Supergirl: Every Superman and DC Comics Reference in the First Two Episodes Explained

The first two episodes of Supergirl Season 2 were packed full of Superman references, and at least one major DC villain from the comics!

Warning! This article contains nothing but spoilers for Supergirl season 2 episode 1, “The Adventures of Supergirl” and episode 2 “Last Children of Krypton.” 

The Supergirl season 2 premiere didn’t just introduce Tyler Hoechlin as Superman, it also was an absolute love letter to nearly 75 years of Superman and DC Comics history. 

– Let’s start with the title, “The Adventures of Supergirl.” The Adventures of Superman was the name of Supes’ radio show (his first excursion outside of comics, and where so much you know and love about the character was actually developed), as well as the 1950s television series starring George Reeves and a long running Superman comic book, which for years featured one of my favorite creative teams, Marv Wolfman and Jerry Ordway. It was in that book where we first met Cat Grant, by the way.

– Superman first appeared in Action Comics #1 in 1938 and he was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. This obscure character is…oh, c’mon, who am I kidding. You know all this stuff, right? Let’s get to the good stuff!

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The Superman costume is similar to the underpants-less “New 52” design, which was streamlined nicely for recent big screen outings Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It’s not quite that, though, and the cape with the weird fasteners is more like what we’ve seen in the Injustice video game. It’s still a recognizably “Superman” look, though.

– The Clark Kent look is pretty standard, but the tan Harrington jacket is important. Clark wore a similar jacket through a significant portion of Superman II.

– Did you spot the Midvale Gazette on the newsstand when Clark is on the phone? Midvale is where the comic book Kara honed her powers and civilian identity for years, and was featured in the 1984 Supergirl movie.

– This then leads to a classic Superman shirt rip, but more importantly, the “running down the alley/shirt rip/takeoff transformation” mirrors the one from Superman II.

– “This looks like a job for the both of us,” is, of course, a reference to a phrase made famous by the first actor to play Superman, Bud Collyer, the Superman of radio and animation. To differentiate his Clark and Superman performances and to illustrate the transformation on radio, Collyer would start in Clark’s tenor, “This looks like a job…” before dropping to a resonant Superman voice, “…for Superman.” 

We get this again with the “up, up…and away” joke at episode’s end. How else would a radio audience know that Superman was taking off, right?

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– Having Superman and Kara save a crashing space launch together speaks to so many things in Superman history, just like having Supergirl catch an airplane in the first episode of season one, this is just something they do. Just to name a few: in the first episode of The Adventures of Superman in the 1950s, Superman saved a guy who was stuck on a blimp; in Superman: The Movie he catches a falling helicopter (something that Kara does this time around); on the first episode of Lois and Clark Supes prevents a space shuttle launch from going up in smoke; in Superman Returns it’s a space plane…you get the idea. It’s a lot.

– You have to love Superman’s wink to the family after he saves them. The Fleischer Studios Superman cartoons from the 1940s (which are spectacular) always ended with Clark Kent winking to the audience, letting us know that we were in on his secret. That tradition was taken up by George Reeves for the 1950s TV series, and some other animated incarnations, too.

And no, your ears didn’t deceive you, the Dad says he’s “moving back to Gotham” after that incident.

– Cat Grant’s new assistant is “Miss Teschmacher.” That would be Eve Teschmacher, made famous as Lex Luthor’s moll in Superman: The Movie, where she was played by Valerie Perrine. 

– Winn asks Supes about “the earthquake in California” that Lex Luthor caused, which is kind of a sidways nod to the final act of Superman: The Movie, although it doesn’t sound like an XK-101 rocket was involved this time.

– Since I’m on a roll with Superman: The Movie (which happens to be my favorite superhero movie ever and one of my favorite films of all time), Lena Luthor makes a crack about how flying is “statistically speaking, the safest way to travel” when she boards the helicopter. That’s what Supes tells Lois after he saves her from a rooftop helicopter crash in the 1978 film.

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Who’s In The Pod?

– Right out of the gate, we see the occupant of that Kryptonian escape pod, and his name is Mon-El. But lets just say for now that the red bodysuit he’s wearing is a nod to his comic book look. Note the high collar, too!

Funny enough, they refer to him as “the man who fell to earth” which was the title of a sci-fi novel by Walter Tevis that was turned into an unsettling movie starring David Bowie. Both are worth checking out. I wrote much more about Mon-El right here if you’re interested.

We also see them break a needle on the mysterious stranger’s skin. Wanna know how Superman’s invulnerability was established in his very first appearance in Action Comics #1? 

Also note that “try again, Doc” counts as the first words spoken by Superman in comic book history.

The Villains

– Lena Luthor has been around since 1961, and she was created by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel and Kurt Schaffenberger. She might not be faking the “I’m not a villain” act, as she was separated from Lex at an early age, and is more nuanced than your average Luthor. 

Lena’s in charge of LuthorCorp, which is the name of the Luthor empire in Smallville, although when Lex switched his mad scientist gear for a business suit in the mid-80s, it was known as LexCorp. Either way, it doesn’t matter, since she’s rebranding.

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– Clark’s “I’ve got some sway with Cat Grant” line is a reference to the fact that Cat was originally created (by Marv Wolfman and Jerry Ordway) as a new romantic interest for Clark. For a period of time in the ’80s, she was a legit competitor for Clark’s (not Superman’s) affections. 

– John Corben will soon be known (as we saw in that stinger) as Metallo, the man with the Kryptonite heart. Well, the cyborg with the Kryptonite heart. He first appeared in Action Comics #252 in 1959. His military/mercenary background is relatively new, having been touched on in Superman: The Animated Series and more recently in the comics.

Corben disguises himself as a police officer, which seems like a fun nod to Terminator 2: Judgment Day, since he’s going to become a rather Terminator-esque cyborg soon.

Miscellaneous Stuff

– As a kind of nerdy thing specifically about these shows rather than broader DC mythology, most of the time, these shows take place in “real time” and the season premieres of both Arrow and Flash pick up months after their season finale. This one doesn’t, instead hitting the ground running just a few hours after the season finale ended.

– Was this the first reference to Intergang on any of the new CW superhero shows? Because between this and Cadmus, that’s a lot of potential coolness.

– There’s a “Great Caesar’s Ghost” reference in here somewhere, which was Perry White’s most famous catch phrase for decades. It even led to an episode of The Adventures of Superman in the ’50s where someone tried to convince him he actually WAS seeing Caesar’s ghost.

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– Kara was indeed a reporter briefly in the comics, although she was a TV reporter, not a print journalist. Not sure where she’ll end up at CatCo.

Hit the dropdown menu to get to all the references in Supergirl season 2 episode 2, “Last Children of Krypton!”

Who is Metallo?

Hey, look! John Corben is now Metallo, the man with the Kryptonite heart! Well, the cyborg with the kryptonite heart.

The thing is, until fairly recently, he wasn’t exactly the most nuanced character…and even know he isn’t. I mean, let’s face it, a character with Superman’s power levels can rarely cut loose, and the easiest way to do that (other than aliens) is with robots/cyborgs. To make things more interesting, you give the robot and/or cyborg a kryptonite power source. Ding! That’s Metallo, for you!

Now, everyone has a personal favorite Metallo story. Right? No? It’s just me? OK, fine. I still maintain that the most effective deployment of Metallo in the comics was right after DC Comics pulled off their “reboot” (before this was even a word!) of the Superman comics in 1986. John Byrne and Terry Austin’s Superman #1 was the first time this version of Supes ever encountered Kryptonite, and chronologically it was in the story right after he first learned he was an alien.

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Basically, that version of Metallo was built by a creepy, paranoid scientist, who knew that an alien rocket had landed in Smallville 30 years earlier, but was convinced that Supes was the advance scout for an alien invasion. At the time, the only chunk of kryptonite in existence had hitched a ride through the wormhole with Kal-El’s rocket, so this guy stole the whole damn rocket, and used the radioactive green rock to power a nearly unbreakable robot body. Metallo went out into the world to kick the hell out of Supes, and basically did exactly that.

John Corben is never mentioned by name. At this point, the character is just a nameless tough guy who ends up as a radioactive cyborg. But the real beauty of that particular Metallo story is how well John Byrne was teasing out elements of familiar Superman mythology. He treated every reveal of his new Superman not as a “look who’s here, friends!” and more as if readers had never encountered anything about the character before. It’s something that more reboots, both on the page and the screen, should get better at.

And if that doesn’t sell you, then how about this. John Byrne was at the absolute peak of his artistic powers in 1986, and he drew a mean muthascratchin’ Metallo, with all of the proper Terminator imagery you would expect from the era.

Seriously, have a look:

(whew…that took way longer than I expected).

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Metallo in live action, either. Metallo showed up on Lois & Clark season two, as well, but just for one episode. He was introduced on Smallville in what was (if I remember correctly) one of that insufferable show’s more watchable episodes (with a surprisingly ripped Brian Austin Green as Corben!) and popped up sporadically for the rest of the show’s run. But if you really wanna dig deep for Metallo stuff, check out the six or so episodes of Superboy he appeared in, played by Michael Callan. Or don’t. I am a huge defender of Superboy (and especially its latter two seasons, when it became The Adventures of Superboy) but they, ummmm…they aren’t for everybody. In fact, I probably shouldn’t talk smack about Smallville in the same paragraph where I’m defending Superboy

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Metallo has yet to make it to the big screen, which just seems faintly absurd to me. He may not be the kind of villain you hang a whole movie on, but he definitely needs to show up in one of these movies. He did make it into an unproduced Superman screenplay or so, most notably Alex Ford’s wonderful Superman: The Man of Steel from 1998.

– Snapper Carr. Wow. Here’s a character I never, ever expected to see on one of these shows, and certainly not in this form. Lucas “Snapper” Carr was conceived as a hip, teenage sidekick for the Justice League in 1960, and is a fine example of what square comic book writers thought those crazy teenagers would be into in the pre-Beatles/pre-sexual revolution years.

Anyway, this version of the character couldn’t possibly be any more different than the comic book version, which is just fine with me. Also, Snapper looks kind of like Julius Schwartz, the legendary DC editor who basically kickstarted DC’s revival in the Silver Age, so that’s kind of awesome.

Crisis on Infinite Earths

– Just in case you didn’t notice the Crisis On Infinite Earths nod, DC and The CW really want you to, because they released this cool official piece of promo art.

So, what’s the big deal? I’ll tell you what! This is far from the first nod to Crisis we’ve had on these shows. Hell, the very first episode of The Flash hinted at Barry Allen’s death in that comic. Keep in mind, that this was at a time when these kinds of things weren’t done every other day, and both Kara and Barry stayed dead for about 30 years.

Also, lemme tell ya, Crisis On Infinite Earths #7 is a helluva comic, and Kara’s death is as heroic and heartbreaking as you would want it to be. It meant something, and the fact that it really looked like she was never coming back was a big frakkin’ deal at the time.

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Miscellaneous Kryptonian Memory Crystals

– When Supes asks the crooks, “If the bullets don’t work, why the punching?” I can’t help but feel that’s a reference to The Adventures of Superman TV series in the ’50s. George Reeves’ version of Superman would happily endure a hail of bullets from thugs in suits but when they ran out of bullets and threw their guns at him? He’d duck. After all, those prop guns were made of metal, and would not bounce off an actor.

– The title of this episode, “Last Children of Krypton” is a play on one of Superman’s nicknames, “The Last Son of Krypton.” Considering that this show has already put the lie to that “last anything of Krypton” stuff from pretty much its first episode, well, I wouldn’t read too much into it. But what I WILL do is take this opportunity to insist that every single one of you who enjoys this portrayal of Superman check out Elliot S! Maggin’s novel, Superman: Last Son of Krypton. I promise you, it’s one of the best Superman stories ever, it’s an all-time favorite of mine, and it’s an absolute masterclass in how this character should be portrayed.

In fact, the “Supes harnesses a cloud to help put out a fire thing” is similar to the kind of superfeats he pulls off in that book. Like Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s brilliant All-Star Superman, the Last Son of Krypton novel is about a Supes who saves people rather than punches them.

– “How is it so hard to be nice to Superman? He’s Superman!” sounds like it’s addressed to Zack Snyder.

– OK, I lose my mind whenever we go to the Fortress of Solitude on this show, but I’d like to take a moment to point out how cool the look is. It’s a cross between the icy/crystalline look from the Christopher Reeve films but with the cool sci-fi Silver Age mythology, like the statue of Jor-El and Lara holding up a globe of Krypton…except they’re done up in that crystal/ice style.

– Krypton Park in Metropolis appears to be a memorial (it looked like there was a wall of names there). Is there a chance that this Superman has already faced Doomsday, died, and been revived?

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– “You speak Kryptonian.” It’s Kryptonese, damn it! The language is called Kryptonese!

– Kelex looks fucking awesome. Ahem…I mean, Kelex! Kelex was a Kryptonian serving robot who first appeared in John Byrne and Dick Giordano’s Man of Steel #1 in 1986, which was that modern (well, ’80s modern) reboot of the Superman mythos I mentioned earlier!

– “He won’t drink and fly.” God, this show loves Superman: The Movie, which is fine, because so do I. During Superman and Lois Lane’s first interview in that wonderful movie (buy me a couple of drinks if you spot me in NYC and maybe I’ll take you to Lois Lane’s apartment building), he cracks that “I never drink when I fly” when Lois offers him some wine. 

Did I miss anything? Well, help me in my neverending battle by shouting ’em out in the comments, or hit me up on Twitter. I’ll update this with the stuff that checks out!