Given the man of tomorrow’s prevalence, it’s odd to recall how long it’s been since he was the focus of a small screen adventure. While featuring in assorted Justice League cartoons and inspiring the likes of Smallville, Supergirl, Krypton, and an abortive Metropolis prequel, his last solo costumed feature Superman: The Animated Series concluded in 2000, while the last live-action Superman series in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman wrapped up in 1997.
But with standalone movie plans evidently stalled out for the time being, a new version of the character is being a given a chance. Not entirely new however; former Teen Wolf star Tyler Hoechlin began a 5-year string of guest appearances as Clark Kent in the CW’s “Arrowverse” of connected DC universe shows in 2016 (with Grimm’s Bitsie Tulloch as Lois Lane following in 2018) as a recurring character in Supergirl and guest of crossover events such as Elseworlds.
Now at last spinning out of Crisis on Infinite Earths, their series Superman & Lois looks to bridge two eras of the enterprise: the early days of the “Arrowverse,” with founding series Arrow having concluded and Supergirl and Black Lightning entering their final seasons, and what’s to come with Batwoman and potential Wonder Girl, Painkiller, and Naomi series all in early development.
The new series is likely a lynchpin for the channel given the outsized cultural significance of the leads compared to even their most popular prior shows (even Smallville didn’t actually have “Superman” in the title), as evidenced by the larger budget on display. But this new series is leading with a status quo not only unlike any seen in mass-media before, but one noticeably different from even the 80-plus years of source material. Starring a Superman and Lois Lane who have been active in their respective duties for decades, as showcased in the latest trailer, they’re also the proud parents of teenagers Jonathan and Jordan Kent. One or both of whom may be on the verge of inheriting their father’s godlike powers just in time for high school, and a series of as-yet unknown events prompting the family to move back to Smallville.
While there’s no one-to-one influence, this new arrangement of the well-known pieces seem to come from, there are a handful of Superman stories, well-known and somewhat obscure alike, that may either be a notable influence or serve as an interesting point of comparison.
By Mark Waid, Lenil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, and Dave McCaig
One among a number of Superman origin retellings over the years, Birthright stands out in reference to Hoechlin and Tulloch’s Clark and Lois for multiple reasons. This 2004 miniseries is a distinctly turn-of-the-millennium take on Superman emerging into a post-9/11 world as a figure of hope and fear alike as a well-meaning stranger in a strange land. If the Kent and Lane of Superman & Lois have been operating for the better part of 20 years, this is likely the closest to capturing the timeframe of their early days and relationship.
Along with simply being one of the best Superman stories of all time and home to a number of all-time great Lois Lane moments, it’s a likely source of inspiration in any flashback material, especially with a notable tinge of Smallville in the mix alongside other classic elements and new touch-ups, particularly regarding its take on Lex Luthor. Speaking of whom, writer Mark Waid (whose Kingdom Come inspired the elder Superman of “Earth-96” played by Superman Returns’ Brandon Routh) has notably and repeatedly praised Jon Cryer, the Luthor of the “Arrowverse” in spite of having yet to come face-to-face with Hoechlin, as his own favored live-action interpretation of the villain.
Superman: Secret Identity
By Kurt Busiek, Stuart Immonen, and Todd Klein
While technically starring Clark Kent, a black-haired blue-eyed glasses-wearing writer from a small Kansas town, Secret Identity tells the story of a young man in an approximation of our own world, the target of petty cracks his entire life for being named after Superman by his parents… until he wakes up one night to find himself floating a few dozen feet in the air. Eschewing the dramatics that typically come with “what if superpowers were real” tales, this is largely a more contemplative, character-driven look at a blindsided but decent man’s unusual life as the worlds’ one secret superhero, following him from age 17 into his 70s as circumstances gradually shape him more and more into a reflection of his namesake (with the suit, a significant other named Lois, and more besides coming into his life one way or another).
With gorgeous pastoral views courtesy of Immonen evoking something of the trailer’s flavor as the Kent Family return to Smallville, the Clark of this tale is allowed to grow in ways unprecedented to the original until Superman & Lois, initially going through familiar motions but later embracing fatherhood to a pair of twins of his own (albeit daughters rather than sons).
Superman: Up, Up, And Away!
By Kurt Busiek, Geoff Johns, Pete Woods, Renato Guedes, Brad Anderson, Rob Leigh, Nick Napolitano, and Jared Fletcher
Another tale by Busiek as well as controversial Superman & Lois executive producer Geoff Johns, this is the platonic ideal of the modern Superman status quo the series appears to both draw on and differentiate itself from. Starring a Man of Steel beginning to regain his powers a year after a titanic cosmic battle left him mortal just in time for a grand new threat, Up, Up, And Away! touches on virtually every major element of Superman’s mythology – his marriage to Lois, his Daily Planet friends and colleagues, the remnants of his Kryptonian heritage, villains like Lex Luthor, Metallo, Toyman, Zod, and the Kryptonite Man, and his relationship with Metropolis – in an adventure that evades the pitfalls of most “best of” stories with insight, intelligence, and charm. An essentially perfect showcase for the scope of Superman’s world.
Superman: Camelot Falls
By Kurt Busiek, Carlos Pacheco, Jesus Merino, Dave Stewart, Alex Sinclair, Lee Loughridge, and Pete Pantazis
A final entry from Busiek, and his most substantial story on the main Superman title. Extending across the globe, from centuries in the past to an apocalyptic near-future, Camelot Falls puts a new spin on the classic concept of “Must There Be A Superman?” with a prophecy of humanity’s reliance on their champion leading to extinction. An epic touching on nearly every corner and extending across every scale of Superman’s world as he grapples with the notion of letting untold millions die in order to preserve future billions, it’s most notable here for the introduction of Subjekt-17. An alien child discovered in infancy and experimented on by the local government, Subjekt-17 grows to wage war against the human race that brutalized and isolated him and finds himself incapable of understanding why a fellow alien “brother” in Superman would defend Subjekt’s torturers against his desire for retribution. With the casting of Daniel Cudmore as “Subjekt-11”, it seems likely this little-known but tragically gripping strange visitor will follow soon behind.
Superman: Trials of the Super Sons
By Peter Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Jorge Jimenez, Doug Mahnke, Jaime Mendoza, Trevor Scott, Mick Gray, Mark Morales, Christian Alamy, Keith Champagne, Norm Rapmund, Alejandro Sanchez, Wil Quintana, John Kalisz, and Rob Leigh
While previous entries roped in many of the traditional components of Superman’s world, one newer element is as central as possible to Superman & Lois: the introduction of their (in the comics only) son, Jonathan. While Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s tenure as a whole serves as Superboy’s proper induction into his parents’ world, much of it is wrapped up in labyrinthine continuity touching on the series of reboots, identity swaps, and assorted shenanigans that led to a super-son being permanently incorporated into the status quo in the first place alongside more than one obscure returning villain. For a largely standalone and accessible “best of” you can do little better than volume two, Trials of the Super Sons. It features the likes of a fan-favorite Kent family trip to a local fair in their new home of Hamilton County, a dimension-hopping unplanned father-son trip to Dinosaur Island, Jon’s first meeting with Batman’s own son and latest Robin Damian Wayne, and a job interview for Lois snowballing into her and her husband pitted against none other than Frankenstein and his deadly, estranged Bride.
The Man of Steel by Brian Michael Bendis
By Brian Bendis, Jason Fabok, Ivan Reis, Evan Shaner, Steve Rude, Ryan Sook, Kevin Maguire, Adam Hughes, Joe Prado, Wade Von Grawbadger, Alex Sinclair, Cory Petit, and Josh Reed
The newest Superman stories likely to bear some influence on the series, Brian Bendis’s recently concluded 60-plus issue tenure across various Superman books already inspired the presence of the superspy organization Leviathan in the CW’s Supergirl. Across Superman and Action Comics he and his assorted collaborators introduced a number of new threats: The Invisible Mafia and its enforcer the Red Cloud, Xanadoth, and Synmar, while refurbishing the likes of General Zod and Mongul and aging Jon Kent into a teenager in line with the upcoming show. While divisive amongst fandom, Bendis’ run was generally praised for its command of Superman’s personal voice and its third-act decision to have Clark willingly reveal his secret identity to the world as the inauguration of a new stage in his and his families’ life.
For those interested in a head-start on its potential influence, Bendis began with the six issue lead-in The Man of Steel miniseries with a murderer’s row of artistic talent, pitting Superman and his allies against alien behemoth Rogol Zaar – who claims an intimate connection to Krypton’s past – while at home the Kent/Lane family is shaken by the return of Clark’s biological father Jor-El (resurrected in the stories immediately preceding Bendis) with a difficult offer for their future.
By Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, Jamie Grant, Phil Balsman, and Travis Lanham
Likely the most widely praised Superman tale of the 21st century, All-Star Superman is the story of what the greatest hero of all time does with only a year to live after a rescue mission to the sun irreparably damages his cellular structure. While on the surface a classic-flavored take on the icon, beneath it’s a both forward-looking and timeless sci-fi fable of Superman reckoning with his responsibilities, his legacy, and the consequences of his double-identity on his relationship with Lois.
Its influence would go without saying after being quoted in the first trailer for the debut of the DCEU, but several elements from it have already filtered into the “Arrowverse” specifically: the unliftable dwarf star key to the Fortress of Solitude, the notion of a Kryptonian overcharging on solar radiation, the hammer of the Cosmic Anvil wielded by Lois Lane in Elseworlds, Superman’s pet Sun-Eater, Lex Luthor’s court defense of “Superman made me do it” and attempt on his rival’s life by turning the sun red, and even much of Calista Flockhart’s depiction of Cat Grant in Supergirl are drawn directly from its pages. Whether cosmetic or character-driven more elements are almost certain to follow in years to come, and regardless it’s a highlight for not just Superman but comics as a medium deserving a place on any reader’s shelf.
Batman/Superman: Universe’s Finest
By Tom Taylor, Robson Rocha, Dexter Vines, Wade Von Grawbadger, Norm Rapmund, Manuel Ferreira, Jay Leisten, Blonde, and Rob Leigh
While a planned crossover with Batwoman has been scrapped for the time being due to COVID precautions, it seems a virtual given that Superman & Lois will eventually touch on Clark’s former friendship with Bruce Wayne, who vanished several years ago within the “Arrowverse” but prior to that is known to have worked alongside Superman on more than one occasion. Among the many seminal stories illustrating their partnership, this brief enjoyable standalone story of the pair investigating a murder mystery (…on the moon!) is perhaps the most notable in relation to Tyler Hoechlin’s potential end of the World’s Finest dynamic for having been penned by Tom Taylor. Not only one of DC’s most prominent writers over the past several years for his work on Injustice, DCeased, and Suicide Squad, he also coincidentally happened to be present when Tyler Hoechlin learned of his casting as Superman, and was therefore one of the first to consult with him on the nature of the character.
Crisis on Infinite Earths: Paragons Rising
By Marv Wolfman, Marc Guggenheim, Tom Derenick, Tom Grummett, Trevor Scott, Danny Miki, Andy Owens, John Kalisz, Chris Sotomayor, and Wes Abbott
A tie-in to the CW’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover offering, the opportunity to add numerous characters to the story who time, budget, or assorted logistics would not permit in the event proper. The backup feature “The Infinite Luthor” is the first and thus far only comic adaptation of Hoechlin and Cryer’s Superman and Luthor, portraying them grudgingly forced to work together against the backdrop of Crisis proper as they contend with an army of Lex’s multiversal doppelgangers. Whether or not the array of alternate Superfolks and Luthors introduced here will come into play later on, it’s a thrill to see this version of Superman’s first solo adventure, as well as an apparent setting of the tone for his relationship with his oldest enemy whenever they inevitably cross paths.
Smallville: Season 11
By Bryan Miller and Several Artists
Tom Welling making another appearance after his Clark Kent’s very definitive retirement in “Crisis on Infinite Earths” is unlikely, but the shadow of Smallville looms large over Superman & Lois. Not only do the literal location and shared network already establish it for some as a spiritual successor, but previous portrayals of the Kent farm in Elseworlds used the same farm set and dropped an homage to the series’ infamous theme song (and Superman & Lois’s version of the town will be filmed in Cloverdale, Surrey, as was its predecessor). Given the degree of connection, and that fans of Smallville will likely gravitate towards the new series, it’s notable that there was in fact an ongoing comic chronicling the career of that Clark Kent in between his ascendance at the end of his series and his latter-day powerless fatherhood.
Perhaps the best ongoing Superman comic of the 2010s, Smallville: Season 11 gave frequent series writer (and occasional “Arrowverse” contributor) Bryan Q. Miller the chance to seize every opportunity the premise, budget, and rights restrictions of the series proper otherwise forbade him. Portraying a Superman come of age from Smallville’s world of meteor freaks, ancient alien conspiracies, leather-jacketed super-vigilantes, and soap drama, Welling’s Kent not only finally gets to soar but finds himself alongside Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and more in adventures spanning space and time. Those who grew up with the adventures of this fledgling Kent would likely find no small amount of satisfaction here.
Superman #166: The Fantastic Story of Superman’s Sons!
By Edmond Hamilton, Curt Swan, and George Klein
By far the most obscure entry on this list: it’s the only one not available on ComiXology, and can only be found physically either as the original single issue or as a feature in the 2005 collection DC’s Greatest Imaginary Stories. Once a staple of DC Comics, “Imaginary Stories” were a predecessor to the likes of Marvel’s What If?, and DC’s subsequent Elseworlds and Tales of the Dark Multiverse imprints, showing potential futures, divergent pasts, or wildly alternative presents. This instance in particular however is so strikingly evocative of Superman & Lois’s premise as to be a potential influence: starring the twin sons of Superman and an unknown wife (so as to preserve the drama of the then-contemporary Lois/Clark/Lana love triangle), Jor-El II is charismatic and outgoing much as Jordan Elass’s Jonathan Kent is described, while like Alexander Garfin’s Jordan Kent, Kal-El II is intellectual and withdrawn.
A charming story of the duo becoming heroes in their own right while learning of their Kryptonian ancestry (notably, the second episode of Superman & Lois is to be titled “Heritage”), where, as speculated for the new series, only one inherits their father’s powers. This largely unknown tale may become of note in years to come as an unexpected template for the next evolution of Superman and Lois Lane’s presence in the global imagination.
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