When you think of Superman, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Is it the cape? The tights? The ability to “leap tall buildings in a single bound?” Whatever Superman’s most recognizable trait, it’s probably the way the character makes you feel that stays with you. The premise that someone so powerful would choose to use that power solely for good is an optimistic one. Despite being one of the most powerful figures in the DC Universe, it’s Superman’s capacity to inspire hope that is his defining characteristic.
“Part of why I find the character of Superman appealing as a fan, let alone as a part of the show, is that he has the power to destroy the world and he doesn’t,” Elizabeth Tulloch, who plays Lois Lane on Superman & Lois, says. “He’s doing the right thing because it’s the right thing. If he wasn’t Superman and he was just Clark Kent without the powers, he would be the same man. In other words, you don’t [need] powers to be good, decent, and kind.”
Lois Lane is an equally inspirational figure. What could be more hopeful than someone believing, often in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary, that all the world needs to make the right decision is to hear the truth? As one of fiction’s most famous journalists, Lois uses a different kind of power from her husband’s to make the world a better, more just place.
Let’s face it, these days, we’re all in need of a little hope. So why not spotlight the two heroes who have been fighting the hopeful fight for over 80 years? Superman & Lois, the newest iteration of these legendary characters which premieres on The CW on Feb. 23, aims to do just that, albeit with some refreshing twists. The days of our heroes competing with each other for scoops while Clark awkwardly hides his true identity from Lois are gone, replaced with a happily married pair with no secrets between them. To switch things up a little further, the two are raising twin teenage boys not in big city Metropolis but in Clark’s hometown of Smallville.
It may sound like a radical interpretation (at least by the generally change-averse standard of most Superman tales), but Superman & Lois still has sci-fi and action to spare, even as it shows us a new side of the Man of Steel. It comes as the latest entry in the network’s ever-expanding roster of DC superhero TV shows, which began in 2012 with Arrow and has grown to encompass The Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow, Black Lightning, Batwoman, Stargirl, and more.
It was this shared universe that brought us TV’s newest Superman, Tyler Hoechlin, who first wore the cape in 2016 as a guest star on Supergirl. Despite the fanfare surrounding his arrival there was no Superman spinoff in the works at the time, and this was intended as a one-off appearance for the character.
“Honestly, I was at a point in my life and my career where I didn’t want to commit to something that was a full-time thing on a show,” Hoechlin recalls via Zoom during a break from filming. “I had just left [Teen Wolf] and was enjoying the opportunity to try different things and move around a little bit. So it felt perfect. [Filming] was going to be a couple of weeks up in Vancouver. I could check the list and say I got to play a superhero– and Superman at that.”
But Hoechlin, who had previously auditioned for the role on the big screen for 2013’s Man of Steel, found himself drawn to the way the hero was being presented for TV.
“I liked what Supergirl was representing at the time and what it has continued to represent,” Hoechlin says. “I really loved that the show was just shamelessly optimistic and hopeful. I was happy to do something that was just very, very bold about it.”
That “optimistic and hopeful” quality is apparent in Hoechlin’s performance from the first moments of that initial Supergirl guest appearance. Incredibly powerful and yet so unfailingly polite that he takes the time to offer a wink and a smile to people he saves on the street, this Superman connected with fans tiring of the conflicted, brooding takes which characterized so many of the character’s recent adventures. When the decision was made to bring Superman back for the following year’s Elseworlds crossover event, it was important to match Clark with the character who has shared nearly all his adventures since 1938.
“They were reading a lot of other actresses I recognized,” Tulloch recalls of her 2018 Lois Lane audition. “I kind of had a feeling, after I did it once, that I totally was doing something different from the other actors. The choice I made was just to have fun with it. I think, based on some of the feedback I got in the room, a lot of women had been reading that scene more seriously because, on paper, the scene did read as serious.”
The audition reading in question was a deleted scene from 1980’s Superman II, in which Lois, determined to prove that she knows Clark’s secret identity, pulls a gun on him and fires. A horrified Clark reprimands her, only for Lois to reveal that the round was blank. But by then it’s too late: he’s already confessed to being Superman.
“I just sort of played it joyfully,” Tulloch says. “And at the end, when he doesn’t die, I squealed happily and said, ‘I knew it.’” Tulloch recalls a note from Supergirl co-showrunner Jessica Queller: “She was like, ‘This is what we were looking for… there needs to be a joie de vivre about Lois.’”
Lois Lane is as crucial to DC history as Superman, first appearing in what is generally considered ground zero for the entire superhero genre: 1938’s Action Comics #1. The book introduced both Superman and Lois to the world and, over the ensuing decades, Lois has risen from supporting character to co-headliner, and with good reason. Tougher than a Metropolis winter, sharp-witted, and a better journalist than her superpowered co-worker, Lois showcases the human spirit at its best, no powers required. Tulloch embodies the character as confidently as Hoechlin does Clark/Superman.
“I can’t think of a more important time in recent history to be playing a journalist,” Tulloch says. “After the last few years, where I feel like journalists and members of the media have come under a pretty constant onslaught and had their roles diminished, I think it’s really important to be doing what she’s doing, using her words to fight on behalf of other people, and to fight for truth and justice.”
Just like Hoechlin’s Superman, Tulloch’s Lois was an immediate hit with fans. It helps that the pair share an effortless onscreen chemistry. Without the Clark/Superman/Lois faux-love triangle that characterized so many previous versions of the legend, TV’s new Lois and Clark were free to focus on fresher elements of the relationship. Amazingly, this rapport came naturally, as the tight shooting schedules of the Elseworlds crossover meant the first time the pair were in character together was right before filming.
“Our first readings were on set,” Hoechlin says. “We didn’t get to do any of the readings together beforehand. I immediately thought she was perfect for the part. That feeling has only grown.”
“We really just have so much fun,” Tulloch says. “I think that’s part of why I hope people respond to us. Obviously there’s a level of gravitas to these roles, and what they’re doing in their roles in the world is really important, but they’re also really playful and they really like each other.”
By the time the characters were brought back for another DC TV guest appearance in 2019, things had changed. Lois had given birth to their first child, the infant Jonathan Kent. They were there for the multiverse-shattering Crisis on Infinite Earths, which changed elements of reality for all the DC superhero shows, including a major status quo shift for Clark and Lois: instead of raising a single infant son, they now have twin teenage boys.
The responsibility of shaping Superman & Lois fell to writer and executive producer Todd Helbing, who served as showrunner on the fifth season of The Flash. Yet, it was a task that gave him pause when the job was first presented to him by DC TV maestro Greg Berlanti.
“These shows are ginormous,” Helbing says. “The hours alone, it’s just a daunting task. And nobody wants to mess up Superman.”
It was here that the family dynamic of Superman & Lois began to take shape. “Crisis gave us a blank slate in a lot of ways,” Helbing says, and with that came freedom. Only child Jonathan gave way to the idea of a son and a daughter, before finally settling on two very different twin sons: the athletic and confident Jonathan (Jordan Elsass) and the anxious and introverted Jordan (Alexander Garfin).
“I have two boys who are wildly different, so that became part of the storytelling,” Helbing says. “What do you do as parents when one child is completely different from the other and needs different attention and different help? The brothers’ relationship changes the family dynamic. And as working parents, how do you juggle your lives? Just thinking about Lois Lane being the most famous journalist in the world and the demands that her job has coupled with the demands that Superman would have, how do you infuse the storytelling with all of those challenges?”
Those challenges include the fact that, as the show opens, the boys don’t know their father is the world’s most powerful superhero, which means Clark occasionally misses out on fatherly activities without an honest excuse, an understandable point of friction.
“Superman is a difficult person to dramatize because he’s perfect in a lot of ways,” Helbing says. “The analogy we always use is Superman is sort of perfect, but Clark can be clumsy as a dad. I think being clumsy as a parent, that’s something that we all are. We’re all figuring it out. There are a lot of books written about it, but the second it happens to you, you don’t know what you’re doing. So why would that be any different for the Man of Steel? In a lot of ways, that opened up the floodgates about really telling stories where people can relate to him in a way that they haven’t been able to before.”
In other words, just because Lois and Clark are icons, pillars of an entire genre of storytelling, and two of the most famous characters in all of fiction, it doesn’t mean parenting comes easily to them.
“I think there’s a little element of guilt on both of their parts because they’re such busy people, with Clark moonlighting as Superman, and Lois being this very famous, hardworking journalist,” Tulloch says.
The idea of Lois and Clark as parents isn’t new to fans of the comics, where young Jonathan has been a fixture for years, but it isn’t as well known as other facets of the Superman legend. This makes Hoechlin and Tulloch the first actors to bring this element of the characters to a mainstream audience.
“For me, it was an exciting opportunity to tell a part of the story that hasn’t been told before,” Hoechlin says. “In a way, it raises the stakes significantly… the only real threat to him is threatening the people that he cares about. Of course, he’s had that relationship with Lois, but now he’s also got two kids, so that threat becomes all the more real.”
Fans who grew up with Superman and now have families of their own may see the character in a new light. “I think for parents to be able to come back and reconnect with this character who was a hero of theirs as a kid going through the same things that they’re now going through is such a cool opportunity, as well,” says Hoechlin.
Creating a realistic family dynamic meant finding actors to play the Kent sons who felt natural with their onscreen parents. Tulloch did readings with a series of young actors to make sure the parental chemistry was there.
“You honestly could tell almost immediately that they were the right fits,” Tulloch says. “Alex Garfin, who plays Jordan, has a lot of emotional stuff. He was just really excellent. Jordan Elsass, who plays Jonathan, is the same. His role is really different since Jonathan’s a bit cockier. If anything, his character’s Achilles’ heel is that he thinks too highly of himself. But both of those boys were just awesome.”
Events in the first episode lead the family to leave Metropolis for Clark’s old hometown of Smallville, which isn’t quite the idyllic small town it’s sometimes portrayed as. But the rural setting doesn’t mean that there will be less superheroic action than you’ve come to expect from a big city-based hero.
“The way we approached it was, if Flash is the guardian of Central City and Supergirl is the guardian of National City, Superman is the guardian of the world,” Helbing says. “So it really doesn’t matter where Superman’s based. He can fly anywhere in the world in a matter of seconds. Once you understand that, it really doesn’t matter where his home turf is… it could be anywhere.”
Bringing the family back to Smallville means that Hoechlin has an opportunity to explore more facets of the character. There’s a long-running debate among Superman fans and creators about which of Superman’s identities is the “real” persona. Is he really Clark Kent, and Superman is a put-on for the world? Or does Superman represent his true nature, and it’s Clark Kent who’s an act? To hear Hoechlin tell it, it’s far more complicated than that.
“There is Superman at the most extreme, when no one knows him as anything other than [a hero],” Hoechlin says of his approach to the character. “There’s Superman when he’s around people who are aware that he’s more than just Superman. There’s the Clark that everyone knows is Superman, but he’s still kind of ‘playing Clark.’ There’s also the extreme Clark where you would only ever think that he’s the clumsy guy in the office and that’s all he is.”
But the truth of the character lies somewhere else entirely for the actor, and it’s the one that lends itself well to a story of Clark living a family-oriented life when he’s not flying around saving the world.
“And then there’s this guy in the center,” Hoechlin says. “I don’t really think that there’s a right answer in saying that ‘he is Superman’ or ‘he is Clark.’”
Clark will face some challenges as he readjusts to Smallville life, but it’s the famously outspoken Lois who has her work cut out for her.
“Lois has a tendency to put her foot in her mouth and sometimes she doesn’t think before she speaks,” Tulloch says. “You will see her get into trouble a little bit with the people of Smallville because she thinks she’s doing the right thing on their behalf, but not really thinking through their specific needs.”
Despite these weighty and dramatic concepts, there’s no shortage of super-powered action in the first two episodes, in which Superman takes on a mysterious, armored foe. For those wondering whether they need to be up on the various continuity bylaws of a TV universe that encompasses no fewer than six other shows, the first episode kicks off with a wonderful crash course in the history of this particular Superman and Lois, and there’s no baggage from other series to contend with.
“My mom watches everything that my brother [Aaron Helbing of The Flash, Knightfall, and more] and I do, and she didn’t read comic books,” Helbing says. “If she can’t understand what’s going on, then we’ve failed. But in the same light, there’s a huge fanbase, so we want to put Easter eggs in there and we want to tell stories about characters that everybody knows [from] the comics. We want to satisfy both at the same time, but ultimately, our job is to just tell a good story, and that takes focus.”
Getting what these particular characters represent right matters more to fans than superpowered brawls, crossovers, or intricate continuity. (“Part of why Tyler and I take this really seriously [is] because we know these roles are iconic for a reason,” Tulloch says). Embodying those core values is what made Hoechlin and Tulloch’s portrayals connect so strongly with fans in the crossovers, and it’s something everyone involved in the spinoff series intends to continue.
“It’s such a polarized world that we’re living in,” Hoechlin says. “Superman’s ability to stand for what’s right without having to, for lack of a better word, demonize, is something I really appreciate about him. For me, that’s really that idea of compassion and empathy towards everyone. I think his hope is that everyone finds the right path.”
But as it so often does when discussing the world of Superman, it always comes back to that one word: hope.
“Superman has always been hopeful,” Helbing says. “Considering everything that we’ve gone through this year, hope is infused in there and it should be. But it has to feel real, and it has to come out of hopefulness for real struggles that anybody watching this can relate to. If Superman can struggle and he still remains hopeful, and if Lois can struggle and she remains hopeful, then I think maybe we can, too.”
Superman & Lois premieres on Feb. 23 on The CW.