After some fairly personal posts, how about something a lot lighter? 🙂
I follow the blog of screenwriter Ken Levine (http://kenlevine.blogspot.com/2022/07/weekend-post_0823158561.html) and his recent Weekend Post talked about different actors playing different characters, mainly for the Odd Couple. However, at the end of his post, he asked about people’s favourites playing other characters, one of which was Superman.
It was a fascinating idea. I confess that even though I’m more of a Batman or Spiderman fan, I do love the premise of Superman. So who DO I like best as Superman?
I really had no idea. I’ve been mulling it over in the last week or so, fully expecting I would end up with Christopher Reeve. He was my first Superman, more or less, right? And Smallville never really got to the Superman stage, although Tom Welling was awesome as young Clark. But, of course, the TV versions could never stand up to the movies, right?
As I mulled, I thought back to the various Supermen that I have watched over the years, ignoring voice work for animated series or radio, and I tried to figure out exactly how many Supermen I could remember. I was able to name five, and blanked on the name of the latest. Except there are three others I missed entirely. Plus another that everyone forgot. As I started to review in earnest, I realized there’s actually four dimensions though — Superman, Superboy, Clark, and Lois. You can’t have one without the other three, they go hand-in-hand.
Kirk Alyn played Superman from 1948-1950 in a series of movie serials, back in the heyday of serials that ruled Saturday afternoons. It’s well before my time, and while I recognize him from photos and clips, I never experienced watching them in full. I find it fascinating though that he was the first and lots of fanboys who had followed the comic books weren’t even sure how ANYONE could play Superman. The studio releasing them pitched the serials from the perspective that nobody COULD play Superman, so (nudge, nudge) they got the real one. In a bunch of the credits, he wasn’t even named.
I’ve watched clips, and he did a decent job, but I liked his Clark Kent, mild-mannered / fearful reporter better than his Superman portrayal. I suspect in part because he doesn’t fly in the series — they could not afford the high-end stunt FX to make it work, you could still see the wires, so they did it as animation instead. Meh.
Noel Neill played Lois Lane and she does the “aww, shucks, what we would do without him” really well, but I’m not a fan for her “ace reporter” portrayal, something that shows up again and again for me.
One of the interesting elements in this field of comparison is “who did you see first?”. For the older generation, George Reeves WAS Superman. After all, between 1951-1958, he did two movies and 102 episodes on that new gadget called television. Everyone was watching, everyone saw him fly, not some animated version. Actually HIM.
I confess that while I think he does a credible job, he’s not watchable to me. He looks more like an out-of-shape former high-school football hero, and I think it comes down to the simple reality that if you don’t believe he can do what his character is doing, it’s just hokey. I know, I know, that’s incredibly harsh, and told from the perspective of far better CGI and FX later in cinematic history.
His Clark Kent was decent, a little less wimpy, which was good. But neither his Season 1 Lois Lane (Phyllis Coates) or Season 2 (back to Noel Neill) really stand out for me.
Not surprisingly, while I had seen reruns with George Reeves, my first real “love” of Superman was the 1978 movie with Christopher Reeve. It was the first time I saw a great combo in both the Superman role AND the Clark Kent role. I liked his bumbling persona more than the wimpy side others had done, partly because you saw him deliberately acting that way. Like all of the portrayals, there is a scene where everyone walks away, and he relaxes, where he takes off the mask of Clark Kent and he just “exists” before he turns into Superman. Those moments of duality that didn’t get much screen time in other iterations. But Reeve nails it perfectly. Don’t get me wrong, the movie is relatively terrible. The whole “what colour is my underwear” scene and the romance flying with Lois are “meh”, but his truth/integrity side is borderline perfect when he’s talking normally with Lois.
For me, there are two downsides. First, he can’t do dramatic tension worth a damn. I never feel his anguish about turning back time, I don’t feel his anger when he’s dealing with Zod, etc. The only time I ever felt his real emotion was the scene where he goes back to the diner to beat up the bully. Anytime he steps out of “I’m good Superman” or “I’m bumbling Clark” (or the moments in between), I felt more like I was watching a toddler have a tantrum.
But Superman isn’t watchable without a strong Lois with him, and Margot Kidder comes off more like a bumbling airhead than an ace reporter. I don’t mean that she’s too stupid to notice the guy next to her is Superman, they all have that plot device to work around, I mean she regularly talks like she’s a complete idiot, yet is supposedly this amazing reporter with great insights and understanding of global politics. I don’t MIND her, but I don’t LIKE her.
Gene Hackman is fantastic as Lex Luthor, no surprise for anything Hackman does, but I loved Ned Beatty as Otis. My son and I regularly refer to the line, “Otisville? OTISVILLE????”. But then, it goes downhill. Superman 1 was good, 2 was better with Zod although it really needs an editor, 3 should have been good with Richard Pryor and it just isn’t, and 4 hit everyone over the head about nuclear weapons and detente. I’m willing to keep Superman 2, and ditch the rest.
John Haymes Newton and Gerard Christopher
Wow. This is one of the names I missed, and I’m saying wow not because he was amazing but that I missed it entirely. The show seemed at first like a one-season wonder in 1988/89 on television but I watched a LOT of television back then. Yet I missed it in my list because I have literally NEVER HEARD of it. Superman at university was the premise. Okay, so I missed a season, I guess that can happen.
Nope, it wasn’t just ONE season. It was FOUR seasons. John Newton played Superboy in Season 1, and Gerard Christopher played him for seasons 2-4. What the…?
Okay, so I had to do a deep dive to find some episodes to watch. Why? Cuz I’m a completist, deal with it. Nope, not worth watching. Stacey Hudiak played Lana Lang, and she’s watchable, but nothing to work with. There’s a reason why both male actors have done 1 or 2 other things since, and not much else.
This is where Superman started to get interesting for me. Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher played Lois and Clark for 87 episodes. While it wasn’t exactly a comedy, it WAS played with a finger aside their nose, often ramping up the campiness. For Cain, his Superman is good albeit a bit boyish, and not quite as much youthful integrity as Reeve showed, but that’s more the cringey love-angst that permeated most episodes. I did like his Clark though, much more “normal guy” and far less of a bumbling fool.
Yet Teri Hatcher kills the show for me. Her breasts may be real and spectacular (according to Seinfeld), but her Lois is not. Just like Margot Kidder, there are a LOT of episodes where she is a bobblehead. She rarely has any depth to what she’s doing that suggests she’s an ace reporter. I know, I know, she’s written that way, but the show WAS called Lois & Clark for a reason. It was pitched about Lois just as much as Clark. And while I didn’t hate the show, it also isn’t my favourite portrayal.
I watched Smallville from start to finish, and in reruns, and in boxed sets. For me, he is the perfect Superboy. Not Superman, just Clark Kent junior. He has some angsty issues with women, sure, and they occasionally threw Allison Mack some lines about how he had his “super friends” to do a bit of a jokey ending to some episodes. Or they had Arthur Currie / Aquaman show up to save someone, getting to know Clark and finally suggesting they form the JLA — the Junior Lifeguards Association. Ha ha.
But it was the first time I thought they got the balance right on characters. Allison Mack may be a grade A whack-a-doodle now, but as Chloe? She rocked the show. She WAS a great pre-Lois reporter and WatchTower.
And they finally ditched Lana as Clark’s boyhood crush, and brought in Erica Durance as Lois. When she meets Clark? He’s naked in a cornfield. She was the first portrayal of Lois, in my view, where she wasn’t a bimbette. She could keep up with Clark, the Blur and even Oliver Queen. One of my favorite two scenes are when Clark tells her that he’s the Blur (which of course she has already figured out, being an ace reporter and all) AND the final episode where you see her really being full adult Lois.
It’s not all perfect, and I know a lot of people hate the fact that the show took liberties with the original comic-book canon. They had to, this was the first time telling the full story of Clark becoming Superman. And sure, there was campiness in there. But Welling and Durance? They nailed their roles. The only thing I wish was that they had a bit more chemistry together on screen…the characters do, cuz you know they do, but sometimes it was hard to see the spark between them. It was always present with Hatcher and Cain, not so much with Welling and Durance. It’s a quibble, I know.
I find it hard to rate BR as Superman. Mostly because for most of the portrayal, I didn’t really see it as Superman. It was more like a Superman-clone. It didn’t FEEL like Superman to me. I liked the dynamic with Kate Bosworth as Lois, and the whole premise of “5 years later” after the Margot Kidder-era headline “I spent the night with Superman”, but well, I kind of agreed with most of the public. Meh. Yet they brought him back for the DC cross-over.
Well, sort of. I mean he was already there as the Atom from DC Legends / Arrow / Flash / Batwoman etc., but for the multiverse cross-over, he was actually Superman in Earth 96. It was cute, I didn’t hate him in the episode, but as Superman generally? Still meh.
Which is a bit odd. I like Kate Bosworth as Lois, and I like Brandon Routh’s work generally for Chuck, the Rookie, all the DC universe shows. I just don’t like him as Superman.
So back in 2013, with the reboot of the DC movies, Henry Cavill came in as the new Superman. The Man of Steel by title. But between MoS, Batman v. Superman, and the Justice League, he is a VERY different Superman than we’ve seen previously. Much darker, much scarier. So again, he doesn’t feel like Superman to me. Some will say that is sacrilege, I know. But it feels more like The Boys take on a Superman-like character than Superman. Which is fine to do for Batman, the Dark Knight is awesome, but Superman? I want him to glow and shine, not brood.
Amy Adams as Lois? She’s decent. I don’t love Amy Adams, I’ll admit, but I do find her watchable. But if Cavill isn’t really Superman, is Amy playing Lois or a Lois-like clone?
I find it really interesting that quite a few online sites that list roll-ups of who played Superman, almost NONE of them list Tyler. And they’re not simply old posts, some of these were written in 2022 (or at least show as having been updated in 2022). Yet Superman from Superman and Lois doesn’t show up? He played Superman for the first time back in 2016 on an episode of Supergirl. Then repeatedly in other DC shows until the new series started in 2021.
Elizabeth Tulloch plays Lois and, well, I’m on the fence about her. I loved her as Juliet in Grimm, not so much as Eve later in the same show. And in this one, there are repeated scenes where she’s all hurt and angry and dumping on everyone around her, and yet everyone gives her a pass as she’s an ace reporter. What I really want to see is Clark, not Superman, step up and say “enough is enough, you’re acting like a child”. Or her kids. It’s a terrible portrayal of Lois as she bops between this angry self-righteous person who is sometimes right to being super angsty. She’s almost bipolar and it makes it REALLY hard to watch the series.
I like Hoechlin, I like their kids and the secondary characters. It’s telling that I like Lana more than Lois for the series. If Lois was killed off, I’d be okay with that.
I think what REALLY makes it for me though is Hoechlin as a very quiet peaceful Clark. He doesn’t have a job, that’s a bit of a plot issue, but when he’s being a father or husband, there is this very calm, wise, restful presence that shows how he can remain in control as Superman. It’s awesome.
So I’m going to do four rankings: Superman, Superboy, Clark and Lois.
As Superman, Kirk Alyn and George Reeve aren’t even in the running. They were great for their time, but their portrayal doesn’t hold up. Christopher Reeve does a great hair curl while looking innocent, but can’t do anger at all. If I could JUST keep Superman 2, maybe. Dean Cain was too campy as Superman, so he’s out. Tom Welling shows up in a few later EPs of the DC TV series as an older Superman but you never get to see him much as a full Superman, and to be honest, I can’t see it. There’s too much Clark. I ditch Brandon Routh as Superman-like, and unfortunately that is the same thing I have to do with Henry Cavill (too dark). But drum roll…Tyler Hoechlin has the best parts of all of them. I’m keeping him as the best Superman, even if not in movies (for movies, I’d have to take Reeve from Superman 2 or the first half of Superman 1).
As Superboy, John Newton and Gerard Christopher were entirely forgettable. Which means Tom Welling wins by default, but he would have won by a landslide anyway. He is a great Superboy aka the Blur.
As Clark, Kirk Alyn and George Reeve are out again. However, while I took Christopher Reeve out of the running as Superman, he does a pretty good mild-mannered Clark who then stops when nobody can see him. Even when he stands up taller, he’s awesome switching between them. And I love his in-between character. John Newton and Gerard Christopher are still forgettable. Dean Cain did a decent job as Clark, more “normal”, so he is a contender. Brandon Routh and Henry Cavill were disappointing as Superman, and so their Clark fails too. But Tyler Hoechlin? He kills as Clark for his inner peace. I would love to keep him, but we never see him DO much as Clark. I’m going to have to give it to Tom Welling as Clark. I wonder if that is because I’ve so much of him in the Smallville series vs. shorter portrayals for the rest.
As Lois, Noel Neill and Phyllis Coates are too much a product of the era. Margot Kidder and Teri Hatcher played Lois as almost a bimbo, so they are out. Erica Durance knocks it out of the park as Lois, easily keeping up with Tom’s Clark. But she never had to play against Superman, that would be a harder nut to crack potentially. I toss out Kate Bosworth and Amy Adams, neither excite me, and I wish I could keep some of Elizabeth Tulloch but not all. So that basically means Erica Durance sweeps.
So let’s see…I want Tom Welling or Tyler Hoechlin as Clark, Tom definitely as Superboy/Blur, growing up to be Tyler Hoechlin’s Superman, and having a full life with Erica Durance as Lois.
I did not see that coming. I think I’ll try Batman next, and then on to Spiderman.