With the release of “Action Comics #1000” today on Superman’s 80th anniversary (April 18), I thought I’d look back at each decade of those 80 years to select what I think was best about Superman during each of those 10 year periods.
While “Action Comics #1” was obviously the comic book that started it all, and without it we wouldn’t be here talking about Superman at all, for me, the first ten years of Superman was best represented by Clayton “Bud” Collyer. With the Fleischer Superman animated shorts and the long-running Superman radio series dominating this ten year period, there’s no doubt that Collyer brought to life the Man of Steel for an entire generation. You can have your more modern voice actors like George Newbern and Tim Daly, but for me, nobody embodies the voice of both Superman and Clark Kent like Bud Collyer.
While Kirk Alyn starred in two film serials as Superman early in this ten year period, just like Collyer in the decade before him, the second decade of Superman’s story was dominated by George Reeves, who portrayed the Man of Steel in the “Adventures of Superman” TV series. Borrowing from the radio series and Fleischer cartoons, the introduction for this six-season television show made “Truth, Justice and the American Way” synonymous with Superman for years to come. George’s portrayal of Clark Kent and Superman made this Strange Visitor from Another Planet a friend to many boys and girls (and their parents) all over the world.
In a period where the Silver Age of comic books was introducing some great and long-lasting concepts to the Superman mythos such as Supergirl, Krypto, Kandor, Brainiac, Bizarro, Superboy, Lana Lang, Smallville, Justice League of America, and the Fortress of Solitude, it was the Filmation cartoon series “The New Adventures of Superman” that had many a youngster waking up early on Saturday mornings. While the animation lacked the grace and style of the Fleischer cartoons 25 years earlier, Collyer’s familiar voice (along with fellow radio cast members Joan Alexander as Lois Lane and narrator Jackson Beck) gave a new generation of fans something to look forward to.
Once again TV animation would dominate this next decade of Superman’s story, with the “Super Friends” cartoons playing a major part in bringing Superman together with DC’s other superhero characters such as Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash and Aquaman, among many others. Through different versions of the show from 1973 onwards, the “Super Friends” won over many fans and kept Superman in the hearts and minds of youngsters everywhere.
One name – Christopher Reeve. Through four Superman films, Christopher Reeve would become a household name, and (for many fans) became the face of Superman for all time. Together with John Williams’ magical theme, Christopher Reeve’s Superman reinvigorated the Man of Tomorrow, ensuring he had many tomorrows to come. In the comic books, John Byrne brought about a new era of Superman stories at the end of this decade that would resonate with fans for years to come.
This next decade saw Superman once more become a force on our TV screens with the Ruby Spears “Superman” cartoons and the “Superboy” TV series, and then the hugely successful “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” giving modern audiences are romantic spin on the relation between Clark Kent and Lois Lane. With the internet in its infancy, this show quickly built an online following, with Teri Hatcher wrapped in the Superman cape becoming one of the most downloaded images of its time. We also can’t forget the hugely popular “Superman: The Animated Series”, which launched Superman into new life in animated form, reinvigorating old story elements from a new angle. However the biggest event of this 10 year period was definitely the “Death of Superman” story in the comic books, which made headlines all over the world.
“Smallville,” the story about Clark Kent before he became Superman, would surprise many people with its success. Running for 10 seasons (which overlap this decade and the next), the show’s star Tom Welling, would forever be both praised and derided for his portrayal of Clark Kent but his unwillingness to take on the Superman suit and persona. While this decade also saw many stop-start attempts at relaunching Superman’s film franchise, we finally saw him return to the big screen in 2006 in the aptly named “Superman Returns”.
Probably one of the richest decades for Superman content, this ten year period saw a multitude of animated movies, TV shows, comic book relaunches, and big budget films starring Superman. Henry Cavill’s performance in three big-budget films saw him become a fan favorite, but those films would also see a divide form between Superman fans online. The “Rebirth” era of comic books saw many Superman fans returning as readers, with many of them having turned away with the “New 52” initiative.
2018 and Beyond
With “Supergirl” continuing and the launch of the new “Krypton” TV series, 2018 continues to deliver plenty of content for fans of the Superman family of characters. However, it is in the world of comic books that all eyes are currently focused. With “Action Comics #1000” and the beginning of a new era of Superman comic book stories about to land on shelves, fans are eagerly anticipating everything that’s to come.
The future is bright for the Man of Steel. While he’s 80 years old, he’s still shining bright and giving us hope. Up, up and away!