Monday, January 31, 2011

Why So Panicky?

By now, anyone who gives a rat's arse knows that British actor Henry Cavill has been cast in the role of Clark Kent/Superman in the upcoming film Superman: Man of Steel (2012). Yesterday morning, I woke up to twitter ablaze with this news and many of the Superman and Smallville fans were more than alarmed...they were enraged.


Well, first off, a significant number of the fan base, at least those I'm aware of via twitter, are either Tom Welling or Brandon Routh supporters and would rather have seen one of those gentlemen wearing the big red cape. The Smallville fans (at least the rabid ones) are having a very difficult time letting go of the series, which ends this coming May, as well as the vision that Tom Welling is the "only" Superman (and Erica Durance as the "only" Lois Lane).

History lesson.

The very first Superman ever to grace the silver screen was a former ballet dancer named Kirk Alyn in the 1940s. Even then, he didn't star in a single full-length motion picture. Back in the day, when you went to see a movie, there were things called cartoons, news reels, and those wonderful serials. A serial was sort of like a television series ...a set of short episodes describing a continuing story that cycled once per week. If you wanted to keep up with the story, you had to go to the theater every week to see what happened next. Often, each serial episode ended in what's called a "cliffhanger", which could be literal but otherwise meant that the hero or the "damsel in distress" was caught in some sort of trap or situation that looked like certain death. It was part of the hook to keep the fans coming back for more and to see how the hero or the damsel escaped (which they always did).

For those into trivia, Noel Neill, who later played Lois in the 1950's Superman series opposite George Reeves (I'm getting to that) also played Lois to Alyn's Clark Kent/Superman. If you want to think of the "first Superman" in motion pictures, it was Kirk Alyn.

Television's first Superman was George Reeves. For people in their 50s and 60s today, Reeves is Superman, or at least the nostalgic Superman of their childhood. Like the Kirk Alyn serials before it, the Adventures of Superman was filmed on a very tight budget with the characters often wearing the same outfits over and over, episode after episode, and making liberal use of stock film footage and repeated scenes (for instance, the same scene was used in most episodes showing Clark dashing into the Daily Planet's storage room while taking off this glasses and then leaping out the window as Superman).

The next time we see Superman, he is portrayed by Christopher Reeve (no relation to Reeves) in Superman: The Movie (1978). Even for younger audiences today, Reeve is their Superman. Nostalgia makes this, and the three film sequels seem better than they were, but Reeve remains a favorite among the fans and has a warm place in many hearts. Even in real life, his memory remains that of a true hero.

Dean Cain was the next television Man of Steel in the 1990s in the program Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. I rented the first season on DVD, but it was so horrible, I returned it without watching all of the episodes.

2001, the beginning of the 21st century, saw the rise of an intriguing reboot of the Superman legend. Tom Welling became the new Clark in Smallville. Smallville departed significantly from the accepted canon and, for the most part, did a good job at reinventing the legend before Clark becomes a legend. Unfortunately, a show that probably should have lasted only seven seasons, tried to stretch its life expectancy to ten with disappointing results. Nevertheless, Tom Welling is the (pre) Superman for many people in their 20s and 30s today. Hence the angst at Welling not being cast as Superman in the upcoming Man of Steel film.

Superman Returns (2006) is the most recent film version of the Last Son of Krypton, as played in a rather lackluster manner by Brandon Routh. I've seen this film exactly once and, when I tried to watch it again, I just couldn't get past all of the scenes where Superman is stalking Lois and her lover Richard White (James Marsten). It was just so amazingly boring (though I liked the Superman saves the plane sequence in at the start of the film).

So here we are. How many Supermen have there been? Did you count?

  1. Kirk Alyn (1940s)

  2. George Reeves (1950s)

  3. Christopher Reeve (1970s)

  4. Dean Cain (1990s)

  5. Tom Welling (2000s)

  6. Brandon Routh (2006)

Six Supermen, and each and every one of them was beloved by the fans of their generation.

And now comes Henry Cavill as Superman number seven; the Superman of 2012 and beyond. Each actor who's played the role has had their day in the sun and each one has eventually passed the torch to the next generation. For 70 years, Superman has appeared in one form or the other in motion pictures and television. He also had a radio show in the 1940s and has appeared in various animated cartoons, stage plays, and musicals. The comic book version of Superman has changed a number of times since his inception in 1938 (and if you've ever had the chance to read any golden age Superman comics, the comparision to the current version is rather striking).

Do not panic. Bitch and whine if you will because your idea of Superman isn't presupposed by Henry Cavill, but try to hang onto the fact that this has all happened before...many times. Cavill is simply the latest in a line of "Supermen" that stretches back seven decades. If you don't think you can let go of Reeve, Welling, or Routh, don't worry. If Henry Cavill isn't going to be "your" Superman, he'll be the Superman of the generation that's coming up after you.

Up, up and away.

Now, who should be cast in the film as Lois Lane?

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