Look, Up on the Screen!

In the 68 years since he arrived on Earth from the distant planet Krypton, Superman has undergone several transformations from the classic comic books to the Christopher Reeve movies to last week's "Superman Returns." What exactly makes Superman so, well, super? Our handy chart breaks down the people, powers and things you'll need to know to get up to Super-speed.

Look, Up on the Screen

His Persona
Red cape, blue tights, big red "S," indestructible spit curl: You know the deal.

The Last Son of Krypton has undergone several radical changes in appearance, including glowing blue skin and a mullet he sported after coming back from the dead. (Being dead is no excuse for a mullet, even if you are Superman.)

Christopher Reeve's stoopshouldered, nebbishy Clark Kent mixed pratfalls with pathos, but his noble Superman looked like he'd stepped right off the comic book page. Former soap stud Brandon Routh affects a more forlorn Kent, unsure of his place in the world. His Superman sports darker colors, a smaller "S" and (much) tighter briefs.
His Secret Strengths
Aside from heightened speed, strength and vision and the ability to fly, Superman has a host of lesser-known skills.
Superman No. 330 invented the concept of "super-hypnosis" to explain why no one ever thinks Clark Kent is Superman. Who knew? The first two Super-movies played fast and loose with his abilities, giving us a Superman who rewinds time, shoots rays out of his hand and erases Lois Lane's memories with a hard-to-swallow "magic" Routh exhibits the classic Kryptonian skill set no bizarre tweaks or add-ons here. One of the film's big twists: Superman's not the only one with a bit of the ol' Super-strength...
His Arch Nemesis
Bald, scheming Lex Luthor is an uber-genius and Superman's enemy number one.
Luthor's grabs for power were most successful in the comics, where he got to be an smarmy billionaire who was eventually elected president. (Hey, don't Kryptonians get the right to vote?) Gene Hackman chewed all of Metropolis's scenery as "the greatest criminal mind of our time," but was ultimately reduced to a sputtering, prison-bound coward when his schemes went sour. In the first 10 minutes, Kevin Spacey's much-slimier Luthor swindles a rich old lady's family, breaks into Superman's home and frightens a little girl with his disheveled, rodent-brown wig.
His True Love
To Superman, Lois Lane's brains, sass and compassion represent some of humanity's best traits... even if she falls for the Clark Kent schtick time and again.
Only on the printed page has Lane managed to become Mrs. Clark Kent. The Daily Planet coworkers married in 1996's "Superman: The Wedding" Margot Kidder's Lane tough-talked her way through the Daily Planet's newsroom and into the Metropolis Marvel's heart. Kate Bosworth plays a Lane who's become a mom and won a Pulitzer Prize but only after writing a scathing article denouncing Superman.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company