An array of actors sound off on bringing Superman to animated life.
The recently released made-for-Blu-ray/DVD animated film Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox is the latest in a series of films that began with 2007’s Superman Doomsday that have served as small-screen adaptations of popular DC Comics storylines. Although there have been some return performances over the years, for the most part the studio has wanted different “name” actors to voice the various characters, especially the Man of Steel himself. What follows here is a look at the actors who have brought Superman to life in their respective projects.
YEAR OF RELEASE: 2007
PLOT: When LexCorps accidentally unleashes a murderous creature, Doomsday, Superman meets his greatest challenge as a champion. Based on the “The Death of Superman” storyline that appeared in DC Comics’ publications in the 1990s.
ACTOR: Adam Baldwin (Angel, Firefly, Chuck)
BALDWIN SAYS: “[The 1950s Adventures of Superman television series star] George Reeves, I remember watching him as a kid, and I thought that was cool. I’m not a purist, but that was my introduction. Later I remember seeing Christopher Reeve brilliantly portray him on film. That’s the depth of my knowledge. But those didn’t influence my performance. This didn’t really allow me to go to some of those stylings, especially the comedy.
“This is really a story with a lot of ‘more’ — more intense, more emotion, more action, more investigation into relationships, and ultimately we’re dealing with the death of Superman and the effect that event has on our primary characters and the world itself. So it’s arguably the darkest of all Superman films.”
Justice League – The New Frontier
YEAR OF RELEASE: 2008
PLOT: In the 1950s, a new generation of superheroes must join forces with the community’s active veterans and a hostile U.S. government to fight a menace to Earth.
ACTOR: Kyle MacLachlan (Twin Peaks, Desperate Housewives)
MACLACHLAN SAYS: “There’s a sort of moral imperative that Superman has, and I think the language he uses is a little more proper — he’s just not a guy who uses his words casually. So maybe, unconsciously, that 1950s tone just creeps in there for me.
“The physical performance is fun – you have to use your imagination a lot more. It’s a lot of grunts and oomphs and ughs, which you just can’t help but act out physically. I’m sure it looks funny from the other side of the glass [of the recording booth]. Like in one scene, it was about getting hit with a pterodactyl wing versus getting punched by a super villain. There’s apparently a difference in that sound. So you have to shade it a bit and use the imagination.”
Superman/Batman: Public Enemies
YEAR OF RELEASE: 2009
PLOT: When Lex Luthor gets elected U.S. President, he uses the threat of an oncoming kryptonite meteor striking Earth as a rationale to frame Superman.
ACTOR: Tim Daly (Superman: The Animated Series, Private Practice)
DALY SAYS: “The most surprising thing about voicing Superman for this film was that I realized how much I missed it. I found that I really had missed doing Superman. I thought that this particular script was really good and, for those of us who are interested and aware of certain things in our world and our country, I think that it presents a very kind of subtle social commentary. I think that makes it cool and relatively bold for something that’s an animated Superman film.”
Justice League — Crisis on Two Earths
YEAR OF RELEASE: 2010
PLOT: A good version of Lex Luthor from a parallel Earth comes to the Justice League’s dimension for help to fight their evil counterparts.
ACTOR: Mark Harmon (NCIS)
HARMON SAYS: “I’m actually a little uncomfortable playing Superman. I mean, he’s the guy, but I actually look at this much more as being a part of this amazing team of actors. That’s one of the things that really attracted me to the film. And I’m more comfortable with being included than I am trying to stand out in any way. I wouldn’t have done this just to say I played Superman. That’s not important to me.
“To me, growing up watching Superman on black-and-white television or reading it in the comic books, all the superhuman things he did were cool. But the things that attracted me are really the human part of the character, or at least the part that was more real. Hopefully that’s what I brought to that. He’s a leader. He’s a quarterback. He can be tough when he needs to be. He can certainly be direct. No matter who he’s talking to, he tries to speak honestly. I understand those values.”
Superman/Batman — Apocalypse
YEAR OF RELEASE: 2010
PLOT: Batman discovers a mysterious teen-aged girl with super-human powers and a connection to Superman. When the girl comes to the attention of Darkseid, the evil overlord of Apokolips, events take a decidedly dangerous turn.
ACTOR: Tim Daly
DALY SAYS: “What’s interesting about the relationships in this film is that Superman and Batman are really on the same page. They are united and they only give each other a very modest amount of grief, whereas at other times they’ve been a little more at each other’s throats, and more dubious about the other one’s methods. And Kara [Supergirl] is, perhaps, Superman’s last surviving relative. So he feels very protective of her, and sort of glad to have someone who has had or is about to have a similar experience as he’s had coming to a different planet. So it’s kind of touching, really. He’s very paternal towards her. He really wants her to do well and to stick around. It’s nice to see his powers used in connection with something personal. He’s not saving the planet, he’s not saving Metropolis. He’s not saving Lois. He’s saving a blood relative. So it’s that kind of deeply personal feeling. I do enjoy that in the script.”
YEAR OF RELEASE: 2011
PLOT: While saving the crew of the first manned mission to the sun, Superman is poisoned by solar radiation. Dying, he decides to fulfill his lifelong dreams, while still saving the Earth from various threats. But when Lex Luthor reveals his latest plot to control the world, Superman must use his remaining strength to stop him.
ACTOR: James Denton (Desperate Housewives)
DENTON SAYS: “While Superman is not monotone, he’s also not very emotional. In voice work you tend to go a little further than you would if people were watching you in a camera, so it’s a little bit melodramatic, but with Superman you can’t do that. You can’t go to these emotional places, because that’s not what Superman does. And then you have fun with Clark Kent, which is the challenge – not to be the bumbling idiot. So the fun thing was making Clark Kent human while taking much more of the emotion out of Superman to make him more controlled. I remember [writer] Grant Morrison saying one time that there were kind of three people there. Superman and Clark Kent are the masks, and the real guy is the Clark Kent who was very secure, very strong, knew how to drive a tractor and was raised by Ma and Pa Kent. That really struck me and made it more interesting. In the end, I wasn’t that worried about flattening him out emotionally, because I kind of heard Grant’s voice in my head saying, ‘That’s what the real Clark Kent is sort of putting on — he’s putting on Superman as well.’”
Justice League — Doom
YEAR OF RELEASE: 2012
PLOT: Vandal Savage steals confidential files Batman has compiled on the members of the Justice League, and learns all their weaknesses.
ACTOR: Tim Daly
DALY SAYS: “Well, as usual, it’s all about saving the planet. But first, the Justice League has to save the Justice League. Batman disappoints his colleagues in the Justice League by having a plan to stop any rogue Justice League member, and by allowing those plans to be stolen. Superman understands Batman, though – he really has created these contingency plans for a pretty noble reason. He’s trying to protect the world by inserting some checks and balances into this system, realizing that the Justice League has an incredible amount of power, and he wants to make sure that they always use that power in a way that’s not destructive.”
Superman vs. The Elite
YEAR OF RELEASE: 2012
PLOT: The Man of Steel finds himself outshone by a new team of ruthless superheroes who hold his idealism in contempt.
ACTOR: George Newbern (Justice League Unlimited, Scandal)
NEWBERN SAYS: “I think you watch an actor like Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington or It’s a Wonderful Life, and you try to find the humanity of an everyman like that. When I think of an all-American hero, I think of an actor in a role like that. And that’s what Superman really is — an American hero. Superpowers are just ancillary. It’s that character, with all those principles and understanding, that’s who he is right there. I think I tried to portray a sense of trust and power and charisma for Superman. I think that’s what we believe Superman is.”
The Dark Knight Returns: Part 2
YEAR OF RELEASE: 2013
PLOT: The Batman has returned after a 10-year absence. The Gotham authorities want to arrest him. An old foe wants a reunion. The Feds want Superman to put a stop to him.
ACTOR: Mark Valley
MARK VALLEY SAYS: “It’s fun to play a hero, but I love to be able to put a little bit of irreverence into it, or a little bit of humanity as well as sarcasm or irony. It’s kind of fun to see who these people are with these immense abilities and huge responsibilities but still have time to kind of have fun with it.”
YEAR OF RELEASE: 2013
PLOT: Superman and Supergirl must save the Earth as well as survivors of Krypton from the destructive android Brainiac.
ACTOR: Matt Bomer
BOMER SAYS: “I think I was 5 or 6. My mom made me a homemade cape for Halloween, one year. First, I was a Superboy to my brother’s Superman, ‘cause whatever superhero he was, I was either the lesser version of it or the sidekick. So, when he was Batman, I was Robin. When he was Superman, I was Superboy. But, like any four-year-old, it played very heavily into my psychology. And I think that’s what makes the character resonate for so long, with so many people. He’s who we hope we could be, in the most dire of circumstances. But, my mom made me a homemade cape, and I wore that thing out for two years. I didn’t even care. I had no shame about it. I would strap it on. It had a snap. I’d get on my bike and just let it trail behind me. People would laugh. I didn’t give a damn. I was Superman! Now, I’m the voice of Superman.”
“I tried to keep up some of the consistencies of the characters that are maintained throughout every incarnation of the story, and then just deal with the script that we were given. In this particular story, it’s a very mature Superman that we’re seeing. He’s always dealing with weighty issues, but he’s very paternal towards Supergirl, he’s very protective of Lois and he’s also having to deal with Braniac, who is a very intense adversary. So, I tried to balance the heavier, more mature version of him with a lighter, fun, more charming sense of playfulness with Lois in our scenes.”
Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox
YEAR OF RELEASE: 2013
PLOT: When the Flash travels back in time to save his mother’s life, the ripples from that change in history has wide-reaching effects for not only every member of the Justice League, but the planet itself.
ACTOR: Sam Daly
DALY SAYS: “It’s such an iconic character that there’s always a pressure you don’t want to disappoint all the fans, because there are millions of Superman fans. But if you think about that too much, you’re setting yourself up for failure. I am an American Superman [laughs], unlike the new Superman in Man of Steel, so I’ve got that going for me. Every superhero is British now — we’ve got British Spider-Man, British Batman, British Superman.
“I think part of the reason I got cast was, ‘You could be a really good weak Superman.’ I’m kidding. When I read the script, it was really interesting because it is such a different take on him. What was so cool is that Superman has a different arc because he does start off weaker and a little less super, you could say, but by the end of the movie you can see him come into his own and be the Man of Steel.”