This article contains Superman & Lois spoilers.
Superman & Lois Episode 11
If you just tuned in to Superman & Lois episode 11, “A Brief Reminiscence In-Between Cataclysmic Events” a few minutes in, and perhaps without having seen the previous episodes, you might be forgiven for thinking that this is in fact the pilot episode for a brand new show about the Man of Steel. While every other Arrowverse superhero began life with a fairly detailed origin story episode (or season!), by the time we first met Tyler Hoechlin as Superman and Bitsie Tulloch as Lois Lane, both characters were meant to be well established in their world and careers. The actual first episode of Superman & Lois reminded us that these two were so “seasoned” that they’re already the parents of twin teenagers!
So there are still plenty of questions to be asked about the backstories of our title characters, and “A Brief Reminiscence In-Between Cataclysmic Events” is a big step towards that. But it’s so much more than a “how did Lois and Clark meet/Clark’s first time in costume/Superman getting established in Metropolis” episode. It’s a genuine love letter to both of these characters, and one that successfully encompasses the entirety of their 83 year history.
Oh, and it manages to do all of that while ALSO still moving the main story of the season forward nicely. It’s an incredibly versatile episode, and a fine piece of storytelling in its own right, making the well-worn beats of the Superman origin story feel fresh and vital, without losing sight of everything else the season needs to do.
Young Clark Kent and the Fortress of Solitude
The opening of this episode, with young Clark trudging through the arctic, carrying the sunstone and trying to figure out both his and its purpose, is the first of many nods to Richard Donner’s 1978 superhero movie masterpiece, Superman. Clark is even wearing a similar red check flannel jacket to the one Jeff East wore in a similar scene.
The concept of Jor-El as an AI that runs the Fortress of Solitude (as well as the Fortress itself stemming from a Kryptonian artifact) also traces its roots back to Donner’s Superman film. That was the first time we got the notion that Clark had to learn about his powers and alien heritage from the collected memories of his biological father and his people, and it’s updated nicely here.
Man of Steel
Clark’s first flight in the arctic, with Jor-El’s words ringing in his ears, well…again, Donner’s Superman. But specifically the way it’s presented here with Clark’s powerful takeoff and unsteady first moments it feels a lot like a similar moment in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel.
The Fleischer Superman Costume
While we did hear Superman say “my mom made it for me” in the first episode, here we get to see more of why that actually happened. Clark’s current suit definitely feels like something slightly alien, perhaps the Kryptonian ceremonial wear it was hinted as being in Donner’s Superman (the first place to use the “S” as a Kryptonian house crest), Man of Steel, and recent DC Comics. But for the majority of Superman’s comic book history, it has always been the case that Martha made Clark’s suit for him.
Superman & Lois splits the difference, though, with Martha having made Clark’s first costume…one that happens to look exactly like the first screen interpretation of Superman ever: the classic Max Fleischer animated Superman shorts which first arrived in 1941. If you haven’t seen these, please do so. They’re gorgeous. Spending more time with that suit in this episode is a real treat, and it’s a perfect illustration of why “less is more” with superhero costuming.
It even kind of explains why the “S” on the original suit wouldn’t be the perfect Kryptonian symbol that Clark and Supergirl wear in the present day: Clark probably helped her design it from memory, since the first time he would have seen his family crest was when the Jor-El hologram appeared to him in the Fortress!
- Also, this may or may not have been intentional, but Martha telling Clark “go save the world” before his first adventure also happens in J.J. Abrams never-filmed Superman screenplay, which despite it’s reputation, when it gets stuff right, it really gets it right. I wrote about that in much more detail here.
First Day on the Job
The episode cheats ever so slightly by reusing footage from the pilot with Superman catching the green PT cruiser and chatting with the citizens of Metropolis. But it’s worth repeating that this is a gloriously realized homage to the cover of Superman’s first appearance in 1938’s Action Comics #1. But everyone knows that, right?
But here we go one further, with the revelation that this wasn’t a random flashback, it was truly Clark’s first act in costume as Superman! Again, a nice little tribute to Action #1.
It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane…
- Superman changes back into Clark in a phone booth. I’m not sure at what point in Superman history that the “changing in a phone booth” became such an accepted bit of pop culture lore. It did happen in at least one of the aforementioned Fleischer Superman cartoons, and infrequently in the comics themselves, and almost NEVER in live action. In fact, Donner’s Superman even had a quick sight gag about this, when Christopher Reeve’s Clark is looking for a place to change for his first public act in costume, and gives one of those “modern” (for 1978) non-enclosed phone booths a bemused look.
- A passerby notes to Clark that Metropolis’ new hero flew “like a bird or a plane.” This of course nods to the famed narration first popularized by The Adventures of Superman radio show (more on that in a minute) and the Fleischer cartoons: “It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…Superman!”
The Daily Planet
- We don’t spend a heckuva lot of time at The Daily Planet on this show, but when we do it tries to capture the manic, bustling energy that we saw in Donner’s Superman (wow, that keeps coming up a lot…and with good reason).
- Also, how good is Paul Jarrett as Perry White?
- Lois showing Clark the ropes at The Daily Planet is something that goes all the way back to their earliest appearances. I will die on this hill: Lois is slightly older than Clark, and is also the more experienced and better reporter. Even with “all those powers” (the real ones know) she’s at least one step ahead of Clark in the reporter game.
- This one might not be intentional, but the montage of Lois and Clark on the job together reminds me very slightly of a montage page from John Byrne and Dick Giordano’s Man of Steel #2, where Lois, trying to track down Superman during his early days in Metropolis, keeps showing up just after he has left.
Lois and Clark staying late on the job has echoes of both the pilot episode of 1993’s Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and the “rooftop scene” from Donner’s Superman. It is the former in that it’s the first indication of a romantic attraction brewing between them (and significant because up until that point in history it was ALWAYS the case that Lois was attracted to Superman and not Clark). But there’s also a hint of the latter in their playful but wary flirtation.
But that’s subverted further with Lois’ exclusive interview with Superman. Just as in Donner’s film, Lois lands the first exclusive interview with the Man of Steel (there it was in private for later print publication, here it’s on TV). But again, Lois isn’t interested in Superman, because she’s already in love with Clark. It completely eliminates the old “love triangle” where “Clark loves Lois, but Lois loves Superman, but Superman wants to be loved as Clark” which has been a staple of the legend for years. This isn’t a bad thing, mind you.
One more thing from that lovely evening scene with Lois and Clark working late: when Clark is getting ready to leave, Lois asks him “what’s your hurry?” In Superman II, when Lois was suspecting the truth about Clark, she asked him “What’s your hurry, Superman?”
OK, the inclusion of Atom Man is some next level stuff. The character first appeared in 1945 on The Adventures of Superman radio show. There, he was “Heinrich Milch” (hence the “Henry Miller” of this episode), a Nazi empowered by Kryptonite in his bloodstream.
We met a different Atom Man in the second Superman movie serial in 1950, the appropriately titled Atom Man vs. Superman. There, Atom Man was the alter ego of Lex Luthor. One of these days I’m going to get around to writing about Columbia’s Superman serials, but today is not one of those days.
The Atom Man we meet here is based on the visual design from Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru’s EXCELLENT (seriously, I can’t stress enough how absolutely great this book is) Superman Smashes the Klan. That Atom Man was based on the “Henry Miller” version of the character, and thus the racist nonsense spouted by tonight’s villain is appropriate.
One other cool thing about the use of Yang/Gurihiru’s Atom Man? In Superman Smashes the Klan, Supes is rocking a version of his costume that looks very much like the Fleischer suit. The folks on Superman & Lois know exactly what they’re doing. One callback to the movie serial version? It seems that Henry Miller is bald and stocky, much like the very first screen Lex Luthor Lyle Talbot was in Atom Man vs. Superman. It’s like an Easter egg singularity!
Now FLY (do not walk) to your local comic shop to buy a copy of Superman Smashes the Klan which, in what will probably be my final mention of The Adventures of Superman radio show for tonight, is loosely based on a DIFFERENT adventure from the radio show. Anyway, it’s great and the best Superman story to hit comics in approximately a decade or so. Thank me later.
Morgan Edge, Tal-Rho, and Zeta-Rho
- This episode continues and reinforces the “nature vs. nurture” debate around Morgan Edge that began last week. Here, the mirroring of his journey with Clark’s is made even more pronounced. Clark was given good guidance by Jonathan and Martha, and those lessons were only reinforced by Jor-El, while Tal-Rho just had those impulses amplified by Zeta-Rho in his desert fortress. Jor-El sent his only son to escape a dying planet in the hopes that he could help another one. Zeta-Rho sent his only son to revive a dying planet at the expense of a vibrant one.
- The “headband” that Tal-Rho is using to insert himself into Superman’s memories (and Supes has a matching one) feels like a subtle nod to the fact that headbands were the height of Kryptonian fashion in the comics from the late 1940s until John Byrne’s reboot in 1986.
- The apparently successful “turning” of Superman at the end of the episode had better be a red herring. This show has faked us out so many times in its final moments, I really can’t imagine they’re gonna do something as obvious as giving us an “evil Superman” for even one episode.
Other Cool Kryptonian Artifacts
- When Clark returns to Smallville and tries to meet up with Lana, there are two films playing at the theater: one is an instalment in the Harry Potter franchise. The other is Friday Night Lights, the movie that inspired the TV show that has been a surprisingly strong influence on a lot of elements of Superman & Lois.
- For the Smallville fans, there’s a “Teague’s” sporting goods store visible on the street, as well, possibly a nod to Jensen Ackles’ Jason Teague character from season four of that series.
- Yes, Lois does indeed call John Henry Irons at the end of the episode. Steel is coming back!
- Clark Kent is a Seinfeld fan! It’s canon! Why is this so significant? Jerry Seinfeld is a noted Superman fan, and on the famed TV show (the greatest TV comedy of the ’90s), there was a very visible Superman magnet on his refrigerator in many episodes. Wait…that causes reality problems that are going to make my brain hurt.
- Was anyone able to catch the names of the books on Clark’s nightstand? They look like old sci-fi paperbacks, but I couldn’t tell for sure.
- I didn’t spot any significant names in Clark’s yearbook, but I’m old and my eyes are going, so if you spotted anything, please let me know in the comments!