Superman & Lois: Episode 1 – The Man of Steel lands on The CW (Review)

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a…loving father?

Once again, the Powers That Be have taken it upon themselves to create another primetime show centered around the father of all superheroes, Superman! It’s been ten years since Smallville went off the air and in that time some things have changed. The CW has turned into superhero central, with most of its line-up sharing continuity inside the lucrative Arrowverse. After finding success with characters like The Flash, Supergirl, and Black Lightning, Greg Berlanti and his production team finally decided to give ol’ Big Blue his own show.

We begin as most stories with the Man of Steel do, with a rocketship falling to Earth. You all know the basic story by now. Clark Kent grows up in Smallville, Kansas under the watchful eye of his adoptive parents. His father passes away from a heart attack as he reaches adolescence. Clark eventually moves to the city of Metropolis to start a job at the Daily Planet where he meets his future wife, Lois Lane. This is information we all know, and the creators know this. All this is relayed in a quick montage, which climaxes with an appearance of Superman, paying homage  his classic cover appearance on Action Comics #1, holding a green sedan and wearing a costume mimicking the one he wore in the classic Fleischer cartoons. By doing this, the creators are sending a clear message that they know, understand, and respect the history of the character.

At this point, one could imagine the show moving forward a year or so to get us to the status quo of Clark and Lois at the Daily Planet, while Superman fights crime on the streets of Metropolis. This is what this writer was led to believe, thinking this show would be a 2020s Arrowverse update of Lois & Clark, which ran on ABC for four seasons. Instead, we hop back into montage mode and continue our journey through the years as Clark Kent narrates his life. Eventually, he started dating Lois, ended up revealing his secret identity, and proposing to her at the entrance of the Fortress of Solitude. They have twins named Jonathan and Jordan, after Clark’s two fathers. The show leaps forward about 15 more years, to when the twins are in their teens. We learn quickly that although Jonathan is as much the golden boy quarterback that we could imagine Superman’s son to be, the other child, Jordan, suffers from anxiety problems.

All of this occurs within approximately the first five minutes of the show. On the one hand, it’s clumsy and rushed. And yet, it tells you everything you need to know quickly and succinctly so the show proper can actually begin. It can also be a little disorienting to watch the Superman mythos be simultaneously honored and tweaked. When we, the general audience, picture the status quo of Superman, it usually stops either before or after he and Lois get married, if that, so it can be a little weird to watch them date, get engaged, get married, have twins, and then go forward another 15 years, in the space of two minutes. As someone who was expecting something more in this traditional vein, I was dreading the appearance of two teenage sons as regular characters.

But I digress. Once we get past this opening montage, and the show proper can begin, everything is OK. As I said, Superman is about twenty years deep into his career. He has continued his never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way, in more ways than one. His father-in-law, General Sam Lane, is able to call Superman into a situation using a nifty device that emits a super-sonic sound. Sometime in the past twenty years, General Lane learned of Clark’s little secret double life, and encourages Clark to let his kids in on the secret, as well. Clark isn’t so sure it’s the right time.

We get a peek at the Kent’s home life in Metropolis, living in a two-story brownstone. In his everyday guise as Clark, we witness as he fumbles from room to room, trying to dispel any notion that he could possibly be confused with the Man of Steel. He walks in on Jonathan Skyping with a pretty girl and it takes him just a little too long to get the message to leave the room. He then moves on to Jordan, playing Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe on his video game console, listening to music just a little too loudly. “You playing as Superman?” Clark asks, pride noticeably swelling in his voice. “Nah, Superman’s boring,” Jordan answers. Jordan is upset with Clark because he missed family therapy that very night. To be fair, he was busy saving the world as Superman, but Jordan doesn’t know that yet. No matter what he does, Clark seems to have lost that connection with his kids. His time as Superman seems to be making him kind of an absent presence in their lives as they reach young adulthood.

The next day brings even more bad news. The Daily Planet has just been bought by rich industrialist Morgan Edge, who’s begun cleaning the paper of all the dead wood, including Clark Kent himself. Lois, being the star reporter that she is, gets to keep her job. Clark is flabbergasted by this, but begins to look on the upside of being able to spend more time with his kids. With this sudden change comes another, as Ma Kent passes away at the farm in Smallville. In a touching moment, Clark flies to Smallville soon after he gets the phone call. He finds the doctor there, but it’s already too late. With all the speed in the world, there was nothing he could do. Soon, Clark and family find themselves bound to Smallville to bury the late Mrs. Kent.

At the funeral, Clark and Lois are greeted by his old high school sweetheart Lana Lang, along with her family. The kindly Lana is married to a firefighter named Kyle and they have a daughter named Sarah, who is the same age as the twins. Where Lana is kindly and warm, Kyle is an all around douchebag. A veritable “hick” who looks down on these “big city folks” who “abandon” the rural dustbins that they spawn from. It’s clear that he knows about Clark from Lana spinning stories about him. Kyle is a jerk, and he’s designed to be a jerk. Whereas 10 years ago, I might have sympathized with someone like Kyle’s feelings about life and society, I now see it for the thinly veiled contempt for minorities and extreme self-loathing it is. It’s not that much of a stretch to imagine Kyle storming the Capitol building to overthrow the government.

But I digress. Sarah is a bit of a wild child. She’s a little exuberant, but with a noticeable chip on her shoulder, presumably from her dysfunctional home life. Both Jordan and Jonathan have a slight infatuation with Sarah. Where Jonathan tries overly hard to ingratiate himself with her, the withdrawn Jordan manages to gain her favor, and score her digits. The three make plans to meet up at a local teen party later but before that happens, an accident occurs. Some steel pipes accidentally fall on the twins but miraculously neither of them get injured. They’re both perfectly fine. Everyone sees this as a lucky break, except for Clark & Lois, who both know this means one or both of their kids might have some Superman genes.

Clark and Lois realize that it’s time to finally come clean to the twins about what their dad really does for a living. The twins are in a state of shock when they find out. Jordan doesn’t take it well at all, and runs off to the party to meet with Sarah. There, Sarah opens up to Jordan about an attempt at suicide via some pills. They share a tender moment, which turns into a kiss. Unfortunately, this gets spotted by Sarah’s boyfriend, a much larger, stronger individual than Jordan. Just when it looks like Jordan is about to get the beating of his life, his latent heat vision emerges, just in time to distract everyone at the party. This confirms that it was Jordan, not the quarterback Jonathan, who has inherited his father’s abilities.

Eventually, Lois and Clark come to an epiphany that Jordan (and Jonathan) could use more parenting from Clark, especially now that Jordan has powers. This leads to the decision to move the family from their Metropolis apartment to the old Kent farm. There, Clark can focus on raising his children, helping Jordan with his new powers, and find some fulfillment of his own, in somewhat isolated privacy. Both Jordan and Jonathan take this news shockingly well. It’s to the show’s credit that it acknowledges this presumably argumentative discussion will happen off-screen, but we know that the decision has been made. The family will take up residence at the Kent farm.

I thought this was a very effective and well-made pilot. Every actor seems to nail their part immediately. Taylor Hoechlin is fantastic as Superman, and doubly so as Clark Kent. Elizabeth Tulloch plays a great Lois Lane. The twins, played by Jordan Elsass and Alex Garfin, were very compelling in their roles. They were the aspect of the show I was dreading the most when this episode started, but I was won over to them within a few minutes of screentime. The show has the makings of sort-of an inverted Smallville, where Clark is now the father dispensing wise advice to his own teenage sons. As a fan of that classic WB program, I’m excited to see where this goes. One of the ultimate flaws of Smallville was its reluctance to have “flights or tights”, and it’s clear that this show isn’t afraid to have Superman in his own show, even if he is missing the red trunks.

Stray Observations:

-The other major subplot which will carry through past this episode involves an individual messing with nuclear power plants across the county. General Lane has Superman investigate this, and they find some Kryptonian writing. Eventually, Superman encounters an individual in some battle armor and they duke it out for a bit, with even some Kryptonite getting used, before this individual gets away. Given the Kryptonian writing, I suspected this might be General Zod, or some riff on him, but it turns out this is actually a “Captain Luthor”, and the battle armor is another riff on his iconic “warsuit”, first seen in Action Comics #544.

-This Luthor also happens to be black, if that matters to you. With the arrival of Superman: The Animated Series on HBOMax, I’ve seen discussion on social media about the confusion of Luthor’s race in that show. Lots of individuals think that Luthor on TAS is supposed to black, despite the fact that he has the same skin color as Superman. The confusion probably stems from the way Luthor’s lips are drawn, which was an effort to give him a more Greek looking appearance in the vein of Telly Savalas, and the creators of the show have stated that Luthor is white. This Captain Luthor presented here is 100% definitively black. Although, I’m not sure if the show’s first role of color being a supervillain is as progressive as it could be.

-In a weird almost coincidence, Jordan Elass portrays Jonathan Kent, instead of Jordan. Also, for anyone curious, the character of Jonathan Samuel Kent has been a major character in the Superman comics for about 6 years now. He ultimately shares nothing in common with the Jonathan Kent of this show, apart from the name and birth parents.

-Jordan is a brand new character who doesn’t have a comics counterpart. Assuming his middle name is Elliot, Jordan Elliot would be a clever reference to Superman’s Kryptonian dad, Jor-El. Famously, “Jordan Elliot” was the identity Superman adopted after de-powering himself in the classic “Whatever happened to the Man of Tomorrow?,” written by Watchmen scribe Alan Moore.

-Lana Lang and, by extension, her family do not know that Clark Kent is Superman. I just thought I would point this out for clarification since, depending on the continuity, Lana does or does not know the secret. If Kyle ever finds out, God help us all.

-The party that Sarah invites the twins to happens outside the old Shuster mines. This is a reference to Joe Shuster, the co-creator and original artist of Superman.

-Toward the beginning, when Jordan was playing Mortal Kombat, he was playing as Raiden.

-I really like these devices everyone uses to summon Superman in a jiffy. I guess in our modern world you could just text him, but these are more fun. They’re an homage to Jimmy Olsen’s famous signal watch, which he could use to summon his pal Superman whenever he needed or wanted to.

Next time: It’s the first day of school for Jonathan and Jordan, and it looks like Jor-El might be one of their teachers!