While I feel Superman works best in animation due to the nature of his powers and the world around him they keep trying to make live-action shows. Next on our list is Lois And Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman. I actually like the performances of the main characters, but not all of them felt close to the existing characters. Oh, we’ll talk about what they did to Perry “Great Shades Of Elvis” White, but that’s not the biggest crime this series did to the characters…or to DC Comics themselves. While arguably a decision made by the showrunners may have led to a great story that story also led to some of the continuing problems in DC after this as well as further proving the media pecking order when it comes to television versus comics.
Not that the show is all bad but given what’s come out recently this is another example of breaking multiversal continuity whenever possible for the sake of their own story. Let’s start at the beginning. Created for ABC, Lois & Clark tries to do something new with the characters and actually focus more on the strange romantic triangle of Clark Kent, Lois Lane, and Kal-El. Sometimes I thought this was actually detrimental to the show and it was not my favorite. Even today it’s only the existence of worse adaptations that this isn’t my least favorite take…because it at least did try.
By this point the post-Crisis DC universe had taken full hold. Lex Luthor was now the evil businessman everyone knows today. Lois was an Army brat and this was to the character’s benefit as she finally had some good sense to go along with her guts…though she was still braver than she was smart. It’s just a Lois flaw. Dean Cain and Terry Hatcher had great chemistry and were really good in their roles. As for the intros, they certainly had their benefits for live-action intros. The show ran for four seasons and we only have four intros (though I end up getting an extra clip), unlike the last show I looked at.
The theme song never changes and while the imagery does this remains a consistent design throughout the series, which is a good thing. I can see something going as long as Doctor Who changing their intros, especially as they change showrunners almost as often as they change Doctors. This show however keeps the same look throughout and without the changes that Superboy made between seasons the uniformity makes you feel like you’re watching the same show season after season. It’s a familiarity that makes you feel like it’s just the next episode, but we’ve changed up a few things this year. It helps that the song itself is quite good while the clips used (because live-action rarely makes new footage) do set the stage for this season.
This followed Clark’s debut in Metropolis as well as Superman’s. We didn’t need the whole origin, just Clark’s first day, which by now is all we need to establish the changes in this continuity while still showing off the multiversal continuity that establishes the feeling that this is a take on Superman. As this show focuses more on Lois and Clark’s romance (without sacrificing the superheroics or the news reporting parts of the story), you can see evidences that this is Clark starting out. We get to see the final part of the costume design sequence that would be ripped off by Sam Rami for Spider-Man and the first season of Static Shock, even though the first time we saw it would be The Meteor Man with Robert Townsend. It’s possible Lois & Clark ran to add the scene after seeing it in Townsend’s movie but given how long it takes to put a full season and a two hour pilot together this could be a coincidence.
Lex Luthor would also be given equal time, which has come to bother me. I know Lex is supposed to be Superman’s archest of enemies but making him the full villain for two series in a row plus only having one movie without him (did we need Luthor when they had Zod and his amazing friends…wait, wrong comic company adaptation). Thankfully his role was diminished to recurring for the other three episodes.
As for Lois we see her as the strong and confident woman she was but also see the occasional look at her feminine side, though the part where she’s singing on stage if memory serves came from her being undercover. We see her getting along with Clark at times but also being the clearly dominant one in their interactions, the opposite of how it was in the clips with Superman. While much of this is due to Clark maintaining a secret identity, this is the Lois with a military kid background as well as her having been a reporter on the Daily Planet and living in Metropolis longer than the kid from Smallville who did travel around the world for a few years before settling here. You kind of expect that of her at this point, and their relationship would change as the show went on. Remember, this was also a love story.
At this point we see Lois getting closer with Clark as her romantic interests (not counting the various intrusions) started to go more towards him than with Superman. Additionally they had been partners on numerous investigations so they also had a good friendship. The season would end with Lois learning Superman’s identity and Clark proposing to her. This was going on in the comics as well…until the showrunners stepped in.
Remember how I said this show was another example of “actors superior, drawings inferior”? Well I don’t remember if it was this season or next but around this time the Superman comic writers had decided that Clark and Lois’s relationship had gotten to the point that it was time for them to get married. This is post-Crisis and like this show the writers had been able to better bring these two together. Instead of Lois pining over Superman she began to fall for Clark, who is Superman’s “human side” for the most part. As my favorite Superman story pointed out, which not only John Byrne focused on but a line in this show sums up…
“…Superman is what I can do. Clark is who I am.” It was Clark’s upbringing, the lessons from his parents, and the inspirations he had growing up that makes him who he is. Superman’s power set is so “normal” for superheroes that even supervillains have at least some of them without being Superman clones (ignoring all the evil Superman analogues they want to write these days…or ACTUAL evil Supermen). It’s not the powers that make him Superman and this version of Clark wanted Lois to love who he is, not what he can do, which was the failings of previous Lois Lanes and Lana Langs for that matter. We saw that in Superboy where Clark was a friend and Superboy her boyfriend.
This is why the comics wanted to get Clark and Lois married…but the showrunners talked Warner Brothers out of it, feeling THEY should be able to marry them up first because they were the show about their relationship as much as the superstuff. You would think the source material had first rights but Warner sided with the “more important” division and made them wait until the show got there…and they took their sweet time doing it. Season three should have been about them getting married. Instead it insisted on finding a new way to continue the “will they, won’t they” stuff that can trap romance stories in that plot.
We see Clark and Lois kiss once and the rest is still Lois and Superman romantically, even reusing that clip of Superman flying Lois into the newspaper office from the pilot that is among the previous season clips that kept showing up. There’s no evidence of their impending marriage because that’s not what season three was doing. Instead it seemed like events kept trying to stop them, and with increasingly stupid methods. They brought back Kryptonians and New Krypton long before post-Crisis had their own version of Kandor or Argo City and made some rule that Kal-El’s future bride was already chosen. That’s all the fan wiki reminds us so I don’t know how that turned out without a deeper dive but this is about casual thoughts of the show and how the intro ties into it.
Thankfully we’re spared the curse on their marriage through their various reincarnations as discovered by a time-traveling H.G. Wells, so apparently reincarnation can send you to another planet and still bring you to Earth? I’m a Christian and even I question their knowledge of how reincarnation actually works. We also have Clark unknowingly marrying a Lois clone around the same time Fox’s animated Peter Parker did the same with Mary Jane Watson so that’s a second coincidence. Though at least Spider-Man didn’t have to fight the “Wedding Destroyer”, a woman who was all about destroying weddings and if memory serves is where the Lois clone came from. Congratulations Lois & Clark, you made a less believable Superfoe than the Prankster. That’s a new level of failure.
In fact if I were a conspiracy nut I would have said that the show was doing this on purpose to mess with the comic writers. “We’re in charge and you don’t get to do the wedding until WE’RE ready to do it. Oh look, we’re doing it…nah, just messin’ with ya, here’s another blockade that somehow makes less sense than our last one. So what was DC forced to do?
They killed Superman.
With no other option after this blindside from the “superior” medium, a running gag at Superman writer staff meetings became a full on story, and somehow they still had time to have Superman die, introduce four temporary replacements, resurrect Superman, and STILL make them wait until they were finally allowed to let them marry. I’m surprised the show didn’t see an opening and sneak the marriage in first before those silly little comics. Instead they were forced to run the wedding in fast to coincide with the show and frankly I’ve always resented this series for it. It wasn’t until some time in season four that there was finally a wedding.
Of course it was after that New Krypton stuff and the second appearance of the Wedding Destroyer (and the clone plan I mentioned) before it happened. Somehow the intro is still focusing on Lois and Superman though we do get to see a bit more of her time with Clark. Yes, she knows by now but this isn’t Lois And Superman: The New Adventures Of Clark Kent. While I’m happy the intros are focusing on the adventures more than the romance since this should be a superhero story first (not that the show HAD decent supervillains half the time, including Howie Mandell as a too-tall Mxyzptlk and forcing Scott Valentine into a version of that crappy Metallo costume from Superboy though as a street punk instead of hood…at least Valentine got to play the Phantom in Phantom: 2040 and a cop in Black Scorpion so he wasn’t just Nick from Family Ties the rest of his career) I want to see Lois and CLARK being a happy couple. At least they finally got married here so they could in the comic, in a rather rushed story.
This wasn’t my only issue with the show, though at the time I didn’t know about the events that led to Death Of Superman, and I do wonder what the DCU would have looked like had they not been forced to tell that story, but that’s for another article. Dean Cain and Terry Hatcher were fantastic in their roles and for the most part they were in line with their comics counterparts. Even John Shea was good as this version of Lex. But again we have live-action Jimmy Olsen not being a redhead and for some reason Cat Grant was a sleazy gossip columnist who only had her sights on Clark because the bad girl pursues good boys. She may have gotten the worst end of it but what was with the decision to have Perry with a heavy southern accent and an Elvis fanboy? They even replaced Perry’s iconic exclamation “great Caesar’s ghost” with “great shades of Elvis”. The first time I heard that in the pilot I wondered what the hell they were thinking and that continued throughout the show. The worst part is that was the only thing wrong with Lane Smith’s performance and he was probably the best Perry White until the DCAU version.
Being post Crisis we also had Clark’s parents alive and taking on a more active roll, but this was the first time on TV and that would continue in Superman: The Animated Series. They made a couple of appearances on the Ruby-Spears cartoon but since that was a show made in transition they didn’t get to really focus on them that much. Here Clark could visit or as seen in most of the intros they could talk by phone. It was nice to see them there and it helped establish where Clark came from as a person. Sadly they became part of a trend where Jonathan gets killed off and leaves Martha a widow in later versions, something that happened in the movie but in the comics pre-Crisis they died at the same time while post-Crisis they stayed alive until just before the New 52 where they followed the “leave Martha a widow” trend and killed Jonathan off, basically fridging him to make Superman react to it. At any rate Eddie Jones and K Callan were perfect in the role.
Season five was delayed because Hatcher had gotten pregnant and sadly the cliffhanger of the child on their doorstep was never resolved. I’m not sure I miss it because it did a few things right, but it also did a few things wrong. The intros however weren’t bad and it was a great theme song.
Next time we visit Superman in DC Animated Universe as well as the other two cartoons that followed. Sadly this will also be the last installment and we’ll go over why in a follow-up article. Join us for the DCAU, the Legion, and the Superdog getting his own show.