Superman & Lois: Season 3 Review

NOTE: Some spoilers from throughout the third season of, “Superman & Lois” are present in this review



With The Flash having now been retired, and planned spin-off series, Justice U being killed in the crib, The CW has officially bade farewell to their longstanding shared DC TV universe, the Arrowverse. Following standalone DC series, Gotham Knights getting axed after just one season to boot, this leaves Superman & Lois as the last DC series standing on The CW at this point. Clearly, Superman & Lois retroactively fleeing the Arrowverse after its second season was the right call, with the critically and commercially appreciated superhero family drama managing to eke out a Season 4 renewal at The CW in the end, after DC Studios co-president, James Gunn previously assured that the series would be allowed to continue for one or two more seasons, if The CW willed it. Those prospective one or two seasons likely mark the deadline before The CW loses its Superman license regardless, no doubt on account of Gunn’s own big screen reboot, Superman: Legacy launching DC Studios’ all-new, fully-unified ‘DCU’ canon to moviegoing audiences properly in 2025.

I’m very glad that Superman & Lois is getting a stay of execution as well. It continues to stand as an exceptionally mature series that no longer needs the Arrowverse to maintain its appeal. That mature, challenging storytelling continued to come to the forefront throughout Season 3 as well, even as new CW owner, Nexstar’s budget-slashing became fairly evident throughout these latest 13 episodes. Gone are the cosmic threats and alternate dimensions that menaced the Kent family throughout Superman & Lois’ first two seasons. Instead, Season 3 is built around two very human threats, with the first being the tangible enemy of Bruno Mannheim and Intergang, even if the latter barely had a presence this season, sadly. The second however is something astonishingly down-to-earth and genuinely relatable in all its terror and uncertainty; Lois gets diagnosed with stage 3 inflammatory breast cancer.

Giving Lois cancer is an incredibly big swing for Superman & Lois, as it leaves this larger-than-life journalist powerhouse feeling more humanized and vulnerable than she’s no doubt ever been in the history of DC media. That’s pretty impressive for a character that’s been defined as one of the most famous damsels-in-distress in pop culture, even after her modern, feminist-approved makeover as a brilliant, Pulitzer-winning bombshell. With Lois now functioning as a more down-to-earth, small-town wife and mother on Superman & Lois however, receiving a cancer diagnosis in her early 40’s is something that feels all too real, creating an astonishingly human threat that even Superman is helpless to stop. The fact that Clark lost both of his adoptive parents to similar human causes in this universe only further heightens how impeccably scared and helpless Clark understandably feels throughout much of this season.

Another inspired big swing by Superman & Lois during its third season is Lois befriending another cancer patient named Peia, who is later revealed to be the dying wife of Bruno Mannheim, ostensibly this season’s big bad, and more on that in a moment. Peia is a loose reinvention of DC Comics villain, Onomatopoeia, and a very loose one at that! Not only is Onomatopoeia a man in DC Comics lore, but he’s also a non-powered enemy of Green Arrow, not Superman. Superman & Lois’ take on this character not only gender swaps the villain into being a woman, but also makes her a metahuman with sonic powers, whose only tangible link to her DC Comics inspiration is her strange costume. This is a very unusual choice, considering that Superman already has a separate villain with sound manipulation powers in his DC Comics rogues gallery (Silver Banshee, who appeared in both Smallville and Supergirl, two of The CW’s own legacy Superman Family shows), but perhaps Peia was the product of a licensing issue. Onomatopoeia is no doubt left over from The CW’s Green Arrow license (this DC villain is one of Green Arrow’s few recurring enemies from DC Comics lore that was never featured on Arrow throughout its run), and the network likely just needed a metahuman threat for this storyline, so they probably stitched one together from whatever flagging DC licenses they had left at this point.

“Giving Lois cancer is an incredibly big swing for Superman & Lois, as it leaves this larger-than-life journalist powerhouse feeling more humanized and vulnerable than she’s no doubt ever been in the history of DC media.”

Regardless, Peia and Bruno create a strong complement to the cancer struggle that Lois and Clark face throughout this season. Bruno Mannheim himself is an established nemesis of the Superman Family in DC Comics lore, after all, and his incarnation on Superman & Lois being a successful, powerful crime lord overseeing struggling Metropolis neighbourhood, Hob’s Bay creates a nicely interpretive baddie with more than a few emotional layers. Those emotional layers get particularly complicated after Natalie Irons inadvertently falls for Bruno’s and Peia’s son, Matteo as well, who is smartly not revealed as a Mannheim progeny until the latter half of this season. This star-crossed relationship in turn creates a good excuse to pull the Irons family into the battle over Bruno building increasingly unstable and temporary cures for Peia, whose cancer is progressing past the rate of treatment. The resulting collateral damage naturally breeds new villains that create issues for both Metropolis and Smallville, eventually challenging Lois in turn by having her, “Cancer friend” turn out to be the enemy in hers and her husband’s midst.

The climax of Superman eventually having to fly a dying Peia away from Metropolis after Bruno’s ultimate cure destabilizes her, and renders her powers out of control, would have served as a fitting conclusion for this season as well, one resulting in Bruno agreeing to go to prison for his crimes, and Matteo having to start a new life without either of his parents, losing Natalie in turn. It’s a bittersweet, effective ending that also sees Lois beating her cancer, though losing her breasts as a consequence, something that also initially threatens her ability to be intimate with her husband. The problem is, this battle against the Mannheim’s and two separate cancer diagnoses only spans eleven episodes of Season 3, leaving two final episodes to introduce a new threat for the formerly-uncertain Season 4; Superman Family arch-nemesis, Lex Luthor.

The Mannheim family ultimately serving as a narrative trojan horse for this universe’s Lex Luthor sometimes feels a bit irksome, considering that it undermines such a smartly human and emotionally riveting threat to the Kent family, not just Superman and the DOD. This isn’t an issue with Luthor himself however, as Michael Cudlitz takes over an all-new live-action Lex Luthor incarnation for Superman & Lois, a scorned billionare sociopath that the Mannheim’s forged evidence against in order to get him safely sent to prison, after a wrongful conviction that Lois’ reporting helped ensure, only for the truth to eventually come to light and set Luthor free. Cudlitz’s especially savage Luthor marks easily one of the best results from Superman & Lois vacating the Arrowverse at this point, where Jon Cryer portrayed the Arrowverse’s Lex Luthor as a campier, more animated villain on Supergirl. The problem is that Superman & Lois’ Lex Luthor isn’t given enough room to breathe as an arch-villain yet, instead being awkwardly shoehorned into this season’s last two episodes, where he does admittedly make a hell of a lethal impression (thanks largely to Cudlitz’s excellent performance), but nonetheless demands that viewers come back for Season 4 to see his true agenda.

That’s the main thing working against Superman & Lois’ otherwise generally good third season; Its ending is rough. This doesn’t feel like a true issue with the series’ writing however. Instead, it’s almost certainly a consequence of Nexstar wanting to hack the show’s budget to pieces, something that’s been more or less overtly confirmed by Superman & Lois dropping almost half of its leads to recurring or guest status in Season 4, and shortening the upcoming season to just 10 episodes as well. This results in a very clumsy Season 3 finale in particular, one that sees Luthor inexplicably turn the now-revived Bizarro into this universe’s Doomsday for an end-season cliffhanger (weirdly pulling the same trick that the big screen DCEU pulled by purposing its Doomsday out of another Superman villain’s corpse), while many of the human characters were faced with major changes to their status quo; Kyle and Chrissy become pregnant from their affair, John Henry and Natalie are faced with a move to Metropolis under the DOD, Lana hooks up with John Henry, no doubt paving the way for her own move to Metropolis, and General Lane is kidnapped and seemingly killed by an online date working undercover for Luthor. This all leaves Superman & Lois’ storytelling scrambling to contrive reductions and exits for most of its lead cast, who may or may not end up being important during Season 4, especially after Dylan Walsh and his wife seemingly already confirmed that General Lane has been written out of the show at this point, and won’t appear at all next season. Needless to say, if this is true, then General Lane got a very awkward, thankless exit from Superman & Lois.

Superman & Lois’ Lex Luthor isn’t given enough room to breathe as an arch-villain yet.”

It also doesn’t help that more of The CW’s usual soapy storytelling started to infect a few too many episode storylines for Superman & Lois this season. Most of the material surrounding the Mannheim family, Lois’ cancer and Lana’s new tenure as Smallville’s mayor was pretty good, but the initially strained focus of the series’ Season 3 character arcs also leads to some very contrived drama here and there. Jonathan’s issues with Candice continue most notably, but they’re ultimately forgotten about as the series instead quickly pivots to making Jonathan a firefighting apprentice to Kyle. Likewise, Jordan becomes extra prickly this season, after Clark desperately tries to rein in his approval-hungry son, something that predictably spills into Jordan’s and Sarah’s friendship becoming strained in the wake of their breakup.

Perhaps it’s somewhat understandable then that Nexstar wants to trim Superman & Lois’ main cast next season, because the show didn’t seem to know what to do with Sarah, Chrissy or John Henry most notably throughout the bulk of Season 3. It felt like these characters simply meandered between storylines of varying quality, without much of a core arc that went anywhere of note during this season. On top of that, Jordan’s clashes with Clark and Jonathan alike over popularity, recognition, and the use of his powers quickly strained believability, considering that Jordan has always been awkward and underappreciated in his social circles, but never to the point where he’d compromise the family secret to prop himself up, least of all after the lessons learned from the Inverse World’s Kent family!

Fortunately, this occasionally clunky melodrama didn’t manage to overtake Superman & Lois’ stronger storylines in Season 3, even if the series has started to settle into a more recognizable family drama formula here. Nexstar’s extra strict budget constraints meant that we got to enjoy less super-powered action in Season 3 at times, but overall, Superman & Lois still stands as one of the best CW shows on offer as of its third season (even if that’s a very low bar, considering that Nexstar has killed most of The CW’s scripted programming over the past couple of years), worthy of carrying on even after every other DC drama on the network has now been retired. I’m worried that the series’ further-shrinking budget will continue to hinder Superman & Lois’ upcoming fourth season, even with the exciting promise of Cudlitz’s monstrous Luthor becoming a series main, but the family-driven heart at the core of the storytelling still nonetheless beats strong throughout the show’s latest 13 episodes. Plus, I suppose viewers should be thankful that we’re getting a fourth season of Superman & Lois at all, considering that DC Studios’ tightening-grip on DC’s character licenses, and Nexstar wanting to pull out of the superhero drama game entirely, both threatened to leave this fan-favourite show ending on a cliffhanger, a fate that it only narrowly dodged.

I guess that’s the power of Lex Luthor. Hopefully, we can at least look forward to an epic clash between Superman and his iconic archenemy next season then, before Superman & Lois’ stay of execution is inevitably up.

Superman & Lois: Season 3 Review
Superman & Lois' third season is occasionally hampered by budget constraints and some contrived melodrama, but a bold cancer diagnosis for Lois, and a refreshingly human threat in the Mannheim family, help to keep the series' heart beating strong.
Reader Rating0 Votes
The Good Stuff
Lois' cancer diagnosis is a bold, emotional threat to the Kent family
The Mannheim family present a starkly humanized conflict
Cudlitz's Lex Luthor makes a powerful first impression
The Not-so-Good Stuff
Clumsy character subplots, especially towards the end of the season
Not enough Lex Luthor
Budget constraints under Nexstar are becoming more evident