As we near the full release of Man Of Steel (which had it’s screening for critics with bigger credentials than mine last night), I thought a good article would be a quick look at the previous appearances by the Man of Steel on the big screen. Dean Cain and Tom “I’m too cool for the costume” Welling up there are from the television shows (no love for the Superboys and voice actors) so we’ll worry about them another day. Join us now as we spin the planet backwards to look at the history of Superman in film.
Superman the animated shorts
I’ve already gone on about this production. My favorite of the animated Superman tales, they knew how to tell numerous kinds of stories with our heroes. One episode might have him dealing with gangsters, another a mad scientist, dinosaurs on yet another, and beating up the Axis (or a simulation) in still another one. Getting Bud Collyer and Joan Alexander to reprise their radio roles as Superman and Lois was a bonus as they know their roles well and Collyer is still THE Superman voice actor that others will be judged on. While I’ll be using trailers for the rest, I don’t have one for the shorts, so here’s the first short.
Superman and Atom Man Vs. Superman: the serials
Although turning down Republics request to make a Superman serial (the script retooled into The Adventures of Captain Marvel), National Publications (later DC Comics) ended up going with Columbia to produce two Superman serials. I recently finished watching the first one, and it’s really good. Kirk Alyn goes uncredited on-screen hoping to convince kids this is the actual Superman, but Noel Neil, who would go on to be one of the two Lois Lanes on the Adventures Of Superman TV series was born for the role. Alyn himself also sees born to play Superman and like Collyer knew to play Clark Kent as a separate character, right down to his voice. The villain in the piece is the Spider Lady, a female crimeboss (you didn’t see a lot of those in the 1940’s) makes a surprisingly good foil for the Last Son of Krypton and the rest of the Daily Planet staff in her attempts to gain control of a top secret weapon that would make her the most powerful woman on Earth. We even see the on-screen debut of Kryptonite, since it was based more on the radio dramas than the comic books.
I couldn’t find a trailer for the sequel, Atom Man Vs. Superman as Lex Luthor made his post-comics debut (unless he was in the radio drama and I never heard about it) using the identity of Atom Man to commit crimes. I haven’t started watching that one as I write this but plan to watch an episode or two when I’m done.
Superman And The Mole Men
Apparently forgotten by Comics Alliance during their review of “all” the Superman films, this is the first feature-length Superman story and served as a pilot for Adventures Of Superman. It features the debut of George Reeves as Clark/Superman and Phyllis Coates, the first Lois Lane in the TV series before events led to Neil taking over the role. The story features Superman dealing with people who live below ground and the scared mining town’s reaction. I saw it once and haven’t caught it since but I’m curious to as I don’t remember a lot about it. No trailer, but here are some clips. The movie was later made into a multi-part episode of the show.
The Christopher Reeves Movies
At this point I’m just going for a full list. We all know know these movies and the space we have here wouldn’t do justice to the movies. I will say that I think the third movie is overrated and the fourth can’t be condemned enough. The first is great until the final act and the second is saved by the acting because the story is all over the place thanks to the changes in directors. I also count Supergirl in this set and while I admit it has a number of weak parts I still like it. So there! 😛
How does the guy who made the first two X-Men movies screw this up, leaving the mutant franchise in the hands of lesser directors? By being to beholden to the Richard Donner films and creating essentially a reunion movie but with new actors. The problems with the most recent film have been discussed by other bloggers and reviewers so I’ll just wait until I get to do a review to go over it. Plus I still haven’t watched it yet. It’s too bad, because Brandon Routh looks like he did a great job considering the material he was given. He really looks the part.
Which brings up to the next film, and I can’t say I’m looking forward to it as a Superman fan. But I’m sure Steelman has his own story to tell. It’s just not Superman’s story. But at least we have these others and the TV shows (Superman: The Quest For Peace, Superman Returns, and Smallville aside) to remind us how Superman should be done. Find these on DVD and give them a watch.