Sunday, September 14, 2008

Best of the Super

I wanted to do an apples to apples comparison of different portrayals of famous heroes, but the truth is that in order to do this you need a large sample group to choose from. There have been 2 versions of Spider-man and only one of them good. There have been three versions of the Hulk, 2 were good enough to rate and only one had an actual Hulk villain.

To be honest there may only be two characters who have been adapted enough times to do a real comparison. Those two are the "World's finest" Batman and Superman. If you read my Dark Knight review, you'd probably realize how boring my analysis of the history of the different versions of Batman would be. It would mainly say "See the Dark Knight" for most characters and the hardest work I'd be doing is deciding if the best Barbara Gordon/Batgirl is best on display in "Batman and Robin" the old TV show or "Birds of Prey."

But Superman might be worth sinking my teeth into. There have been all kinds of Superman adaptations. There have been cartoons, live action film serials, feature length movies, live action television series plural and a radio series. Some of these adaptations have even been so good that the additions have made their way into the comics. Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, Kryptonite and many other story elements came about this way.

But with this much to go through I'll get right to it. I'll be omitting the animated versions from this list. Granted many of the characters were truly at their best in the Bruce Timm DCU shows, but due to the fact that each role involved too many people (the animators, writers, and voice talent that sometimes changed between appearances) I'll be omitting them from this list.

But here are the people I am rating.

Superman/Clark Kent Christopher Reeve Superman the movie

Do I even need to explain this one. Regardless I will anyway. From a very early age this was one of the first examples I saw of what a hero was as a child.

I watched the movie again recently and it still stood up. As Superman Reeve just exemplified benevolence. The smile never left his face during his first night as Superman, helping cats from trees, stopping robberies etc. And when he played Clark he played a completely different character, shy, bumbling polite, nothing like Superman. He made you believe that a small change in wardrobe could make you think someone was a different person. The only reason I almost didn't list him was because he was such a given that I felt like I was taking the easy route.

Lois Lane: Terri Hatcher Lois and Clark

The reasons for this are many, but the biggest one is the fact that she was the first Lois who brought a real level of sex appeal to the role.
In the movie series I always just found Margot Kidder grating and bitchy. The thing with Hatcher's Lois is that she was just as bitchy as Kidder's but that just made her more attractive.

You genuinely got the feel that she was a MUCH better wrtiter/reporter than Clark who could handle herself in a crisis, but when she needed she could also bring a beautiful vulnerability to the role. And there is something so sexy about a woman living the feminist ideal who can swoon and be saved.

Lex Luthor Michael Rosenbaum Smallville

There's one thing I come back to in judging. Back in the early days of comics reproduction techniques were terrible so characters needed to have big obvious things to denote who was who. The fact that the young Rosenbaum bit the bullet and shaved his head when countless others had refused in the past earns him a lot of points right there.

But how can you complain about a charming, ruthless guy who's working all the angles and genuinely sees himself as the hero of the story up until he has a few murders under his belt.

Jimmy Olsen Aaron Ashmore/Michael Landes Smallville

I'd give an honorable mention to the Jimmy from the first season of Lois and Clark but I picked both for the same reason. Jimmy Olsen is defined by a perfect mixture of being dorky, hip, and energetic.

Both of these men exemplified these qualities.

Perry White Jackie Cooper Superman the movie

It was kind of hard to choose this one. The problem being that if he becomes too much of a jerk, he's basically J. Jonah Jameson and not his own character. On the other end of the spectrum you have the Lois and Clark Perry who was a bit too nice, too goofy and too gimmicky (his gimmick was that he was a big Elvis fan). But in the film Cooper did a great balance of passion and intensity without being a total jerk.

John Kent Martha Kent: Eddie Jones K. Kallen Lois and Clark

There have been a number of versions but these are two who really set the tone for the modern version of the characters. Most other versions were supportive old characters who died conveniently before Clark goes off to become Superman.

But on Lois and Clark, the Kents are around for the whole series. They're funny, supportive and an integral part of Clark's life and all of the tough decisions thereof.

Honorable mention John Schneider Smallville

He did a great job of playing the role sternly and sportively with the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Kara/Supergirl: Laura Vandervoort Smallville

I've really enjoyed the recent relaunch of Supergirl in the comics. She's gone from a prim and proper to a headstrong rebel who often thinks she knows more than she does. Vandervoot captured this perfectly on Smallville.

She's been an older cousin having to adjust to the fact that she's now the younger cousin. And she's just all around bold, sassy with just the right amount of sweetness.

Honorable Mention Helen Slater Supergirl

But one thing I don't like about the relaunch is the costume, my favorite one is the one the character died in during the Crisis on infinite Earths storyline, but a close second is the one from the Helen Slater film.

I don't like the Bruce Timm version that looks like an outfit she bought at the mall with a cape and boots added. I don't like the new/original version with the blue skirt. And I HATE the version that's low cut with the S-shield off to the side that Alex Ross seems to like so much. For me this is, was and always will be the way I see Supergirl.

Lana Lang Annette O’Toole Superman 3

I mentioned earlier that in the early days of comics often the only thing you could guarantee would differentiate characters was hair color because sometimes characters looked too similar otherwise.

This is why Betty's a blonde and Veronica has black hair. This is why Gwen Stacy was a blonde and Mary Jane Watson was a redhead. And in one of the earliest cases of a comic book love triangle IT WAS WHY LOIS LANE HAD BLACK HAIR AND LANA LANG HAD RED HAIR.

To be fair this character has often been one that was glossed over. The only people to play it for any length of time were Stacy Hadiuk on Superboy and Kirsten Kreuk on Smallville. And to be honest neither performance really jumped out at me. Kristen Kreuk spent most of her time on the show being "pleasantly bland" until recent seasons where she's basically become a villain. Whereas Hadiuk played Lang like "Lois lite" (though she did earn bonus points for having the right hair color).

What O'Toole did to stand out besides looking the part was the fact that when you watch her performance it really brings back memories of high school and first loves. She did a great job playing "the one who got away."

Brainiac James Marsters Smallville

A good portrayal with a lot of layers. He played every angle on the show like an expert.

But the truth is that he makes it this high on the list because he's a Superman villain who isn't Luthor who's been fully realized in and adaptation.
Superman has few enough good villains as is and the fact that Hollywood seems to only know of Luthor makes a bad situation worse.

On that note, the following are so obscure they probably require an explanation. There was a short run Superboy tv series between the years of 1988 and 1992. It drew heavily on the John Byrne revamp, which ironically involved retconning Clark Kent's adventures as Superboy out of existence.

The show covered a similar period of time as the show Smallville, but did so in the tone of the Christopher Reeve films. Again ironically I think the two shows are tied for most adaptations of characters from comic continuity.

Superman doesn't have a very good set of villains in the comic but film versions have made it seem even worse than it actually is. Early adaptations usually featured throwaway villains who never even appeared in the comics. This isn't to say that no good characters ever come from this, half the supporting cast were created this way (Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, Kryptonite, and Lionel Luthor were all created for television, radio or animation projects), but random people in masks and mole men aren't the type of things which become integral parts of the canon.

But Superboy and Smallville buck this trend. On Smallville characters regularly dropped the names of DC cities into conversation, this even went so deep that Hub City, the home of the Question for the O'Neil run was mentioned once. Another great thing from Smallville is that other heroes were used, in fact it may be the closest thing we'll ever see to a live action Justice League.

Superboy bucked this trend by adapting some stories directly from the comic and by using a wide variety of villains. On top of Lex Luthor the villains Bizarro, Metallo and Mr. Mxyptlk were also used on this show. Some were well done others weren't but based just on the fact that they exist they made the list.

Bizarro: Barry Myers Superboy

I think this was by far the best of the Superboy villains. The perfect match of Superman and Frankenstein's monster, played more tragic than evil.

Metallo: Michael Callen
This character was played completely over the top and goofy but you have to admit a ruthless cyborg powered by Kryptonite is too good of a concept to go to waste.

Mr. Mxyptlk: Michael Pollard

An over the top performance of an over the top character. Well cast to say the least.


Anonymous said...

Not to be a nitpick, but its Christopher Reeve, not Reeves.

I have to separate Superman from Clark Kent, to be honest. Christopher Reeve as Superman goes without saying, but I do prefer Dean Cain as Clark Kent.

Though its considered a classic, I don't think the bumbling fool movie version of Clark Kent was necessary to show that he was a different person. After all, George Reeves did not portray him that way and it worked fine.

Unlike George Reeves, Dean Cain (and later Tom Welling) added a subtle squareness about Clark going back to his 'farmboy' Smallville roots that the Adventures of Superman never showed.

Nice to see some appreciate for the original Jimmy Olsen in Lois and Clark played by Michael Landes. I never got a feel for his replacement, he did not feel or look anything like Jimmy Olsen. He also had a very Teen Bop look. And this may be shallow, but he may have been a bit too chubby for the part :)

I'm disappointed that you disliked Perry from Lois and Clark though, he's the only one who had any real personality. He was stern and strict about running the Daily Planet without necessarily being 'mean' (or overtly angry).

Though I never found Margot Kidder's Lois as bitchy at all, I would also choose Teri Hatcher as the best Lois Lane.

No real opinion on any of the Lana Langs...

OK this comment is a lot longer than I originally intended, sorry!

Landon Erp said...

No problem with the long comment (BTW I just realized I forgot the difference between Reeve and Reeves and corrected it, thanks)

I am a bit sad though that it seems like I'm the only one with an opinion on the Lanas though.

In general I still stick with my picks, but part of the reason I did this was to see what others had to say.