My Adventures With Superman is introducing the beloved hero to a whole new generation of fans.
I’ve always kind of struggled to care about Superman. Don’t get me wrong, I’m DC over Marvel any day – controversial, I know, but despite their many missteps in the cinema, DC’s television series have consistently (if not always successfully) strived to refresh and reconceptualise their now-classic IPs.
The DC Extended Universe films never enamoured me, though, especially when considering Superman; I never really understood the point of such a seemingly basic character when there were far more dynamic caped crusaders to contend with, and the films themselves seem to agree – Man of Steel (2013) was DC’s last major Superman project that didn’t feel the need to fall back on their old chestnut, the Justice League, to keep audiences invested.
Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, by contrast, never once feels the need to mention Superman (I know he would be a child in the chronology, but that’s never stopped DC before). While Superman has still featured in at least one DC venture per year since 2006, the character is very rarely the top bill these days.
Suffice it to say, My Adventures With Superman may prove crucial in introducing younger viewers to the worlds of Metropolis and Krypton, as well as coaxing long-time fans into falling back in love with Clark Kent.
This review contains spoilers for episodes one through six of My Adventures With Superman – you have been warned!
A(nother) fresh start for Superman
We didn’t necessarily need a project that returns to Superman’s early days – it’s been done a lot, most recently in the 2020 film Superman: Man of Tomorrow. Nonetheless, it’s done well, and I’m happy that the show’s action is largely catalysed by the journalistic efforts of the Daily Planet, which is often used just for set-dressing in other Superman media.
Another detail I appreciate is that Clark, even as a young adult, is still awakening to his full powers; even when he does, they’re not infallible. In Episode 5’s fight scene, we see Superman fail to fire up his heat vision in time to counter enemy attacks, and ultimately uses the ability primarily to repair the infrastructure of a falling bridge rather than to punch a hole through an enemy’s stomach, Homelander-style.
Speaking of Homelander, I can’t help but feel that The Boys had a major impact on the ethos of My Adventures With Superman, not least because Superman himself is voiced by Jack Quaid, our beloved Hughie. Antony Starr’s Homelander (an obvious parody of Superman) has forever changed the cultural perception of an all-powerful hero – audiences now expect absolute power to corrupt absolutely.
My Adventures With Superman counters this by engendering a supe that is more concerned with saving civilians than defeating the villain of the day – one that can and will happily take a brutal beating, if not avoid conflict completely, to minimise collateral damage.
Of course this is nothing new; it’s kind of Superman’s whole thing. But with the most recent Superman-related projects focusing largely on power scaling and the like, this detail might have been left partially uncommunicated to new viewers. It’s nice to be reminded of Superman’s primary trait – his big heart.
A Superman “cartoonime”
As you may have already noticed, My Adventures With Superman looks markedly different in terms of art direction, especially compared to Radomski’s “Dark Deco” art style originating from Batman: The Animated series, which was in turn inspired by the noir-ish Burtonverse. This style kind of evolved into DC’s default setting when it comes to animated projects, full of sharp angles and broody colour schemes.
My Adventures With Superman, contrastingly, is animated by Studio Mir, the animation team behind The Legend of Korra and Voltron: Legendary Defender. Studio Mir was founded by Jae-Myung Yu, who previously served as animation director on Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Funnily enough, Studio Mir has also provided services for the third season of the 2022 Harley Quinn show, which seems to be My Adventures With Superman’s closest DC contemporary in terms of tone and ambition, though they do not look much alike. The latter’s style is overtly anime-inspired, prone to exaggerated chibi-like expressions and a generous helping of blush lines. It even has its own stereotypical walking end-credits sequence!
In my humble opinion, Batman: The Animated Series just can’t be beat in terms of art style, but it’s a style we’ve seen emulated over and over and over – it also has a bad case of Same Face Syndrome. This new look suits Superman, I think – it’s bright, colourful and full of character.
While the range of animation is sometimes a bit limited, there are some top-notch fight scenes that avoid overpowering Superman too much, working hard to create actual stakes for our Man of Steel.
A much-needed personality boost
In what I’ve seen of the Superman franchise, there’s a tendency to have him characterised as a bit dour, a bit self-serious (and not in a fun Batman way). Jack Quaid’s Clark Kent is everything I need him to be: a straight-edged, easily-flustered nerdy himbo.
Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen have too received a bit of a character makeover. Lois is still a hard-nosed, go-getting investigative journalist, but in the show we see her fight to make her way from the very bottom of the Daily Planet alongside Clark, rather than as his rival. She’s desperate to be recognised and, a lot like Superman himself, has acquired a strict moral code that abhors lies in all forms.
I’ve seen a lot of complaints about Lois’s new design and character direction (gee, I wonder why), but characters need flaws. For Lois in particular – who in all iterations has been devoted to exposing the dark and dirty secrets of Metropolis – the whole “hates lying” thing seems quite fitting.
Jimmy Olsen too gets a steer in characterisation; while he is still a photojournalist, he is now also a live-streamer with an enthusiasm for paranormal investigation, documenting his (not-so) wild conspiracy theories online under the moniker Flamebird (one of Jimmy’s aliases from the original Superman comics). It’s a welcome change for a character who is most known as “Superman’s Pal” and often put through weird and wacky bodily transformations, though I’m confident we’ll see an allusion to the latter at some point in the show.
Other characters are completely reinvented, like the gender-bent Heat Wave. I’ve also seen complaints about this change (gee, I wonder why!), but it works for me – I think an inexperienced small-time thief wielding tech she doesn’t fully understand is a lot more interesting than a guy who likes fire. Plus, who doesn’t love a butch?
In Episode 6, we’re also treated to a couple of characters I’ve never seen before, and presumably not very common in Superman publication – these being Monsieur Mallah (a super-intelligent gorilla with an inexplicable French accent) and The Brain, a German scientist-turned-robot.
I had initially thought that the love story between the two was an invention for this show, but it turns out that was a part of Mallah and Brain’s stories from the get-go. Except this time, instead of exploding, they are able to travel to a different dimension to continue living and loving each other in peace. It’s a nice way to avoid burying your gays.
I found it quite striking that Brain asked Clark to join them at the end of Episode 6, on the basis of their mutual oddness. The Superman franchise often deals with xenophobia, but usually just in the context of other aliens – I felt that the point is made a lot more saliently with Mallah and Brain, two queer outcasts from Earth itself.
Is My Adventures With Superman worth a watch?
In short: yeah!
In long: it’s not a perfect show, but like many of my personal favourites, its the flaws that make it so charming. While its plotlines can sometimes be a bit predictable, I understand that it must be pretty hard to faithfully craft a Superman narrative in an unexpected way, given that the whole story has been told and retold front-to-back in countless ways already.
My Adventures With Superman features a fantastic cast of expressive and dynamic voice actors (again, a particular shout-out to Quaid, who completely sells the difference in voice and intonation between Clark and Superman), solid visuals, and a fresh perspective. If you’re disappointed with its deviations from the norm, remember that this show can never take away from its previous iterations – just like all this business with the multiverse, multiple Supermans can exist at the same time.
The first six episodes of My Adventures With Superman are available to watch now on Adult Swim.
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