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The Many Faces Of... Superman
Written by Russ Dimino

Read some of Russ's other columns! Many Faces Of...: Lana Lang - Lucy Lane - The Kents - Lex Luthor - Lois Lane - The Flash - Jor-El and Lara - Mxyzptlk - The Other Women Of Clark Kent - Batman - Aquaman - Superman - The Justice League - Jimmy Olsen - Supergirl

Faster then a speeding bullet? Check. More powerful than a locomotive? Certainly. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound? With ease. But besides heat vision, x-ray vision, and super hearing, there is another power Superman has which doesn't often get the credit it deserves. In a pop culture where fads come and go and the mainstream is constantly changing, the Man of Steel has managed to stay both popular and relevant nearly 70 years after his creation. Not bad for a guy who wears a cape!

In this edition of "The Many Faces Of...", we finally take a look at all the actors who have taken Superman himself off of the printed page and brought him to life on the screen.

Superman was the creation of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. He first appeared in Action Comics #1 in June of 1938. The issue cost 10 cents on the newsstand when it came out. Today, a copy in mint condition would command hundreds of thousands of dollars. Superman was a hit, and his own comic book series soon followed. More than 800 issues later, Action Comics is still going strong with Superman as it's star, and Superman appears in many other DC Comics titles on a regular basis.

The character of Superman was first brought to life by Bud Collyer, not on television, but on the radio, when the Man of Steel got his own radio show in 1940. Since the audience couldn't see him, Bud made the distinction between Clark Kent and Superman by varying the tone and pitch of his voice, using a much lower and deeper voice for Superman.

The first time that audiences would thrill to their hero's adventures on the big screen would come in animated form, when a series of shorts by the Fleischer brothers came to theaters in 1941. These Oscar-nominated cartoons used an animation technique called rotoscoping, which involved tracing over the movements of a live actor to achieve a very realistic quality. Fans would find the voice of this first animated Superman very familiar, as Bud Collyer continued to play the part here as well!

The first actor to don the tights and play a live-action Superman on screen was Kirk Alyn, who played the title character in two multi-part movie serials, "Superman" in 1948 and "Atom Man vs. Superman" in 1950. The special effects of the day were still very limited, so any time Superman needed to fly, an animated version of the character would sub in for Alyn! Thirty years after his debut, Kirk made a cameo appearance in the 1978 "Superman" film, playing the father of a young Lois Lane.

In 1951, Superman appeared again, this time in the form of actor George Reeves, in "Superman and The Mole Men." The film's success led to a weekly TV series, "The Adventures of Superman," with Reeves continuing the title role. After two seasons, the show made the transition from black and white to color, making Reeves the first actor to appear to fans in the classic red and blue instead of simply shades of gray! Reeves also made a notable in-costume guest appearance on "I Love Lucy" in 1957. Tragically, Reeves died in 1959 after apparently committing suicide, though some believe he was murdered. The life and mysterious death of George Reeves is explored in the 2006 film, "Hollywoodland," starring Ben Affleck as George Reeves. Even though Affleck technically plays Reeves and not Superman, we do get to see the former "Daredevil" star in the Superman suit at several points in the movie.

The next television outing delved into the early years of our hero, "The Adventures of Superboy". A pilot episode was filmed, but a series never followed. The 1961 pilot starred John Rockwell as Clark Kent/Superboy, and featured a costume very similar to the George Reeves version.

Superman got animated again starting in 1966, in "The New Adventures of Superman." The series would later pair Superman with other costumed crimefighters when it evolved into "The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure" in 1967, and "The Superman/Batman Hour" in 1968. All throughout these incarnations, Bud Collyer returned to provide Superman's voice, earning him an impressive 28 year career voicing the Man of Steel! These shows would occasionally feature segments involving Superboy, with Bob Hastings providing the voice. Fans of animated superhero tales would later come to know Hastings as the voice of Commissioner Gordon on "Batman: The Animated Series" in the 1990's!

Superman flew from screen to stage in 1966, with the Broadway musical "It's A Bird, It's A Plane, It's Superman"! The stage version starred Bob Holiday in the title role, while a TV special adaptation in 1975 featured David Wilson. The special had a campy tone in the style of the 1960's "Batman" TV series, complete with "Bam!", "Biff!" and "Pow" type effects during the fight scenes.

From 1977 to 1986, the heroes of the DC Comics' Justice League came to the airwaves in the form of the "Super Friends" cartoons. The various seasons of the show, under the names "The All New Super Friends Hour," "The Challenge of the Super Friends," and "Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show," combined the likes of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman, and others against a host of their enemies. Voice actor Danny Dark provided the voice of Superman throughout all these incarnations of the show.

In 1978, Superman would finally make his triumphant return to the silver screen in "Superman: The Movie," the film that made audiences believe a man could fly. Christopher Reeve stepped into the costume and brought Superman to life for a whole new generation of fans. Reeve was far from the only actor considered for the role, however. Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Charles Bronson and even Arnold Schwarzenegger were among the many actors who either tested or were considered for the part. Director Richard Donner felt that the role should go to an unknown actor, and Reeve, who had previously appeared in only one film and a soap opera, seemed born to play Superman. Surprisingly, Reeve doesn't actually appear until almost an hour into the film, as the part of the young Clark Kent in Smallville is played by Jeff East. Christopher Reeve would go on to reprise the role of Superman for three more films, the last of which was "Superman IV: The Quest For Peace" in 1987.

In May of 1995, Reeve suffered a tragic accident when he fell off a horse and was paralyzed from the neck down. In the years that followed, he gave the world a whole new definition of the word superhero with his tireless crusade to walk again, instilling hope in millions of people once more. During this time, he continued to act and direct, appearing in a remake of the film "Rear Window," and in two landmark episodes of "Smallville" as Dr. Virgil Swann. Reeve passed away in 2004, but his legacy lives on in the eyes of fans everywhere who will always see him as a true superhero.

A short-lived but popular Superman cartoon by Ruby Spears was the next animated version of the character, in 1988. Here, Superman was voiced by Beau Weaver. Weaver would later voice Mister Fantastic of the Fantastic Four in several Marvel cartoons in the 1990s.

Multiple actors got to don the tights and cape when the stories of a young Superman came to the small screen, also in 1988! The live-action "Superboy" TV show initially starred John Haymes Newton in the title role. However, due to a falling-out with the show's producers, he was replaced after the first season. Gerard Christopher assumed the role starting in season two, and carried it until the end of the show's run in 1992. In a recent issue of Wizard magazine, John Haymes Newton expressed regret that he played the part with such an "anti-Chris Reeve" attitude, deliberately trying to make Clark seem "not-nerdy." When Gerard Christopher took over the part, he brought more of the familiar bumbling shyness to the superhero's secret identity. Newton has since appeared on "Desperate Housewives," alongside former Lois Lane Teri Hatcher!

A special two-part episode in the third season of "Superboy," titled "The Road To Hell," featured two more actors playing the part! Joel Carlson played an alternate reality version of Superboy, and Ron Ely played an adult Superman, giving Superboy a possible glimpse into his future. Ely was no stranger to playing superhero types, having previously played both Doc Savage and Tarzan!

Gerard Christopher almost had another chance to step into the blue and red tights, when he auditioned for "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman." As he explained to Wizard magazine in that same issue, the producers were all set to hire him, not realizing he had previously starred in "Superboy"! Once they discovered that he had "done this already," they turned him down!

The actor who finally landed the role of Clark on "L&C" was Dean Cain, a former football player for the Buffalo Bills, whose previous acting credits included "Beverly Hills 90210" and "A Different World." The series put the focus more on Clark Kent than his heroic alter-ego. As Clark says in the episode "Tempus Fugitive," "Superman is what I can do. Clark is who I am." The series debuted in 1993, and ran for four seasons. During that time, Dean also wrote two episodes of the series, "Season's Greedings" and "Virtually Destroyed," both of which were fan favorites.

In 1996, the creators of the popular "Batman: The Animated Series" set their sights on DC's big blue boyscout, and launched "Superman: The Animated Series." The series had a visual style reminiscent of the Fleischer cartoons, and their take on Clark Kent was similar to the George Reeves version. Tim Daly, of "Wings" fame, provided Superman's voice. He reprised the role for the "Superman: Shadow of Apokolips" videogame, and the recently released "Brainiac Attacks" direct-to-DVD movie. Actor Jason Marsden supplied the voice for a younger Clark Kent in Smallville in the pilot episode, as well as the time-travel episode "New Kids in Town." Marsden had appeared on many sitcoms in the 1990's, including "Boy Meets World," "Step by Step," and "Full House."

In 2000, Superman appeared in a two-part episode of "Batman Beyond," a spin-off from "Batman: The Animated Series" set 50 years in the future. The producers wanted Superman to have an older, more mature sounding voice, and turned to actor Christopher McDonald. Dedicated fans caught the significance of the casting, as McDonald had voiced Jor-El in the pilot episode of "Superman: The Animated Series."

In 2001, Batman and Superman rejoined some of those super friends of theirs for Cartoon Network's "Justice League," which once again banded together Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern and more. Tim Daly was unable to reprise the Superman role, as he was starring as Dr. Richard Kimble in the "Fugitive" TV series. George Newbern stepped in as Superman, having previously appeared in "Father of the Bride Part II," and episodes of "Friends." Newbern continued the role when the series evolved into "Justice League Unlimited," with dozens of new heroes joining up with the League.

Also in 2001, the story of Superman's youth was once again revisited when "Smallville" flew to the WB. Newcomer Tom Welling played the part of a young Clark Kent growing up in rural Kansas, coming to terms with his evolving powers and the destiny that lay before him. A friendship with Lex Luthor and an on-again, off-again relationship with Lana Lang added depth to the pre-costume days of the Man of Steel. Storylines involving red kryptonite, which stripped away Clark's inhibitions, and personality-swapping plots allowed Welling to play a "Bad Clark" in various episodes, giving the young Superman a dark side that was not often seen in any of the previous incarnations. Also setting Welling apart from the other live-action stars, except for Jeff East, is that he does not get to wear the familiar red and blue costume. The show's "no flights, no tights" rule means that fans won't get to see Welling in the cape any time soon. Aside from Welling, Malkolm Alburqueneque played a young Clark in the pilot episode and in the flashback episode "Lineage," and another, uncredited child actor played a young Clark in "Vengeance." Since the debut of "Smallville," Welling has appeared in some feature films, including "The Fog" and two "Cheaper by the Dozen" movies.

In 2004, comedian Jerry Seinfeld appeared in a series of American Express commercials alongside an animated incarnation of Superman. Superman's voice was provided by Patrick Warburton, who had previously played David Puddy on "Seinfeld." Warburton also played another superhero, The Tick, on the live-action Fox television series, "The Tick"!

For many years, Warner Brothers had sought to bring Superman back to the big screen. It has been a long road, stretching back almost to 1987's "Superman IV: The Quest For Peace." Since then, the franchise has passed through the hands of writers like Kevin Smith and J.J. Abrams, directors like Tim Burton, McG and Brett Ratner, and stars including Nicholas Cage, Brendan Fraser, Josh Hartnett, Ashton Kutcher, Jared Padalecki, and even Jim Caviezel of "The Passion of the Christ." Some names were only mentioned as hopefuls but never went into negotiations. Others, like Nicholas Cage, were practically ready to step in front of the camera. But, for various reasons, be it a weak script, an astronomical budget, or just bad timing, Warner Brothers could not seem to get a new Superman movie to take flight.

Finally, the chance to direct the next Superman film was given to Bryan Singer, director of "The Usual Suspects" and two "X-Men" films. Like Richard Donner before him, Singer insisted that the title role should go to an unknown actor. Brandon Routh, a former soap opera star like Christopher Reeve, landed the leading role in Singer's 2006 "Superman Returns." The film followed the Reeve films closely in tone, style, and storyline, with much of the backstory of "Returns" borrowing heavily on what was established in the previous films. As such, Routh's performance echoed Reeve's closely, with an almost startling similarity at times. Young actor Stephan Bender also appears in the film, playing a 15 year old Clark Kent in a flashback sequence.

In the fall of 2006, a new animated series called "Legion of Superheroes" premiered on the CW network. The series featured a young Superman, just starting out in his role as a superhero, being transported into the 31st century. There, he hones and refines his powers while teaming up with such colorful characters as Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad, and Cosmic Boy. When the show returned for a second season, Superman returned again to the 31st century, this time with a few years of experience under his belt. Superman is voiced here by Yuri Lowenthal.

Warner Brothers and DC Comics released the first in a series of direct-to-DVD animated movies in the fall of 2007 with "Superman: Doomsday," a loose adaptation of the "Death of Superman" storyline from the comic books of the 1990s. The story involves Superman dying in a fight against a monster called Doomsday, and subsequently being resurrected to continue his fight for truth and justice. The project was overseen by producer Bruce Timm of "Superman: The Animated Series" and "Justice League" fame, though it is not connected to either series and sports a new animation style and voice cast. Actor Adam Baldwin provides the voice of Superman in the film.

The next installment in the animated DVD series is "Justice League: The New Frontier," due out in 2008. This film will adapt the mini-series of the same name by writer/artist Darwyn Cooke, which takes place in the 1950s. Here, Superman will be voiced by Kyle MacLachlan, who fans may recognize as Orson Hodge from "Desperate Housewives." Producer Bruce Timm describes MacLachlan as being "perfect for a 1950s era Superman." McLachlan himself had at one time been considered to play George Reeves in "Hollywoodland" before the role went to Ben Affleck.

With Smallville's seventh season episode "Cure," another veteran Superman actor will cross paths with Tom Welling's Clark Kent. Dean Cain, star of "Lois & Clark," will guest star in the episode as Dr. Curtis Knox, a scientist who can apparently cure "meteor freaks" of their abilities. Though many actors with major connections to the Superman mythology have been involved with Smallville in the past (i.e. Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Annette O'Toole and Terence Stamp), Dean is the first actor from "Lois & Clark" to appear, and, in fact, the first actor from a version other than the Reeve movies.

In a world where the public's tastes are constantly changing, Superman has proven to truly possess powers far beyond those of mortal men. From a ten cent comic book in 1938 to today's blockbuster movies and TV shows, more than a dozen actors have given life to this iconic character, inspiring generations of children to wear a towel on their back like a cape and pretend that they're faster than a speeding bullet, instilling hope in people who need an ideal to look up to, and giving the world a hero in times of need. During the nearly 70 years since Superman's creation, there has never been a span of more than a few years without the character appearing in a TV series, a cartoon, or a film. Even in the times when Superman is absent from the media, his fans still sport his S-shield on t-shirts, bumper stickers, and tattoos. His logo is seen in countries all over the world, places where English is not even spoken. He is more than a pop culture phenomenon. He is Superman, and he is truly a Man of Steel. It is safe to say, he will inspire us to look up in the sky for years to come.

Note: The views of Russ Dimino don't necessarily represent the thoughts and feelings of everyone at KryptonSite.

Many of these past Superman actors and events are featured in the documentary "Look! Up In The Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman."


Note: The views of Russ Dimino don't necessarily represent the thoughts and feelings of everyone at KryptonSite.

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