I'm a huge Superman fan. This wasn't always so -- the comic book Superman of the 80's, my childhood, was hit or miss. Superman was so powerful, so high above his peers in capability that it often became tiresome to watch him save the world, the galaxy, the universe once again. At a time when the X-Men were hiding in Australia from the Reavers and a society which wanted them dead, Spider-man was on the brink of the Todd McFarlane explosion, and Batman was riding high on Frank Miller's Dark Night Returns and the sickly twisted Arkham Asylum, Superman, in the comics, was, well, tired. Even a temporary death, and a transformation into a corny bright blue "Electric Superman" couldn't pull him entirely out of the muck.
On video, Superman was an entirely different story. On video, Superman was flawed, scared, complex and entirely human. On video, in Superman, Superman II and even the slapstick Superman III (let us please forget Superman IV), Superman was a true hero. On video, Superman was Christopher Reeve.
While my admiration for Chris Reeve started with the Superman movies of my childhood, as I grew up that admiration grew tremendously. Not only was Reeve the all-american hunky actor, he was intellectual, soft-spoken, measured and articulate, in a time where our biggest movie heroes were Arnold Schwarzeneggar and Sylvester Stallone. Plus, in addition to his film work, Reeve was a true theater actor, taking a great deal of time away from what was certainly more lucrative TV and film work to spend summers or entire seasons in regional theaters.
My real love for Reeve as an actor came in two phases. The first was when, in college, I rented the underrated 1980 film, Somewhere in Time. Schlocky, mushy and more than occaisionally overwrought, Somewhere in Time is held together almost entirely by an utterly compelling performance by Chris Reeve. In fact, so good is he in this film, it became one of my favorites, despite it's unlikely and hole-filled plot. Something about it tugs at my heart-strings, and made me want even more to not only be an actor, but to be an actor like him. The second was in 1992 when Peter Bogdanovich's Noises Off! was released. An extraordinarily popular and funny play, the movie version features an incredible cast (among them Michael Caine, Carol Burnett, Julie Hagerty, Marilu Henner and John Ritter) and an incomparable performance by Reeve as the bumbling Frederick. This, for me, was the ultimate marriage of stage and film skills, and Reeve shows he is ... was, I guess ... a master of both. (He showed this as well in 1982's Deathtrap, which I didn't see until after Noises Off!)
After his accident in 1995, Reeve mostly stopped being an actor (despite continuing to work in TV movies and notable guest performances on television shows such as Smallville), and started being a political figure, campaigning tirelessly for rights for the disabled, and medical research such as embryonic stem cell research. Whenever I saw him in his wheelchair, however, all I could think of was the obsessed playwright of Somewhere in Time, wasting away alone in a small room, pining after a woman who died years before he was born.
Superman was redeemed for me with Alex Ross and Paul Dini's Kingdom Come, which forced me (and a whole generation of comic fans) to re-evaluate Superman as a darker, more complex, and supremely important icon of the comic world. Reeve himself never needed redemption -- he was always what an actor should be: constantly working, constantly improving himself, showing a love for the craft of acting more than the money and fame that, for a fortunate few, can come with success. He was an advocate for art, for science, and for staying true to his acting roots in the theater.
The acting world mourned our loss after Reeve's accident, when it became apparent he would likely never take the stage again. He never did, and now he never will.