Join 3,424 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The Changing Face of Superman
February 19, 2013 7:31 AM   Subscribe

A poster showing the evolution of Superman, 1938 - 2013. It covers the big guy's appearance in comic books, live-action, animation, Elseworlds and other comic book variations, and marketing and promo images.
posted by marxchivist (55 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
I love the current Action T-Shirt and jeans look.

I hate the current Action armour look - I hate most of the nu52 designs but that one especially.

The new movie doesn't even exist to me.
posted by Artw at 7:39 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


What in the ever-loving fuck is that Unbound look? Nicolas Cage is not and never will be Superman.
posted by Etrigan at 7:45 AM on February 19, 2013


Sorry, Christopher Reeve, George Reeves and Tom Welling, but the best live action Superman is still Dean Cain.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:46 AM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


An alternate evolution of the Superman logo.
posted by Artw at 7:49 AM on February 19, 2013


Superman 2009 (in the Comic Book series) has gone all Tom Hanks on us.
posted by bicyclefish at 7:51 AM on February 19, 2013


I think if we look at a few of these side by side--let's say 1961 and 2002--it becomes clear that Superman has eaten his former self.

Also, I kind of love how mopey and lame Superman 1986 looks. Aww, poor little guy. It's gonna be ok.
posted by phunniemee at 7:55 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


George Reeves really had that massive jaw look that Superman has sometimes had over the years.

Sorry, Christopher Reeve and Tom Welling, but the best live action Superman is still Dean Cain.

Seriously? Look at that smug Captain Kirk face he's wearing on the poster.

The new movie doesn't even exist to me.

Any particular reason? I think the trailers are pretty promising.
posted by Huck500 at 7:55 AM on February 19, 2013


Wow, that there is a large image with a lot of granular little images that didn't need to be granular
posted by mightygodking at 7:56 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


They could have weeded out one of the Red Kryptonite Supermen in the Elseworlds section in favor of Supes from the original Dark Knight Returns. I know you have the recent animated version on the list, but I sort of like Miller's take on the older, more collected Superman.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:59 AM on February 19, 2013


I think this is only a semi-self-link, since it's my blog but not my writing, but the great and good Glen Weldon also wrote about this in December 2011.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 8:05 AM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sorry, Christopher Reeve, George Reeves and Tom Welling, but the best live action Superman is still Dean Cain.

Look again at Christopher Reeve. He has literally the identical face and hair to 1940s Superman. THERE CAN BE NO OTHER.
posted by DU at 8:07 AM on February 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


Look at that smug Captain Kirk face he's wearing on the poster.

In the show, he was kind of the opposite of smug, and the only actor to bring both halves of the character - Clark and Superman - into one man. The other actors, with the exception of Tom Welling, played up Kent as a simpering buffoon or a self-satisfied nod-and-winker.

Cain's Kent was an accomplished and confident reporter - who also had a sideline as a superhero. You got the sense that Superman was Clark Kent, and more comfortable as Kent, not the other way around. The series was set up on that premise, and Cain really delivered.

Welling was too brooding, and unsettled in either half of his life, never achieving balance... great for the series, but not ideal for Superman. Brandon Routh was so forgettable... lifeless and bland.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:07 AM on February 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Interesting that Kal-El apparently didn't evolve eyes until 1952.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:09 AM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


As a person who spent my adolescence and college days reading Marvel, this is a nice reminder that DC characters also looked somewhat ridiculous in the 90s.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:10 AM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


You got the sense that Superman was Clark Kent, and more comfortable as Kent, not the other way around.

Which seems to me to be the opposite of the actual character. Kent is the disguise, not the primary persona. Flipping that around kind of ruins it for me.
posted by grubi at 8:12 AM on February 19, 2013


Which seems to me to be the opposite of the actual character. Kent is the disguise, not the primary persona. Flipping that around kind of ruins it for me.

When you realize that he was raised from infancy as Clark Kent it seems like that should be his real persona. Especially considering that he has to have the personality resources to live a normal life, as opposed to being a poster for truth and justice. So score one for L&C in my book, though mostly I wasn't a fan.

Note also that in the Max Fleischer cartoons, Kent has a lot more dignity and cool than in the Donner version.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:17 AM on February 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Cain's Kent was an accomplished and confident reporter - who also had a sideline as a superhero. You got the sense that Superman was Clark Kent, and more comfortable as Kent, not the other way around. The series was set up on that premise, and Cain really delivered.

In fairness to Reeve and Welling, their milieus were set up on different premises -- Reeve, in the '70s mode where Kent was bumbling, to set up the inevitable "Hey, Clark looks a lot like... nah, he couldn't be"; and Welling in the pre-Superman/non-Superboy world that, frankly, is the far more realistic. If you were Clark Kent and suddenly became... something else, there would be some stumbling through adolescence.

Which seems to me to be the opposite of the actual character. Kent is the disguise, not the primary persona.

That's the first question that any (good) Superman writer has to ask himself or herself -- Which one is the alter ego? Most see it grubi's way (including, famously, Lex Luthor in John Byrne's Man of Steel miniseries), but intriguing stories have been written from the other perspective as well.

Batman/Bruce Wayne, on the other hand, is not up for debate. Bruce Wayne is a mask that Batman wears during the day, and nothing more.
posted by Etrigan at 8:17 AM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


It doesn't seem to include the face they've planned for 2013: That of a raging homophobic bigot.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 8:22 AM on February 19, 2013


Also, there was apparently a chubby, jowly Superman in 2009? I must have missed that.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 8:24 AM on February 19, 2013


Joakim Ziegler, that thread is here.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:25 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


My favorite answer is that "Clark Kent" the somewhat doofy reporter is a mask, but Clark Kent the earnest farmboy is the real thing, with different aspects of his personality expressed in the reporter and superhero personas.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:25 AM on February 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


Has anyone done stories of Kent in journalism school, etc? Other than Smallville, which has always struck me as an Archie comics alt-universe variant.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:28 AM on February 19, 2013


I think a well done Superman progresses through a spectrum of identity over time. As George points out, he had to be totally Clark at some point in his life. The Clark identity is slowly subsumed by the responsibilities of the Superman identity, hollowed out until it becomes just a mask before being discarded entirely. The same thing happens to the Superman identity - it too is eventually hollowed out and devoured by another (I'll call it 'Kal-el') as the character's scope grows beyond the Earth. I think there's a fourth identity as well, a more godlike one that exists beyond the scope covered by comics.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:32 AM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'd like to see a Superman variant which takes place in a world where his powers never manifest (maybe some puce kryptonite plowed into the field with him when he landed, robbing him of his powers in infancy, or maybe in this reality our sun has more red in it...) but his superhero-nature develops anyway, because of the combination of Jor-El's heritage and the Kents' upbringing. In that reality he becomes something between Batman and The Green Hornet; an unpowered superhero. We learn that Superman is the man, not the powers.

Pardon me if this has been done; I don't really keep up.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:37 AM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Batman/Bruce Wayne, on the other hand, is not up for debate. Bruce Wayne is a mask that Batman wears during the day, and nothing more.

As a lifelong Batman fan, I have to agree.
posted by grubi at 8:44 AM on February 19, 2013


Or maybe an Elseworld where there are no superheroes. Clark Kent is a reporter from small-town Kansas trying to uphold Truth, Justice and the American Way by telling truth to power, and Bruce Wayne is a billionaire playboy still angry over the death of his parents who takes to the streets of Gotham at night to beat up the criminal class that he still holds responsible, since supervillans never develop, but never addressing the root causes.

Maybe Clark goes to Gotham on assignment to investigate the vigilante they call the Dark Knight, and forms an uneasy truce with Bruce. With Bruce's monetary resources and knowledge of Gotham's underworld, and Clark's reputation for honesty and media access, they together blow the lid on the rampant, mob-controlled corruption of Gotham, and by addressing the massive disparity in the way the upper and lower classes live there, together making Gotham a better place, finally avenging Bruce's parents, and letting Clark live up to Ma and Pa Kent's ideals.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 8:45 AM on February 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


Huh. I'm not sure Supes would become a costumed hero if we was without powers. His heroism is largely based on "This is not right and I can do something about it" as opposed to Batman's "wounds of tragedy." I do agree that he would become a hero of some sort, though, but more the sort of hero who exposes corruption that has harmed many (crusading reporter) or who works to end world hunger (idealistic farmer).

Although, a story in which those Elseworld aspects of Clark somehow meet the actual, mainline Superman and try to get him to use his powers as they would ("You could bring down Senator Luther in a half hour!" "You could build enough farms to feed the world in a day!") would be interesting.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:46 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The same thing happens to the Superman identity - it too is eventually hollowed out and devoured by another (I'll call it 'Kal-el') as the character's scope grows beyond the Earth.

I would argue that it's less a character path than an authorial one. Superman is the most-written character in the history of story. He's had literally hundreds of stories written about him on television and in the movies alone, and thousands in the comics. If you just read the comics that star him, leaving out Justice League and even The Brave and the Bold or World's Finest or crossovers, it would take you decades to catch up from 1939 to 2013. So it's damn difficult for a writer to come up with something new, so he has to expand the scope. If he was restricted to a single lifetime (and didn't have all that sideline JLA-type stuff to deal with), Superman could easily avoid that Kal-El stage.

I think there's a fourth identity as well, a more godlike one that exists beyond the scope covered by comics.

That identity has been pretty well explored (though not as exhaustively as the other three), with varying degrees of success and obviousness, including "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?", Byrne's "Generations" serieses, Kingdom Come, DC One Million, All Star Superman...
posted by Etrigan at 8:48 AM on February 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'd like to see a Superman variant which takes place in a world where his powers never manifest

It's not quite what you want, but Secret Identity starts out this way, up through Clark's late teens.

but his superhero-nature develops anyway

This part doesn't happen until Clark develops powers, which I guess argues against your thesis.

because of the combination of Jor-El's heritage and the Kents' upbringing

Although in Secret Identity Clark only had the Kent's upbringing. He starts out as an ordinary human; his powers stem from exposure to a meteor, not from an extraterrestrial heritage.

So maybe if Clark had been a Kryptonian raised by the Kents he still would have been given over to acts of heroism, powers or no.
posted by jedicus at 8:51 AM on February 19, 2013


I would argue that it's less a character path than an authorial one.

That could be right. I still tend to think of Superman as the clock of the DC universe. It begins when he first appears knocking a car around and it ends when he finally gives up on humanity and leaves.

That identity has been pretty well explored

Yeah, Superman-as-Godhead usually only shows up on the last pages of those titles. I think some alternate Supermen have explored the Next Step more in depth (Moore's run on Supreme springs to mind), but at some point it becomes almost impossible to write about an all powerful, unknowable god. Not too many stories starring Yahweh.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:59 AM on February 19, 2013


Aside from 2003 Superman, who seems confused, comic book Superman has gotten angrier over the years.
posted by Huplescat at 9:04 AM on February 19, 2013


So. . . despite the changing face, except for a brief mad fling in 1998, Superman's hair has apparently always been blue.
 
posted by Herodios at 9:38 AM on February 19, 2013


I'm not much of a comics reader, so can anyone give me details on the 2010 Flashpoint in the "Variations" section? Grey jaded European?
posted by benito.strauss at 10:22 AM on February 19, 2013


I'd like to see this with full body shots so we could see changes in musculature and proportion, too.

Has anyone done stories of Kent in journalism school, etc?

There was a four-issue Superman: the Lost Years miniseries in 1985, just in time for the Crisis to retcon it away.
posted by Zed at 10:25 AM on February 19, 2013


I'm not much of a comics reader, so can anyone give me details on the 2010 Flashpoint in the "Variations" section? Grey jaded European?

Imprisoned for his whole life as part of a government project.
posted by Etrigan at 10:45 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Superman-as-Godhead usually only shows up on the last pages of those titles. I think some alternate Supermen have explored the Next Step more in depth (Moore's run on Supreme springs to mind), but at some point it becomes almost impossible to write about an all powerful, unknowable god. Not too many stories starring Yahweh.

No, Grant Morrison's work, as Etrigan notes, very often brings up this idea as a key part of the story, not just the ending bits. Check out the two titles listed, especially DC One Million, for "Superman-as-Godhead" stuff.

Or maybe an Elseworld where there are no superheroes. Clark Kent is a reporter from small-town Kansas trying to uphold Truth, Justice and the American Way by telling truth to power
Elementary Penguin

There was something kind of like this done in an Elseworld in 1994 called Superman: Under a Yellow Sun - A Novel by Clark Kent. It's about Clark Kent, human reporter, writing a fantasy story about a Superman where he works out his frustrations in life. It was so-so; interesting idea, kind of dull substance. I like your idea better.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:47 AM on February 19, 2013


I think some alternate Supermen have explored the Next Step more in depth

None more than than Moore prior to his Supreme run in Marvelman/Miracleman. MM is a second-cousin to Superman, a numbers-filed-off Shazam!, himself the Fawcett comic copy of Clark Kent/Kal El. The MM run, while obvious echoing the Big Red Cheese, can almost be equally mapped to the "Superman Family" and has to be read as Moore's (and Gaiman's) commentary on Superman's possible godhead.

It's touched on some of the New Gods materials too, starting with Kirby---who is Darseid's greatest foe if not Superman? Kirby and successors though often take an opposing view: Superman, while he could easily stand with their mightiest, has fundamentally chosen to be a mortal rather than a god.

I'd argue that that choice defines Superman's ethical core. He's not a benevolent post-human, as MM becomes by the end of Moore's run---he sees himself as fully part of the human race. He may have been born on Krypton, but he chooses to be Martha and Jonathan's son.
posted by bonehead at 11:12 AM on February 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Frank Quitely does love him some gigantic, gigantic jaws.
posted by middleclasstool at 11:18 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bruce Wayne is a mask that Batman wears during the day, and nothing more.

Actually, something I've always liked about the first Burton film is that it portrays something a little bit more complicated than that:

If you look at Keaton's performance when he's down in the Batcave, talking to Alfred but especially when he's talking to Vicki Vale, I think you can argue that there, in that private little twilight world, is the only place we ever see the real person. He puts on one mask to go above, into the mansion, and another one to go out into the streets. I think both "Bruce Wayne" and "Batman" are carefully constructed personas, each to serve their own purpose in his war.
posted by webmutant at 11:50 AM on February 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's not quite what you want, but Secret Identity starts out this way, up through Clark's late teens.

Before I clicked I thought you were going to link to this, because you're right, that kid did have Superman-like powers, but no.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:03 PM on February 19, 2013


I like how they're all meeting in some multiverse crossover and greeting each other by saying, "GREETINGS, SUPERMAN #231!" "SUP, #65?" "SUP, #123?"
posted by straight at 12:26 PM on February 19, 2013


I know it's somewhat limited in expressiveness, but I'm a sucker for Ed McGuinness's stylized, beefy Superman.
posted by straight at 12:40 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Look again at Christopher Reeve. He has literally the identical face and hair to 1940s Superman.

I'm not a fan of the movies, and I'm not sure I really like their take on the whole Clark vs. Superman thing, but Christopher Reeve really nails the character he was given, and he looks fantastic both as Clark and Superman. He could have been amazing in a better-written Superman movie.
posted by straight at 12:44 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


He could have been amazing in a better-written Superman movie.

There was nothing wrong with the first one -- its flaws were those of its time, not of itself (much like how cheesy and comicky the Burton Batmans look against the Nolans, but you just couldn't have made TDK in 1988, so you got the best thing you could back then (imagine trying to make Iron Man in the '80s, or the Avengers in the early '90s)). And Reeve was still incredible in it, regardless of what was going on around him.

Was Dean Cain a better Superman? He was in a better Superman, and he did well enough that I wanted to keep watching him as Superman. And I like Brandon Routh, particularly as Superman, and I wish Brendan Fraser had had a chance at it instead of those damn Mummy movies. But Christopher Reeve was Superman, and we will get a better-than-Ledger Joker before we get a better-than-Reeve Superman.
posted by Etrigan at 1:02 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Actually, something I've always liked about the first Burton film is that it portrays something a little bit more complicated than that:

If you look at Keaton's performance when he's down in the Batcave, talking to Alfred but especially when he's talking to Vicki Vale, I think you can argue that there, in that private little twilight world, is the only place we ever see the real person. He puts on one mask to go above, into the mansion, and another one to go out into the streets. I think both "Bruce Wayne" and "Batman" are carefully constructed personas, each to serve their own purpose in his war..

webmutant

Did you write a LiveJournal entry along these lines a number of years ago? I ask because one of the best takes I ever read on this issue was an LJ post years ago that I can't find anymore that said the same thing: both Wayne and Batman are masks for the true persona, which is a sad, angry child, his development arrested by his childhood tragedy and held there because he had the means to swaddle himself in this childish revenge fantasy in a way a poor child couldn't. He's never had to grow up; he's been able to construct a grim avenger who can fight back, and a slick face to interact with others, but he's never had to engage the world in a real way.

The post said the true person can be seen in a scene from the first Burton movie where we see Bruce sitting alone in the dark in a room in his mansion just watching the sky. When he sees the bat signal light up, he jumps to action. That's the reality: this broken person literally does nothing except live for the moments when he play as either Wayne or Batman.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:55 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think that's a very valid interpretation of the Burton movies, but there are many ways in which Keaton's Bruce Wayne doesn't line up with the "real" one.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:31 PM on February 19, 2013


He stopped smiling after 1985.

?:^(] (ഗ>
posted by aubilenon at 2:50 PM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Looks like he had some unfortunate weight gain in the 2009 comic books.
posted by modernnomad at 3:01 PM on February 19, 2013


1990s Superman needs a haircut. Fuckin' hippie.
posted by deborah at 9:50 PM on February 19, 2013


He could have been amazing in a better-written Superman movie.

There was nothing wrong with the first one -- its flaws were those of its time, not of itself


No, it's a mess. Luthor's evil plan is both too ridiculous and too petty. Luthor himself is too pathetic, hanging out with that buffoon Otis. There's not nearly enough Superman - he doesn't show up in costume and start being Superman until half-way through the movie. The whole bit about Clark spending his teens in a VR pod getting lectures from his dad his both stupid and underused. It could maybe have been a great way to explain why Clark is such an akward doofus, but they basically ignore it, it's just a suposedly-dramatic way to take him from teenager to -- TA DA! Adult Superman! The "Can You Read My Mind?" sequence makes Jewel look like William F. Shakspeare. And the worst part is how Superman basically fails to save Lois and has to push a nonsensical cosmic reset button. Does Superman go back in time far enough to prevent the missle from killing all those people in California? Who knows? All we see is him showing up to help Lois. And if he can circle the globe that fast, why couldn't he have stopped both missiles in the first place? And the whole thing is tonally all over the map, from the goofy scenes of Miss Tessmacher seducing soldiers so Otis can bumblingly fail to reprogram the missiles to that really grim sequence of Lois being buried alive. There are lots of great performances: Hackman, Kidder, the guy doing Perry White, and of course Reeves, and even some great scenes and lines, but the overall plot and tone and consistency could have been so much better.
posted by straight at 9:19 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


"....Elseworlds and other comic book variations, and marketing and promo images."

Ah. Misread this as "porno images." I was thinking I might get a clue as to why he never had a youthful sidekick.

Never mind. Carry on.
posted by mule98J at 10:44 AM on February 20, 2013


It's quite amusing to me that one of the images there is from Alan Moore and Curt Swan's "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?", probably one of the most pointed metacommentaries ever printed by the Big Two themselves regarding the comic book industry and its trends and tendencies; [SPOILER] Superman quits being Superman because suddenly his world and his major antagonists becomes too grimdark (a trend that Moore has fully admitted his own complicity in since).
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:26 PM on February 20, 2013


Not only that, the change happens because the guy who basically embodies Silver Age goofiness decided that being goofy got boring and he wanted to try being EEEEVIL instead, because it would be more fun.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 3:15 PM on February 20, 2013


Are you talking about The Joker, or John Byrne?
posted by Elementary Penguin at 9:20 AM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Curt Swan's Superman always make me think of a 50's sitcom dad. And I don't think it's just because that was the face of Superman that I saw the most when I was a kid.
posted by straight at 10:47 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


« Older The Mandiant security firm has released a report a...  |  "Pop quiz: what is the favorit... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments