Superman has been around for nearly 80 years, so it’s nice to see that we’re getting a new take on the character on The CW’s Supergirl. Actor as TV’s latest Man of Steel, sure to bring some fresh flavor to the world’s most iconic superhero.
Superman is one of our , so it’s no shock that he’s had tons of TV appearances. And with each iteration, actors and artists have reinterpreted the character for new stories. So, to celebrate Tyler Hoechlin’s casting, we’re running through the many TV versions of Superman.
Adventures of Superman
Superman had been around for nearly 15 years by the time Adventures of Superman premiered in 1952. And while the character was already famous, it was actor George Reeves who really propelled Superman towards his now legendary status during the show’s six year run.
The performer’s wholesome portrayal of the character forever tied Superman with ideas of truth, justice, and the American way. He may not have been the first actor to play the hero — Kirk Alyn played him in a series of film serials in the ’40s — but Reeves would serve as the template for many to follow.
Premiering in 1973, Hanna-Barbera’s animated Super Friends series took the Justice League and gave them a light-hearted cartoon makeover, introducing plenty of ’70s kids to DC’s premiere superhero team.
This take on Superman was basically what you’d expect. He was the big blue boy scout we all know and love, beating bad guys and doing good all across the globe. Hanna-Barbera produced several variations of the Super Friends throughout the ’70s and ’80s, and while they may have had different titles they all followed the blueprint the original series established.
Ruby-Spears Productions Superman
In 1988, CBS debuted a new Superman cartoon to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the hero. Simply titled Superman, the animated series was produced by Ruby-Spears Productions and traded the lighter, comedic approach of Super Friends with a style more influenced by Superman’s comic book adventures.
For contemporary Superman fans, this one is definitely a deep cut. But it’s notable because renowned comic book writer Marv Wolfman served as the show’s head story editor.
If you’ve ever wondered how Superman became the hero we know today, consider checking out Superboy.
The TV series followed the adventures of a young Clark Kent, played by John Haymes Newton — replaced by Gerard Christopher after the first season — as he learned how to use his powers while trying to balance life at the fictitious Shuster University. It ran for for four seasons from 1988 to 1992, but most importantly gave us an excuse to call Clark Kent the “Boy of Steel,” which is absolutely adorable.
Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman
Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher redefined the relationship between Clark Kent and Lois Lane with their starring roles on ’90s hit Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.
While most Superman shows have focused on his heroic adventures, Lois & Clark flipped the script by focusing more on the hero’s relationship with Lois Lane. Lois has been a staple in the Superman mythos since the very beginning, but is often used as a common damsel in distress or ignored completely. But the show’s prominent use of Lois brought something fresh to Superman’s TV adventures.
Superman: The Animated Series
Warner Bros. launched a new era of DC Comics animation with the premiere of Batman: The Animated Series in 1992, and continued that push just a few years later with Superman: The Animated Series.
A spin-off of Batman, Superman: The Animated Series retained the thematic substance and narrative complexity of its predecessor for a new series centered on the Man of Steel. Best of all, the show provided fans with quintessential takes on many of Superman’s villains including Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Darkseid and the incredibly creepy Toyman. Of course, it also provided a perfect take on Clark Kent/Superman courtesy of actor Tim Daly, who’s gone on to voice the Kryptonian in various animated shows and movies.
Today, The CW is home to many of TV’s best and brightest superheroes. And that wouldn’t be the case without Smallville.
The show premiered on The WB in 2001, lasting for 10 seasons and moving to The CW during the network’s merger with UPN. Taking a page out of Superboy‘s book, the series followed Clark Kent during his pre-Superman days, blending superheroics with teen drama. It basically provided the template for all of The CW’s current DC superhero shows, and was so popular that many fans wanted to see actor as Clark Kent in Supergirl.
Justice League/Justice League Unlimited
While Tom Welling was serving up live-action Superman adventures, the adventures of the animated Superman continued after Superman: The Animated Series in Justice League and Justice League Unlimited.
This time, we got to see Superman work alongside DC’s greatest heroes like Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash and the Martian Manhunter. Unlimited gave the powerhouse hero even more opportunities for team-ups by expanding the show’s cast. Best of all, we got to see Superman really unload and use his powers to his full potential — just like he did in his epic battle with Darkseid.
Legion of Superheroes
For a different take on Superman’s origins, you’ll want to check out the Legion of Superheroes animated series.
The show followed the Legion of Superheroes, a team of young heroes in the 31st century, as they fought evil across the galaxy. But most interestingly, it featured a young Clark Kent — just before moving to Metropolis — brought to the future to fight alongside and learn from the Legion. The group helped Clark learn how to use his powers, and when he returned to the present he was ready to protect the world as Superman.
Though he didn’t play a major role in the series, Superman made several notable appearances on Cartoon Network’s Young Justice animated series.
The show followed a team of young superheroes that included Robin, Kid Flash, Aqualad, Miss Martian, Artemis and Superboy (a teenage clone of Superman) as they tried to move up the ranks from sidekicks to full-blown superheroes. Superman and the Justice League served as their mentors, casting the Man of Steel as an authority figure who wasn’t always portrayed in the best light.
Tyler Hoechlin may be the new face of Superman on Supergirl, but the character’s appeared on the show several times before.
We’ve heard plenty of references to the Kryptonian hero on the show, and even seen Kara/Supergirl interact with her cousin several times. She’s sent him instant messages, talked about him, and even met in person (though we’ve never seen his face). Thankfully, they’ll finally get some major interaction during Season 2 of Supergirl.
Supergirl Season 2 is set to air Monday nights on The CW. What is your favorite television version of Superman? Let us know in the comments.
President of the Salacious Crumb Fan Club. Staff Writer at Movie Pilot. Twitter: @Matt_Kranis