This article was first published in the March 2021 issue of SFX – republished online to mark the release of Superman & Lois on iPlayer.
Absolutely no superhero can match the impact of Superman. Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the Man of Steel first appeared in 1938's Action Comics #1 and subsequently ushered in the superhero genre. Over the decades, this pop culture icon became a symbol of hope and justice. His image and S-shield proved to be merchandise gold too, gracing lunchboxes, bedsheets, apparel, mugs, action figures, coloring books, and much more.
Then there's the countless television shows, comic books, and movies, each putting their own spin on his legacy. And therein lies the rub. Some would argue the Superman creative well has dried up, that it's all been seen before. But leave it to uber-producer and Arrowverse gatekeeper Greg Berlanti to come up with a contemporary twist on the Big Blue Boy Scout's canon for the new TV series Superman & Lois.
"My question initially was, 'How do you do a Superman show that isn't the same as has already been done?'" showrunner Todd Helbing tells SFX. "Not just on TV, but in features as well. Man Of Steel obviously shifted tones quite a bit, but it was all Superman in the same time period. Smallville had already done the teenage years. Greg Berlanti had an answer pretty quickly. He was like, 'Well, let's just do Superman and Lois married with kids.'"
Superman & Lois presents a unique situation for a new venture. These versions of the characters, portrayed by Teen Wolf's Tyler Hoechlin and Grimm's Elizabeth Tulloch, had already been established over numerous appearances in the Arrowverse, with the two most recently chipping in to defeat the Monitor during the epic Crisis On Infinite Earths crossover. So, in the early stages of the series' development, Helbing pitched Hoechlin and Tulloch the pilot and season arc over dinner.
"It's an interesting dynamic, because Tyler and Bitsie had already played these characters in a handful of episodes and had worked on their interpretations of the characters," Helbing says. "But when I explained to them what we were trying to do and the tonal shift, they got on board pretty quickly. There are subtle changes they make – not necessarily in performances, but in attitude. They knocked it out of the park in all the Arrowverse episodes that they were in, but we are really diving into their relationship. One of the analogs we use for this show is Friday Night Lights. Lois and Clark in our show are very much Tami and Coach Taylor."
Superman & Lois follows the titular couple as they embark on their greatest adventure to date: parenting. The series opens with Lois and Clark in Metropolis. An emergency forces the duo to travel back to Superman's hometown of Smallville. That little escapade inspires some heart-to-heart conversations about their priorities, careers, and raising two teenage boys – Jordan and Jonathan – who could ultimately inherit their father's Kryptonian abilities.
"From the onset, once you think about Clark and Lois married and as parents, it really becomes a family show that happens to have Superman and Lois in it," Helbing explains. "Clark kind of has two jobs. Lois is the most famous journalist in the world. What does that look like for them as parents? For the kids, how do we make that interesting and real? As parents, it becomes a juggling act of how you parent them and give them the individual love and guidance that they need. It's always emotional family stories first, and then it gets into the heroics and mythology after that.
"Smallville did a really great job of dealing with this alien kid that has to keep his powers in check while he's going through all the trials and tribulations of being a teenager," he continues. "We wanted to make Superman relatable. If there's one complaint about Superman, it's that he is boring. A lot of that is that he's a perfect version of a human. He's invulnerable in many ways.
"He never really messes up," Helbing adds. "But as a parent, we were able to take that age-old 'Clark Kent is clumsy' attribute and flip it a little bit to 'Clark is clumsy as a dad, as a parent'. It added an element of intrigue and humanity. The second you see Clark Kent, Superman, going through the same things as anybody in the world could go through if they are a parent, it grounds him in a way that I don't think he's ever been grounded before."
Clark understandably has a lot on his plate. At the beginning of the season, he still works as a journalist at the Daily Planet. On top of that, he's Superman: he needs to save the world whenever the world needs saving. That means frequently being absent from home. Lois also maintains a busy schedule. But for the most part, as a parent, she's been around more than Clark is – and that weighs heavily on his mind.
"What's interesting is that when the show starts, the boys are now reaching this age where Superman can't be gone as much," Helbing says. "They need a father figure. Clark needs to be there, in the same way that Jonathan Kent was there for him when he was going through all the stuff he was going through as a teenager. We see Clark struggle with that. How to keep being a good Superman and a good husband and a good father, and doing all that simultaneously, is a challenge."
Clark isn't the only person responsible for raising the kids, of course. There's Lois too – and no matter the scenario, she's not one to wait on the sidelines. Sure, past incarnations of Lois often stumbled into trouble and required rescuing. But the Superman & Lois writers' room vowed that this iteration would never feel like a damsel in distress; that in almost every way, she's as much of a hero as he is.
"Lois's pen is where her strength lies," notes Helbing. "From the get-go, you see how strong she is. Lois kind of has her own villain, while Clark has his own villain. She's fighting with this person in a way where she doesn't need Superman's help. She's still Lois, so she gets herself in binds sometimes. But she's always presented in a way that she doesn't need Superman to come save her. She does it all on her own. Really, the place where she needs as much help as Clark is parenting," he adds. "As journalist and superhero, they are individuals. They team up occasionally. As parents, it's like two working parents coming home at night and they have their job of raising kids… you never know where you stand."
Viewers may be getting a heavy dose of Superman's family life, but there's always a target on his back. His number one nemesis, Lex Luthor, typically engages Superman on an intellectual level. Then there's General Zod, who can knock down buildings and trade punches with his opponents. Neither villain seems bound for the show just yet; instead, a new threat and an old foe will wreak havoc.
"The Stranger is our biggest direct result of Crisis," Helbing says. "It's part of the story. You start to understand in the first two episodes why he's here, where he comes from, what he's after and why he has a beef with Superman. Life shifted the second Crisis happened, but we don't really address it in the same way as we do with the Stranger."
A familiar face from Supergirl will also be appearing. "With Morgan Edge, we wanted to present a guy that is relatable, as much as a billionaire can be," he continues. "He's a mogul. He owns the Daily Planet. He owns a genetics corporation. He owns an alternative energy company. As the story progresses, you start to see why these three areas are important to him and what he's trying to do and how it affects Lois Lane and Superman."
As for those glowing rocks that Superman proves susceptible to, Helbing notes that "in the Arrowverse Universe, there isn't a tremendous amount of kryptonite. We explain the reason for that. It's still something that can be used against Superman to weaken him. There are a couple of other things that we get into from the comics. My personal favorite [vulnerability], though, is his mind. Clark's mind, in a lot of ways, is as vulnerable as any human. That will come into play."
An individual that may tip the scales for the forces of good is John Diggle. Last seen in the Arrow series finale, he witnessed a meteor crash and came across a box emitting a green light. The discovery fuelled fan speculation that Diggle would be taking up the mantle of the Green Lantern… or maybe not. "Diggle comes into our show halfway through the season," Helbing teases. "Where you last saw him, there are many different things that could have happened to him, but we will explain exactly what did."
More than just the weight of the world rests on Superman's shoulders. The TV series Arrow went off the air in 2020; Black Lightning and Supergirl both ended in 2021. With the very fate of the Arrowverse at stake, it's up to Superman & Lois to help the CW's live-action superhero franchise soar even higher.
"All the shows had an amazing run and told fantastic stories," Helbing concludes. "But this is season one. For us, it was an opportunity to pivot and shift. Black Lightning did a fantastic job of telling a family story. Flash clearly had a family at STAR Labs. But the Kent family is central to the story. It's a family show that just happens to have Lois and Superman in it. It will be different, but you will see it's still connected to the Arrowverse."
Superman & Lois arrives on BBC One this December 4 in the UK, and all episodes will be available to stream on BBC iPlayer. While you wait, check out our guide to the new superhero movies in the pipeline.