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One of the biggest criticisms that tends to get thrown at Superman is that his powers make him boring; that his strength and invulnerability make him hard to relate to. That’s why all of the best interpretations of the character have one thing in common: They focus on the ‘man’, not the ‘Super’, because despite his alien heritage, the key to an interesting Superman lies in exploring his humanity and his struggles as an outsider. That’s something that Superman & Lois excels at because what better way to humanise the character than to make him a family man.
This is something that happened in the comics years ago, with Clark and Lois marrying in 1996 and welcoming their son, Jon, in 2015. Other shows such as Lois & Clark and Smallville have done great work exploring Clark Kent’s personal life, but this is the first time we’ve seen him as a father outside of comics. It shifts the focus from the spectacle of Superman’s heroics and larger-than-life battles to Clark and Lois’ struggles with parenthood, marriage and other issues. It’s the perfect way to ground the character without taking away what makes him a hero.
It’s not just his name in the title though, and this show presents one of the greatest iterations of Lois Lane ever put to screen. What’s more, this show really lives up to its title by presenting the two lead characters as a united front, navigating life’s joys and struggles. And when it does come to the superhero side of things, especially the show’s supervillains, they may take some liberties with the source material, but they do so in some incredibly interesting ways.
Fans were first introduced to this version of Superman (played by Sydney and Perth Supa-Star Tyler Hoechlin) in the second season of Supergirl, back in 2016. He was immediately well-received for his classic and optimistic depictions of both the Man of Steel and his journalist alter ego and would reprise the role several times across the Arrowverse. During one of these appearances, in the 2018 Arrowverse crossover, Elseworlds, we were also introduced to Lois Lane (as played by fellow Sydney and Perth Supa-Star Elizabeth Tulloch), with the two of them being married and expecting a baby.
After both characters played key roles in the next, biggest and final Arrowverse crossover, Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Super-couple were given their own spin-off, with the reality-changing nature of the Crisis granting them two teenage boys (however, it has since been retconned that Superman & Lois takes place in another universe). Right off the bat Superman & Lois established a feel and tone all of its own, feeling grand and cinematic with its lighting, music and cinematography.
The initial premise is simple: After Clark’s mother dies and he’s let go from The Daily Planet, he and Lois make the decision to move their family back to the Kent family farm in Smallville. It involves all of the typical touchstones of such a plot, with the Kent children – Jon and Jordan – railing against the idea of leaving their lives in Metropolis behind. This coincides with Clark revealing his superheroic identity to his sons as well as the emergence of Jordan’s own powers. This establishes the show’s mission statement from the outset – the perfect blend of superheroes and family drama, with the rustic backdrop of small-town America providing a comforting and homely backdrop.
Don’t worry though, there’s still plenty of superheroing to go around, with Clark spending just as much time in his super suit as out of it. Working alongside Lois’ father at the Department of Defence, Superman is shown dealing with a number of disasters, threats and, yes, supervillains. The first season’s big bad is Morgan Edge, later revealed to be Superman’s half-brother, Tal-Rho who had also been sent to Earth as a child. This perhaps best encapsulates how this show’s changes to the source material can really work. Edge is one of Superman’s enemies from the comics, but the Tal-Rho aspect is original to this show.
Shows like The Flash or Gotham Knights feature characters that resemble their comic book namesakes in name only, but the changes made in Superman & Lois are always in service to the plot and themes of the show. In the case of Edge, this version works perfectly with the family themes that drive the show.
The second season plays with audience expectations by teasing the arrival of Doomsday, only to pull a bait and switch to reveal interpretations of two classic foes: Bizarro and Parasite. The way these characters are reinterpreted is nothing short of masterful, with their stories dovetailing perfectly. In the case of Bizarro, many traditional aspects of his character, especially his appearance are utilised, while other aspects are modified to better fit the tone and themes of the show, especially the family drama aspect. He’s shown to be a Superman from another universe who was more of a celebrity than a hero and was physically and mentally corrupted by his addiction to Kryptonite, tearing his family apart as a result.
Parasite, on the other hand, bears little resemblance to any comic book version of the character, but that’s not a bad thing. Here, our Parasite is Ally Allston, a cult leader who believes that people can be made whole by fusing with their counterparts in Bizarro’s world. Based on one of the many comic book versions of the character, Alexandra Allston, Ally starts off as much more of a metaphorical parasite – praying on vulnerable people to bring them into her fold. However, by the end of the season her name becomes much more literal, as she gains the ability to drain people of their energy. The way the writers took the essence of these characters and reworked them to tell an engaging and cohesive story is brilliant and the perfect example of deviating from the source material for the right reasons.
However, the greatest enemy this Super couple have had to face is sadly all too familiar to the people of our world: Cancer. The third season, which is still ongoing at the time of writing, has seen Lois diagnosed with cancer, which has taken its toll not just on her, but her family. These kinds of storylines are virtually unheard of in superhero media, especially on TV. The show doesn’t gloss over the hardships of Lois’ experience, with the realities of her diagnosis and treatment feeling very grounded and handled with the utmost care. She isn’t saved with Kryptonian science, nor does it feel like a clichéd Hollywood depiction of her struggle. It explores the physical and emotional effects of the disease as well as its impact on her family and relationships.
What’s even more impressive though is how this storyline has tied in with the big bad of the season, Bruno Manheim. In the comics he’s the leader of Intergang – a criminal organisation that uses alien technology – and that remains true here, but with an added wrinkle. Without going into spoilers, the show finds a brilliant way to connect Lois’ investigation of Manheim, to her cancer storyline. It humanises Manheim and makes him so much more complex and three-dimensional, giving him his own family drama that parallels the Kent family nicely.
These character interpretations aren’t going to be for everyone, but there’s no denying how much thought and care has been put into them. On a surface level, they don’t always stay true to the source material, but they do stay true to the heart of the characters and the story. This is a show made with a clear vision and every change is made in service of crafting a strong narrative with believable and relatable characters.
Focusing on the family aspect, not just for Clark and Lois, but for the show’s villains, grounds the characters and makes them relatable. It creates a unique tone and achieves the near-impossible task of making it stand out in a market saturated with superhero content.
To celebrate Superman Day this week, The CW announced that Superman & Lois had been renewed for a fourth season. We can only hope that it has a long and prosperous future ahead, and that perhaps it will pave the way for other superhero shows to follow in its footsteps.