NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Superman & Lois”, including the true identity of Captain Luthor, are present in this review
Superman & Lois may not have had the most exemplary return to the airwaves last week, but even one of its lesser episodes still feels like it’s currently running circles around the rest of the Arrowverse. That feeling became all the more apparent as the series returned to truly top form this week. “Man of Steel” supposedly begins with an emphasis on Jordan, as his freshly-activated super-hearing continues to incapacitate him, leaving him completely unable to interact with society. Despite that initial hook however, this episode much more heavily details the ongoing mystery surrounding Captain Luthor, who definitely isn’t who he appears to be!
The Captain Luthor arc has been one of Superman & Lois’ most mysterious, and most exciting storylines. After all, Luthor comes from a parallel Earth where he’s married to Lois Lane, and fought off an invasion of evil Kryptonians that was seemingly led by a twisted doppelganger of Superman. I previously speculated that this version of the character may be an Arrowverse adaptation of the heroic Alexander Luthor from DC Comics’ parallel Earth-3, which would nicely separate him from the Arrowverse’s proper Lex Luthor, played by Jon Cryer on Supergirl. Even I wasn’t prepared for the true implications behind Captain Luthor’s actual identity though! That twist is brilliantly built up and executed throughout this episode, as Lois finally confronts Luthor about his false identity, and what he’s actually doing in Smallville.
Meanwhile, a separate problem with Morgan Edge and Leslie Larr continues to unfold from Lana’s perspective, after Lois sees Lana infiltrating Edge’s operation in earnest. When Edge tasks Lana with finding several recruits for his new Smallville initative, Lana ends up reuniting with an old friend as one of the job applicants, a friend that she attempts to steer away from Edge’s gig. Edge even suggests that Kyle take on the job that he’s courting prospects for, something that Lana similarly tries to stealthily dismiss. When Lana’s old friend, Emily is hired for Edge’s mysterious job nonetheless however, there’s an ominous hint that Edge may be aware of Lana’s deception. Worse still is the apparent confirmation that Edge’s mystery ‘job’ is building Subjekts with his new stash of X-Kryptonite. No, I didn’t misspell that. “Subjekt” really is spelt with a ‘k’ in this case, because it’s meant to be a reference to Subjekt-17, a rather obscure foe of Superman in DC Comics lore.
The idea behind Subjekt-17 is that he was a huge alien monster that was captured and experimented on from birth by Soviet scientists, eventually escaping to wreak havoc, which ultimately provokes Superman’s attention. The super-strong thug that attacked Lois a few episodes ago was Subjekt-11, so it stands to reason that these next five job candidates will eventually become Subjekt-12 through Subjekt-16, likely priming Subjekt-17 to later serve as a climactic threat for this season, or potentially later down the line. That’s bad enough, but even worse is Captain Luthor eventually declaring that Edge’s and Leslie’s identical experiments on his Earth eventually provoked the Kryptonian-fueled destruction of his home world, which is exactly why Luthor comes after Edge here, after Edge sends a small supply of X-Kryptonite out into the open to bait his enemies, something that Lois and Clark also run afoul of.
It’s at this point that Lois finally agrees to give Luthor what he wants– A meeting with Superman. As viewers can no doubt predict however, this is a trap, and eventually leads to Clark being disabled by red sun lamps. All the while, Lois keeps coming up empty upon trying to investigate Luthor’s origins, after Clark happens to overhear Luthor’s A.I. refer to him as, “Captain Luthor” during a separate investigation. Consequently, Lois and Clark discussing Lex Luthor and referencing Crisis on Infinite Earths in this episode marks the first time that Superman & Lois has acknowledged the Supergirl canon, and its place in the larger Arrowverse canon. Regardless, it’s not until Lois sends Luthor’s prints off to the DOD that she finally gets a definitive answer about Luthor’s identity, and his connection to Lex Luthor, or, more accurately, his lack thereof.
In a monumentally well-executed twist, one that no doubt hoodwinked a ton of Superman/DC fans, despite many clues staring us all in the face (including the cheeky name of this episode!), Captain Luthor is revealed to not be a Luthor at all! In reality, he’s John Henry Irons, better known by his DC superhero identity, Steel! Not to be confused with the wholly separate Steel, a.k.a. Nate Heywood, on fellow Arrowverse series, Legends of Tomorrow. Steel, as any Superman/DC fan worth their salt knows, is one of Superman’s closest allies and friends in DC Comics lore, first stepping up as a would-be successor to Superman during DC Comics’ famous, “The Death of Superman” arc during the 90’s. Since then, Steel, a brilliant engineer, has assisted in protecting Metropolis throughout DC Comics history, particularly whenever Superman is incapacitated, tied up on Justice League business, or off-world. You may also recall that this character, amazingly enough, got his own live-action feature film in 1997 to boot, where he was played by Shaquille O’Neal, in a widely-panned, enormously unfaithful adaptation that pretty much everyone hates, and not just because Superman was nowhere to be found in it!
Like I said, the twist behind Captain Luthor being John Henry Irons is impeccably executed. John’s familiar battle suit looked just enough like a Lex-O-Suit to fool Superman/DC fans, one that he apparently re-purposed from an actual Lex-O-Suit that still had an A.I. programmed explicitly for Lex Luthor in it (which explains the, “Captain Luthor” misdirect quite effectively), but when John calls his iconic hammer to his side after disabling Superman, there can be no doubt about his true identity! Conveniently, the John Henry Irons of Earth-Prime also died six years ago, which helps to explain why he didn’t appear to have a social media presence. As it turns out, John literally is a ghost on the Arrowverse’s home Earth! Well, in reality, he’s actually a parallel universe doppelganger, as we now know. John even had a daughter with Lois’ doppelganger on his Earth, Natasha “Nat-Bug” Irons (Natasha is John’s niece in DC Comics lore, but this change to being his daughter makes sense for the Arrowverse, where John is uniquely married to Lois Lane on his Earth), and they both happened to witness their Earth’s Lois get killed by Superman during a newscast, right when she reveals to the world that Kryptonians can be stopped with Kryptonite. I guess it’s possible that Supergirl and her related TV canon don’t exist on John’s home Earth, which could explain why this was news to John’s home world at the time.
There are still a few questions surrounding John, not least among them being just how the hell he crossed dimensions to land on Earth-Prime to begin with! Fortunately, thanks to Jordan’s super-hearing being able to identify when Clark is in trouble, Clark’s sons are able to burst in and ram John with the Kent family truck, which knocks him out, and allows Jonathan to take out the red sun lamps, restoring his father’s powers. This was a surprisingly effective way to end off an otherwise surprisingly understated core arc for Jordan this week, one that’s otherwise spent on another tedious conflict of Jordan mistaking a conversation between Jonathan and Sarah as flirting, before a furious Jonathan chews Jordan out for spying. The show already went over this spying conflict with Clark, so it’s re-treading old ground once again, though fortunately, this episode wisely doesn’t spend too much time dwelling on Jordan’s angst. After all, Superman & Lois doesn’t seem to know what to do with said angst right now.
Overall, “Man of Steel” is another home run for Superman & Lois, returning the series to its best early heights from March. The real twist behind the identity of ‘Captain Luthor’, who turned out to be a beloved DC superhero and Superman Family member the whole time, was absolutely brilliant, as was the way that Jordan was able to utilize his unstable super-hearing in order to save his father right before he’s killed by John Henry Irons’ iconic hammer. Edge’s operation is also continuing to beautifully bring the tension, something that only gets better when Lana gets involved, and predictably fails to protect job candidates she knows from Edge’s evil designs. It’s a shame that the series still doesn’t quite know how to properly utilize Jordan’s struggles for now, but thankfully, Jordan’s lesser plotline isn’t heavily focused on this week, at least beyond providing a good way to bail Clark out from his losing battle with John.
With another piece of Superman & Lois’ wonderfully intriguing Season 1 mystery thus being put into place, the next step is figuring out why John Henry Irons is on Earth-Prime, how he got to Earth-Prime in the first place, and whether the Kryptonian apocalypse he’s been warning about can truly be stopped. Considering John’s lineage in DC Comics lore as well, is there even any way to return him to his own Earth? I’m guessing no, but that’s just fine, because it means that Clark will have a much-needed superhero ally that can help pick up the slack in Metropolis, while Clark himself continues to try and live a quieter life in Smallville.
- Captain Luthor brilliantly revealed to be John Henry Irons/Steel
- Edge's increasingly ruthless tactics, and Lana being drawn into them
- More effectively ominous hints of Clark's evil turn
- Jordan storyline still feels a bit weak