The CW’s Supes shows love a big seventh episode reveal. It was in Supergirl’s seventh episode that Hank Henshaw admitted he was actually J’onn J’onzz the Martian Manhunter. And now Superman & Lois’ seventh episode delivers an equally big twist. It turns out Wolé Parks’ Captain Luthor isn’t a Luthor at all. He’s actually John Henry Irons—a DC Comics character otherwise known as Steel. In the comics, Irons is an engineering genius with a suit of steel who stepped into Superman’s role when Clark was killed by Doomsday in a ’90s crossover event. Steel was also rather, er, memorably brought to life by Shaquille O’Neal in a 1997 film. And now he makes his small screen live-action debut in a newly reimagined form.
Of course, the namedrop itself won’t mean much to non-comics readers. But “Man Of Steel” does such a captivating job of laying out Irons’ background, that it doesn’t really matter. The flashbacks to Irons’ experiences on his own Earth don’t just humanize him, they recenter him as the hero of his own story. We see how his happy family life with Lois and their teenage daughter Nat was terrifyingly upended when Evil Superman and his Kryptonian army started randomly leveling Metropolis. And we see the haunting moment Irons has to stand by helplessly as Evil Superman murders his wife on live TV. It’s no wonder Irons has dedicated his life to taking down Kal-El. Especially since his first attempt to do so seemingly left him stranded from his daughter and trapped in another universe.
Though Irons functions as an antagonist in this episode, it’s clear that Superman & Lois doesn’t just see him as a villain. And so much of that comes from Wolé Parks’ wonderfully complex, deeply sympathetic performance. In retrospect, it’s kind of remarkable that the first few episodes of this series wasted Parks by trapping him behind the generic supersuit of “The Stranger.” Since he’s been allowed to take off the mask and actually interact with the rest of the cast, Parks has emerged as one of Superman & Lois’ most compelling players. He’s an innately magnetic actor with charisma to spare and a chameleon-like ability to shift his demeanor on a dime. I’m really excited to see more from him moving forward.
In fact, I almost wonder if “Man Of Steel” would’ve been better served by anchoring itself more firmly in John Henry Irons’ point of view and letting his entire backstory play out in one fell swoop. The fact that we have to wait until next week to see Clark and Irons’ big interrogation scene leaves the Steel reveal feeling just a touch unfinished here. But, on the other hand, “Man Of Steel” also gains something from the kaleidoscopic nature of its ensemble storytelling. This episode pays off Superman & Lois’ slow-burn approach by giving just about all of its characters something meaningful to do. And though there are a few elements of the series that still aren’t quite working—like the dime-store villain quality of Morgan Edge and Leslie Larr—for the most part, “Man Of Steel” is a continued step up in the show’s confidence.
A lot of that comes from how creatively and thoughtfully the episode depicts Superman’s powers. Writer Jai Jamison and director David Ramsey (a.k.a. Arrow’s John Diggle himself) have a real flair for delivering original riffs on Kryptonian abilities, starting with the horror Jordan experiences now that his superhearing has kicked in. First comes the physical pain of having every sound amplified into an overwhelming cacophony. And then comes the emotional pain of overhearing his brother sort-of flirting with Sarah at school. Like the best X-Men stories, Superman & Lois ties Jordan’s burgeoning powers to some classic coming-of-age teen angst. But it also maintains the optimism of a classic Supes story too. Though Jonathan and Jordan get into the worst fight we’ve seen between them, Jordan’s heartfelt apology is ultimately enough to bring them back to their brotherly camaraderie.
Clark also experiences some pain this week. First the emotional pain of watching Jordan suffer. And then the literal pain of being rendered powerless by Irons’ red sun lights. “Man Of Steel” drives home just how unnerving that final trap is by ensuring that Clark is otherwise confident and in-control throughout this episode. While teaming up with Lois to investigate “Marcus Bridgewater,” Clark uses his enhanced vision to see miles down the road and then casually flies a truck full of armed gunmen to the top of a cliff in order to get them out of the way. He really does feel all-powerful in this episode, which is what makes it so terrifying when he finally escapes Irons’ trap and nearly clobbers him into the ground. Or at least that’s how Irons sees it as his mind combines the Superman in front of him with flashes of the black-clad Evil Superman from his universe.
Thankfully, Lois is there to keep her husband in check.“Man Of Steel” is probably my favorite use of Lois yet. While the Edge/X-Kryptonite stuff continues to feel vague and kind of campy, her investigation into “Marcus” is much more interesting. Lois is fearless but not reckless. She confronts Irons at his RV but refuses to go inside where he could easily get the jump on her. And she’s clever on her feet too, ensuring she collects Irons’ fingerprints for Clark to take back to the DOD. The look of pure admiration on Clark’s face after Lois reveals her plan is a perfect celebration of her impressive investigative skills.
Across the board, “Man Of Steel” is a well-written, well-acted, well-directed episode full of impressively cinematic visual effects. And it smartly brings all of its various threads back to the show’s central theme of family. Clark and Lois ultimately decide to tell Jordan and Jonathan about everything that’s been going on in Smallville, which brings the Lane-Kents one step closer to becoming The Incredibles. Meanwhile, the addition of Irons’ long-lost daughter adds a familial element to his story too. That’s another reason I suspect Superman & Lois won’t just keep Irons as an antagonist. His love for his daughter connects him to the Lane-Kent family ethos—nevermind the fact that Nat literally shares Lois’ DNA too (albeit a Lois from a different universe but still). Now all that remains to be seen is how Clark and Lois are going to react when they learn their newfound nemesis is kind of, sort of multiverse family.
- It turns out Irons built his suit from old Lex Luthor tech but didn’t have time to update the AI inside, which is why it refers to him as “Captain Luthor.”
- Lois gives the multiverse a shoutout this week, which is pretty much the first time Superman & Lois has acknowledged that it’s in the same continuity as the rest of the Arrowverse.
- I love how Irons dismisses Clark as being “just Lois’ husband” when he sees him snooping around his RV! It’s a really fun use of Clark’s secret identity.
- Lana’s new job as the head of Morgan Edge’s “Young Executive Program” involves selecting the candidates for his X-Kryptonite trials. And while she doesn’t know exactly what’s going on yet, she’s smart enough to be wary about Edge’s intentions—and worried for her friend Emily, who’s now been chosen as a candidate.
- This episode makes a strong argument for why having some non-powered people around is a good thing for Team Supes: An unaffected Jonathan is able to smash out the red lights that render Clark and Jordan weak and powerless.
- Clark gently getting Jordan’s attention with his ice breath is such an adorable use of his powers!
- Speaking of which, Jordan’s superhearing problems sure seem to clear up quick, huh?