It’s a pretty commonly accepted aphorism that a Batman movie is only as good as its villains, since the Dark Knight himself is kind of a brick wall of personality and his colorful rogues bring some much-needed zip to a story that would otherwise be about a rich man in a leather suit brutalizing purse-snatchers and regular crime bosses who don’t look like penguins. But something similar is also true about Superman, and Adult Swim/Max’s My Adventures With Superman, which airs its first season through September 1, might be the best articulation of it in the history of superhero adaptations.
If Batman is only as interesting as his villains (at least in terms of the movies and TV shows, which have typically only engaged with the concept of the Bat-Family through Robin), then Superman is only as interesting as his friends—specifically Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane, either one of whom could be the “My” in the title of this animated series. Ask any Superman fan, and most of them will tell you that the best versions of the character are the ones that embody hope, like the iconic sequence in Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman where he rescues a girl trying to jump off a building, as opposed to the more apathetic god-like power of Zack Snyder’s Superman.
And the best way to experience that is through the eyes of the people around him, which is exactly what My Adventures With Superman is about. Set during Clark Kent’s first days as an intern at The Daily Planet, alongside roommate/photographer Jimmy Olsen and seasoned intern/aspiring ace reporter Lois Lane, the show is an updated version of Superman’s origin with some tweaks to the wider DC Universe. (Though the scope of her plan has yet to be unveiled, Amanda Waller is hanging around and using a very cute pretty-boy version of Deathstroke to do her Suicide Squad-style dirty work.)
While Jack Quaid’s Clark is the main character of the show, Lois and Jimmy (voiced by Alice Lee and Ishmel Sahid) get loads of screen time without him—especially, as revealed in one episode, because Clark has a habit of constantly disappearing for bagel-related issues right when Superman shows up. They’re also both at least as well-developed as Clark himself, aside from some backstory stuff they established for him (he grew up on a farm, his parents found him in a space pod, you know the deal), with Jimmy being a wide-eyed dreamer who wants to find proof of alien life in the universe and Lois being endlessly determined to prove herself as a journalist even if it means putting herself in danger.
They both believe that Superman is the key to achieving their goals, and they’re both correct (he is an alien, after all), but unfortunately he is also their best friend—and a best friend who loves them both so much that he almost can’t bear to keep his secret identity from them. It only takes a few episodes in before Clark starts anguishing over how to tell Lois that he’s Superman, as she gets closer and closer to both of his personas, all while Jimmy starts to feel like a third wheel because Lois is so obsessed with Superman and Clark is so obsessed with Lois. (Without spoiling it, one episode has a great payoff to this dynamic for Jimmy.)
Through them and how they interact with him, we can see how Clark Kent struggles to maintain both of his lives and how his constant need to do The Right Thing—as Superman, as a journalist, as a nice Kansas boy—rubs up against his habit of lying to everyone around him. It wouldn’t be as powerful to see Superman, alone, realizing these things about himself. It’s a lot more meaningful to see it the way Lois and Jimmy see it because it helps us, as viewers, understand what it means to have a guy like Superman really exist in your world and why he’s a symbol of hope (or even why he’s so disruptive to the status quo, in a good way for Lois and in a bad way for people like Amanda Waller). You simply don’t get the same impact when Superman is descending from the heavens and using his heat vision to blow away some supervillain in a fight scene before zipping back to the Fortress Of Solitude or whatever.
Of course, there is another important perspective on the Man Of Steel that My Adventures With Superman has pointedly not engaged with at all in its first few episodes, and it’s the exception that proves the rule about Superman being best defined by his friends. We’re referring to Lex Luthor, who hasn’t been mentioned or teased in the early episodes of the show, which seems like a conscious decision by the creators to keep the perspective locked in on the main trio to highlight why Superman is Good. A major, narrative-dominating villain like Luthor would detract from that and give too much of a voice to the argument that “Superman is Bad, actually,” which doesn’t seem to be the story they want to tell. Sure, Waller and Cute Deathstroke are out there, but they’re approaching Superman from a place of curiosity rather than hate—and we as viewers know that Amanda Waller, for all her faults, is typically on the proverbial side of the angels, even if Deathstroke rarely is.
On the big screen, new DC Studios co-head James Gunn is preparing to make a new Superman movie with no connection to previous Superman movies, giving fans an excuse to debate how exactly one would make a good movie about Superman in a post-MCU, post-Snyderverse world. Gunn’s plans seem a little confusing, since he quickly cast a bunch of people you don’t necessarily expect to see in a Superman movie, but there is some indication that he knows what he’s doing here: When he hired David Corenswet to play his new Clark Kent, he didn’t just stop there. He also hired Rachel Brosnahan at the same time to play Lois Lane. Hopefully, that means he also believes that Superman is only as interesting as his friends.