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This summer, "Superman Returns"

By Bert Ehrmann
2006-04-21 – On June 30 Superman Returns to movie theaters, but where has the "Man of Steel" been the last 30 years?

Beginning as a comic book in the late 1930s, Superman made his original venture into movie theaters via a series of cartoons in the early 1940s. Later that same decade, the Superman character was the star of a movie serial, which was told over four hours and 15 episodes. But it wasn't until the late 1970s that a feature film version of Superman flew into theaters.

Directed by Richard Donner (Goonies, Lethal Weapon) and starring the late Christopher Reeve, Superman (1978) told the origin story, introduced the Kal-el/ Clark Kent/ Superman trichotomy and Superman's arch-nemesis, the evil genius Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman).

During the filming of this first movie, scenes were shot concurrently for a proposed Superman II. However, soon after the release of Superman director Donner was fired, much of his work cut and the direction of the movie changed.

Superman II (1980) revealed that Superman wasn't the only survivor of Krypton when the evil General Zod (Terrance Stamp), and his loyal soldiers Non and Ursa arrive on Earth super-charged after their accidental escape from prison. Much of Superman II features Superman in battle with these criminals as he fights to keep humanity out from under the boot of Zod. Or, as Zod is so keen to say, to all of humanity, "Kneel before Zod!"

Two regrettable sequels followed.

In Superman III (1983), Gus Gorman (a woefully miscast Richard Pryor) is featured as an accidental computer genius enlisted in attempt to destroy Superman. Gorman synthesizes Kryptonite, but missing one critical ingredient substitutes tar from a pack of cigarettes instead. Rather than destroying Superman, this substance splits Superman into two "SuPerman", one good and one bad.

In two forgettable moments, the "evil" Superman straightens the Leaning Tower of Pisa and blows out the Olympic flame with his super-breath.

Even worse was Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987), where the nations of the world have Superman hurtle all their nuclear weapons into the Sun for guaranteed mutual disarmament. But this "quest for peace" is really a trick; Lex Luthor (again Gene Hackman), utilizes the nuclear blast to create an anti-Superman, "Nuclear Man".

Superman IV made a mockery of the Superman franchise when the character of Lenny Luthor (Jon Cryer) was introduced as Luthor's nephew/ sidekick.

In one gut-wrenching scene, a Greenpeace card-carrying Superman proclaims, "There will be peace when the people of the world want it so badly, that their governments will have no choice but to give it to them." Ugh. Whatever happened to the Superman I knew who kicked Zod's butt!?

Nearly a decade later, director Tim Burton tried to renew the Superman franchise with a movie that would have been called Superman Lives. Kevin Smith (Clerks) wrote the script with Nic Cage as a cape-less armored Superman doing battle with the alien computer Brainiac and Lex Luthor.

Superman Lives never made it to film and any notion of a new movie was put on the shelf for the next decade until director Bryan Singer was lured away from the highly lucrative X-Men franchise.

According to Singer, the events of Superman Returns take place after Superman I and II, ignoring the events of III and IV entirely.

In Superman Returns, Superman (newcomer Brandon Routh) returns to the Earth after a sabbatical in space and finds his girlfriend Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) with child and Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey) back in the fold.

I wasn't sold on the concept of a new Superman movie until seeing the movie trailer in theaters last winter. People might complain that Routh isn't "experienced" enough or that Superman's costume isn't the right shade of blue, but seeing Superman break the sound barrier in flight during the movie trailer changed my perspective.

I'm ready for a new Superman and hope the rest of the world is too.