Comics on Film: With No Movies in Sight, Would a Return to TV Be Better for Superman?

Comics on Film: With No Movies in Sight, Would a Return to TV Be Better for Superman?

Oct 19, 2018

Supergirl

Ever since he made his first appearance on the second season premiere of the CW's Supergirl, actor Tyler Hoechlin's portrayal of Kara Zor-El’s more famous cousin, Superman, has been generally well-received by the passionate community of Superman fans. As Supergirl has continued with a generally solid level of popularity, more and more of her cousin's life seems to be coming into play on the show, and this week that seems to have culminated into an interesting new rumor.

With the CW's annual crossover of all their DC Comics series coming soon, we know that Supergirl has recently cast actress Elizabeth Tulloch as Clark Kent's wife and longtime Superman supporting character Lois Lane. There was also an announcement recently that none other than Lex Luthor, the Man of Steel's arch nemesis, will be appearing in a 'recurring' capacity on Supergirl sometime in the near future, with casting expected to get underway soon. Now, rumor has it that all of this could lead to a solo, dedicated Superman TV series to join the lineup of CW superhero TV series, starring Hoechlin.

With all the uncertainty surrounding both Batman and Superman at Warner Bros. Pictures recently – up to and including the possible departure of Henry Cavill from the Superman role he's played since 2013 – is this … a bad prospect? In truth, TV has been a lot kinder to Superman over the past 25 years than movies have been, so let's take a look.

 

Superman on TV: A History

The Adventures of Superman

When looking at all the other media exploitations of Superman that have come out since the character's creation in 1938, there have only been two solo, dedicated live-action TV series that have actually dealt with the character himself, in-costume, in the city of Metropolis, and taking on criminals in his familiar, heroic guise. The first was in TV's golden age during the 1950s, when actor George Reeves played the title role on The Adventures of Superman from 1952-1958.

Reeves defined the character for a generation of young TV viewers two decades before Christopher Reeve ever wore the cape, making for a generally more naturalistic and human vision of Superman than many conceptions of the character we've seen in the years since.

While Superman appeared in a TV special in the 70s adapting the stage musical for a cheap, late-night program, the character's live-action appearances on TV through the 80s centered on the 1988 Superboy TV show, a prequel depicting Clark Kent in-costume, but before he became the primary hero we all know him to be. It wasn't until 1993 that the character got his second crack at live-action TV when Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman first hit the airwaves, lasting for four seasons before being canceled in 1997.

Smallville

We've had other Superman-centric shows since then, like the ever-popular Smallville and the currently-running Krypton, but both of those shows are prequels: Superman himself, as we all know him, was certainly referred to a lot over the course of young Clark Kent's adventures in the long-running prequel series, but Tom Welling wasn't actually Superman, and didn't appear as such until the final minutes of the series finale in off-center shots that never actually showed him wearing the character's iconic uniform.

These shows have kept the legend of Superman alive, but allusion and veiled reference can only go so far. Even so, "keeping the legend alive" has arguably done more for the Superman character over the last 25 years than the medium of film has done, since in that same period of time, we've gotten only two dedicated, solo Superman films and two additional appearances in crossover movies, most of which have been panned by critics to varying degrees.

 

Would TV Be a Better Place for the Man of Steel?

Supergirl

When Zack Snyder’s first DC Universe film was released in 2013, it was reasonably well-received by critics, but served as a polarizing work among many of the most dedicated DC Comics fans – a position it still holds to this day. Superman would go on to appear in two follow-ups to the events of Man of Steel in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League, two films that are generally viewed as critical disappointments.

In contrast, though some argue that it stuck around past its proverbial "sell-by date," Smallville maintains general goodwill among Superman fans. Supergirl is one of the more popular superheroic offerings on the CW today, Krypton is touted as a major series on Syfy, and the serialized nature of comic book characters' source material may be better suited for a medium like television, anyways.

Based on his appearances on Supergirl, Tyler Hoechlin is often praised as a Superman that demonstrates something of a return to form for the character, turning in the scowl that Zack Snyder often had Henry Cavill wear for a smile reminiscent of the modern comics vision of Superman, as well as a more hopeful demeanor that isn't dissimilar from the countenance of Christopher Reeve.

With WB recently stating that no films, solo or otherwise, are being developed with Henry Cavill as Superman in mind, then television may end up being a saving grace for fans who continue to hope for new, live-action adventures for the character that they can look forward to. It wouldn’t be the first time that Superman fans have had to look to the small screen for salvation while the movie studio has been sitting on their hands, when they could be properly adapting the Man of Steel. It looks like history may have a chance of repeating itself sometime soon.


Chris Clow is a comics expert/former retailer, and pop culture critic/commentator. He hosts two podcasts: Discovery Debrief: A Star Trek Podcast and Comics on Consoles. Find his column "Comics on Film" weekly at Movies.com, and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.

Categories: Features, Geek, TV
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