The Many Mediums of the Man of Steel. Part One of Two.
Superman has appeared in so many different mediums that it’s not uncommon for people to be a fan of the character without having read the comic books. Consider Superman has appeared in comic strips, on radio, movie cartoons, in movie serials, novels, film itself, theatre, and of course television (both live-action and animated). Granted, people know Superman is a comic book character (a fact that was often disclosed in the programs whether it was via voiceover or in the credits. Each medium has brought challenges in adapting the character, whether it was his radio show or contemporary films about him.
Each medium brings a different challenge in adapting the Man of Steel’s adventures. The radio shows had the advantage of an unlimited budget when it came to describing Superman’s powers, but the show also had to rely heavily on dialogue to convey the action. The comic strips also had the luxury of an unlimited budget, but the comic strips had to utilize the specific storytelling devices (and limitations) inherent in them. A comic strip had to be able to fill in new readers on the storyline without taking up too much space and boring ongoing readers. The early film and television Superman tales brought Supes’ world to life, but the limitations of both budgets and special effects prevented Superman from performing some of the feats he would in later incarnations. Nonetheless, the serials and TV adaptation’s success proved the character’s popularity and marketability.
Today’s television and film adaptations of Kal-El face new challenges. While special effects have progressed to the point where audiences can witness Superman performing the same incredible feats as he does in the comic books, film studios have struggled with a way to adapt a Superman that fits in with contemporary society. The lackluster results of Superman Returns and Man of Steel suggest Superman is still a character people are willing to pay to see on the silver screen, but he has to be presented in an entertaining way that stays true to his roots and entertains. Television lacks the special effects budget of major motion pictures, but effects are more than adequate for all but the most spectacular Superman feats. With television, the problem seems to be a desire to keep Superman’s exploits reserved for the big screen, feeling more money can be made telling Superman stories in film, than TV. Unfortunately, this limits the number of Superman adventures and unless a film is a major success, there is no guarantee of a sequel. Consider Man of Steel, which wasn’t a failure, but led to his next film being a crossover with Batman, arguably because it was felt the first film hadn’t performed well enough. Yes, Superman has appeared in the TV series Supergirl, but only a handful of times.
Join me next time as I look at how these different depictions of Superman have affected fans’ views of the character.