Indeed, Zod returns in “Man of Steel,” now played by Michael Shannon, who was a couple of months shy of his 7th birthday when “Superman II” came out.
Cavill, 30, was born about six weeks before the premiere of “Superman III.” He is six years younger than Welling, who played the young, pre-Superman Clark Kent on “Smallville” from 2001 to 2011. Based on the chronology in Les Daniels’ book “Superman: The Complete History,” Cavill’s birth was long after the arrival of not only Superman but Superboy (in 1945), Supergirl (1959), Krypto the Super-Dog (1955), Streaky the Super-Cat (1960), Beppo the Super-Monkey (1959) and Comet the Super-Horse (1962).
Every decade since the ’30s has had some kind of Superman moment: the first appearance in the ’30s; animated productions from the legendary Max Fleischer, a live-action movie serial starring Kirk Alyn and radio programs in the ’40s; the TV series starring Reeves in the ’50s (and his death under still-debated circumstances before the decade was done); a Broadway musical in the ’60s; the Christopher Reeve movies beginning in the ’70s; more Reeve movies and a “Superboy” TV series in the ’80s; the death-of-Superman saga in the ’90s; “Smallville” and the big-screen “Superman Returns” in the ’00s; and now “Man of Steel.”
Not that all these efforts were successful. The musical was a dud. “Superman Returns” made close to $400 million worldwide — but that figure paled when the high cost of the movie was considered and, as Tye has written, it was less than the reinventions of Spider-Man and Batman had made.
Still, Superman endures, often revised and reconsidered, different and yet the same. Tye is fond of saying that Superman has evolved more than a perpetually changing fruit fly.
“He changes his hairstyle,” Tye said in a telephone interview. “His uniform gets updated. His work circumstances change.” Even the seemingly shocking change of Clark Kent from newspaper reporter to blogger was not really surprising, Tye said. “He’s been quitting the Daily Planet, whether it was to work for TV or do whatever seemed most contemporary, for 75 years.”