Comics

The Road to Superman & Lois in the Comics

Tonight, The CW will premiere Superman & Lois, a new series that stars Tyler Hoechlin and Bitsie Tulloch as the title heroes, along with Jordan Elsass and Alexander Garfin the couple’s children, Jonathan and Jordan. While Jordan is a wholly original creation, as are some of the supporting characters in the series, Superman & Lois owes a pretty clear debt to a particular era of comics that preceded it, that being the “post-Crisis Superman” stories. While, yes, we are still technically post, in terms of after, the Crisis on Infinite Earths comics event, generally fans use the “post-Crisis Superman” to refer to a particular take on the character.

Created in 1938, the original Superman eventually got moved, along with most of DC’s Golden Age heroes, to Earth-2. His Earth-1 counterpart would be the headlining character for the hero’s adventures until the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, a comic book mega-event by Marv Wolfman and George Perez which did away with DC’s multiverse in favor of a single, streamlined timeline. At the end of the Crisis, the original Superman and Lois Lane, considered too integral to the company (after all, they were the originals) to kill, were shuttled off into a pocket universe for a paradisical happy ending.

Earth-1 became the New Earth, which would play host to a cluttered timetable of events. One of the things that had to happen, as far as editorial was concerned, was moving the first public appearance of Superman up to what was then a pretty recent time. Unlike Jay Garrick and Alan Scott, he couldn’t have been alive for World War II. This, then, would be a reborn Superman. His continuity would be pretty tight, starting with getting his powers in his late teens (no Superboy stories in Kansas for this Clark), and moving through until about the year 2000 — almost 15 years after the Crisis — when writers would finally start to tinker with his timeline, backstory, and other elements of Krypton.

So — recognizing, of course, that there are elements of this show that don’t sync up with the comics, and that not everything is going to play a 1:1 role in the character’s history — how did we get here?

The Man of Steel

(Photo: DC Entertainment)

John Byrne and Dick Giordano inaugurated the post-Crisis Superman with The Man of Steel, a six-issue miniseries and one of the earliest Superman storylines to get repeated trade paperback releases within just a few years of its release in comic shops and newsstands.

In Byrne’s reimagining, Krypton wasn’t a word full of colorfully-clad super-people, but a cold, sterile world that worshiped science and was doomed by hubris. Kryptonite wasn’t plentiful and multi-colored, but incredibly rare and only came in the radioactive “green death” variety. Lex Luthor wasn’t a mad scientist or an armored supervillain, but a cold, brutal corporate raider whose wealth insulated him from consequences and so wasn’t afraid to kill people who got in his way.

Maybe the biggest difference came to Clark Kent, who no longer depicted himself as a weak, clumsy oaf. Since he grew up with no knowledge of his alien heritage or the powers it carried with it, Clark was a star athlete, whom girls found attractive. Cat Grant, a beautiful blonde who covered the society pages for the Daily Planet, had a crush on him from basically day one.

“My take on Cat was that she came to like Clark Kent for who he was, while Lois loved Superman, and kind of barely tolerated Clark,” Jerry Ordway, who co-created Cat Grant with writer Marv Wolfman, told ComicBook. The pair collaborated on The Adventures of Superman while John Byrne wrote and drew the first two years of Superman and Action Comics following the Crisis.

“Instead of one love triangle, Lois/Clark/Superman, we had another, Lois/Cat/Clark,” Ordway explained. “With that change in the dynamic, we were able to have Lois look at Clark much differently, as a result of Cat Grant’s interest in him, which eventually led to Lois and Clark becoming a couple. Keep in mind that the intention of the Superman reboot was to de-age Superman and Clark from a 40 ish person, to someone shy of 30. From your father’s Superman to your own Superman, and romance was an important aspect to a younger, less conservative Clark.”

Byrne, Ordway, Wolfman, and other collaborators of this era would have to reinvent characters and concepts from the ground up, and were cut off from certain elements — Kryptonian survivors, the Legion of Super-Heroes — altogether. This meant the creation of characters like Grant, as well as fellow reporter Ron Troupe, bartender Bibbo Bibbowski, scientist Emil Hamilton, and numerous other brand-new characters.

Since Superman & Lois will take place at least partially in Smallville and feature Smallville favorite Lana Lang in a supporting role, it is not yet clear how many of these kinds of characters will show up, although Ron Troupe’s name appears on a story in the Daily Planet insert that was circulated in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times.

Also mentioned in that insert is Kitty Faulkner, a scientist who shared a body with the supervillain Rampage. While a version of Rampage had appeared on Supergirl, it was not especially faithful to the comics source material, and the nature of Superman & Lois‘s reinvented post-Crisis continuity means we could see a different take on the character down the line.

During this period, it was established that the reason most Kryptonians could not leave their world when it was doomed, was that they were genetically encoded by an AI known as The Eradicator to prevent them from leaving the planet, and those who attempted it would die. Created by one of Superman’s ancestors during war over classism and cloning, The Eradicator would eventually become The Krypton Man, a powerful villain that created the post-Crisis version of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude as part of his ongoing campaign to protect the sanctity of Kryptonian culture by essentially transforming Earth into a new Krypton. 

You may recognize that plan — minus The Eradicator — as the one undertaken by General Zod and his minions in Man of Steel

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The Engagement

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That romance that was built up through the early years of John Byrne, Marv Wolfman, and Jerry Ordway would fully bloom in short order. In late 1990’s Superman #50, Clark proposed to Lois, who accepted a little while later in Action Comics #662, because what good is having multiple monthly titles if you can’t have cliffhangers that cross through them?

More on that soon.

Shortly after they were engaged, Clark finally told Lois the truth about his life as Superman — as we see Jonathan and Jordan being in the trailer for Superman & Lois — she was hurt and confused as to why he woudl keep such a monumental secret from someone he loved. There was a heart-wrenching delay of months before it became clear the wedding was still on — less because Lois was indecisive, and more because of a time-travel story called “Time and Time Again,” which teamed Superman with Booster Gold and ran through all of what were by then four Superman titles. The story played with expectations by introducing some familiar pre-Crisis names with very different backstories, as well as paying homage to some of the old Superman serials and TV shows.

Upon returning, Superman and Lois were gifted “time” by Liri Lee, a member of the group known as the Linear Men, whose job i twas to protect the timestream. With some time to themselves without an emergency to pull Clark away, they reconciled their differences and went about planning a wedding.

What could possibly go wrong?

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The Death of Superman

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(Photo: DC)

“What you need to remember is that there were about a dozen writers and artists working on the Superman titles in those days. And we all used to gather — once or twice a year — for a meeting to discuss plans and brainstorm ideas for the next year’s worth of stories. We called these meetings the ‘Super-Summits,'” explained veteran Action Comics and Superman: The Man of Tomorrow scribe Roger Stern. “When we got together in ’92 to outline the books that included Superman #75 and The Adventures of Superman #500, originally we were going to plan the wedding of Clark Kent and Lois Lane. We’d started setting that up in Superman #50, when Clark proposed and Lois said yes. But the wedding scenario was put on hold, because Warner Brothers had gotten the green light to produce the Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman television series for ABC. They didn’t mind us having Clark and Lois marry, just as long as they got to set the stage for the wedding first on TV. So we had our work cut out for us. Everything that we’d been working toward had to be delayed.”

This turned out to be a good thing and a bad thing. On the downside, Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, as well as legendary Superman artist Curt Swan, never got to see the wedding actually happen, because they passed away between mid-1992 and early 1996. On the upside for fans — and DC’s wallet — was the alternative they came up with. 

At the Super-Summits, there were charts that mapped out the events of the coming year’s worth of stories. Reportedly, Jerry Ordway would sometimes write at the end of the chart that Superman dies and the story ends.

“As I recall, Dan [Jurgens] had wanted to introduce a new physical threat for Superman, and as the ideas were flying he started sketching out the monster that would become Doomsday,” Stern said. “How he managed to do that, while carrying on with his part of the brainstorming, I’ll never know.”

Jurgens remembers it only a little differently.

“I walked into that meeting with two ideas written on a notebook, one being Superman’s death and another being the idea of a truly physical monster that would trash Metropolis and give Superman a run for his money,” Jurgens told Comic Related in 2008. “Up to that point I’d been frustrated by the lack of physical villains for Superman.”

Careful not to try and claim sole credit for what was ultimately a decision arrived at by the group, Jurgens clarified, “Keep in mind that we had fifteen people in the room, which could sometimes get quite loud. We had also talked about the idea of doing Superman’s death at previous meetings. I mentioned it during the meeting in question, as did Jerry. As things got loud it was sometimes hard to hear over everyone. We were sometimes emotional about those stories. Later, as everything came together, the idea for the physical foe and death of Superman merged into one idea, and Doomsday was born. Mike Carlin wrote ‘Doomsday for Superman’ on the board and I remember saying, ‘Doomsday. Has anyone ever used that for a name?'”

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The Next Death of Superman

The Death of Superman was an atom bomb dropped into the comics market of 1992. 

Already a market fueled by a speculator frenzy that focused on big-name titles like Rob Liefeld and Todd McFarlane, the Superman titles were kind of an odd phenomenon at the time. They sold incredibly well at the newsstands and grocery stores, but not so well in the comic shops. It has been said that Jurgens’s idea of a physical villain who could come in and eat up pages in a knock-down, drag-out fight with Superman was inspired by the idea of competing with action-heavy comics like the post-Claremont-era X-Men titles.

Superman’s death was nearly topped by his resurrection. While the “white bagged” copies of The Adventures of Superman #500 were so overproduced that they became immediate quarter-bin fodder, that story introduced four supposed successors to Superman’s role as the universe’s protector. Each of them would have his own story unfold in the pages of one of the four Superman titles in a tale called “The Reign of the Supermen!,” its title drawn from “The Reign of the Super-Man,” an illustrated prose story by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster that predated their creation of Superman by several years.

Ultimately, none of the four would be the real Superman:

  • “The Man of Steel,” a Black man in a suit of armor who never claimed to be Superman, would become simply Steel, one of DC’s most popular heroes of color.
  • “The Last Son of Krypton,” who had a detached and more violent approach to being Superman and slightly different powers, turned out to be an evolved version of The Eradicator, who was now dedicated to reviving Superman, so that Krypton could have a last son.
  • A teenaged clone of Superman would take the name “Superboy,” and ultimately become known as Connor Kent, and 
  • The “Cyborg Superman,” widely regarded as the #1 suspect to be the real deal, turned out to be a deranged man who lost his grip on reality after losing his wife and two best friends in a space shuttle crash. Given powers that allowed him to manipulate machinery, he fused himself with Superman’s rocket and set about trying to destroy Earth and disgrace Superman’s name, since the hero had failed to save his loved ones.

While the “Doomsday!” story that led to the actual Death of Superman only ran for a month and a half, “Reign of the Supermen” lasted for four months’ worth of weekly comics, plus an Annual for each series. And they all sold like hotcakes.

This taste of massive success would, unfortunately, set DC off on a never-ending battle of their own…in search of “the next ‘Death of Superman.'” Not that they literally wanted to kill Superman or even take him off the board again, but the money-making machine of the Death and Return of Superman got DC addicted. For years, stories like “The Death of Clark Kent” and “The Trial of Superman” were sought out and promoted as the next big thing that would change the audience perception of the Man of Steel forever.

“They were always looking for the next Death of Superman back then,” longtime Superman: The Man of Steel artist Jon Bogdanove told ComicBook when discussing the “Electric Superman” saga, which would happen shortly after the wedding.

Few of them had much in the way of lasting impact, until 1996…

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The Wedding

The Lois & Clark show continued to have a frustrating impact on the comic writers’ plans to move the relationship to the next level. At one point, when it looked like there was no end in sight to the “will-they-or-won’t-they” on TV, the writers briefly broke up Superman and Lois, hoping to get some storytelling mileage out of bringing them back together. And they did…but not as much as you’d think, because once the TV people decided to marry then, there was an edict from above to abruptly change course and get the comic out as close to the TV wedding as possible.

Superman: The Wedding Album was released on October 6, 1996, tying in with the season four episode “Swear to God, This Time We’re Not Kidding,” a reference to a previous fake wedding that Lois & Clark had promoted as the real thing, only to pull the rug out from under the audience and draw the ire of…well, just about everybody.

The issue was written and drawn by just about every living creator who had made a major mark on Superman, and even had a posthumous story drawn by Curt Swan. The Man of Steel, who had sported long hair since returning from the dead in 1993, had to get a haircut for his wedding — something that was possible in part because of the then-recent crossover story The Final Night, in which the sun was blocked out for a long period of time, and Superman started gradually losing his powers. 

This also gave way to a story where, on their honeymoon, Lois and Clark find themselves face to face with some pirates, and Lois has to save a powerless Clark using her wits and army-brat brawling skills.

Superman: The Wedding Special also gave birth to a generation of readers and creators lamenting the marriage, and constant rumors that someone would try to erase it from continuity. That would happen — but not for a while, and it wouldn’t last.

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The Slow Death of the Post-Crisis Superman

After the wedding, things started to settle into a comfortable rhythm for Lois and Clark — but of course “comfortable” tends to upset certain creators and fans who thrive on conflict. There would be periodic attempts to show the couple as having issues, but they were rarely effective and never sustained, since both Superman and Lois were so consistently characterized for so long that there wasn’t a convincing way to make them fight over petty nonsense.

The aforementioned “Electric Superman” storyline was the last really effective “next Death of Superman”-style in terms of driving sales. After it, a storyline that saw Superman become more aggressive and paternal — Superman: King of the World — was a critical and sales flop, and such stories started to give way to a greater interconnectivity with the larger DC Universe, so that instead of having “Superman events,” they would have DC events.

In 2000, most of the longtime creators had either left or been fired, and a new wave of creators, including writer Jeph Loeb and artist Joe McGuinness, had come in. This new generation of creators began to abandon the strict continuity that had been in place since Byrne, and beginning a process that would re-establish much of the pre-Crisis iconography and backstory for Krypton, although it would never fully return to being a world of Supermen, even if their wardrobe would become much more nostalgic. 

It was during this time that Kara Zor-El, Superman’s Kryptonian cousin, re-entered the picture. In the post-Crisis continuity, Superman had been the only survivor of Krypton, and the exceptions to that rule were far fewer and farther between than in the pre-Crisis era. The Supergirl of that era — who eventually starred in an acclaimed series from writer Peter David — had been a shapeshifter from a pocket universe who took on the iconography of Superman to pay tribute to his heroism. When Kara came, the “Matrix Supergirl” was quickly shunted offstage.

She also brought with her a huge amount of Kryptonite, making it a much more common storytelling element than it had been for most of the post-Crisis era. In a conversation with Wizard magazine at the time, one of the new writers joked that the prevalence of supporting characters like Bibbo, Gangbuster, and the (then-still-alive) Kents in the comics made Superman “feel like a guest star in his own book.” Shortly after that, many of the original characters introduced in the years since the Crisis were either whisked away or had their roles greatly reduced. 

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The New 52

By 2011, the marriage to Lois and references to “The Death of Superman” and its spinoffs were about the only elements left that felt like the Superman of 1986-1996. There had been two soft reboots — 2003’s Superman: Birthright and 2009’s Superman: Secret Origin — that tweaked the Man of Steel’s origins, the look and feel of Krypton, and other elements, nudging things ever more gradually in the direction of the pre-Crisis status quo. Before the line-wide New 52 reboot in 2011, it was even revealed that Superman had indeed had powers as a teen and worked with the Legion of Super-Heroes.

Then came the reboot.

In 2011, Flashpoint — a crossover that saw The Flash break the timeline by trying to save his mother from her murder at the hands of the Reverse-Flash — culminated with a double-page splash that revealed the universe had been reborn, with minor changes made to the history of the DC Universe. With a multiverse already re-established in Infinite Crisis (2005) and 52 (2006), The New 52 sought to de-age age the main publishing line’s heroes, and remove from them all the baggage that conventional wisdom says makes it harder to get new readers interested.

Superman, now younger, less secure, less-beloved by the public, and no longer in a relationship with Lois, wore a suit of Kryptonian armor, which shape-shifted around him into his civilian clothes, a la the early days of the Venom symbiote.

This Superman had a more complicated relationship with Lois; she had another boyfriend at the start of the reboot, and Superman eventually dated Wonder Woman for a while. Around the time they finally ended up as a couple, things got bad for the New 52 Superman, who was seemingly killed.

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Superman: Lois & Clark

Shortly before the death of the New 52 Superman, came Convergence, then the latest in a seemingly never-ending series of attempts to make sense of DC’s continuity after Infinite Crisis. The story centered on a number of heroes who were essentially refugees from destroyed realities, their whole cities stolen away by Brainiac and hidden away under domes on a world called Telos, where their powers were being disabled. 

One of those worlds held the Gotham City of the pre-Flashpoint, post-Crisis DC Universe. Superman and Lois, who were there for a Daily Planet assignment when the reality wave hit and their universe was changed, were spared from annihilation and, without any super powers to keep Clark constantly in demand, Lois is now pregnant. During the course of the chaos and fighting that ensued, Lois gave birth — the doctor was Thomas Wayne, the Flashpoint Batman — and gave birth to Jonathan Kent.

After the events of Convergence, a number of characters — including the post-Crisis Superman and Lois, with Jonathan — were scattered out into reality so that when their worlds died again, they lived on. In ComicBook’s “Covering Convergence” column, we asked writer Jeff King what had happened to them.

“Post-Convergence, Superman, Lois and Jonathan Kent are on an Earth somewhere, right now, resuming their lives that were on hold since [Flashpoint],” King promised.

It was true: In Superman: Lois & Clark, a miniseries from longtime Superman writer/artist Dan Jurgens and artist Lee Weeks, the last survivors of the pre-Flashpoint reality were living on a farm in Upstate New York, under assumed names. After Convergence, they had been sent to the New 52 Earth — but shot back in time, so that they arrived years before, when the Justice League was first battling Darkseid. By not announcing himself but quietly working to help the heroes, Superman created a new status quo for himself. During his time on the farm, the now-bearded Clark would wear a black costume with a silver logo, and work to save the world without ever revealing his existence.

One creative use of his powers: since he came from a version of the universe that was much farther along and “older” than the New 52 universe, Clark would try to intervene in tragic accidents, saving lives and sometimes preventing the accidents that would create supervillains. 

In the early going, Jonathan Kent learned the truth: not only was his dad a superhero…but he was the superhero: his dad was Superman. Unlike the TV series, though, he was young enough not to feel betrayed but to think it was the coolest thing ever.

“Jon’s relationship with his parents is really going to be the core element of the book,” Jurgens told ComicBook at the time. “After all, they’re a family. Everything spins out of that. The way they react to any element of life is built around that fact. That’s who they are.”

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Rebirth and Super-Sons

Shortly before DC Universe: Rebirth, the New 52 Superman died, and the post-Crisis Superman was forced to reveal himself to the world. Now suddenly, he was the Superman of the main continuity again. And, by logical extension, the main Superman and Lois were married again.

Jonathan, meanwhile, found himself an unlikely playmate: in Super-Sons, the ball of joy and energy that was Jonathan Kent found himself teamed with the sullen, pensive Damian Wayne. That dichotomy is one that audiences saw and expected in the official casting descriptions for Jonathan and Jordan on Superman & Lois.

So what’s next? Well, time will tell. 

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