Chris Reeve was not really "my" Superman. (Know what I mean? In the way that each generation of British kids defined themselves by who "their" Doctor Who was.) As a tyke, I had reruns of "The Adventures of Superman," the George Reeves series, every afternoon, right after the local Cartoon Carnival (which ran only Warner Bros. and Popeye cartoons. Why mess with perfection). But anyway, George’s Superman just came across as someone strong and protective as my Dad. Hey, this was the time of life when every kid’s dad is Superman. It helped that George was a fatherly 37 when he took the role.
Chris’ "Superman: the Movie" was a great special effects explosion. The tagline "You will believe a man can fly!" was no idle boast. You did not have to suspend disbelief to see Chris in the air, while George was confounded with very uncomfortable stage harnesses, "took off" by obviously jumping on a springboard, and was surrounded by bold matte lines as he soared through the same batch of clouds.
There was a marked difference in the way each played Clark Kent. Chris couldn’t quite flesh out Kent beyond the bumbling oaf who made feeble excuses to get away and pull open his shirt. For Chirs, Clark Kent was the mask that Superman wore. George’s Kent was a hard-hitting reporter as imagined by Hollywood, who had no qualms about tracking down gangsters, and was the equal to the headstrong Lois Lane, especially the Noel Neill edition. While Lois kept referring to Clark’s milquetoast personality, Clark wasn’t playing along with her. That said, Chris’ Superman had a much lighter touch. Just think back to Margot Kidder’s famous line, "You’ve got me? Who’s got you!?," you can just about hear Superman’s chuckle in response. This was the real big blue Boy Scout, helping people for its own sake, not too busy to rescue a kitten from a tree.
I can’t reference Dean Cain from "Lois and Clark" here. I liked the show quite a bit, as it advanced the idea of "real life" romantic entanglements that super heroes might face if they were, a theme that went over even better in Smallville. And while Dean Cain was immensely likeable and believable as Clark/Superman, I can’t remember much about how he approached the role.
Anyhoo, Chris’ Superman was the first Hollywood treatment of a comic book hero that gave the hero any kind of personal conflict. When Superman impulsively turned back time to prevent Lois from dying (and once and for all, he didn’t do it by just circling the Earth so fast that it spun backward; that was a visual metaphor, okay? [and no matter how Lucas recuts that scene, Han shot first! Just wanted to get that out]), he went against the warnings of the holographic Marlon Brando and, in way, had to face the consequences of that act in "Superman II."
No doubt the air will be buzzing again with speculation about a "Superman Curse," what with George unable to find work and killing himself (maybe), then Chris getting paralyzed in a riding accident and now passing on. But let’s get real. Bud Collyer, the Superman of radio and the Fleischer cartoon series, lived to be 61 and was a successful quiz show host, then reprised his role of Superman for the 60’s Filmation series. Kirk Alyn of the serials did have trouble sustaining a career, so he simply retired to a ranch and was 89 when he passed on. Dean Cain has at least 3 dozen credits after "Lois and Clark," including his "Ripley’s" host gig. The only "astonishing coincidence" is the similarity of last names, in the same way that Orson Welles became notorious for his radio adaptation of H.G. Wells.
And we are again on Unimaginative Editorial Cartoon Memorial Watch! What cliches will the nation’s editorial cartoonists use to pay their respects this time? A gag about Superman and St. Peter at the Pearly Gates? Superman with a tear in his eye? Some play on the phrase "Up! Up! and Away!" One thing’s for sure: every cartoon will be a generic Superman that looks nothing like Reeve, except for the name "Christopher Reeve" written on his costume. I’ll check in on Daryl Cagle’s cartoonist roundup on Slate.com and report back! [Update: There may not be that many cartoons to pick from. I couldn’t find any cartoons about the late Rodney Dangerfield on the site at all. What a fertile field for cliches that would have been.]
Finally, the good links. Forget DC ComicsSuperman Homepage instead. Woo!