Monday, October 17, 2016

Superman returns

When it was announced that Superman would actually appear in a recurring guest role on "Supergirl," fans rejoiced. After all, the first season of "Sueprgirl" offered a hopeful and wondrous view of the DC Universe and fans knew that it's move to the CW would elevate the nature of the show. Additionally, throwing the Man of Steel into the mix led to hopes that this version of Superman would be in-line with a more classic depiction of the character. 

Tyler Hoechlin's casting was announced and the first images were revealed. Of course, there was some kind of criticism to the first look of Hoechlin as Superman (which I addressed here: What makes him Super?), but most of the response was positive. I actually really liked the costume and I think it's the best post-red trunks on the outside version. I also think it should be the main outfit of the Superman brand, even with the shoulder things... which I think would make sense to keep and make the cape retractable as some have suggested.

My expectations for Hoechlin were high. After all, the Greg Berlanti-led DC shows have done a great deal of justice to the characters they steward. "Arrow" gives us a very Mike Grell-inspired Green Arrow, "Flash" presents a definitive Scarlett Speedster with plenty of Mark Waid and Geoff Johns inspirations and "Legends of Tomorrow" accurately represents the ensemble portrayed with necessary updates and "fits" for the CW-universe. "Supergirl" is no different, presenting a Girl of Steel drawing heavily from the Sterling Gates and Jamal Igle run. So yes, as someone who is not a fan of the DC Cinematic Universe and pretty much despises that portrayal of Superman, my expectations were astronomical.

About a week before the show aired, the first clip of Superman in action was released. There was Tyler Hoechlin as Clark Kent, completely OWNING the role. Then he transformed into Superman and joined Supergirl to save the crashing spaceship. After viewing this clip, to say my expectations shot into the next galaxy would be an understatement.

Love it or hate it, "Man of Steel" and "Batman v. Superman" did more to divide DC fandom and overall damage to the Superman brand than anything. That is of course an argument I've had many times and have addressed over and over, so I won't do it here. However, my main point has always been that when Superman divides, it's a gross misrepresentation of the character. I didn't see that division in the early images and clip featuring Hoechlin as Superman.

My feelings on the "Man of Steel" Superman are well-documented on this space and I don't really need to revisit them here. But for the purposes of my point here, "Man of Steel" presented a dour, brooding and cynical view of the world and Superman that's doesn't fall in line with who the character is or what he represents. I also reject the idea that "Man of Steel" presented a "more realistic" vision of Superman in the real-world, and I'll get to that in a minute. 

Now the question ultimately is: "Did Tyler Hoechlin's portrayal of Superman live up to expectations?" I say with great confidence, he exceeded my expectations.

In my previous Superman post, What makes him Super? I noted that when it comes to Superman, it's all about how the actor carries himself, it's all about presence. Hoechlin carried himself the way the Man of Steel should. He was confident, relaxed and optimistic. He also showed a bit of this edgier side through his passive aggressive interactions with J'onn. That's the way I've always known Superman.

I'm going to address what seems to be the main criticism off the bat... because from what I've seen, this depiction of Superman is pretty much beloved by the majority. A counter-point I've seen brought up is this, "In 'Man of Steel' he was literally Superman for a few days, in 'Supergirl' he's been Superman for 12 years." Okay, this is the typical argument that "Man of Steel" fans use to justify the insane destruction and collateral damage of "Man of Steel."

My counter-point to this is simple: It's not just his powers that make him Superman, it was also his upbringing by two good people. Clark Kent was Superman long before he wore the cape, "Man of Steel" portrays that too, but they do it in a way that makes it seem like a burden to Clark. There's also the gross misrepresentation of his parents in "Man of Steel," namely Pa Kent who'd rather let some schoolkids die than have his son reveal his powers.

So how would the world really respond to Superman? Fear? Yes, of course, but how Superman ultimately reveals himself is a completely different story. In "Man of Steel," we're treated to a brooding, secretive Clark Kent who only becomes Superman because he's forced into that situation. In almost every other depiction of a mainstream Superman, he chooses to become the Man of Steel and immediately lets his actions speak for himself. That's the vibe you get from the Hoechlin Superman. He's been around for years, sure, but he's portrayed as someone the world trusts, but let's say his reveal came through very visible actions of doing good and helping others, I do think the world would react positively. Now, based on the trailers for the upcoming episodes of "Supergirl," not everyone takes kindly to the Kryptonian visitors.

The "Supergirl" version of Superman was very quick to separate himself from the movies. Hoechlin's Clark Kent was perfect. He was mild-mannered and more quirky than outright clumsy. Off the bat we're presented with the Clark Kent everyone knows, he's earnest and says things like "lickety-split." He's also a damn good journalist and it's believable he can hold his own with the one and only Lois Lane (with whom he's in a relationship).

This Superman is also removed from "Man of Steel" by directly referencing moments from "Superman: The Movie" as part of his past. It's definitely not intended to say "this is the Ricard Donner/Christopher Reeve Superman," but like Cat Grant's new assistant, Miss Tessmacher, it's mostly just a playful nod. However, by the time the episode was finished, we had seen the best live-action Superman since Christopher Reeve.

Hoechlin was fantastic. This Superman was not a brooding god-like person unsure of his place in the world. This was a humble, confident man who can do incredible things and used those abilities for the good of humanity without the need to take credit. This was evident after Superman and Supergirl save the spaceship and greet the onlooking family (with a smile) and then at the DEO headquarters. Superman flies into the DEO headquarters, looking almost nervous and instead of acting like he's a god above everyone, he works the crowd, shakes hands and thanks the DEO agents for all their work. That was it for me. I was head over heels for this Superman.

It was more than that though, too. Grant Morrison had this great epiphany about Superman: "The most powerful man alive wouldn't be tortured but instead would be the friendliest, most relaxed person you ever saw."

That's exactly who Superman is. That's exactly the character Hoechlin (and Reeve before him) portrays.

There's also some intrigue. He and Martian Manhunter are at odds because of the DEO's insistence of stockpiling Kryptonite. We get to see a bit of Superman's temper and the tension between he and J'onn provides a subplot with darker undertones. There's an edge to this depiction, but he doesn't let it cloud his judgement. Of course, the two find common ground and resolve their differences and no mention of "Martha" was needed!

There was worry Superman would overshadow Supergirl, but he doesn't. And his presence in the show plays into the exact premise of it: Supergirl is trying to find her place in the world out of Superman's shadow and discover her own family, while balancing the needs of her real family. This is where Superman fits into Supergirl's story, but hot damn I want a 13-episode Superman series starring Hoechlin.

But truth be told, the moment that secured this depiction of Superman as being near-perfect (as near perfect as 45 minutes can get you) was after he saves a family from of one the killer drones. He turns to the boy in the family he saved and winks. This is a nod to almost every depiction of Superman since the beginning of time. There was also a moment where Superman holds a building up and prevents it from toppling over, to me this moment was a pretty direct nod to the Fleischer cartoons.

The classic Superman returned to live-action on the season 2 premiere of "Supergirl." For the most part, he's been praised and accepted, not deeply dividing the way "Man of Steel" has been. IGN pointed out that this is the first time since "Lois & Clark" that the classic Superman has been depicted in live-action. I have to agree with that. Brandon Routh played a Superman that was kind of depressing at points and Tom Welling never really played Superman.

It's also important to note that WB and DC Entertainment are indeed in the midst of resetting the Superman brand. Regardless of how you feel, the brand was damaged by both "Man of Steel" and the New 52 by presenting darker and sulking Man of Steel. DC Comics has re-introduced the classic Superman (completely killing off the New 52 version) and Superman's involvement and how he is presented following his resurrection in the "Justice League" film remains to be seen.

Still, the fact remains that WB and DC are returning to a classic Superman. Trying to reshape the character to something he wasn't just hasn't paid dividends.

Superman can be altruistic, he can be earnest, optimistic and kind. He's supposed to be. "Man of Steel" made him the product of a dark and cynical world, but that's one of the many places they got the character wrong. Superman is who brings light to the darker, cynical world with a wink, a smile and using his abilities to help everyone he can, no questions asked. Given today's social and political climate... this is exactly what we need in one of the biggest pop culture icons in history.

Quick story to share. My twins (boy and girl) are almost 4. My youngest boy is 2. They know superheroes and what not and the day after the show aired, I showed them that scene of Superman and Supergirl saving the spaceship. We started with Clark, all three asking who he was. My answer was "oh I don't know!" My boy twin (a die hard Batman fan as far as 4 year olds go) lit up with a smile and yelled "That's Superman!" When Clark ripped off his shirt, revealed the "S" and took off. My girl twin (who loves Wonder Woman and Supergirl) cheered as Supergirl flew out the window. My youngest let out an amazed "Where they going, Daddy?"

When they cut to the spaceship, the twins were wrought wondering how they would land. "Maybe Supergirl will catch it" my daughter said... moments later "She caught it!" When Superman flew in, all three yelled "There's Superman!"

We watched the whole scene, all three watching with wonder and amazement. My daughter then went to my wife to recount what she just witnessed and my boy twin looked at me and said "I like Superman" before saying "I like Batman too."

I was beaming with tears flooding my eyes, the look of pure joy on my kids' faces. This is why the portrayal of these characters and what they stand for is incredibly important. They are America's mythos.

Tyler Hoechlin portrayed the classic Superman we all know and love. His portrayal of the Man of Steel is in the same league as Christopher Reeve. Sure, it's only been two episodes, but every chord was struck perfectly. This is the Superman we aren't supposed to relate to, it's the Big Blue Boy Scout that makes us roll our eyes, but is the embodiment of the ideal to strive towards.

Hey there! If you enjoy my posts and my take on Superman and other superheroes, please consider supporting my latest comics project on Kickstarter where I'm reviving a golden age one-hit wonder: The Atomic Thunderbolt.


  1. I'm 60 years old and I will admit reading the part of your article, about your children watching Superman on the television, brought a tear to my eye, just like it did when I first watched the episode. Our world needs more brightness as this depiction of Superman (and Supergirl) had given us.

  2. This is the Superman that we need and I hoped for. I love the sunny outlook the Supergirl and Flash shows have in this rollercoaster of life. I wanted the Kal-El we saw to fit with that and he exceeded my hopes and expectations too. Mr Hoechlin was the highlight of MTV's Teen Wolf so I was excited when he was cast as Superman because I knew he'd fit the role but I wasn't prepared for him to so completely be the Fleischer and Christopher Reeve version of him! What a thrill!

  3. While I disagree about Man of Steel and Batman v Superman I did enjoy reading this.