Can you think of a superhero that is more American than Superman? Okay, maybe Captain America, but today isn’t his anniversary! Today marks the first time, in 1938, that the character of Superman appeared in a DC Comics comic book. As many of us do (and will), our favorite superhero has changed a lot over the past 78 years. Since today is Throwback Thursday, let’s reminisce about who and how Superman has been portrayed on the big and small screen over the years.
From 1940-1951, people only knew Superman by his voice, leaving what he looked like to their imaginations. Bud Collyer was the first actor to portray the Last Son of Krypton and he accomplished this by simply using his voice. We probably have him to thank for why this character is still popular today. He used the phrase “This is a job for…Superman” to let listeners know when Clark Kent transformed into The Man of Steel and fans loved it. When the iconic Superman cartoon series debuted in 1941, there was only one person the studio went to for the title character’s voice and that was Collyer. Collyer has spent more time portraying the Man of Steel than any other actor and set the mold for future actors as to how Superman should sound.
Although the first films starring the Man of Steel on the big screen (“Superman” and “Atom Man vs. Superman”) weren’t the greatest films, it was the first time audiences saw someone (Kirk Alyn, in this case) perform their superhero. Alyn himself looked like a comic book hero, with his athletic build and graceful moves. It was his work as a dancer in real life that made him a perfect fit to play Superman.
A couple of Reeves boys (George and his son, Christopher) took the cape and tights after Alyn. George Reeves is best known for “The Adventures of Superman” television series in which the focus was mostly on Clark Kent. George proved to viewers that Kent wasn’t scared to take on certain fights in his own clothes. George’s suit was padded, but his rugged good looks and deep voice made up for that.
Most people, however, think of Christopher when they hear ‘Superman.’ Christopher only portrayed the superhero in four films, but he was incredibly sincere and believable as a hero. Some of that was probably due to his experience as a pilot in real life. He used that training in the scenes while he was flying to convince viewers that, hey, this guy can really fly!
Young fans of Superman know Henry Cavill as the Man of Steel. Take one look at the guy and you associate him with a superhero. He not only has the looks, but he has shown us a more complex hero, mixing Superman’s past with being a hero fighting for good. Cavill combines what the Reeves’ did to influence our ideas of the hero to form his own version which is interesting to watch. He’s sincere and tough, just as Superman was meant to be.