Many Faces Of... Superman
by Russ Dimino
UPDATED OCTOBER 2007
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
Justice League - Jimmy
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!
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.