Superman, to be such a beloved and famous character, has had a pretty dreadful history as far as film and television adaptations are concerned.
(Competent ones anyway.)
Oh sure, the serials and the George Reeves television series from the 1950s were a lot of fun in a nostalgia sense, and the Max Fleischer cartoons were groundbreaking and a sheer joy to look at, but neither one possessed enough story depth to keep the Man of Steel relevant to modern audiences.
Don’t get me wrong. As a Gen-Xer, I love watching the old stuff, but they are sort of their own thing, with no real sense of stakes that you want in continuity-based entertainment.
Then, there is Smallville. While the show was a triumph in many ways, it was more like a pre-Superman storyline that is too unique to be a straight-up adaptation of the source material.
When talking about the character in his most iconic form — blue and red tights, S on the chest, cape flowing in the wind — it really doesn’t qualify.
The first couple of Christopher Reeve Superman films exhibited a sense of fun about them, though both are now badly dated. Plus, the ending to the first was eye-rollingly bad at the time, and the second film has enough inconsistencies to make the most open-minded film buff rethink their decision to endorse it.
Also, even if your enthusiasm for Superman and Superman II hold up, parts three and four are so bad that they put a taint over the whole series.
Then, the Bryan Singer pseudo-sequel Superman Returns was drab and dull and left audiences unsure of where it fit in the greater Man of Steel film universe.
That led to the creatively disastrous combo of Man of Steel and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, which have done more to tarnish the Superman legacy than any portrayal in the last eight decades.
Director Zack Snyder’s dark and morose exercises in the mythos are enough to make you wonder if he’s even aware that there are around 78 years of comic books that precede his latest film.
This brief rundown would also be incomplete if I failed to mention the Superboy television show of the 1980s, which worked to a degree but also failed to be a true straight-up adaptation of the Superman character.
(Besides, Smallville got what Superboy tried to do much better.)
So if you’ve been keeping up, that now brings us to the one time that DC and the film/television communities got the character right, and by now you’ve probably worked out that it was the 1990s television series Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.
The series starred Dean Cain in the lead role and added Teri Hatcher as Lois Lane.
Hatcher had a combination of looks, brains, and attitude, that made her seem born for the part. Yes, Cain didn’t quite have the Superman look, but he was immensely likable and seemed to get the character’s internal workings better than anyone else to don the tights.
Lois and Clark captured all the things that made Superman a mass success in the first place. It had a lighter tone. It was hopeful. Funny.
It did a great job making you dream about what it would be like to be this super being with this super decency about him.
It was romantic and played with the will-she-or-won’t-she-find-out aspects with tremendous payoff (through three seasons anyway).
Its world was a place you looked forward to spending some time week-after-week.
Unfortunately, it was also the best version of Superman up to that point and the best one we’ve had since.
But what do you think, readers?
What was your favorite interpretation of the Superman character? Sound off in the comments section below.
[Image via DC c/o Comic Book Herald]