My Adventures with Superman is great! But…

Promotional artwork for My Adventures with Superman, showing Superman holding Lois Lane while flying

About a month ago, it finally happened. My Adventures with Superman came out. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time; I wrote a blog post when it was first announced over 2 years ago. Based on what little was known about the show back then, it seemed like exactly what I wanted: a show focusing on Clark’s humanity and his life at the Daily Planet, and especially his friendship with fellow Planet employees Lois and Jimmy. That is indeed what the show is about. So do I like it? You bet I do! It’s charming, fun and exciting. It is indeed very focused on characters and relationships, but that does not mean it skimps out on the action. It’s also pretty humorous.

If any of this sounds like a good show to you, I recommend watching it. It’s available on Max (formerly HBO Max). At the time of this post’s writing, the show is up to its seventh episode. This post contains spoilers for episodes 4-6, so if you want a “fresh” experience of the show, you should stop reading. But if you do decide to finish this post instead of running off to watch the show, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch the show – I don’t think learning the information found in this post will ruin your experience at all.

At any rate, this is your last warning for spoilers.

When MAWS was newly announced, I thought its premise sounded so promising that it might end up being basically exactly what I’d want a new Superman cartoon to be. That might’ve been a little too optimistic. I didn’t fully realize how nontraditional MAWS was going to be. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself, of course, but as a fan of the traditional Superman setup, I don’t necessarily consider it ideal either.

The first big change that’s obvious from the very first episode is that Lois reciprocates Clark’s interest in her from the start. Many villains are also massively re-imagined. But in this article, I want to focus on what I consider the most radical change and the one that I’m least on board with: by episode 6, both Lois and Jimmy know Clark is Superman. Or, in in-universe terms, they both learn Clark is Superman shortly after Superman first appears.

This is a massive departure from tradition, obviously. And while I find it interesting and a perfectly reasonable idea, I have to admit that…I don’t really like it.

A screenshot from the My Adventures of Superman cartoon showing a photo of Superman's face with glasses doodled on it and the text "Clark??" written underneath it

Wasted Potential

It took some effort for me to fully understand why this idea bothers me, so it will take a bit of time for me to convey it too. The first and most obvious issue is that it closes off a lot of potential stories that could be told. Of course, it also opens up possibilities for other stories to be told, so the real issue is that it means stories, plot points, and ideas that I personally want to see are closed off.

I’m sure after decades and decades of superhero media, a lot of people are tired of seeing superheroes constantly keeping their identities secret from even their close friends. But in all honesty, I just am not. I think this setup, tried-and-true as it may be, is full of potential.

Some of that potential is for humor. MAWS is pretty humorous, so it would fit right in. What’s a bigger deal is that I enjoy the irony and tragedy of this premise. In the 1950s Adventures of Superman live-action show, the friendship between Clark, Lois, and Jimmy is also important, but they don’t know that he’s Superman, and to me, there’s something about that which is just so interesting and sad in a way: having a strong, almost family-like bond with others, and yet not willing to let them know something so fundamental about yourself. It just seems poignant to me. I guess I always like for Superman to have at least a touch of sadness to his character.

Not being able to open up to others, even others we care about, is something that I think almost everyone has experienced at one point or another. There’s something strangely satisfying about seeing Superman represent such a basic human struggle in an extreme way. I guess technically, MAWS also depicts this struggle since Lois and Jimmy found out Clark was Superman, rather than being told by him…but it happening so fast means there’s no time to dwell on this struggle or really appreciate it.

MAWS could’ve still been fairly revolutionary by making Lois and Jimmy learning about Clark’s identity happen relatively early, but not within the first couple of episodes – at the end of the first season, for example. This way, they would’ve had time to actually use the potential of the “classic” setup.

However, as I thought more about my dissatisfaction with MAWS’ choice, I’ve come to realize there’s an even more fundamental reason why it bothers me.

I Want a Contrast Between Clark & Superman, and Now That’s Much Harder

There are a lot of foundational aspects of Superman that contribute to his appeal as a character. Which aspects are more appealing or important is highly variable from one person to another. As I’ve thought about why MAWS’ decision and its consequences don’t feel right to me, it’s brought to mind how important a certain aspect actually is to me. That aspect is simply the contrast between Clark and Superman.

Now, Clark and Superman’s apparent personalities have varied greatly over the years, both in general and in relation to each other. Sometimes, Clark and Superman act extremely differently – Clark acts cowardly, mild-mannered, and clumsy, while Superman is bold and headstrong – that sort of thing. I’m not necessarily talking about that. Some versions of Clark don’t seem to act much differently from Superman (especially in Adventures of Superman and many Post-Crisis depictions), and I actually like these versions better a lot of the time.

Even without a big personality change, there’s still a big contrast between Clark and Superman. Clark, as an identity and persona, is a human being with no powers who lives a human life and is in effect limited in many of the ways humans are, since he has to hide his powers and chooses to live the same kind of life humans live. And while we, the audience, know Clark is Superman, we still see him acting as a normal person and being treated as a normal person by most people he interacts with. This causes the idea of Clark the Human to be firm in our mind…and that, in my experience, makes it more powerful and compelling when we see Clark and Superman “meet”: when we’re reminded that they’re one and the same. It can lead us to contemplate how unusual it really is that a man who appears normal is actually, well…Superman.

I’ll give a couple of TV examples of seeing Clark and Superman “meet” that gives me a certain sense of wonder. In the 5th episode of Lois & Clark (Requiem for a Superhero), while Clark and Lois are investigating, in order to hinder the people who are about to discover them, Clark creates a mini-earthquake, pretending it’s an actual earthquake. In a way, this gives me a sense of awe because Clark had been acting as a normal human around Lois, and in a sense it’s almost as if I had fallen for the illusion of Clark being human. To suddenly see such a display of his powers gives me a sense of amazement that such a powerful being would practically “be” a normal human. I don’t think I’d have had this sensation at all if Lois just…knew Clark was Superman. Of course, Lois does eventually learn Clark is Superman in this show, but there’s still plenty of time giving to establishing the illusion of Clark being human.

An “opposite” example (seeing the Clark-ness of Superman, rather than the Superman-ness of Clark) is in the 6th episode of Superman: The Animated Series (Feeding Time). Parasite finds out Superman’s secret identity (due to being able to gain knowledge from people whose energy and powers he’s absorbed) and kidnaps him. As Parasite explains his plan to keep Superman there indefinitely, Superman says that his co-workers will look for him when they realize he hasn’t come into work for a while. Seeing this be one of the first things Superman says makes me think that he doesn’t see himself that differently from how we see ourselves. To the viewer, there’s something a bit shocking about Superman suddenly having to rely on normal humans, but this doesn’t seem to be the case from his perspective. In a way, it makes me amazed to contemplate how Superman can be one of us despite being, well, Superman. A powerful contrast like this would be hard to create if Superman talking with someone who knows he’s Clark is something that happened extremely frequently.

Do you see what I’m getting at? I enjoy being amazed at the fact that Superman and Clark are one and the same. I enjoy seeing that contrast and then being reminded that it’s all an illusion. It really makes you think about who Clark/Superman is, and how his humanity and, well, “Supermanity” can coexist – how for him, it might be natural, but for us, it’s remarkable. I like finding it amazing that he’s both man and Superman – both human and “god”. If Clark is constantly interacting with people who know his secret identity, it’s very hard for something like that to ever happen.

I have a feeling this might have been a deliberate choice, but in MAWS, the two personas of Clark and Superman feel…a bit insignificant. After all, since he spends so much time interacting just with people who know his secret already, he’s free to openly use his powers even when he’s not in his Superman persona. Heck, in episode 6, Clark doesn’t change into his Superman outfit at all, and it barely seems to matter.

I don’t like the fact that it doesn’t matter. I like that Superman has 2 different identities that are perceived very differently. It’s a pretty important factor as to why I like the character. I love to see that contrast and to remember that it’s just an illusion. It makes me think about who Superman is in a deeper way – about how there are realities about himself that he keeps separate in the views of others via his two identities, and how that dual identity both conceals and reveals who he is, in a sense. It’s really interesting stuff that I feel like I can’t encapsulate in this article without going off on a tangent, but the point is, if you don’t really get to see Superman “doing” his dual identity that much, it’s hard to get much out of it.

An Aside: MAWS Could Still Make a Contrast Between Clark and Superman…But They Don’t

OK, this is somewhat tangential, but I think it needs to be addressed or this article will feel a little incomplete.

I established that there being a contrast between Clark and Superman is not dependent on Clark and Superman acting as though they have noticeably different personalities. Obviously, though, them having different personalities is still a big way for them to have a contrast between each other. If MAWS actually employed this method of having a contrast between them, perhaps it would bother me a little less that another huge method (him mostly interacting with people who think Clark is a normal human) wasn’t present. However, MAWS…definitely doesn’t do this.

The two most common ways to depict Superman and Clark is to have Superman be bold and for Clark to be “wimpy” in some way (with the “wimpiness” being a fake personality to fool people into thinking he’s not Superman), or for them to both be bold. MAWS takes a road less traveled and makes Clark being awkward and nervous (though not to an extreme degree) be his actual personality. It would then make perfect sense for Superman to have a fake personality of boldness, but they don’t really go in that direction, except maybe very subtly. I guess Superman isn’t that openly insecure, but he’s certainly not as confident as you’d expect him to be. It feels…very wrong. Heck, even if they didn’t make Lois and Jimmy learn the truth so fast, it would still probably bother me that Superman acts in such a nontraditional way. But the fact that they did makes it worse, because it makes seeing a contrast between Clark and Superman basically impossible.

An Additional Aside: It Might Not Hurt MAWS, But It Sets a Precedent

I do wonder if I’m overreacting about this. MAWS is still a great show and Lois and Jimmy knowing the secret from early on is a part of it, and the show wouldn’t be the same without it. So maybe it doesn’t really matter. It’s not like MAWS has to be the ultimate version of Superman that contains everything that makes the character appealing.

But a popular show making a big change could very easily influence future interpretations, so the very fact that MAWS is doing this could have ramifications for future versions of Superman. I’m not meaning to say adaptations should be afraid of changing things just because other people might copy them. I’m just saying, it wouldn’t be surprising if other media took cues from MAWS in this area, and I think that could be unfortunate.

Maybe this is paranoid, but I think it’s at least worth mentioning. It’s normal for adaptations to influence other adaptations and even the comics themselves, and this change traveling to other media is not a happy prospect for me. (Though I’m keeping in mind that this change can be used for interesting and quality stories, of course. But it becoming widespread and making its way to very important and/or high-profile media would be quite disappointing to me.)

So yeah – I think I did an okay job articulating why I’m unsatisfied with MAWS’ decision to have Lois and Jimmy learn the truth so early. I can’t say there’s anything inherently wrong with it from a storytelling perspective or in terms of what the writers want to accomplish. And it certainly doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the show – it doesn’t even mean I can’t enjoy the parts of the show that are direct consequences of this decision.

Essentially, all that it means is that MAWS will never feel anywhere close to a “definitive” version of Superman to me. It will always feel more like “Superman with a twist” or something like that. That’s not a horrible fate to be consigned to at all…it’s just not as good as what I was hoping for from MAWS.

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