grownups.
Figure 1 shows Kirk Alyn, who starred in a couple of Superman serials—which were movies broken into segments and shown one segment per week before movies in the theatre. You already knew that, I’m sure. Alyn was an energetic actor, but hardly built like the Superman I saw on TV or in the comics… besides, I didn’t see the serial until the 1970s! Alyn also played General Lane in the 1978 Richard Donner Superman movie with Christopher Reeve (note the lack of an “s” on the end of his name). So he’s okay, but not my favourite by far, even though he had Supes’ forehead curl.
George Reeves is, and was, the Superman for me both as a child and as an adult. One difference between Reeves and most other Supes is that he played a grown-up—whether as Clark Kent or as Supes himself. You knew that when Clark Kent said he felt ill or gave another excuse for disappearing to Lois and Jimmy, he didn’t really expect them to (or care if they) believe him. He had a job to do. As Supes, he was always in control without being overbearing. Even when the stories were extremely silly, George maintained that grown-up attitude. Henry Cavill’s Supes is fairly close, both as Clark and Supes, to that attitude and bearing. But George is the OG, for me.
If it weren’t for George, Chris Reeve in Richard Donner’s Superman would probably win the live-action Supes sweepstakes hands down! Youthful, but not too young, good-looking and so on. His Clark Kent ruins it for me; it’s too comedic and not grown-up enough. Reeve is big, but not tremendously muscular—not that George was terribly muscular either. I know a lot of people liked him a lot and I was terribly saddened by his death, though after his accident he soldiered on in a wheelchair and was inspirational for so many people. I think Chris is my #2 Superman!
In the ‘90s we got Dean Cain on TV in Lois & Clark. It was all very light-hearted; Dean was a good-looking kinda muscular ex-football player (I think—I’ve never checked on his background). But even the costume wasn’t the right one. And it was kind of Lycra®-looking, and shiny. There was a pretty good supporting cast, but Lex Luthor wasn’t even bald! Sorry Dean—you’re a likeable guy, but not my Superman!
In 2006 we got a new movie Supes—Brandon Routh, in an extremely Reeve-like Superman Returns. I think Routh was chosen for the role because of his resemblance to Chris; he was competent as both Clark and Supes… but not outstanding. The movie was the same way—competent, with a pretty good cast (including original Superman actress Noel Neill in her final role and Jack Larson, TV’s Jimmy Olson from the ‘50s show), and Kevin Spacey as Luthor was at least bald. Despite all that, it was unexciting. I think maybe Routh is my #3, unless it’s Henry Cavill, whom we’ll meet in a minute. Oh, and this movie, I think, started the now ever-present fad of textured superhero suits! WTactualF? I guess they’ve forgotten that the original Superman suit was sewn by Martha Kent out of baby Supes’ blankets! Sheesh. (And by the way, it’s not underwear outside his suit—it’s “strongman trunks” as seen in the circus, and everyone in the ‘40s and ‘50s knew it!) Anyway, moving on.
In 2013 we got a new movie Superman: British actor Henry Cavill. He’s a good Supes, and a mature Clark Kent. But Man of Steel was not a good movie (Amy Adams is terrific as Lois Lane, IMO). His costume is the most textured yet. He’s been in several DC-verse movies, and looks great, because those muscles are all his, unless they’re CGI-ing his shirtless state. The movies vary wildly in how good they are. If you want to watch Justice League, IMO, watch the Zack Snyder cut—it makes more sense than the original. And I absolutely hate Jesse Eisenberg’s Luthor. He’s an extremely annoying actor and it was an annoying portrayal. I’m not sure whether I like Cavill’s portrayal better than Routh’s. So maybe it’s a tie for #3.
And finally, we have a new TV Superman in Tyler Hoechlin, who’s definitely a grown-up, and doing a pretty good job with a TV show that has thrown away the book and gone off in a whole new direction. He started as Superman in the Supergirl series with Melissa Benoist that is just ending, but he has his own show now: Superman & Lois. I keep watching, but I can’t tell whether I’m a fan yet. Hoechlin is his own Supes, and I applaud that. But I need more time to decide where he fits on my list. And before I forget, I think those are his own muscles under the suit. The comics persist in portraying Supes and other heroes as if the suits were sprayed on. It’s a comic thang.
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