Cultural Junkdrawer – SEASON’S END: My Adventures with Superman.

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CULTURAL JUNKDRAWER

SEASON’S END

My Adventures with Superman

 

WARNING: This column contains spoilers for the first season. So watch the damn show then come back or don’t come crying to me!

ALSO

I 100% support the striking writers and actors! It’s because of their creativity, talent and hard work that such great shows are made! See my previous Cultural Junkdrawer for an angrier and more thorough analysis on the obsessive greed and shenanigans the corporate overlords are guilty of. Plagiarism software can’t replace human creativity!

 

  It might’ve been revelatory 30 years ago that superheroes were the modern mythology. But not anymore. Any sophomore high schooler could do a reasonably well written research paper on it with just the articles on the MCU from Entertainment Weekly magazine. And if said sophomore student had zero ethics, work or otherwise, they could pick one from hundreds available online.

  But what does that really mean?

  I always took it as superheroes were just the latest incarnations of mythological archetypes. Abstract concepts that are so ingrained in our collective unconscious that, if you squint at The Flash you would see a blurry version of the god Mercury (original Flash even more so because he was rocking that winged helmet). Captain America you could see “standard greek myth human hero”. Superman looks a lot, at first, like Hercules, or Moses, or a circus strongman, or an idealized version of humanity. 

  The great thing about these archetypes is that you can dress it up; change minor details, apply different costumes, instill a more modern editorial sensibility to the story or whatever and the core essence is still the same (unless you flail wildly against what the archetype means in the first place, looking at YOU “Man of Steel”). We know the story no matter how different the details are; whether it’s an impenetrable lion pelt or blue and red bodysuit with cape, the same type of hero is wearing it.

  It’s always a thrill to see a reworking of the myth that can shake up the details, find something new or a different take on the source material, and still “get” and utilize what makes the myth so damn potent in the first place.

  Which brings me to “My Adventures with Superman” because this show, developed by Jake Wyatt, Brendan Clougher and Josie Cambell finds a whole new, fascinating, take on the Man of Steel without resorting to a bleak, Randian, grimdark worldview. 

  “My Adventures…” is a modern update to the Superman mythos without snapping any necks. The show starts right out of the gate with a modern storytelling technique – “in media res”. Clark and Jimmy Olsen are roommates, fresh out of college and starting their new jobs as interns for “The Daily Planet”. Sure, there are one or two flashback scenes of Clark as a boy discovering he has abilities, which helps define Kent’s headspace starting out. What little he knows of his alien origin is cloaked in mystery, confusion and outright terror. When his parents show him the buried spaceship he came in, it activates 4 super robot drones and nearly kills the Kents. There is also a hologram of a bearded man speaking in an alien language that Clark doesn’t understand. Clark shuts it all down and buries the ship again leading him to a life of trying to just be “Normal”. Obviously that doesn’t last long because now he’s lives in Metropolis where giant robots and high tech criminals like “Livewire” and “Parasite” are running around.

  Yes, “high tech” Livewire and Parasite, not metahumans, which is part of the clever re-working of the details. Details connecting an aborted alien invasion, Clark’s Kryptonian origins, a talking Gorilla super scientist, Task Force X and even Deathstroke (voiced deliciously against type by career nebbish Chris Parnell). Taking established storylines and characters that were created decades apart and uniting them under one idea and a more coherent continuity is another trick in the bag of modern storytellers, especially comic writers. You can get mixed results and mileage with this practice. For example the DCEU and Dark Universe as clumsy impatient attempts to establish a “shared universe” or (IMO) the well executed WB Godzilla monsterverse. “My Adventures…” sticks the landing. Not only unifying all the elements at play into a well thought out storyline but also with a deft final reveal that seems obvious in retrospect and/or when you pay attention to the clever and smart production design.

  Despite the details being different (and if you get twisted about Silver Banshee not being a metahuman, or Lois Lane being vaguely ethnic just stop watching right away and seek professional help) the essence of Superman is still intact. Clark is a decent, empathetic good guy. He comes to understand that he can help people with his powers and his nature embraces that despite the threats and fears aimed at him. He’s good natured but not a rube. Smart, capable, instantly likable and embodying the good and great aspects of humanity, Clark as Superman (whom is named by Lois Lane in her dogged reporting of this new hero to Metropolis) isn’t fully aware of his abilities as the show starts. New powers emerge as new threats present themselves or old threats upgrade but he’s always thinking his way through fights as much as he punches. This adds a nice aspect to a character that’s know for being fucking invincible. There is never a point where you feel his challenges are below his abilities. He gets slapped around by a cybernetically enhanced Deathstroke and it’s harrowing. He’s struggling, Superman is struggling against giant robots, and it’s exhilarating to watch. One of the “old enough to drive” criticism leveled against Superman is “He’s Superman! What a boring character ‘cause he can do everything!” not the case when handled with smarts and care. The “My Adventures…” crew does just that. The closest approximation I can make is reading Grant Morrison’s modernized yet flawlessly classic outlook comic “All Star Superman ”. That is a book that understood the mythology at the core but gave the whole endeavor a nice modern sensibility and sheen.

  The season rolls around in comedy, suspense, absurdist comic book tropes, well choreographed action and just the right character notes. Clark precariously balances his developing romance with Lois while she’s doggedly pursuing the Superman story. Jimmy is Jimmy but he’s on equal footing with Clark and Lois, not the kiddy sidekick of old times. Though there is a sidekick-ish, sassy kid that is part of the team. The General, head of Task Force X, is haunted by the alien invaders the army lucked into stopping 20 years ago which pushes him to view “Superman” as a threat out of hand. Dr Ivo, aka Parasite, is a high tech wonder driven insane by his initial defeat by Superman and the injuries incurred wearing the Parasite suit. Each episode builds on the previous one but also has time for detours like the multiverse “League of Lois Lanes” episode and Monsieur Mallah and “The Brain” (I’m sure they were characters from Morrison’s Doom Patrol run).

 The animation is from a korean studio “Studio Mir” and I term it as “American anime”, clean lines and character designs but with a smidgen of big eyes and poppy effects. The look makes these characters accessible to a younger audience raised on anime but never goes against the core essence. The voice cast is uniformly great. Jack Quaid, having already cemented lifetime VIP status at any comic convention, is pitch perfect as Clark/Superman: boyish charm, innocence but clever and nuanced. Alice Lee makes Lois focused, outwardly tough and driven but still vulnerable and relatable. Ishmel Sahid as Jimmy Olson is the secret comedy weapon and human heart of the trio. Some of the villains get a tad one note, Dr Ivo actually cackles with glee as his kaiju version of Parasite wrecks Metropolis, but Joel de la Fuente gives “The General” dimension and sympathy. One villain is notable in his absence and this is very much by design (I have to assume). Lex Luthor is not even mentioned in passing. This is fine because this show understands that you don’t HAVE to lay everything out all at once. This is essentially “Superman year zero” Lex is out there and this show is too smart not to have him show up when the time is right. The show also avoids the expanded DC universe, there may

be a quick mention about the theory of Atlantis on Olsen’s website at most. This keeps the focus squarely on Supes lore, which is rich, nuanced and hella fun on its own. Once again, this show is too smart NOT to have Batman show up when the time is right but it’s nice not to feel like you have to know the whole DC comic world to enjoy what’s going on.

  That being said the season ends with an exciting promise of the whole shebang expanding in great directions! That alien invasion made a second attempt that Supes and the gang foiled. When one of the robots reports to the armored leader of the invasion that earth isn’t a pushover the leader’s response is “Sooner or later they will kneel!” ANYBODY who knows Superman knows who that villain is!

  I know I’m gushing about this show but it earns every praise I’m heaping on it. There hasn’t been a show since “The Good Place” or maybe season one of “The Mandalorian” where I’ve experienced a sheer, uncut, rush of joy that “My Adventures of Superman” gives me. I found myself smiling broadly with every episode. Tailored for entry level Superman fans but rich with in-jokes, easter eggs and a pure love of Superman history, “My Adventures with Superman” is worthwhile viewing for any Superman fan. 

  “My Adventures with Superman” understands that we love our heroes. As long as the stories are well told and keep the spirit of what they’re about we’ll never get tired of hearing them.

Bits tangential to the main body but I couldn’t fit in.

 DC seems to market more in classic mythological archetypes and Marvel is more interested in modern aspects but heroes are heroes at their core.

  I mentioned the show to the proprietor of a comic book store I shop at and immediately he said “I turned it off after the first ten minutes, Lois Lane is white, Jimmy should be a kid not the same age as Clark! It’s always been like that in the comics!” This was disturbing to me for many reasons. Obviously the racist aspect is the biggest but to dismiss the whole show because it doesn’t slavishly adhere to decades of incongruent continuity is also disappointing to me.

 Ya’know, the racist aspect is more than enough for me TBH.

  While watching the season’s “Alien tech” arc I was thinking “It’s either Brainiac or Zod!” I hear rumors that it’s both! Which makes sense in the way this show is grouping villains.

  I also hear that Batman will show up in season 2. It’d be cool if Luthor came in through the Wayne Enterprises angle. He’s a business associate of Bruce’s and he’s looking to fill the Tech industry gap left behind by Ivo.

 Yes, Amanda Waller is here. As The General’s number 2, at least till he goes “soft” on the Superman threat.

 Oh by the way, The General is Lois’ father. Made for an awkward thanksgiving episode. At least until Zod’s forces take another shot.

  Any suggestions for the next “Season’s end?”

Anytime Costumes

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