This Superman & Lois review contains spoilers.
Superman and Lois Episode 4
One of the most tired arguments in comics is about whether or not Superman is too powerful to tell good stories with. The plethora of exceptional, meaningful, moving Superman stories out there should put that argument to bed for good, but if they haven’t, feel free to direct anyone making it to “Haywire,” the fourth episode of what’s shaping up to be one of the best Superman arcs ever.
To my mind, the key Superman conflict has nothing to do with his power level and everything to do with the fact that he can’t be everywhere at once. He is a man who wants to help everyone, but has to prioritize where he can be and how much time he can stay there, and those choices all have consequences. That’s basically the thesis statement of this episode: Clark is being pulled in a thousand different directions at once, with his father-in-law climbing on his back about not being seen enough in Metropolis; an Intergang prisoner transfer going down; Morgan Edge about to close the deal on a mine outside of Smallville and Lois trying to run headfirst into Edge; and the boys trying to navigate school and also one of their classmates developing super speed.
But the thing that makes this episode, and the show as a whole, such a good Superman story isn’t necessarily the content of the story. It’s the storytelling, too. Superman & Lois excels at showing and telling. It weaves the three storylines – Clark, Lois and the kids – in and out, contrasting points against each other by bouncing from scene to scene to heighten the point. There are two spots this week where this is really well done.
The first is about midway through the episode. Lois’ big Morgan Edge expose in the Gazette has been spiked by a lawsuit threat – turns out Lois, a star reporter at a major metropolitan newspaper, had a noncompete WHODATHUNK (note: see the mailbag for who indeed thunk). So she pushed it off on Clark, who, as a well known mediocrity, had no such legal conflict, and was planning to bring up the issue in the big town meeting where Smallville was voting on granting Edge’s Intercorp mining rights to the party spot from the first episode.
Meanwhile, the Department of Defense was moving a super-prisoner out of town because Superman’s lack of presence in town was making the authorities skittish about keeping him in town. And at the same time, Sam Lane was giving the kids a hard time about being too needy now that they know their dad was Superman, because the rest of the world needed him more.
Of course, nothing works out right. Superman takes way too long on a wild goose chase, so Edge wins the town vote nearly unanimously, while the stuff with Jordan and Jon takes some time to blow up.
The performances really carry this sequence over. Hoechlin’s Clark agonizes over missing the vote and practically begs Tulloch’s Lois to be mad at him, and their argument is so natural and honest feeling that it’s immediately relatable.
Later, when the family finds out what Sam said to the kids, there’s an argument in the farmhouse that is also immediately recognizable and yet perfectly performed. Clark is pissed at Sam, but Superman’s anger is so often played as some world-ending threat, with glowing red eyes and menacing body language, yet here Hoechlin plays it completely straight – as an angry dad dealing with a shitty in-law. I’m sure we’re going to keep talking about this as the show goes along, but the amount of acting Hoechlin and Tulloch do with only their body language, and the way it conveys exactly who Superman and Lois are both alone and in relation to each other is a HUGE part of the mastery of this show.
The only problem I have with the episode is how it’s all a path to Sam’s radicalization into creating Project 7734. This is pretty BS for a couple of reasons: first, there’s no way the shady-ass government doesn’t already have a similar contingency plan (or 6) for dealing with a rogue Superman; and second, I know the episode is all about what a terrible parent he is, but I really can’t wrap my head around turning on Superman because he’s spending too much time with your grandkids. Maybe that’s what makes Sam a villain, but it’s also what makes this Superman the best he’s been so far in an already great show.
- Thaddeus Killgrave is a weaselly little shit created in the 1980s as a weapons designer for Intergang. The Killgrave we see on screen bears little resemblance to his comics version, where he was almost childlike in his stature. Instead, this bearded, bedraggled, mouth-noise-making character actually looks a lot like his creator, John Byrne.
- Superman’s call sign when he’s working with the Department of Defense is “Bishop 6.” So…uh…does Sam Lane work for Checkmate? Checkmate is one of the various super-clandestine services operating in the DC Universe (along with Task Force X/Suicide Squad, Spyral, Kobra, Argus, the D.E.O., and on and on and on). Checkmate was first seen in Action Comics in the late 1980s and has counted among its members any number of famous DC heroes, from Deathstroke to Alan Scott and Mr. Terrific.
- We have confirmation here that Morgan Edge is running a company called “Intercorp.” The Inter- prefix usually has connotations with Intergang (which is also present in the show), a gang of thugs organized by Bruno Mannheim, usually working for Morgan Edge in some capacity, and all functioning as a subsidiary of Apokalips. Intergang was created by Jack Kirby when he first started on Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #133, recently reprinted in a gorgeous absolute edition which is worth every single penny.
- Calling the mines “Shuster Mines” is a nice touch, especially when they get bought out by a big company and filled with Superman’s only weakness.
- Speaking of callbacks to Grant Morrison’s run, Glenmorgan Square is likely named after Glen Glenmorgan, a minor throwaway villain from the very beginning of Morrison’s Action Comics.
- It’s not really an easter egg or anything, but I want it to be known that when Lois walked into the local paper’s office, I texted someone else watching and said “she definitely has a noncompete.” I’m glad the show also remembered this so I could be proven correct.
- X-Kryptonite is a deeeeeep cut. Supergirl originally created X-Kryptonite as an antidote for green k. But she made it wrong, and it ended up being able to give anyone powers who was exposed to it. Including her otherwise normal Earth cat, Streaky. Yes this was 1960, why do you ask?
- Tag’s emerging powers are a lot of vague references all in one. The super healing and the fast movement are pretty clearly emerging speedster powers, but he doesn’t have any other characteristics of Flashes. Besides getting his powers from a mysterious energy discharge hitting a bunch of weird chemicals. That said, Sam was probably talking out of his ass when he blamed phosphorus for Tag’s powers, considering they were partying on top of a pile of power-giving crystals when it happened.
- Sam also says Tag is being sent to a “special school” for kids with powers, which…it’s weirdly early to be introducing Titans Academy to the TV shows, isn’t it? That new feature of the Infinite Frontier DCU is the only school for gifted youngsters I can think of that would fit the bill, but sound off in the comments if you know what he’s talking about! God I hope it’s not HIVE…