[The Week in Geek is a weekly Tuesday column that plunges headfirst into a deep pool of genre geekiness without ever coming up for air.]
And suddenly, just like that, everyone knows the name Henry Cavill. That's what happens when you get cast as Superman in a major motion picture (Zack Snyder's 'The Man of Steel'). Even Brandon Routh, who never really took advantage of his 'Superman Returns' fame, remains well-known, simply because he played Superman once. Christopher Reeve was linked to the superhero to his dying day, with headlines of his untimely demise stumbling over themselves to see who could lead with the best Superman reference.
I grew up with the Christopher Reeve Superman, but, in equal measure, I grew up with the Danny Dark Superman. Dark was the actor who voiced Superman for over thirteen year's worth of Hanna-Barbera cartoons, including all of the various incarnations of the 'Super Friends.' In the movies, Reeve seemed like a sensitive, funny Superman, but Dark's Superman spoke with authority and strength. His was the Superman voice I imagined when I pored over a DC comic book as a kid. As a matter of fact, Superman still sounds like Danny Dark to me, but he's just one of many who voiced the iconic role.
I didn't know just how old the Filmation Superman cartoons were when I was a young one, catching them in re-runs. 'The New Adventures of Superman,' which aired originally in 1966, was just another dose of animated superhero action to my eager young eyes. However, for the generation before me, Bud Collyer was the sound of Superman. Collyer played the character on the radio from 1940 to 1951 before voicing him in animation, always taking great care to lower his voice to a manly rumble when shifting from Clark Kent to Superman.
Those raised in the 1990s probably hear the voice of Tim Daly in their heads when they think of Superman. The actor, most famous for the sitcom 'Wings,' first played the role in 1996 for the then-new 'Superman' animated series. Even now, he still gets called back to speak for Superman -- most recently in the 2010 DTV animated feature 'Superman/Batman: Apocalypse.' Square-jawed Daly has the distinction of being one of the few Superman voice actors who could have easily filled the Man of Steel's red boots on screen as well.
When Daly left the role for a while to pursue other interests, George Newbern became the voice of the Last Son of Krypton for most of the 2000s. The veteran character actor has one of those great "that guy!" faces -- you probably remember him from 'Adventures in Babysitting' or 'Father of the Bride.' Newburn's Superman is harder-edged than Daly's, which served the character well for the more adult 'Justice League Unlimited' television show.
Cavill is the first Brit to play the part, but don't expect Superman to sound like a right bloke. There's a consistency to all of these aforementioned actors as they've approached Superman -- a real testament to the clarity of the character. Superman speaks with clear-headed gravitas and wisdom. He's earnest, determined, and unflappable, no matter what the situation. Those are the characteristics that matter more than a Midwestern accent. If Cavill can pull it off, he just might define the role for a whole new generation.