NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Superman & Lois” are present in this review
Superman is an interesting case study among live-action adaptations of DC’s flagship superheroes. For starters, Supes is one of the Distinguished Competition’s flagship ‘Big Three’ superheroes, sharing DC’s biggest following and public recognition alongside Batman and Wonder Woman. Despite that however, the Man of Steel has had a strangely hard time translating into the colossal superhero movie market of the 21st Century, failing to headline a reliable film franchise since the Christopher Reeve era’s heyday in the late 70’s and most of the 80’s. Only two live-action standalone Superman movies have emerged since, with the first being the aggressively middling Superman Returns of 2006, an ill-advised attempt to revive the Christopher Reeve canon under new star, Brandon Routh, following Reeve’s death in 2004, and the second being Henry Cavill breakout vehicle, Man of Steel, which may have failed to launch a new Superman movie franchise (at this point anyway), but did at least serve as a commercially successful launch pad for the shared world of most of DC’s modern movies, the DC Extended Universe.
While Warner Bros. continues to struggle with making a modern live-action Superman work on the big screen though, they’ve actually had no issues whatsoever presenting a whole slew of successful live-action Superman portrayals on television, for decades now! Whether it was George Reeves’ wholesome Silver Age Superman of the 1950’s’ The Adventures of Superman, Dean Cain’s romantic, starry-eyed Superman of the 1990’s’ Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, or Tom Welling’s angsty, pre-Superman Clark Kent of 2000’s fan-favourite, Smallville, you don’t have to look far to see plenty of successful Superman-themed formulas made for the small screen. In fact, the innate strength of Superman’s especially successful, longstanding television career can also create a problem as time goes on– How do you keep rebooting Superman for television, without just recycling what former Superman-themed shows have already delivered?
Previously, The CW’s current shared live-action DC TV Universe, the Arrowverse, got around this challenge with Supergirl, placing Superman’s less-famed cousin, Kara Zor-El/Kara Danvers in a lead role, and bumping Clark himself to passing guest appearances, usually in crossover events with other Arrowverse shows. With Supergirl now set to come to an end later this year however, and its take on Superman and his great love, Lois Lane finding their own significant following both within and without the DC fandom, The CW has decided to debut a spin-off of Supergirl, Superman & Lois, ironically coming full circle by placing Supes back in the spotlight, alongside his Pulitzer-crushing wife. The hook in this case is that Clark and Lois are now older than usual, around their early 40’s or so, and have two teenage sons, Jonathan and Jordan, fraternal twins that couldn’t be more different in terms of aptitude and personality. Yes, this is a change from Clark and Lois having just one infant son on Supergirl, with the revision to their family and relationship history being one of numerous consequences caused by the fallout of The CW’s landmark Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover event, and yes, the events of this crossover are important in this first episode for Superman & Lois. Thus, I should probably summarize what the fallout of Crisis on Infinite Earths means for this series, and sorry for the necessity of this long, strange explanation, but it really is important to know:
You see, Supergirl, and by extension, this new show’s version of Clark and Lois, were originally relegated to a separate universe outside of the world comprising The CW’s other Arrowverse shows, a consequence of Supergirl originally airing on CBS, and not moving to The CW until its second season. Kara and Clark could interact with the Arrowverse and participate in its crossovers once Supergirl moved to The CW, but they had to literally cross dimensions to do it, using some weird quantum tech supplied by The Flash’s team. During The CW’s Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover of 2019 and 2020 however, the entire live-action DC Multiverse (i.e. the separate worlds of every live-action DC movie and TV show), was destroyed, and eventually recreated, including the world of the Arrowverse. Through its rebirth however, many elements of the Arrowverse’s characters and history were changed in its resurrected world. One of the biggest changes of course was that the personalities and lore of Supergirl were no longer stuck in a separate universe, and were instead merged into the mainline Arrowverse, thus finally placing The CW’s Superman Family, along with the cast and lore of Supergirl, into the same world as Arrow, The Flash, Batwoman, etc.. at long last! Another consequence of the universal soft reboot that occurred in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths? Clark and Lois had now been parents for over a decade, not just a few months, and now had two sons, not just one. Remember this, because it becomes important on Superman & Lois, right from its first episode!
Fortunately, if all of this Crisis nonsense and shared DC Universe malarkey is making your head hurt, you can at least enjoy most of this premiere for Superman & Lois without being reminded of it. In fact, this super-sized 90-minute first episode for Superman & Lois doesn’t even mention Supergirl, nor any other arm of the Arrowverse, which is a little surprising, though it does make sense to some degree. After all, Superman & Lois is plenty able to stand on its own two feet, without constantly needing to distract viewers with reminders that it’s part of a shared TV universe, and that’s just one of many reasons why this series premiere is a gem! In fact, Superman & Lois has arguably the best, most promising debut of any Arrowverse show since The Flash’s premiere from 2014! It’s an engaging, well-conceived family drama that once again presents a compelling new angle on a live-action Superman for the small screen, and doesn’t necessarily demand that you’re hugely familiar with the Arrowverse, or even merely Supergirl, to enjoy it.
Considering the limited budget of The CW, what’s immediately surprising about Superman & Lois is how polished and surprisingly epic it feels. This is despite the series immediately abandoning the glamourous, fast-paced life of Metropolis as well, in favour of instead setting itself in a dying, corporate-gutted Smallville. Things are definitely strained across the Kent family to boot, with Clark being fired from his usual reporter gig at the Daily Planet right from the get-go, shortly before his adoptive mother, Martha Kent dies of a stroke. Now having lost his job and his surviving adoptive parent, Clark is forced to reckon with his past in Smallville, all while his popular, highly accomplished son, Jonathan, and his anxiety-ridden, sullen and distant other son, Jordan prepare to begin high school. Geez, if it weren’t for Man of Steel and its own surprisingly downbeat, serious-minded take on Superman for the DC Extended Universe movies, you might be shocked to see how surprisingly gloomy Superman & Lois’ introduction can be!
Sure, Superman still does his Superman thing at least, averting a nuclear meltdown in Metropolis before the move to Smallville, and interfacing with Lois’ U.S. Army general father, Sam Lane all the while. Sam not only highly approves of Superman in this case, contrary to some of his other portrayals in DC lore (including his former portrayal on Supergirl, where he was instead played by Glenn Morshower, before Dylan Walsh took up the role for Superman & Lois), but is also fully aware of Clark’s secret identity in the Post-Crisis Arrowverse, and implores him to place saving the world over spending time with his family. This nicely re-interprets the animosity between Sam and Lois, along with providing a new, more understated adversarial relationship between Sam and Clark. This in turn also serves as a key impetus behind Clark’s return to Smallville for Martha’s funeral, where he comes to realize just how much family time he’s lost in the name of being Superman.
Smallville, meanwhile, has undergone its own dour reinvention in the post-Crisis Arrowverse. What formerly appeared to be an idyllic, thriving Kansas community pre-Crisis is now practically a ghost town post-Crisis, with most of the citizens fleeing for greener pastures after corporate interests seize up many of Smallville’s properties and assets. A key figure among these developments is Morgan Edge, another familiar Superman Family antagonist that’s been recast since his stint on Supergirl (though you don’t see Edge in the flesh yet here), and is also indirectly responsible for Clark’s firing from the Daily Planet, effectively setting him up as a human nemesis to Lois. The plight of Smallville is also made known to Clark and Lois through Clark’s childhood sweetheart, Lana Lang, now Lana Lang-Cushing, who married Smallville’s fire chief, Kyle Cushing, with whom she has two daughters, those being older, troubled teen, Sarah Cushing, and younger, outspoken girl, Sophie Cushing.
Immediately, Superman & Lois presents a startlingly grounded, heart-wrenching take on the challenges of both modern small-town America, and the losing battle of trying to parent two teenagers that couldn’t be more different from each other. The innate challenges of Clark’s and Lois’ parenting are also further compounded by the two fretting over whether Jonathan or Jordan may manifest their father’s powers, with Jonathan and his outstanding athletic prowess making him the likely candidate. The perpetually awkward, nervous Jordan meanwhile often gets lost in the shuffle, despite finding his own surprising connection with the angsty, tormented Sarah. One thing leads to another here, and Jonathan appears to manifest invulnerability to physical harm after a barn accident involving Jordan and Sarah, seemingly confirming that he has his father’s powers… Or so it would initially appear.
If there’s one small gripe with how Superman & Lois begins here, it’s the fact that it doesn’t do a great job of masking its pilot episode’s twists, with one exception. After Jonathan and Jordan inevitably start poking around the Kent barn most notably, they inevitably discover Clark’s old spaceship, forcing Clark to finally come clean about the fact that he’s Superman, and thus rendering most of his arguments with Lois to that effect completely pointless. This difficult revelation in turn leads to a sullen Jordan following Sarah to a party over by the town mines, which eventually results in a misunderstanding when Jordan abruptly tries to kiss Sarah, thus provoking her boyfriend, and forcing Jonathan to take a beating for him. Long before this point however, you’ll no doubt guess in advance that it’s actually Jordan who appears to have his father’s powers, which inadvertently activate after Jordan’s fear and panic trigger a blast of heat vision toward Jonathan’s attackers, erupting the gases around the mines, and quickly clearing out the party! Honestly, the dialogue throughout this debut episode just makes it far too obvious that Jonathan is a fake-out, even if it is legitimately interesting to see Superman & Lois invent an all-new son for the Kent family (Jonathan exists in DC Comics lore, where he actually does have his father’s powers, whereas Jordan doesn’t, being purely invented for this show), in turn making this less idealized twin the one that ended up with Kryptonian abilities.
One twist that does work well in this first episode for Superman & Lois however is the arch-villain that the series sets up for the Kent family. Remember how I said that Crisis on Infinite Earths becomes important for this episode’s climax? Well, after Clark discovers microscopic etchings of Kryptonian symbols at the power plant disasters he fixes for Sam, seemingly calling Clark out as a fraud, and even using his Kryptonian birth name, Kal-El, he ends up directly challenged by a mysterious individual in a super suit. This super suit may look very familiar to avid DC fans too, or even just regular viewers of Supergirl. The stranger in question battles Clark in space, complete with an unscheduled scrap in China (nicely showing off the potential of Superman & Lois as a globetrotting series for Superman!), but he eventually gets away after stabbing Clark with Kryptonite. During the final seconds of this episode, this stranger is then revealed to be one ‘Captain Luthor’, seemingly the familiar bald-headed arch-nemesis of Superman, Lex Luthor! But wait, isn’t there already a Lex Luthor in the Arrowverse, one with his own history with this version of Superman?! Indeed, there is! Jon Cryer portrays that character on Supergirl right now, in fact! So, how the hell did we end up with two Lex Luthor’s in the Arrowverse?!
Well, again, enter Crisis on Infinite Earths. First, we don’t directly have confirmation that ‘Captain Luthor’ is ‘Lex Luthor’. He could just as easily be a sibling of Lex, a descendant of Lex, or something else of that nature. What we can ascertain from the dialogue between Clark and Captain Luthor however is that Captain Luthor is not from Earth-Prime, the new setting of The CW’s Arrowverse shows, including Superman & Lois. Captain Luthor instead claims that he’s from a different Earth several times while battling Clark, one that Superman & Lois’ showrunners have pretty much confirmed is a pre-Crisis Earth that was destroyed during Crisis on Infinite Earths. Captain Luthor was somehow displaced on Earth-Prime, seemingly a last survivor of his former pre-Crisis Earth. Fortunately, the Arrowverse has already explained how this could be possible, specifically on Batwoman, which previously featured a character from the pre-Crisis Earth-99 being accidentally displaced into the Arrowverse’s new Earth-Prime setting. In summation, Captain Luthor is a Luthor from some unknown parallel universe, one that may or may not be Lex (although his bald appearance and recognizable Lex-O-Suit do seem to indicate that he likely is some altered version of Lex), and he appears to have the same deep-rooted hatred of Superman as virtually any Lex from across the DC Multiverse, after many years of battling a different Superman on his own Earth.
Just as Morgan Edge is meant to serve as the key nemesis of Lois within the realms of Superman & Lois’ more grounded human conflicts, Captain Luthor appears to be a specter representing the challenges and potential failures of Clark trying to be Superman while simultaneously trying to be a good, present father to his two sons. In fact, one theory about Captain Luthor’s identity that I propose is that he’s not Lex Luthor per se, but Alexander Luthor, a heroic version of Lex Luthor from an alternate Earth where Superman became an all-powerful tyrant in DC Comics lore. If this is true, it would explain why he’s picking a fight with the Arrowverse’s Superman, namely because the Superman of his Earth possibly suffered a family tragedy, or simply broke down trying to balance his double life, and went mad with power, forcing Alexander Luthor to battle him, and eventually put him down for the good of his Earth. If Alexander Luthor suddenly got dumped on a different Earth with its own Superman, one that possibly has a similar family situation, it stands to reason that he would assume the worst, and be ready to once again battle and defeat this new Superman, before he can once again conquer the planet. Hell, it’s even possible that Jordan is the ‘Superman’ that Alexander Luthor may have had to battle on his Earth, and that he may be preparing to take on Jordan by battling Clark. After all, Captain Luthor confirms that he has bad history with the Superman of his Earth, but not that he and Clark have directly battled each other.
This is all speculation on my part, and it may or may not be true in the end. Still, the very fact that I have this much promising lore to dig into right from this show’s first episode, and dig into with enthusiasm, is the biggest testament to why Superman & Lois feels like such a strong, refreshing addition to the Arrowverse catalogue. This first episode presents a deep, thought-provoking new take on an older, family-oriented Clark Kent and Lois Lane, one that isn’t dependent on being part of the Arrowverse, but one that nonetheless feels primed to co-exist with the likes of The Flash, Batwoman and the rest, once it’s established enough to safely interact with them. This is an exciting new series, but also a grounded one, having style to spare (Clark’s heat vision is red again, woo hoo!), but not to the point where it distracts from the rich, charming characters. This series premiere can be a bit dense for the uninitiated at times, granted, especially when the predictable storytelling can lead to a couple of dry spots in the pacing, but Superman & Lois nonetheless soars as yet another interesting new TV take on the Man of Steel, and in this case, his family. It’s also primed to usher in a superb new era for the Arrowverse overall, uniting classic DC sensibilities with an inspired new 2020’s flavour, one that has plenty of potential to appeal to audiences of all ages.
- Exceptional character development throughout the cast
- Grounded, smart small town drama
- Strong production values with just the right amount of action
- Predictable plotting creates some slow spots in the narrative