Television's longest-running 'live' incarnation of the Man of Steel, SMALLVILLE (2001-2011)

Tom Welling ('Clark Kent' in 'Smallville', 2001-2011) On the right, my portrait sketch of Welling...

The pride and joy of the WB (and later, the CW) Network, megahit "Smallville", created and produced, for the first seven seasons, by Miles Millar and Alfred Gough, would, again, rewrite Superman's early history, examining the years before teenaged Clark Kent, played by Tom Welling (1977- ), would become the Man of Steel. Gone were the glasses and geeky demeaner, replaced by a shy, yet athletic youth who is startled by each new Power he manifests...In fact, Welling, who was not a Superman 'fan', when cast, intentionally avoided studying the comics or previous live incarnations, to make his reactions to his growing abilities more believable...a fact Christopher Reeve would tease him about!

Supported by his devoted adopted parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent (John Schneider...who would, following Superman tradition, pass away in Season Five...and Annette O'Toole, who had portrayed 'Lana Lang' in "Superman III"), befriended and betrayed by childhood chum/self-serving millionaire Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum) and his father, ruthless Lionel Luthor (John Glover), and in love, yet unable to reveal himself for years, to exotically beautiful Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk).

Unlike the comic book character, Clark would reveal his abilities to an increasing number of people, over the course of the first several seasons; first, with best friend Pete Ross (Sam Jones III); then, with young journalist/friend/unrequited love/'Kryptonite Freak', Chloe Sullivan (Allison Mack); eventually, with Lionel Luthor, who had 'shared' his psyche, at one point (as well as Jor-El's 'soul'); later, with Oliver Queen/"Green Arrow" (Justin Hartley); and, finally, with Lana (after she'd married and divorced Lex)...before the series' end, Lois Lane (see below), and members of the Justice League, Justice Society, and Legion of Super Heroes would all share his secret.

The tragedy of 9/11 actually helped the fledgling series (as audiences trying to find perspective after the attack could relate to a very human Clark Kent far more than they might have, a god-like, invulnerable superhero), although the first season often seemed a derivative "X Files" clone (with weekly Kryptonite mutants). "Smallville" would, however, grow, in subsequent seasons, into an exciting, definitive prequel to the Superman saga, with better plotlines, episodes set at Metropolis' Daily Planet, and Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, Brainiac, the Flash, Green Arrow, Aquaman, Cyborg, the Martian Manhunter, and Black Canary all appearing, early in their careers (even the founding of DC Comics' Justice League was the subject of an episode).

Most engagingly, voluptuous, feisty Lois Lane (Erica Durance), Chloe's cousin, was introduced in Season 4, and became a popular series regular, already sparring with Clark!

By the start of "Smallville's" seventh season, Martha Kent (Annette O'Toole) would be gone (off to Washington to serve in Congress), Jimmy Olsen (Aaron Ashmore) would return as a regular, and the "real" Kara (Laura Vandervoort), Clark's Kryptonian cousin (better known to DC fans as Supergirl), would also be introduced as a series regular; another fixture of the DC Comic Universe, Bizarro (called, here, 'the Phantom', and portrayed by Welling), created from Clark's Kryptonian DNA, would appear (cloning would be a major theme of the entire season), Pete Ross (Sam Jones III) would reappear for an episode, and, acknowledging past "Superman" incarnations, "Lois and Clark" star Dean Cain would guest as an immortal, villainous doctor (with the initials C.K.!), "Supergirl" Helen Slater, as a clone of Clark's Kryptonian mother, Lara, and the "Superman" movies' "Jimmy Olsen", Marc McClure, as yet another Kryptonian relocated on earth, the creator of Brainiac. Lionel Luthor's murder, by Lex, ended John Glover's run in the series, and, in a startling announcement, Michael Rosenbaum announced he would be leaving the series, as well (although the producers hinted he could make a surprise appearance in the series' finale).

In April, 2008, the series' creators, Miles Millar and Alfred Gough were 'released' from "Smallville", their positions as Producers taken by other staff producers in the series; it was not an amicable departure, although it was an early indication the series' 'gameplan' was about to be changed...

As the show entered it's eighth (and announced, final) season, the curse of all long-running series, staleness, crept in, as several episodes simply rehashed previous seasons' plotlines, and the show felt 'padded' (only a half-dozen or so really excellent episodes, with too many others simply 'fillers'). Still, there were intriguing concepts and characters introduced, foreshadowing the arrival of 'Superman'; Clark moves to Metropolis, uses his powers to help John Jones/Martian Manhunter (returning Phil Morris) on cases, (Lois nicknames the mysterious new superhero in town "The Blur", which sticks, despite the increasing number of 'S' logos appearing, whenever the Blur saves the day), gets a job at the Daily Planet, and begins to fall for Lois (and she, for him)...even Lana, when she makes a surprise appearance (Kristin Kreuk was no longer a regular), acknowledges that she and Clark were not 'meant' to be together, but that another, was; with Clark facing discovery as a superhuman, Oliver 'Green Arrow' Queen (Justin Hartley) creates a caped persona for his 'alter ego', to cover the Kryptonian's 'super' activities; Kara/Supergirl (also no longer a regular) is rescued from the Phantom Zone, and departs to search for the lost Kryptonian city of Kandor...

...Brainiac (James Marsters) re-emerges (from Chloe's mind), and Doomsday (Sam Witmer), the supervillain who 'kills' Superman in the comics, is introduced as a major foe; even an incapacitated 'Luthor' appears (from behind, of course; Cassidy Freeman, as the Planet's new 'editor', serves as his surrogate, and villain for Clark). In other crossovers from the comics, the magical Zatanna appears, and the Legion of Superheroes (the far future's answer to the Justice League) are introduced, to help fight Brainiac.

The CW Network made a startling decision, in March, 2009, after reviewing "Smallville's" still impressive ratings; despite the story arcs and announced plans to tie up all the loose ends and give the series a classy send-off, the network renewed the series for a NINTH season (thus explaining why creator/producers Millar and Gough, who 'guaranteed' fans an 'Eight and Out' series run, were dropped). Plotlines were revised; Oliver 'kills' Luthor (sending him into a brief fling with the "Dark" side), Jimmy and Doomsday both die (but it turns out Jimmy had a young nephew also named Jimmy who was a photographer...uh-huh...), Brainiac is incarcerated in the far future by the Legion, and Chloe dedicates herself as the infant Justice League's comm link, 'Watchtower'...

Season Nine continued inching Clark towards his ultimate destiny, as he donned his first 'costume' (while it was nice to see the 'S' finally on his shirt, even if everybody still called him "The Blur", the color scheme was too dark, far more 'Batman'/'Punisher' than Man of Steel); new faces for Jor-El and Zod appeared, with Zod, and his Kandorian soldiers, bereft of superpowers, attempting to turn our yellow sun into a red one; Oliver donned a new Green Arrow costume, and trained a female protege; and John Jones returned, now in a variation of the classic Martian Manhunter costume. There were two major crossovers from the comics; the first brought the 'Super Twins' from the 70s cartoons to life, and, in a variation of the 'Watchmen' concept, members of the 'Golden Age' Justice Society (Dr. Fate and Hawkman, with Star Girl, the Star-Spangled Kid's successor) out of retirement on a mission of vengeance. Their two-hour episode was significant, as it foreshadowed the future, as Dr. Fate revealed in a vision, Clark's red cape with the yellow 'S' insignia, hinted strongly that Luthor still lived, and, with a burst of psychic energy, revealed the green-skinned, red-eyed Martian Manhunter beneath John Jones' human facade that DC Comics' fans are familiar with. Zatanna also returned for an episode (making Lois a bit jealous!)

As the season wound down, Michael McKean returned as Perry White, now dating Martha Kent! Annette O'Toole (who has been married to McKean, in real life, for over a decade), brought Clark a present, revealed in the season finale...his traditional red, yellow, and blue uniform (which, in the comics, she actually does make for him). Zod and the Kandorians, now possessing superpowers, deface world landmarks (will anybody ever fix them?), but, after Zod's lies are revealed, the Kandorians willingly depart Earth for life in another dimension (maybe Kara can find them, there!) Oliver/Green Arrow is captured by an unknown enemy, and Clark sacrifices his life, yet again (stabbed with blue Kryptonite) to force Zod into the other dimension (don't worry, Clark will be back!)...the most intriguing moment of the finale, however, came in a dream Clark has, at the start of the episode, as it literally pulls the "Smallville" oft-convoluted storylines back into the DC Timeline, again; in 2013, Perry White is the editor of the "Daily Planet", Lois is the top reporter, teamed up with young photographer Jimmy Olsen, Lex Luthor is back, and running for President, Clark wears glasses, and he protects Metropolis as a flying Superman (still unnamed, but the cape appears, as he performs a rescue) can only hope that his vision will be the real deal, by the end of Season Ten...

With the CW loudly proclaiming this will, indeed, be the final season, Season Ten opened with Clark, returned to life after Lois jerked the blue Kryptonite dagger out of him, very much in super mode, ready to put on the costume Ma Kent made for him in Season Nine...but wait! The costume isn't the scarlet, blue, and gold outfit that everyone has loved for generations, but the muddy, dark Speedo-wannabe that Bryan Singer introduced in "Superman Returns"! No, no, NO!!! Fortunately(?), Jor-El's spirit (voiced by Terence Stamp) refused, yet AGAIN to allow Clark to fulfill his destiny as Superman ("Your pride has made you my greatest failure..."), locked up the costume in a crystal (where it can stay, as far as I'm want the CLASSIC one!), and brought back Supergirl (Laura Vandervoort) to protect Earth from the Great Evil Darkness approaching civilization ("Face it, Kal, you can't even fly yet," Kara explained) ...Dressed in a new 'temporary' uniform (a dark red leather jacket with the 'S' insignia), Clark was, naturally, totally bummed, but the Spirit of Pa Kent (John Schneider) returned (lots of spirits popping up, this season), and reminded Clark that Jor-El's track record on decisions over the past 9 seasons had been pretty lousy, and not to give up hope...MEANWHILE, Chloe (Allison Mack), the last of Tom Welling's original co-stars, left the series (except for a couple of guest spots), after rescuing Ollie Queen/Green Arrow (Justin Hartley), from vigilante-fanatics hoping to recruit him into their plot to rule the world, after they'd tortured, and planted a tracker on him (they placed one on every 'secret' hero, even Clark, using 'blue Kryptonite'). Frantically searching for Chloe, Ollie decided to pull a 'Tony Stark,' and announced to the world he was Green Arrow...MEANWHILE, in Eygpt, Carter Hall/Hawkman (Michael Shanks) informed Lois that he would soon die, so that the next incarnation of Hawkman and Hawkgirl could occur, which sent Lois back into the arms of Clark...then, in the groundbreaking 200th episode, James Marsters returned from the future as 'Brainiac 5' (the rehabilitated descendant of the evil android, now a member of the Legion of Superheroes), appearing at the Smallville High School reunion, and whisking Clark away on a "Christmas Carol"-style journey to his past and future, to help resolve his "inner darkness"; Clark discovers that his foster father had his fatal heart attack fighting Lionel Luthor (an event Clark had no control over, and therefore no reason to feel responsibility or guilt), AND, in one of the greatest moments in the series' 10 seasons, he met his glasses-wearing future counterpart ("How did I get so uptight and nerdy?") and rescued Lois from a helicopter plunging off the Daily Planet roof (in a terrific homage to Christopher Reeve's famous "Superman" debut)...Lois and Clark beautifully proclaim their love, Lana and Chloe appear in flashbacks, and only the noticable absence of Michael Rosenbaum as Lex Luthor kept the episode from being a perfect '10' (but it still ranked in the top two or three episodes, of the entire series...)

Lois had a brief fling as the 70's TV series' superhero, 'Isis', after an ancient Eygptian jewel infected her; Tess (Cassidy Freeman) took over Chloe's responsibilities as 'Watchtower', but secretly nurtured a young but rapidly maturing Lex Luthor clone, hoping to turn him from 'The Dark Side' (uh-huh); Lois' 4-star general father (Michael Ironside), and her sister, Lucy (Peyton List) came to check out Clark; General Lane hated Kent, until Clark saved Lois from a missile intended to kill him (which blew up "The Talon"!); Lois discovered a video of encouragement from her dead mother (a welcome guest appearance by Dean Cain's "Lois & Clark" co-star, Teri Hatcher); the video gave Lois the courage to confront the 'Spirit of Jor El' computer in the Fortress of Solitude; her outburst resulted in her being placed 'in stasis'; Clark's arrival and rescue 'released' a hologram from Jor El and Lara (Julian Sand and Helen Slater), made moments before Krypton's destruction, encouraging their son to embrace both intellect and compassion, while protecting Earth; Fagin-eque DC Comic supervillainess Granny Goodness (Christine Willes), was introduced, (with her sexy kryptonite-powered female 'orphans', to recover runaway Tess...who discovered her actual 'birth' father was Lionel Luthor! And Granny's 'boss', the evil Galactic Overlord, Darkseid (one of DC Comics' most powerful villains), was revealed as the approaching 'ultimate darkness' that Jor El feared Kal El could not defeat...

As the final season wound down, the storylines became more rushed, with potentially intriguing subplots introduced and quickly dropped; another dimension's Lionel Luther (John Glover) 'hitches' a ride to Earth with Clark, and promptly seizes all of Oliver Queen's assets, leaving him bankrupt (a bit different than how Ollie lost everything in the comics, but a major development, certainly!), yet nobody seemed too upset, in "Smallville"; while the appearance of DC Superheroes Booster Gold and the Blue Beetle (Eric Martsolf and Jaren Brandt Bartlett) was excellent (and made you wish they'd appeared more), the final appearance of Supergirl (Laura Vandervoort) was so rushed (with Jor-El's spirit directing her to the future, and the Legion of Superheroes) that you wondered why she even appeared! Ollie (Justin Hartley) marries Chloe (Allison Mack), in a major divergence from the comics (Black Canary strikes out!), and is possessed by the dark side of Darkseid (bad pun!), nearly robbing Clark of all his powers, using gold kryptonite, as Clark attempts to marry Lois (the arrival of Darkseid's hellish planet, Apokolips, on a collision course with Earth postpones the ceremony); Lionel discovers the body of the last clone of his son, Lex (Michael Rosenbaum, fulfilling his promised finale appearance), but it needs a Luthor heart to survive; Lionel 'volunteers' Lex's sister, Tess (Cassidy Freeman), but is killed, attempting to murder her (HIS heart saves Lex, in a bargain Lionel strikes with Darkseid, in return for housing Darkseid's spirit in his'd think the Ultimate Evil would prefer Lex's body!) Clark meets the revived Lex, who knows all the secrets and smugly plans to rule...but as Lex executes Tess (with a knife in the heart), with her last breath, she 'infects' him with an incurable 'amnesia' serum, causing him to forget all his past...he will still be evil, but he won't have leverage over Clark...

Not destroying Clark at the wedding saves Ollie's soul, and he, as Green Arrow (WAY too easily) dispatches Darkseid's 'Prophets', Granny, Desaad, and Godfrey; meanwhile, in the Kent barn, Darkseid, appearing in the dead body of Lionel, strangles Clark, gloating over the impending annihilation of Earth, and his foe's he vainly struggles, Clark's mind flashes back over his life...and suddenly he has an epiphany, as all the lessons of both Jor-El and Jonathan Kent over the series' ten seasons finally merge...and Man becomes SUPERMAN! He FINALLY flies, easily breaking free of Lionel's grip, and shatters the animated corpse into dust...then launches out to the Fortress of Solitude, where the Voice of Jor-El (Terence Stamp) gives his long-awaited blessing, and the Spirit of Pa Kent (John Schneider) proudly presents him with the butt-ugly "Superman Returns" red, yellow, and blue suit...

Clark changes into his Superman uniform as he flies out from the Fortress, to confront the fiery threat of Apokolips (you never see him very well in the costume, BTW, mostly in CGI-created long shots, and this was VERY disappointing, after the ten-season wait...Was Welling's actual physique less impressive in the suit than was expected?). Meanwhile, airborne in Air Force One, Lois (Erica Durance) is with the President, when the sky explodes in flames, causing the jet engines to flame out, and the aircraft to spiral, out-of-control...suddenly, streaking to the rescue, comes SUPERMAN! Supporting a wing and balancing the aircraft until the engines restart (in a homage to Christopher Reeve's rescue of Air Force One in the first "Superman" film), he flies to a port window in his new uniform and flashes a quick, boyish smile at the wide-eyed and completely enchanted Lois (Erica is simply adorable, at this key moment!). Superman then streaks over the molten, hellish skies of Metropolis, and the doomed, terrified citizens in the streets get their first view of the Man of Steel (I half-expected someone to shout out, "Look! Up in the SKY!"). As Ollie, among the onlookers, stares, skyward, at the red-and-blue blur, and softly whispers, "You can DO this, Clark...", Superman soars away from our world, racing into space towards the flaming planetary invader...and he SLAMS into it, at full speed, literally shoving Darkseid and his world, Apokolips back into deep space (an act of unmatched super strength reminiscent of George Reeves' attempt to take out an asteroid in the most famous of all "Adventures of Superman" TV episodes, "Panic in the Sky", and more than a BIT greater than he currently has in the comics!). As he floats in space, with everyone on Earth saved, he watches Apokolips quickly recede into the cosmos, then turns to face his adopted world, and Tom Welling transforms into a classic comic book Superman drawing, proclaiming to the decade's loyal audience that "Smallville" has now merged it's timeline with that of the DC Universe...

The final moments of the series jumps seven years ahead in time...Chloe finishes reading Clark's life story, from Smallville until his debut, as Superman, in a comic book (, isn't that a bit public, for a guy hiding behind a secret identity?) to her young Superman-worshiping son (Green Arrow Ollie, his dad, might feel a BIT insecure about his competition!), Lex Luthor is the new American President (I guess having no long-term memories wasn't much of a hindrance!), Perry White (the voice of Michael McKean) is now screaming "Great Caesar's Ghost!", from the Editor's Desk at the Daily Planet, Lois is the paper's ace reporter, assisted by young photographer Jimmy Olsen (Aaron Ashmore), and reporter Clark Kent is glasses-wearing, mild-mannered, and a bit, after seven years, Lois and Clark are finally getting married...but WAIT! There will be a slight delay...People are in danger, and "This is a JOB for SUPERMAN!"

...And the longest-running live-action Superman series came to a close...


A high point for "Smallville" were the two appearances of Christopher Reeve, frail, but proud, as wheelchair-bound Dr. Virgil Swann, an enigmatic scientist with answers to Clark's past, in Seasons Two and Three...the scenes between Welling and Reeve were magical, with the pair appearing as themselves at the end of the episodes, to promote the spinal injury research being done by The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation; Reeve's highly-rated guest appearances would lead to a story arc involving his "Superman" co-star, Margot Kidder, as Swann's associate. In Season Seven, Dean Cain would carry on the Reeve/Welling 'Superman' tradition, closing his guest appearance with another promotion of the Foundation's work and Reeve's legacy.

Tom Welling, with movie-idol good looks and smouldering sexuality behind a Boy Scout demeanor, became a bonafide heartthrob to many female viewers over ten seasons, while maintaining a respect for the character that won over many older fans, as well. He holds the record for playing the role of Superman longer than any other 'live' actor (although Bud Collyer still holds the overall record, voicing the Man of Steel on radio, as well as the animated short features, for nearly the entire decade of the forties, then returning to voice him, again, for the animated television series in the sixties). Welling always portrayed the Last Son of Krypton with sensitivity and dignity...

"Smallville" was a worthy addition to the Superman Saga!

Kristin Kreuk ('Lana Lang' in 'Smallville', 2001-2009)

Michael Rosenbaum ('Lex Luthor' in 'Smallville', 2001-2008, 2011)

Allison Mack ('Chloe Sullivan' in 'Smallville', 2001-2011)

John Glover ('Lionel Luthor' in 'Smallville', 2001-2008, 2010-2011)

Erica Durance ('Lois Lane' in 'Smallville', 2004-2011)

Erica Durance ('Lois Lane' in 'Smallville', 2004-2011)

Annette O'Toole ('Lana Lang' in 'Superman' III, 1983,
'Martha Kent' in 'Smallville', 2001-2007, 2010-2011)

John Schneider ('Jonathan Kent' in 'Smallville', 2001-2006, 2010-2011)

Justin Hartley ('Oliver Queen'/'Green Arrow' in 'Smallville', 2006-2011)

Cassidy Freeman ('Tess Mercer' in 'Smallville', 2008-2011)

Laura Vandervoort ('Kara'/'Supergirl' in 'Smallville', 2007-2011)

Aaron Ashmore ('Jimmy Olsen' in 'Smallville', 2006-2009)

...and Film's latest incarnation of the Man of Steel, SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006)

Brandon Routh ('Clark Kent/Superman', in 'Superman Returns', 2006) On the right, my portrait sketch of Routh...


After a decade of false starts with various directors (including Wolfgang Petersen, Brett Ratner, McG, and Michael Bay), and discussions with established stars to become the new big screen Superman (including Jude Law, Jake Gyllenhaal, Keanu Reeves, Josh Hartnett, Paul Walker, and Ashton Kutcher), Warner's now $70 million investment in a new film had only yielded a Producer, in Jon Peters, and a somewhat revisionist script, by J.J. Abrams (who'd left in a huff when Warner refused the then-novice director the opportunity to direct the film, himself). Despite (or perhaps because of) the success of "Smallville", Tom Welling was ruled out for the lead, and Peters suggested, again, the Christopher Reeve 'Formula' of casting an unknown, who wouldn't be as uptight about being typecast as the Man of Steel, or signing a three-picture deal in the role.

Young actor Brandon Routh (1979- ) had tested, unsuccessfully, for the lead in "Smallville", in 2000, and was now reconsidered, for the film. Tall (nearly 6'4"), very trim (but not skinny, as Reeve had been, when he first tested), Routh bore a slight resemblance to Reeve, winning a costume party prize, dressed as Clark Kent/Superman (Grand Prize: $100), and had gained some noteriety when he publicly fired off some angry, religiously-phrased memos at the producers of TV soap opera, "One Life to Live" after he was dropped from the series, in 2002. Routh's career was at a standstill, and he was thrilled to accept the lead in a multimillion-dollar production.

"X-Men" and "X-Men 2" director Bryan Singer was one of the hottest directors in Hollywood, earning millions on the Marvel 'mutant' franchise, making a star of Hugh Jackman, as Wolverine, and had become everyone's first choice on comic-related properties. Negotiations with the director had stalled, before (as he wasn't interested in another multi-picture deal), but in a discussion with Warner for a "Logan's Run" remake, the proposed Superman trilogy was discussed...and Singer found himself intrigued.

Singer hated any revisionist 'take' on The Man of Steel, preferring to return to the Richard Donner 'roots'. Would Warner be interested? Oh, YEAH! But Jon Peters, still involved to a limited extent (he would receive a 'Producer' credit for his ten years promoting a new Superman film), offered Singer a prophetic word of warning; the Age of Innocence had ended for America with '9/11', and audiences would no longer 'buy' a 'Boy Scout' Superhero in red and blue tights, in a darker, more jaded world.

Quickly, the Abrams script was dropped, and Singer, after getting Richard Donner's blessings, and meeting with "Smallville" producers Miles Millar and Alfred Gough, (to make sure the two 'Superman' plotlines wouldn't clash), brought in his "X-Men" scribes, Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, to write a Superman 'sequel', "Superman Returns".

Occurring after the events of 1980's "Superman II" (with Parts III and IV, thankfully discarded), Superman (Routh) returns to Earth after 5 years in deep space, after journeying by spaceship to the recently discovered ruins of Krypton, to learn more of his past ("It's just a graveyard," he sadly admits upon his return, to his foster mother, Martha Kent, played by screen legend Eva Marie Saint). Clark/Superman then returns to Metropolis to reconnect with his old life. Where Christopher Reeve (and director Richard Donner) had striven to make Clark Kent and Superman two distinct personalties (even changing the timbre of his voice and the side his hair is parted), the differences between Routh's two personas are less defined, with Routh displaying an aloof, Buddha-like detachment when Superman, and a cheerful, clumsy awkwardness as Clark...considering nobody even noticed that both Clark and Superman disappeared and reappeared at the same time, perhaps emphasizing the characters' differences really didn't matter as much...

While director Singer wanted to create an original new chapter in the Saga, as well as a sincere homage to Richard Donner's definitive pair of "Superman" films, (digitally inserting Marlon Brando as Jor-El, utilizing John Williams' famous themes...for the fifth time in the franchise...displaying pictures of 'Pa Kent' Glenn Ford on the the Kent Farm's mantle, and repeating key dialog from the first film, such as Superman's well-known advice about flying), fundamental problems arose; Superman's origin and powers had been modified, in the 1980s and 1990s, which DC, Warner, and Singer all agreed had to be utilized (as the Man of Steel had grown so powerful, it was impossible to create a threat that could really challenge him), but in 'lessening' him, a key aspect of the first two films would have to be ignored...

...No longer did Kal-El come to Earth already possessing "Powers and Abilities Far Beyond Mortal Men" (allowing him, as a tiny tot, to 'save' Pa Kent when the truck fell while he changed a tire); instead, he was a Kryptonian "solar battery", powered by Earth's yellow sun, who could not manifest his abilities until sufficiently 'charged' (which was why young Clark wore glasses; he actually needed them, being quite would any child, of Kryptonian heritage, be until he approached puberty).

Singer would soon learn, to his regret, that in trying to satisfy everybody, the end result would be a dull movie that satisfied nobody...

The film's problems began quite early, with Kate Bosworth, miscast as Lois Lane (for the aggressive, yet sympathetic ace reporter to 'work' in her role as Clark/Supes' romantic interest, you have to really care about her, and their shared feelings...there has to be a tangible electricity between them, whether they are 'together' romantically, or not...and it simply wasn't there. While Bosworth is attractive, she seemed too young, detached, and brittle as Lane, lacking the feisty confidence and unforced sexiness of Teri Hatcher, Erica Durance, or even Margot Kidder in the role). She has won a Pulitzer Prize for an editorial ("Why the World Doesn't Need Superman") has a new 'permanent' boyfriend (Perry White's blandly heroic nephew, Richard, a rather thankless role for "X-Men's" 'Cyclops', James Marsden; he and Bosworth have no chemistry together, either), and she is the single mother of a frail five-year-old son portrayed by young Tristan Lake Leabu (who is a pivotal character in the plotline, and would raise some of the loudest howls from fans).

Lex Luthor (a very engaging, sinister Kevin Spacey), despite being well-cast, fares almost as badly in this film; long released from custody (since key witness Superman never appeared at his trial to testify), he bilks an aged millionairess (legendary 'Lois Lane' Noel Neill) on her deathbed (a rather distasteful scene), and uses his new fortune to return to the Fortress of Solitude and swipe a Krypton crystal in the 'ultimate' land scheme. While the land swindle touches on the funniest aspect of Gene Hackman's Luthor persona beautifully, the new continent created by the crystal is disgusting and apocolyptic-appearing (which is NOT a place Kryptonians would create, or Lex Luthor would ever choose to live...remember, Hackman wanted Australia's sandy beaches!) With this plotline introduced, the film spiralled down a grim, disappointing path, compounded by Singer's new, darker, 'Speedo'-inspired interpretation of the Superman suit, with a smaller, embossed 'S' logo on his chest (and belt), no 'S' on the cape, modified work boots, and darker, less optimistic colors (quite close, in fact, to the 'Evil Superman' uniform colors in "Superman III").

The other major cast members were quite good, especially Parker Posey (making the most of a badly-written role as Luthor's dim-bulb 'moll'), Sam Huntington, as Jimmy Olsen, who, in a nostalgic scene, takes Clark to a bar run by Jack (TV's original 'Jimmy Olsen') Larson, and Frank Langella, playing Perry White with cynicism, rumpled charm, and a twinkle in his eye.

Despite my overall disappointment in the film, I loved Superman's first, spectacular rescue sequence, involving a space shuttle, a disintegrating airplane (with Lois onboard, of course!), and a stadium full of people. Highlighted by astonishing CGI flying effects, and fabulous editing, pacing, and music, had this kind of quality and rhythm been maintained throughout the rest of the film, "Superman Returns" would have truly been unforgettable!

Of course, the major complaint about the film (besides the snail-like pacing, Brandon Routh's unfocused portrayal, and the ugly costume), was the revelation that Superman and Lois had conceived a child after their "Superman II" night of passion at the Fortress of Solitude. This is a confusing situation; in Richard Donner's version of the film, Superman turns back time (as I recall), making the pregnancy impossible; in Richard Lester's version, a 'Magic Kiss' erases all of Lois' memories of the revelations and her sexual tryst with Kal-El...which, unintentionally, mirrors lurid tales of college girls and 'Date Rape'-memory loss shudders to think of Lois' reaction when she discovered she was pregnant, without a clue how or where it happened, or with whom. Even on a less-squeamish level, the idea of Supes as an absentee father, with Lois happily in the arms of another man, doesn't sit well...and a 'Superman, Jr.' immediately 'ages' both Lois and Clark, as the child grows up...a situation which paints any subsequent films in the franchise into a proverbial 'corner'...

...Introducing a son was a disasterous decision!

"Superman Returns" was a major disappointment for most fans, a film that promised a 'Last Son of Krypton' for a new generation, but only provided audiences a glimpse of the classic it should have been. While it's world-wide box office gross of over $390,000,000 proved there was definitely life in the Superman Saga, yet, when you realize the film costed $300,000,000 to create (between the costs racked up in unused talent, commissioned scripts, and completed, then abandoned sets, for over a decade, and the $220,000,000 spent on the "Returns" production, with it's incredible array of CGI effects), the film, in fact, barely broke even, and it was obvious that changes had to be made......

Kate Bosworth ('Lois Lane', in 'Superman Returns',2006)

Kevin Spacey ('Lex Luthor', in 'Superman Returns', 2006)

Frank Langella ('Perry White', in 'Superman Returns', 2006)

Sam Huntington ('Jimmy Olsen', in 'Superman Returns', 2006)

Parker Posey ('Kitty Kowalski', in 'Superman Returns', 2006)

Eva Marie Saint ('Martha Kent', in 'Superman Returns', 2006)

Warner Brothers, while anxious to produce a 2008 sequel for Superman's 70th birthday, looked at the mediocre "Superman Returns" reviews and lukewarm box office totals, and quietly asked Bryan Singer to take a long sabbatical (while Singer proclaimed that his next Superman film would be better, since he now had an introduction into the mythos, he would, eventually, realize that Warner wasn't really interested in investing money in a 'Singer' sequel, and he announced he was finished with the franchise). When a promising script for a live-action "Justice League of America" movie appeared, teaming Superman and Batman with Wonder Woman, Flash, and Green Lantern, the studio was more than happy to push the "Superman" sequel back another two years, and 'fast-track' the "League" picture for a 2009 release. While Routh and "Batman" star Christian Bale were invited to reprise their roles, both declined (Bale was exhausted, after having just completed the "Batman Begins" sequel, "The Dark Knight"; Routh, stung by his negative reviews as a "morose, boring" Man of Steel, announced he'd never play the character, again). Then problems set in; first, several potential directors weren't satisfied with the JLA script, demanding rewrites, and other directors, more willing to tackle it, had scheduling conflicts; then, in 2009, when DC had planned either the Superman sequel, or Justice League film to debut, came the wildly successful release of Marvel Comics' superhero film, "Iron Man", from Paramount; in 2010, the critically less-well received but equally successful sequel, "Iron Man 2", appeared, and Marvel announced that "Thor", "Captain America", and a new version of "X-Men" would appear in 2011, followed by Marvel's own version of the Justice League, the "Avengers", along with a new version of "Spider-Man", in 2012. Marvel had stolen the attention and support of fans of the genre, and Warner worried that the 'Superhero' market might have become glutted, by the time the new "Batman" and "Superman" films finally appear.

Taking a page from the 80's 'playbook' (assigning the wildly successful "Batman" creative team to revive "Superman"), director Christopher Nolan took over the producing reins for yet another projected Superman project, "Superman: Man of Steel", to be directed by Zack Snyder ("Watchmen", "300"), and penned by David S. Goyer ("Batman Begins", "Dark City"). While the creative team seemed a bit dark for a more upbeat, bright protagonist, Nolan is universally acknowledged as one of the most gifted of this generation's movie-makers.

To the concern of many long-time fans, early word from the "Man of Steel" production was that instead of moving the franchise in a new direction, the latest film would again involve Krypton, the Kents, and, as the villain, General Zod ("Can Luthor be far behind?" some pundits have sarcastically remarked). The casting choices, however, were intriguing...As Superman, Snyder returned to earlier director McG's initial choice for the role, hunky 28-year-old British actor Henry Cavill ("The Tudors"). Following the tradition of the Margot Kidder/Christopher Reeve portrayals in "Superman", Amy Adams, actually nine years older than Cavill, will take on the role of Lois Lane. Cast as Jor-El is Oscar-winning superstar Russell Crowe (with Julia Ormond currently rumored to be the new Lara); Jonathan and Martha Kent will be played by two of the best-loved stars of the last two decades, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane; and for Zod, Snyder has chosen quirky character actor Michael Shannon (who 'stole' "The Runaways", as the brilliant, unorthodox band manager).

As Warner's financial problems deepened with the downturn of the nation's economy, and expensive, effects-heavy DC projects, including the recent, widely-hyped but unsuccessful Ryan Reynolds "Green Lantern" film, as well as the third Nolan/Bale "Batman" collaboration (scheduled for a 2012 opening), significantly draining the studio's coffers, the Man of Steel's return, also promised for 2012, appears far more risky than earlier Superman incarnations...many insiders fear that the failure of the "Green Lantern" film (which may end up costing the studio nearly $200 million), combined with a failure of any of the Marvel films, or the "Batman" sequel, might force DC and Warner to pull the plug on any future "Superman" film projects, if "Man of Steel" is not a major blockbuster, possibly for years...

Sadly, in an era when live-action superhero movies are finally technologically sophisticated and believable, as well as potentially very profitable, the guy who "started it ALL", in 1938, has become, for many fans of the genre, too out-of-touch and old-fashioned for a new century...

His code of chivalry, ideals of justice and integrity, and faith in Good triumphing over Evil are no longer in fashion, it appears...

At least, until the right creative people revive him!

Here's a sketch I did of all of the 'live-action' Supermen, including Henry Cavill!

2007 saw the release of "SUPERMAN/DOOMSDAY", an animated version of DC's most controversial comic book 'series', "The Death of Superman". Featuring the voices of an all-star cast (including Adam Baldwin as Superman/Clark, and Anne Heche as Lois Lane), the direct-to-DVD production was filled with so much graphic violence that it earned the cartoon version of the superhero his first PG rating!

With new animated titles appearing each year (including 2009's successful "Public Enemies", and 2010's introduction to the reinvented Supergirl, "Apocalypse"), Superman continues to excite us all!







Click on the names for info on each actor from The Internet Movie Database...


Who Was the BEST Superman?
Bud Collyer (radio/animated)
Kirk Alyn (movie serials)
George Reeves (television)
Bob Holiday (stage)
Christopher Reeve (feature film)
Dean Cain (television)
Tim Daly (animated)
Tom Welling (television)
Brandon Routh (feature film)
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