In the opening minutes of the new CW series Superman & Lois, Superman (Tyler Hoechlin) narrates the story of his life so far. As a baby, he was sent to Earth from the dying planet Krypton by his father Jor-El. He was raised in Smallville, Kansas by kind-hearted farmers Jonathan and Martha Kent, who helped him understand how best to use his super-powers. He became a reporter for the Daily Planet newspaper in Metropolis, where he fell in love with superstar journalist Lois Lane (Elizabeth Tulloch). They got married and had twin sons: the athletic Jonathan (Jordan Elsass) and the socially awkward Jordan (Alexander Garfin).
This recap is fast-paced, filled with moments meant to remind longtime Superman fans why they love the Man of Steel, from a visual reference to the first Action Comics cover to a callback to Christopher Reeves’ bumbling Clark Kent in the first Superman movie. It’s a mini-salute to all the artists, writers, editors, actors, directors and producers who helped shape the mythology of one of the most famous superheroes.
But after the backstory and a short scene of Superman saving a nuclear power facility, under the guidance of Lois’s high-ranking military officer dad, General Samuel Lane (Dylan Walsh), the tone changes. The hero comes home to find one of his sons too busy video-chatting to talk to him, while the other is playing a violent video game where he plays a supervillain, clobbering Superman. When asked why, the teen shrugs and says, “Superman’s boring.”
Is Superman boring? There was a time when that question would’ve been preposterous. In the middle of the 20th century, Superman comics were so popular that publishers pumped out new superheroes by the hundreds, in an attempt to compete. In the ’70s, the first Superman film proved the superhero genre could work on the big screen without coming off as too campy. The character is still splashed across children’s pillowcases and pajamas.
But in the recent DC Universe movies, Superman has felt like a second-stringer to the likes of Batman and Wonder Woman — and heck, even Aquaman. On the CW’s DC Comics-derived superhero programming blocks (a.k.a. the “Arrowverse”), Superman is getting the star treatment long after Green Arrow, the Flash, Supergirl, Black Lightning, Batwoman, Stargirl, and the team of minor-league heroes on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.
And even this Superman show doesn’t necessarily feel like “a Superman show,” inspired by comic book action and craziness. Based on the two episodes the CW sent to critics ahead of Tuesday night’s extended-length Superman & Lois premiere, the Arrowverse writing-producing team of Greg Berlanti and Todd Helbing seem hesitant to tell full-on Superman stories, with the grand sweep, big ideas, and sense of play as the classic comics. Their Superman has been tamped-down and compressed into the overall mission of the Arrowverse: to tell stories relevant to what’s going on in the real world.
In Superman & Lois, that means adjusting the narrative focus. There are still…
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