Journalists are a crucial archetype in comics, and especially in DC Comics. Lois Lane and Clark Kent are the most famous, of course. But Cat Grant helped to make the Arrowverse’s Supergirl who she was. Summer Gleeson appeared all over the place in Batman: The Animated Series. Vicki Vale’s place in the DC universe goes all the way back to 1948. Now, she’s here to make Superman’s life miserable. Beware spoilers for My Adventures with Superman Episode 8, “Zero Day: Part One.”
“Zero Day: Part One”
The Superman of My Adventures with Superman–Earth-12–is not the Superman we’re used to. He’s familiar in almost every way that counts, but this one didn’t have 200-plus episodes of adventures in Smallville before making it to Metropolis like in Smallville. He didn’t leave home the moment he could to begin making sense of his powers as in Superman & Lois. And he’s definitely not the fully-formed Superman from Superman: The Animated Series. He stayed home, with his family, with his mother. He was scared of his superhuman abilities.
Trying to Find a Balance
As he lives in Metropolis, then, Clark is actively learning what he’s capable of. Like a character in a video game, he’s unlocking abilities one at a time and learning to cope with them. As we find him in this episode, his amplified hearing is kicking in. It feels almost schizophrenic at first, but he figures out what it is. He hasn’t mastered it in any sense, but he’s using it. He can hear every single thing happening in Metropolis, and that means he can save everyone. And so he tries.
By the time Jimmy finds Clark, though, he has heavy bags under his eyes, he’s treating coffee as an intravenous fluid, and he hasn’t slept in days, plural. If this were Superman fully formed, he probably wouldn’t even need to sleep thanks to the way the sun energizes him. But this Superman doesn’t know that yet–he’s not really using or absorbing power consciously. He’s starting to make mistakes.
It’s easy to cheer for this dude because we can plainly see how hard he’s working and how much it’s taking out of him, but it also works as an opening for all manner of attacks.
Vicki Vale appears in Metropolis as a guest writer for the Daily Planet, and Perry makes Lois and Jimmy her gofers for the day. They quickly realize, though, that Vicki has an agenda–especially when it comes to Superman. If she steps on Superman’s back, she can climb higher than ever before.
She acts like a sort of “ghost of reporter future” for Lois. This is someone she could become if she’s not careful. Successful, yes, but jaded, selfish, and amoral in disturbing ways. She’s not interested in the truth unless there’s a version of it that directly serves her needs, and she’s not afraid to use anyone in her path to achieve her goals.
A Classic Tale
As old school as all this newspaper stuff often feels in 2023, though, the show doesn’t try to pretend that it’s set in another time period. As Superman makes mistakes, social media and mobile phones are ready to capture each one and spread the news far and wide. When Superman pushes a mostly-invisible man out of the way of a truck, people turn on him immediately despite the literally hundreds of good acts he’s done in the preceding few days.
This all comes together to tell what feels like both a very modern and yet traditional Superman story. Superman is the strongest man in the world. He throws a truck like a normal person can roll a bowling ball. That means he has to have microscopically perfect control over his powers. If he uses 0.0002% of his strength instead of 0.0001%, he could tear a handle off a door–as he’s done a bunch of times–or, worse yet, crush a human’s hand beyond recognition or repair.
He has to master these powers in a world where everyone is watching him all the time. All eyes were on Superman in the 1940s and 1970s, but information moved much more slowly and in much smaller parcels. Newspapers, radios, and television news crews with heavy video cameras all acted as gateways between any given person and the rest of the world outside their local sphere. That’s not the case here. And worse, there are people ready and willing to take advantage of the way people engage with negative news in a way we’re still getting used to after twenty years.
And so Superman has to be even more perfect than before. He has to be balanced at all times, he can’t ever let people see him hurt someone unintentionally. He can’t ever give the wrong answer to a question or a rash response to a given situation.
He’s No Hero
And that’s on top of his other usual challenges. One of the people Vicki Vale interviews is Anthony Ivo’s former assistant, Alex. It’s not until he opens his mouth and starts talking that we can make a connection to who he really is.
“Superman is no hero,” Alex tells Vicki. “He’s the end of the world. Look around. Superman is a criminal. He destroyed this tower, bankrupted AmazoTech, and put thousands out of work, including me.”
“He shows up, out of the blue, at the same time as that crazy tech,” Alex continues. “He’s not normal, like you or me. Anything’s possible.”
Jimmy interjects, insisting that Superman saves people.
“And what about when he decides that having powers means he doesn’t have to follow our laws anymore?” Alex responds. “If he really wanted to hurt us, what could we do about it? With how powerful Superman is, him just having a bad day could spell the end for us. Can you really say we’re safer with him overhead?”
There’s only one character in Superman who really talks like this, and that’s Alexander–Lex–Luthor. Lex, like everyone else, had to get his start somewhere. Why not as an employee of an existing tech company? Once again, what we’re witnessing is a version of Lex that is still evolving. He’s not the Lex that we know quite yet. But the philosophy is already there. He can already twist the truth creatively to fit his worldview and believe his own words at the same time.
Superman is also subject to other kinds of attacks. He insists on helping the invisible man bust his sister out of jail, only to put himself in the crosshairs of the government-backed tech felons he’s faced so far. Working for who we’re assuming is General Lane, Lois’ father, and Amanda Waller, this “Squad” of criminals who you’d think were committing “Suicide” by fighting Superman, take the hero on as a team. We’re left on a cliffhanger after this intense battle. Superman is on his back foot the whole time, even as he levels up during the fight, and things are looking grim when we leave things.
My Adventures with Superman continues to feel like a fresh take on Superman that understands the core tenets of the character without also leaving him stuck in the distant past where those tenets were much easier to align with the world. I’m excited not just for the reveals that will come with time, but also for the fresh, new ways this show handles such a well-known character.