SDCC: Superman Celebrates 75 Years of Comics

Saturday morning of Comic-Con International began with Warner Bros. Pictures' announcement of the "Superman/Batman" "Man of Steel" sequel with an anticipated summer 2015 release, while the afternoon found a panel of all-star celebrities gathered together to celebrate Superman's 75th anniversary. The room overflowed with fans excited to reminisce over the legacy of the hero with some of the biggest creators, actors and touchstones in Superman's legacy of the past 75 years.

Fans cheered as the panelists took the stage, beginning with Jack Larson, the original Jimmy Olsen from "The Adventures of Superman," voice actor Tim Daly of "Superman: The Animated Series," Molly Quinn, voice of Supergirl in "Superman Unbound" and comic luminaries Jim Lee, Grant Morrison, Dan Jurgens and Paul Levitz. Surprise panelists included "Man of Steel" writer David Goyer and two of the film's stars, Henry Cavill and Dylan Sprayberry, who respectively played the adult and teenage Clark Kent.

"It's wonderful to be up here with all of these super guests," Gary Sassaman, Director of Print Publications for Comic-Con International said in a special announcement. "If you're like me and grew up in a certain era, the best thing about coming home from school everyday was that 'The Adventures of Superman' was on once you got home. All of us grew up watching and loving that show. It is my honor to be here today on behalf of Comic-Con International to present to the real Jimmy Olsen, Mr. Jack Larson, our Inkpot Award."

An emotional Larson responded by saying, "[Superman] is a magic part, and I'm very, very proud to have been a part of it since 1951."

The panel officially began with moderator Gary Miereanu putting a single question to the panelists: "What does Superman mean to you?"

"For me, the fact that Superman has lasted this long is quite amazing. This guy is going to outlive all of us," said Morrison. "The fact that we've all been able to participate and add a little bit to the legend is a profound and exciting thing to have done."

For Sprayberry and Quinn, the two youngest members of the panel, Superman was more about what the character represents as much as much as it is about his legacy.

"Superman always makes the best of his situation," Quinn said. "He always does what's right, which is great for people in our generation to see. Standing up for yourself and for others seems to be lacking nowadays, and Superman is a wonderful example of that."

With 75 years of stories featuring the Man of Steel, each panelist had a favorite story to get new readers introduced to the character and his legacy. While Paul Levitz went more modern with Scott Snyder and Jim Lee's "Superman Unchained," Dan Jurgens gravitated toward Alan Moore's "For the Man Who Has Everything." In an odd turn, Grant Morrison chose "Superman vs. Muhammad Ali."

"It's kind of a preposterous story," Morrison laughed. "But it's Superman at his best!"

Lee turned it back to Morrison, saying that his book, "All-Star Superman," was the volume to get. Goyer interjected to say that "Man of Steel" had quotes from Morrison's work and was "a direct homage" to it.

Perhaps equally as nerve-wracking as writing Superman is the responsibility of playing Superman on the big screen -- something that Cavill had the recent pleasure to undertake. "I was fully aware of the responsibility," he said. "It affected me, but I tried to push it to the back of my mind. If I were to allow the pressure and responsibility to affect me, I wouldn't have done the role justice."

Sprayberry felt that his role as the young Clark Kent was more about representing kids who have struggles and are different from their peers.

A number of actors have portrayed Superman previously, and Cavill wanted to ensure that his take on the Man of Steel was solely his.

"I wanted to avoid watching previous live action stuff," he said. "Purely because that was, in my opinion, someone else's interpretation of what was in the comic books. I wanted this to be our interpretation of the character without anyone else's influence affecting that and therefore muddying the line between source material and live action. I didn't use any influence from previous performances."

While Cavill may currently be the actor most in the public eye, Tim Daly has a number of years on him, voicing Superman in countless animated television series and films -- but it wasn't something he always took very seriously. "I didn't realize all you people were out here," he said, earning a round of laughter from the audience. "It took me awhile to realize that I was representing someone who was protecting Truth, Justice and the American way. I now realize the gravitas of it, and I take it way more seriously."

Understandably, one of the many questions for the panel dealt with Superman's numerous powers, and which each panelist would like to have. Larson wouldn't pick a power, but would choose to uphold the character's mantle of Truth, Justice and the American way. Levitz immediately chose flight, while Morrison picked an obscure power from a 1950s story called "Superman's New Power," where he was able to shoot a tiny version of himself out of his hand. Sprayberry focused on Superman's ability to always have great hair, and Goyer went for freeze breath. Cavill finished by saying that he most admired Superman's unbreakable spirit. "It is probably the only thing that really ties him to humanity," he said.

The comics creators went on to discuss their favorite moments during the evolution of Superman over the past 75 years, speculating on future developments for the character. Levitz discovered the characters his youth through both comics and television, and cited his discovery as his favorite moment. Jurgens agreed, adding that seeing the nobility and majesty of Superman on comic covers made a huge impression on him.

Morrison continued, proclaiming his love for all of the different versions of Superman. "In the '40s he's a patriot, in the '50s he's a guy who is home from war and trying to set up a family, in the '60s he's a cosmic seeker," Morrison said. "The real Superman is a combination of all those things.

"What we see now is much more human Superman, and as the idea of humans and super-humans get closer together, Superman becomes more like us, we become more like him," he continued, referencing "Man of Steel." "Superman's much more reflective of how we all feel and is dealing with problems that we deal with. You'll have to ask [Goyer] what comes next, but the evolution I think will be a much more humanistic Superman."

Frank Miller's iconic "The Dark Knight Returns" was Jim Lee's inspiration for becoming a comic book professional. "Superman and Batman fight at the end, and I always thought it would be great to see a rematch between the two of them," he said, prompting Goyer to address the announcement of the "Superman/Batman" movie announced earlier that day. Although Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment haven't decided on a title, the film is slated for a summer 2015 release.

Miereanu took the opportunity to announce the "Superman Real Heroes Project," which continues to celebrate 75 years of the character. The project is a website where fans inspired by Superman can submit videos discussing people they feel embody the ideals and traits of Superman. The site currently has videos from both Cavill and Lee.

A darker approach to Superman has been a major topic of discussion since "Man of Steel's" theatrical debut, something Morrison addressed. "He's just reflecting a general tendency, as he always does," Morrison said. "Superman has to reflect what people are feeling, it's an inevitable part of his development. If he's dark now, it's because we've all gotten a little bit dark."

Considering the divisive reactions toward "Man of Steel's" ending, Goyer was asked if he was caught off-guard by fan comments. Goyer acknowledged that in the coming films, the repercussions of Superman's actions in the movie would be handled. He went on to say the Superman fans saw in "Man of Steel" was not fully formed.

Perhaps most touching was an 80-year old woman's story of learning to read through comic books, which included the very first Superman book, "Action Comics" #1. She expressed hope that all of the panelists continued to create inspiring Superman stories.

As the panel wound down, Morrison summed up the fan-favorite icon in a few words.

"Really what he's all about is that indomitable spirit, and that part of humanity that does not give in," he said. "[Superman] still believes in us and tries to do his best. I think you to have to elevate yourself, and take that seriously as the most important aspect of Superman."

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