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Adventures of Superman
Season 1 Episode 1: Superman on Earth

Titlecard for Adventures of Superman: Superman on Earth


Jor-El shows his plan to the council

The action starts on the planet Krypton, which is described in classic Golden Age fashion as a "green star in the endless heavens" that is home to not only an advanced civilization, but a race of beings developed to the peak of human perfection - explicitly described as "supermen". Here, in the Temple of Wisdom, Kryptonian's leading man of science, the young Jor-El, has been called to make an announcement concerning an increase in natural disasters on the planet. According to Jor-El, the cause of all these disasters can be directly traced to the planet moving closer to the sun, and the utter destruction of the entire planet is imminent. Jor-El also presents his plan for salvation via spaceships, a working model of which he has already created, which they would use to take their entire species to Earth, a planet which he notes has a very similar atmosphere to Krypton's. Unfortunately, no one takes him seriously. In fact, they laugh at him, and even the more serious-minded council leader, Ros-An, ultimately dismisses him.

Jor-El working on the rocket ship

When Jor-El is home with his wife Lara, he sets to work preparing his model for action, only to realize a terrible truth: he didn't act quickly enough. Soon, the disaster of the planet's destruction is already coming upon them. There is no time to make any other spaceships other than the model, which could only carry one passenger. Lara brings in their baby, Kal-El, wrapped in blankets. Jor-El wants for Lara and Kal-El to both try to go together, but Lara believes she would be "lost" without her husband, and that it's best for her to remain with him until the end while still trying to save the infant child. In the end, the rocket with its young passenger (and his ample blankets) launches while the planet is destroyed.

Sarah and Eben Kent driving in their car

The next scene we come across is Eben and Sarah Kent, a country couple driving in their car. They hear a loud whistling noise, and then come across an alarming site of a flaming rocket on the ground. Eben hears the sound of a baby crying from within the rocket, and despite the peril noted by Sarah, he bravely ventures forth in spite of the flames and retrieves the baby boy. Shortly after he does this, the rocket abruptly disappears into thin air. The farm couple notes to their shock that neither the child nor the blankets are scorched in the slightest. The two briefly discuss what to do with the child; the idea of turning him over to the authorities is brought up, but in light of the rocket's disappearance, they conclude that no one would even believe their story. It is then that Sarah mentions with delight that they could raise the baby as their own, seeing as they'd always wanted a child, and Eben agrees.

Sarah Kent with the young Clark

The episode then goes into summary mode, giving some exposition on the lad's country upbringing and his nature as a super-being. We then meet the boy as a twelve-year-old in his home, looking perturbed. His mother inquires if something's wrong, and young Clark asks his mom why he's different from other people - why he's capable of doing things no one else can do. Sarah responds by finally revealing how she and Eben found him (we do not get to hear everything she says, it's merely narrated that she's doing so), while Clark looks thoughtful.

Clark, Sarah and the doctor

The episode then transitions to the next stage in Clark's life, when he is a tall, broad-shouldered young man and his parents are old and grey. Before Clark enters the scene, we see his mother working in the house furiously to prepare for a special occasion: Clark's "birthday", the day he was adopted. Just as he's speaking to Sarah, Eben collapses unexpectedly. We then cut to later on, when the doctor has been called and Clark (seen for the first time as a grown man) is back at home. It turns out that Eben's heart attack was fatal, and Clark sadly embraces his grieving mother.

Clark preparing to leave his mother

Our next scene is at the Smallville Bus Depot, as Clark is preparing to leave and say goodbye to his mother. Clark is concerned about leaving her, but Sarah comforts him by mentioning one Cousin Edith coming to live with her, and the fact that Clark has an important duty to help the world with his powers. Here it is mentioned that Sarah made a costume for Clark out of his indestructible blankets, which he is taking with him. The two give their emotional goodbyes, and Clark heads to Metropolis. Facts about Clark's decisions about his future life, including his choice to work as a reporter in order to keep himself informed about situations in which his assistance might be required and to adopt a guise of timidity in his civilian life to hide his being Superman, are told in narration.

Clark at the outside of the Daily Planet building

Clark's next step in life is to actually apply for a job, of course - at the Metropolis Daily Planet. He talks to a receptionist about it, but he has to wait around for quite a while - unfortunately for him, Perry White is yelling at people on the phone and isn't really in the mood. Eventually, Perry tells the receptionist he doesn't want to see anyone today, but Clark responds that he'll "get to him somehow". He's not kidding, either - he walks out the window across a very narrow ledge all the way to Perry White's window! (Mild-mannered, and yet quite the go-getter.) Lois Lane is in the office (helping Perry open a pitcher...) and just then, Jim Olsen barges in with a news flash of a dirigible disaster - everyone escaped, except for one man who's dangling by a rope as they speak. Perry yells for Lois, Jim, and some photographers to get on it, and Clark asks if he'll be given the job if he can get the story, a demand which Perry gives into (seemingly in order to get Clark off his case).

Clark smiling at an unimpressed Lois

Though Jim is driving there, Clark beats them - in the form of Superman, public for the first time, rescuing the man. The next thing we know, the rescued man is at the Planet talking to the staff. He explains how he was saved and that he passed out afterwards. When he came to, Clark was there, so of course he got the story! This means he can be a reporter now...but Lois wonders how it was possible for Clark to have gotten there before them and every other reporter in town. Clark replies, smiling, "Maybe I'm a superman, Ms. Lane."



Overall, this episode is very successful at what it sets out to do: set up the rest of the series. It introduces a version of Superman which combines fidelity to the original Golden Age conception with an additional layer of genuineness and even depth to the characters. It also combines establishing important set-up which will never be referenced again (the specifics of Krypton and Clark's upbringing) with introducing us to the principle characters of the show and their personalities (Clark Kent, Lois Lane, Perry White, and Jim Olsen). I'm particularly impressed with how they managed to convey so much about the main characters in such a short amount of time - and rather humorously, in Perry White's case! It's definitely a great foundation for the show to build on.

That being said, while the episode was good, I wouldn't place it among the series' best, which is probably a good thing considering it's just set-up! There's not exactly a lot of interesting story going on here, which isn't really a major problem considering the episode's purpose isn't really its story, but it's still a reason why this episode, while good, isn't completely satisfying on its own to me.

For me, the best part of this episode is ultimately the great success with which characters and their emotions are portrayed. In particular, I have to make note of the relationship between Clark (the adult Clark, played by George Reeves) and his parents. I remember when first watching this episode, I was taken aback by the fact that, unlike his mother, Clark didn't express much shock or a burst of emotion at his father dying on his own birthday. Now, I notice his subtle emoting and see that he is certainly in grief, but the lack of surprise or outburst seems to imply a more complex layer of tragedy: that Eben's health has likely long been declining and that Clark has been well aware of it, to the point that it isn't surprising for him to suddenly die of a heart attack, resulting in Clark's reaction being sad acceptance rather than an emotional outburst. If anything, this reaction makes Clark and the situation seem more real and nuanced.

Clark comforting his mother

The scene which then follows of Clark comforting his mother, holding her to his chest as she cries, is moving to me, and a testament to the unmatched genuineness with which George Reeves portrayed the character. I feel similarly moved by scene at the bus stop where the two say their goodbyes to each other. In particular, I love that after Sarah gets done encouraging her son to go out into the world and do what he has to do and not worry about her, the camera lingers on her face and we can see her subtly express deep sadness at her son's departure, showing that despite her words she will miss him deeply.

It is probably a massive irony that the Kents' overall portrayal is also easily one of my biggest beefs with this episode. Their extremely over-the-top stereotypical mannerisms are galling to me and a major detriment to their depiction, and flies directly in the face of them feeling authentic. Otherwise, they could've been great characters, but the show's over-insistence on them being exaggerated country-bumpkins is very distracting. If I could change one thing about this episode, this would definitely be it.

Clark Kent talking to Perry White

In addition, while it's not really a huge deal, I always found it a little weird that Clark circumvents normal procedures to get to Perry White in a very bizarre and extreme way, then tries to act all mild-mannered and diffident towards White. It just doesn't make much sense to me. I will say that in general I give Reeves props for doing a good job in this episode conveying with subtlety Clark's meek, submissive-to-authority attitude, but it comes across as a mismatch with the actual actions he took, so it doesn't quite "work" for me. Still, it's always good to see George incorporating these aspects into Clark's personality, since his Clark is generally pretty assertive by Clark standards (especially for the time), and I feel like some sort of compromise between the two is ultimately the best way of all to depict Superman's alter ego (though at the same time, I often can't help but enjoy it when Reeves' Clark is assertive - I just feel like ultimately, there should be a balance, so it's good to see him being "mild-mannered" is not forgotten).

Overall, like most episodes of this show, this one showcases extremely good acting abilities from all parties, and is thus a very worthy watch for that alone. In addition, I just really appreciate the way in which Superman's origin is handled in general - in a way that true to the original conception of the character without trying to add to or distort it. They don't try to drag it out or even to make a big deal about Clark's decision to become Superman: all he needs is a little push from his mom. It's not even necessary for him to do deep soul-searching, or to know the details of his origin, or to have an "inciting incident" or feelings of guilt. He just helps people because, well, he can. And in my opinion, that's the way it should be. He's a good person who's willing to help people with the gift he's been given - it really is that simple.

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