I don’t call myself an expert on many things. I don’t want to sound like an egotistical jerk. But I will absolutely say I know superheroes, having read comics from the mid-80’s forward, been a former co-owner of a comic shop, and having seen just about every comic book hero-based movie and tv show. I will admit I bailed after 10 minutes of that horrific Halle Berry Catwoman, but that’s another issue.
Over years of watching, reading, talking with geek friends, and writing reviews, short stories, and novels about heroes, I’ve noticed a recurring theme. The more random changes you make from the source material, the worse things get. That’s why the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, and the first Iron Man and Captain America movies, worked so well. They respected where they came from. That’s also why Green Hornet, Lone Ranger, Catwoman, and Jonah Hex were all pretty terrible. They made changes on so large a scale the characters weren’t really themselves anymore.
Superman and Lois absolutely respects their source material, and does a great job giving a few changes that work in the modern era without making everything dark, edgy, and mean, or ridiculously saccharine sweet. It manages to be about family and get the tone right for the dynamics, and still have plenty of Super-action. I thought the pilot was fantastic as an adaptation, the start of something new, and continuing what we’ve seen of Lois and Clark from previous Arrrowverse appearances.
The show starts with an opening montage covering Kal-El’s arrival on Earth, some major events in his life, a nice nod to the cover of Action Comics 1 (Superman’s first appearance), a tribute to the early Charles Fleischer cartoons, and more or less setting up the status quo for us. This isn’t an origin story, because really, who doesn’t know at least the outline of Superman’s story? In this version, as we begin, Clark and Lois are married, she knows the secret, they have teenaged twin sons, and Jonathan Kent is sadly years dead. The twins are Jonathan, named of course for Jonathan Kent, who is the tall, blond, popular jock, and Jordan, reportedly named for Jor-El, who has social anxiety issues that aren’t wonderfully well defined.
Leaping in to current events, Superman helps save a malfunctioning nuclear plant with several clever uses of his powers. One change for the better since Crisis, Superman now gets along with General Sam Lane, Lois’ father, and even works with him and gave the General a signal device to contact him. Lane and Superman share some concerns about this, and other, incidents at nuclear facilities recently. They even have some friendly family talk before the Man of Steel flies off. Once he gets home, Clark gets an update from Lois in regards to family developments. Jonathan made quarterback on the school team, the first freshman to do so in years if not ever, and Clark missed Jordan’s therapy appointment. Clark might be one of the most powerful heroes ever, but it’s pretty clear who is keeping the family running, and it’s not him.
Clark congratulates Jonathan, who is video-chatting with his girlfriend, and then tries to talk to Jordan. That goes less well, between loud music, teen angst, and his focus on a video game (amusingly, one of the Injustice games, that feature a future, dictatorial Superman). Back in the hall, Clark sees he missed a call from his mother, sighs, and leans against the wall. The Last Son of Krypton is not having a great day. The call with Martha Kent is about her gently suggesting he spend more time with his family, which is particularly difficult for a world-renown hero with so many responsibilities. A nice touch was the background of Clark’s end of the conversation: there was a small chalkboard that had a long To Do list on it which mentioned various names important to the Superman mythos, like his creators and past actors.
The next morning has a hurried breakfast, brotherly bickering, and a serious discussion. Lois really wants to tell the kids the truth about who Clark is, but Clark is opposed. They both make good points, and you can tell it’s not the first time they’ve had this discussion. At the Daily Planet, the modern world intrudes again and we hear about billionaire Morgan Edge having bought the newspaper, and the layoffs that are happening throughout the industry. Clark’s day gets a lot worse as he gets laid off and then gets a call about his ailing mother. He gets there too late, but we do get a cameo of Martha’s doctor being played by Gates McFadden, best known as Dr. Beverly Crusher of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
As they get set for the funeral and the aftermath, we see that Smallville, along with many other small farming towns, is not doing well in the modern era. The town has definitely looked better. General Lane has joined Clark and Lois, as has Clark’s childhood friend Lana Lang. Lana is married to an obnoxious fire chief, but their daughter Sarah is nice enough, and friendly to Jonathan and Jordan. The kids chat, there’s some well done brotherly teasing, and talk of some router problems for the wifi. The twins are worried because the router is in the barn. Anyone who has seen enough Superman stories knows why Clark has told them to stay out of the barn. Lana is friendly, almost gushing, to Clark and Lois, while her husband Kyle is less so. Pete Ross is usually part of young Clark’s stories, but aside from a brief mention later, he doesn’t turn up. Morgan Edge’s mysterious reach extends even here, as he’s apparently doing some work on the closed coal mine, named after Superman co-creator Joe Shuster. Lois and Kyle don’t get along at all, and Edge is their current bone of contention. On her way out, Lana makes a disturbing comment about the Kent Farm and the bank Lana works at.
Out in the forbidden barn, Sarah demonstrates the different knowledges you need, city vs. country. She’s a lot more friendly to Jordan than to Jonathan, which is new and different for both the Kent twins. In one of the few examples of questionable writing for the episode, the router is improbably high up in the barn, especially when you remember that Martha lived out here alone. Jordan, possibly trying to impress Sarah, climbs up to reset it. Catastrophe ensues, involving falling pipes, a significant fall, and Sarah doing a Lassie “Timmy fell down the well” impression. Clark is, of course, the first one to get there, although he did a really impressive job controlling himself. Not only are the twins fine, they immediately default to blame-the-brother mode, which is a sign that all is well. This chaos interrupted Clark musing about something he overheard his mother say just before her death.
Later, the twins have been checked out and might have “mild concussions” but are otherwise unharmed. Jordan has been relatively passive to this point, but now he’s like a dog with a bone. He knows something weird happened, he wonders why Clark always tells them to stay out of the barn, and he won’t let go. Clark and Lois talk on the porch, disagreeing again about telling the kids about Clark’s powers, reflecting on their problems, and then wondering why General Lane is coming back. As it turns out, the General comes bearing news of another incident, some strange pictures, and asking for Clark’s help. Lois won’t hear of it, citing the family’s need for Clark. It’s a great example of the dilemma of his abilities: what’s more important, being with his kids or stopping a supervillain? One might almost say that with great power comes great responsibility, but I think that’s someone else’s line. The General and Lois bicker over this while Clarks looks torn and miserable. Which I get.
The next day, Lois and Clark go see Lana at the bank. They get some news that’s disturbing, enough to make you proud, and a great example of another serious flaw with modern society. Clark is upset about the ramifications of what they learn, while Lois smells a mystery and starts to dig in. Batman is DC’s greatest detective, but Lois is pretty damn formidable herself. While the parents are away, the kids will play, or, in this case, check out the barn. Anyone who has seen a few Superman stories knows what’s going to happen, but what I was thinking about was that Jordan was very clearly taking after his mother. He wanted to know what was going on, and would not stop until he did. Naturally, they find Kal-El’s ship, and it’s a big role reversal as Jonathan freaks out but Jordan keeps pushing to understand it.
Clark’s worries about what he and Lois found out are replaced by new ones as Jordan charges at them as they return, demanding to know what the story is behind the spaceship in the basement. Finally, Clark tells the boys. In a lot of fantasy or sci-fi settings, someone makes an outlandish claim that people won’t believe. However, it’s pretty easy to prove you’re Superman. Jordan doesn’t take the news well, and even Jonathan tells his parents to leave them alone.
The next sequence does a few things well. It shows the strength of Lois and Clark’s relationship, weaves together two scenes smoothly, and introduces several surprises. Clark’s hearing picks up another disaster in the making. Lois reassures him, then tells him to go handle it. As Superman makes a surprising discovery before getting ambushed by a new foe, Jordan finds his way to the party Sarah invited him to. Super-powered combat and surprising claims are interlaced with teenage partying, surprising revelations, bonding, misunderstanding, and unexpected violence. Eventually, both scenes wrap up and the family deals with some new and surprising developments. Clark and Lois come to an important decision, and then Clark manages to actually have a good talk with Jordan, finally.
Lana comes by for an answer about a business proposition, gets a surprising answer, and then is even more taken aback when Lois lays out what she’s discovered so far. I suspect this is going to be a major subplot as the show moves forward. Sarah and Jordan get a chance to talk, and all looks well in spite of some misunderstandings. The brothers get another good scene showing their clear affection for each other, couched in teen smack talk. The parents tell the kids about what they think should happen next, and there’s a decent family bonding scene as they all go tackle a project together. Elsewhere, we get a bit of a hint about who the new enemy in Superman’s life, and it’s surprising. I have a theory or two about at least some of his origin, but I try not to do spoilers.
What I liked: Just about everything. This is Superman, a caring hero who looks out for those around him and protects people, not, oh I don’t know, someone who makes out with his girlfriend in the midst of shattered wreckage he helped create with hundreds of trapped people around him. I’ve enjoyed Tyler Hoechlin’s portrayal of Superman since his first appearance on Supergirl, and he really steps up to the lead role in this. Elizabeth Tulloch’s Lois is fierce, determined, and still manages to care for her family. They show the modern world, but still manage to let Superman’s altruism shine through. The family tone was perfect, especially the interaction of the brothers. Sarah is an interesting character, and I like her scenes with Jordan. There were no bad performances in this. I love that as we learn more, Martha Kent is just as much a hero as her famous son. The many nods to Superman’s history were fantastic.
What I didn’t: Very little. There were a few small omissions l hope get explained later, like Pete Ross and Kara/Supergirl not showing up at an important event. I would have hoped for a slightly different villain than what gets revealed, but they do enough different to make this interesting, especially if what they hinted at is his back story.
I’m giving this a 5 out of 5. This is Superman. And the world needs heroes. Especially today.