This article contains Superman & Lois episode 7 spoilers.
Superman & Lois Episode 7
It took seven episodes, but we’ve finally learned the secrets of the mysterious stranger who up until now has only been known as “Captain Luthor.” Since the first episode of Superman & Lois aired back in February, fans (and journalists) have been buzzing about the identity of the man under the armor who has been giving Superman a hard time, and lately, spending a lot of time with Lois Lane.
And while everyone just took the armor’s AI at its word that this is a “Captain Luthor” from elsewhere in the DC multiverse, Superman & Lois episode 7, “Man of Steel,” turns all of that on its head, as it turns out that almost everything we had assumed about this character is wrong.
Fans learn the truth about the Stranger at the same time that Superman and Lois themselves do on the show, after a stunning series of reveals around the sequence of events that led to the character designing a powerful suit of armor, hopping over to our dimension, and start taking out his frustrations on Superman. It turns out that this Stranger (played by Wolé Parks) was married to Lois Lane, and the pair had a daughter, Natasha. When their world’s Superman and a group of Kryptonians went rogue and began destroying this alternate Earth, father and daughter watched helplessly as Lois was murdered by Superman during a live news broadcast.
All of this would be enough of a kicker for a big episode, but the biggest and most shocking is saved for the end. “The Stranger” isn’t a Luthor after all: he’s John Henry Irons, known to DC Comics fans as the superheroic Steel. And now he’s here on Arrowverse Earth-Prime, hammer and all. But this Steel has a vendetta against Superman.
The episode is directed by none other than David Ramsey, returning to his DC TV stomping grounds for the first time since the Arrow finale in 2020. Ramsey will direct multiple episodes of Arrowverse TV this year, but he didn’t know he was getting one of the most important episodes of the year to direct until he got the script.
“When I got the script, like everyone else, my jaw dropped,” Ramsey says. “It really is a premiere or finale or crossover-sized episode. It’s a huge reveal that I was really privileged and humbled to direct. It was really a great surprise that I was directing an episode as big as this.”
So let’s talk about that big twist…
Who is John Henry Irons?
It’s no accident that John Henry Irons claims the title of “man of steel” from Superman in this episode, as in the comics he went by the superheroic codename of Steel. That’s right, the “villain” of Superman & Lois is actually a hero in the comics, and a fairly important one, too.
John Henry Irons first appeared in The Adventures of Superman #500 in 1993. He was created by Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove, and the character quickly took over as the lead character in the ongoing Superman: The Man of Steel comic book series. This was during the period where the “real” Superman was presumed dead after his battle with Doomsday, and Irons was one of four “Supermen” who rose to take his place.
Ramsey was already a fan of Steel long before he was tasked with directing this episode.
“I’ve always been a big comic geek, so I was very familiar with who Steel was and who John Henry Irons is, but I didn’t see this coming,” Ramsey says. “I had no idea that the person they had been building up to be a Luthor was going to end up being Steel. I had no clue and the audience will have no clue. When he catches the hammer at the end, or when it’s revealed in that scene that you saw when this picture comes up, everyone’s jaw is going to drop the same way mine did. It’s a huge reveal.”
In the comics, Irons was a former weapons designer who tried to escape from his former corporation and atone for his past. After starting a new life in Metropolis as a steelworker, Irons nearly died while saving one of his co-workers from a fatal fall, but he was rescued by Superman. Inspired, and feeling that he had truly been given a second chance, John took it upon himself to protect Metropolis after Superman died at the hands of Doomsday. He created a powerful suit of armor, a high tech hammer, and went to work taking weapons off the streets of Metropolis and fearlessly taking on superpowered bad guys.
Pretty different from the John Henry Irons we met on Superman & Lois, right? Well…if you look a little closer, the comics version and the TV version may have more in common than we first thought.
“The original John Henry was inspired by Superman to become a hero,” Jai Jamison, who wrote this episode, tells us. “In an interesting way, [TV’s] John Henry and his alternate world gives us another insight into our Superman as well. Through the variations and through the variables, we can further hone and distill who our heroes are. On this other Earth, his family and Lois Lane inspired him to be Steel. So it’s still kind of in this similar space, but we see it from a different perspective. It further grounds who our heroes, our Superman, our Lois Lane are. Part of the journey that John Henry has to go on now is really discovering what is different about [Earth-Prime]. Could he try to prevent what happened on the other one?”
Parks takes this interpretation of the mythos a step further, speculating that the Superman of John Henry’s world was good before something turned him evil.
“To be honest, I think Superman inspires him in both ways,” Parks says. “So then the question is, what would John Henry do [if Superman went bad]? He would step up to the plate, because ultimately, it’s about a moral compass. Obviously, when we first met John Henry in the original comics, he was the hero from the outset. His moral compass, to me, is the exact same as this one. We just see it from a different angle. We may see a different origin story, but at their core, they’re the same guy. It’s ultimately about protecting people and being selfless. I think that that’s a really big key, and I hope that that comes through.”
From Captain Luthor to Steel
Although, as it turns out, it wasn’t originally the plan for the mysterious Stranger to turn out to be John Henry Irons at all! When Parks first auditioned for the role in early 2020, the character had more in common with a traditional Lex Luthor type.
“When I first went in, you know how these shows are, they give you fake names,” Parks laughs. “I auditioned for [a character with] the most generic name. But clearly based on the sides, it was originally a Lex Luthor character. To be honest with you, from my understanding, I had some sides which overlapped with Morgan Edge’s character…Back then, it was just a version of Lex Luthor.”
Jamison says that even in the early days, the plan was never for Captain Luthor to be a typical “megalomaniacal” villain.
“We talked about there being reasons for his actions, and humanizing him,” Jamison says. “That was our mission, that was the track we were on for a while.”
But then a few months after Parks landed the role, plans changed for the character, after Superman & Lois writers’ assistant Adam Mallinger suggested that “Captain Luthor” should instead be John Henry Irons, and the idea was quickly adopted by the team and showrunner Todd Helbing.
“From there, we really dove into the fun of planting those seeds and developing who that character is,” Jamison says.
Bringing John Henry Irons to Life
“For me, as an actor, I really wanted to tap into his pain,” Parks says. “I didn’t want him to come off as malicious. The difference between John Henry and a character like Lex Luthor is that Lex is a narcissist, he’s a selfish guy, but John is selfless, we just haven’t seen it.”
To his point, we’ve already seen the Stranger soften slightly from the earliest episodes, particularly as he gets to know this world’s Lois. But in “Man of Steel,” Parks really gets to show new sides of the character, and has three incredibly powerful scenes. The first is when he watches his world’s Lois die on live TV, the next is when he says a tearful goodbye to his daughter as he sets out on his mission of vengeance, and then there’s his big brawl with Superman, where he finally creates a hammer that can stop a Kryptonian and explains why he’s here.
“All the actors gave everything,” Ramsey says. “It’s just so wonderful as an actor going and working with other actors who just get it. The death of Lois was really very, very powerful. They were shot separately, obviously, her coverage on the roof, and then Wolé and Nat’s reaction to that. Both of those moments were incredibly, incredibly powerful, just shooting it.”
Superman & Lois has a pattern of building up slowly to its big action sequences, and it places as much emphasis on interpersonal drama as it does Kryptonian throwdowns. For Ramsey, who came from the similarly action-and-drama heavy Arrow, it’s a natural progression. And having been part of some big dramatic reveals in the past, he knows just how to make them work in this episode.
“As a director, being an actor is my greatest strength,” Ramsey says. “Particularly, in a show like Superman & Lois, which is really actor friendly, you’re just sitting the camera down and letting the actors perform. To the great credit of the production team and the writers, it really is a show that allows the actors to indulge.”
In this case, that meant making sure that Parks in particular had the freedom to express all the sides of the character this episode required.
“I said, ‘It’s your episode, man. We’ll clear the set and we’ll get it right…you can’t get it wrong,’” Ramsey says. “As an actor, I love it when directors say that. I love it when I can trust a director to allow me to work. It’s not just about creating a beautiful shot or getting your shots…it’s about creating an atmosphere where the actor feels as if they can really work.”
The show’s writers and Parks had to walk a fine line in the early episodes between making “the Stranger” feel like a real threat to Superman, without turning the man they knew to be Irons into a villain. But sharp-eyed viewers will note that the seeds have always been there.
“Even though he’s kind of been portrayed as the villain, or at least Superman’s antagonist, we’ve never seen him harm a person,” Parks says. “He used non lethal force… So we’ve never actually seen him be as bad or as callous as a villain would be. I think what the writers did was very smart, and I also wanted to make sure I tried to portray that with the character.”
But of course, with all that drama, we do get a battle between Superman and John Henry, complete with that iconic hammer. It’s a moment that feels completely earned in the context of the episode, and also stands on its own as a great example of what DC TV shows are capable of doing these days, even when they’re not working at the scale of one of their crossovers like Crisis on Infinite Earths.
“For me, what became the most important, was the vendetta that John Henry Irons has toward Superman,” Ramsey says. “I let that story kind of frame the fight, as opposed to making it as big as maybe something you might see in Arrow, which really isn’t the tone of this show. It really is about more of the emotional content. It ended up being only two or three hits, as opposed to my original plan, which was more like a battle royal with 15 hits. I really did allow the story to tell more of the action elements of the show, as opposed to this big visual spectacle.”
There’s just enough spectacle to make fans of these characters excited, though, particularly when John Henry wields that hammer for the first time.
What’s Next for John Henry Irons?
Despite the multiverse-shaking revelations of this episode, it seems there are even more to come. For example, we still don’t know what made Superman and other Kryptonians turn against John Henry’s Earth and carve a path of destruction. And just like the rest of the DC TV shows, there’s lots of worldbuilding going on in the background that we’ve only just glimpsed.
“There was a lot of thought put into what happened on John Henry’s Earth,” Jamison teases. “What the maneuvers were, what it looked like. How it was different, how it was similar, all of it. A lot of thought. We will see more of that, going forward.”
One thing that hasn’t been decided on yet is what “number” designation this alternate Earth has. But there’s still plenty of more important things to explore, including whether or not John Henry’s daughter Nat (who has a superheroic destiny of her own in the comics) survived the Kryptonian onslaught. It seems that answers are coming soon. “We are not done with the world he came from,” Parks promises.
“There will be some revelations as he tries to explain or they try to get information out of him about what his mission is and they try to understand who he is,” Jamison says.
If these revelations are as powerful as the ones in “Man of Steel,” they’re likely to make this version of John Henry an even more sympathetic character, and one that much closer to his heroic comic book counterpart. Whatever comes next, it seems that Steel’s hammer is in very good hands.
What did you think of this week’s Superman & Lois revelations? Let us know in the comments!