How do you do a Superman origin story without doing a Superman origin story? Superman and Lois brought us a fully-formed Superman, well into his tenure as Earth’s greatest champion, but found a way to go back that both lets us reminisce with our favorite superhero and forwards the story. Spoilers follow for Superman and Lois, Season 1, Episode 11, “A Brief Reminiscence In-Between Cataclysmic Events.”
“A Brief Reminiscence In-Between Cataclysmic Events”
We know Superman’s origin story. There are perhaps only two origin stories in all of superherodom and perhaps in American popular culture as well-known as Superman’s. Superman and Lois is built on that idea, that Superman’s beginnings are so well-trodden that we need to–at a mainstream cultural level, at least–go past that and explore what it’s like to be Superman 20 years in.
That means that if Superman and Lois is going to go back and explore his origin, it can’t be just a straightforward, linear retelling. It has to serve the story in some other way. I worry weekly about Superman and Lois because I’ve seen what happened to Arrow, The Flash, and Supergirl, but Superman and Lois has been consistently a cut above so far, and this is no exception.
We go back–way back–to a teenage Clark, looking younger than Smallville age. From there, we progress forward. Clark takes the red stone left to him by his parents and heads to the Arctic. We get his first moments of super-speed and flight, the moment he meets his father. We jump forward to him getting his first costume–the one he’d said his mom made him in the pilot.
The show does a great job of splitting the difference between classic and modern Superman ideas, between Donner and Snyder imagery, giving us a Superman that feels modern without leaving behind the things that make Superman into the character we know.
A prime example of this is that costume. Martha makes Clark his first costume, but says the chest is missing something. Clark is fresh back from his apparently years-long visit to the Fortress of Solitude–let’s call it Superman College–where he’d been learning from his AI hologram father about his abilities, where he’d first seen the House of El family crest. This first Superman costume is a mix of those elements. It pulls from the classic Fleischer costume for look, but uses the idea of the “S” diamond as the House of El crest which originated (to the best of my knowledge) in the Donner Superman film.
It’s a bird/plane
Then we zip forward to Clark’s first days in Metropolis. He saves the kid from the falling green PT Cruiser, he meets Lois. We get to see awkward, bumbling Clark. For modern-day Clark, that persona has mostly fallen away, which makes sense for the stage of life he’s in on the show. Lois and Superman meet for the first time and even stop a criminal together; Superman protects bystanders while Lois drops the Nazi villain known as Atom Man.
For a villain who was literally on the show for about a minute, he had a pretty inspired character design. Atom Man is another example of the mixing of classic and modern sensibilities. This bozo first appeared in the comics in the 1950s, and returned in 2020’s “Superman Smashes the Klan” comic. Atom Man is a deep cut, but manages to instantly feel relevant.
As the story progresses, though, Clark notices anomalies. Flickering shadows, people responding to him in strange ways.
This isn’t a simple flashback episode. Morgan Edge–Tal-Rho–followed Superman back to his Fortress of Solitude and has been mining the Man of Steel’s unconscious mind to learn everything he can about him. It’s a brutal, devastating twist for what had been a heartwarming look back at Superman’s life to that point. It also turns all of the things we love about Superman back on him, making them into weaknesses when handled by another Kryptonian.
Speaking of Tal-Rho, we get another look back at his early years. The show mirrors Clark’s fortress event by having Tal-Rho build his fortress in the desert, before interacting with his father. It turns out it isn’t just Tal-Rho’s bad experiences with humans that built him, but an equally dastardly father who sees Kryptonian superiority as the only possible path forward.
Things go sideways quickly when Tal-Rho easily beats down the weakened Superman and then heads to his Smallville home to threaten his family. Without a lick of strength left in Superman, Tal-Rho forces the hero to submit. Lois calls John Irons and lets him know that things are happening while Superman’s eyes glow red. It’s a haunting ending to be sure. This is, of course, Superman and Lois, so I don’t really need to be worried about how things are going to, but it’s a credit to the writers that the idea of a corrupted or blackmailed Superman is so anxiety inducing that I’m dreading the wait for the show to resume in a few weeks.
I’m left wondering if Superman has a plan to stop Tal-Rho or if he’s truly cornered. Bringing John Irons back in seemed inevitable, and he proved previously that he’s plenty match for the Man of Steel. Will this be a big growing moment for Jordan? Will Superman actually end up destroying things under the influence of Tal-Rho? I’m eager to see how things play out when Superman returns.