A plea for more (many, many more) seasons of My Adventures with Superman.
We’ve endured decades — decades! — of desaturated, dour takes on what it would really be like if a superhero showed up on planet earth. The most obvious victim of this grittification is Batman. He went from fighting guys like Kite-Man to constantly mourning the death of his parents and doing surveillance war crimes. But the guy who’s fallen farthest is Superman. Throughout the gritty ’80s and grittier ’90s (and grittiest war on terror-inflected 2000’s, the military-funded grittiest-est 2010s, forever and ever, amen), Supes has gone from being the number one comic book hero to the boring guy. Or the overpowered cis straight white man. A bully in a cape. The Snyderverse did perhaps the most character damage, making Clark a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds who killed as many humans as he saved in all his city-destroying battles. Superman was made sad, dark, and brooding, because that’s what everyone decided was “interesting” back at the start of the modern age of comic books.
That’s why it’s so refreshing to watch My Adventures With Superman, a.k.a. “the Superman anime.” Starring Jack Quaid, the show writes Clark Kent as perhaps the most earnest, sweetie pie-coded herb he’s ever been. This is a Clark that sees the ugliness in the world and chooses to be a good guy. He’s constantly saving cats in trees — like, all the time — and it’s infinitely more compelling than the sad-sack supers we’ve had for the past half-century. Like Clark, I’m from the midwest, and my friend came up with a term for the type of earnest, virtuous-almost-to-the-point-of-stupidity dude you get ’round those parts: corn-faced. It’s like being corn-fed but to the degree that it’s written all over their face. Sweet as Karo Syrup and about as slow, corn-faced heroes include The O.C.’s Ryan Atwood, A New Hope Luke Skywalker, and The Walking Dead’s Glenn. My Adventures With Superman gives us the most corn-faced Clark Kent to ever fly out of Kansas. He’s kind of a dingus. He crushes hard on Lois. He breaks his alarm clock every day! In short, he’s silly.
But he can be serious too! In episode four, Superman gets into a fight with the shadowy government organization hellbent on his destruction and stops fighting because civilians are in danger. This is a complete 180 from the MCU/Snyderverse “cinema = carnage” style. This is Superman going back to his roots. The first Action Comics stories had him taking on union-busting factory owners, abusers, and shady landlords. He was the power fantasy of two Jewish men who wanted a big guy to stick up for the little guy. For that to work, Superman has to care about people. His empathy is his motivation for doing good and the leash that keeps him from doing evil. Nobody knows what to make of this silly-ass Superman. To the show’s Elon Musk-esque tech bro, Superman is a threat because he helps people without asking to be paid for it; anyone claiming to do anything for purely altruistic reasons is going to screw you later. To the military, he’s a foreign invader; they can’t understand why someone would come to a new place and not try to conquer it. There’s even a gotcha journalist who knows that fear sells more papers than trust. The world is set up to be exploitative, extractive, and violent, so when this random nice dude shows up? It destroys their worldview. So they vow to destroy him.
I fear this version of Superman will get destroyed. The show was originally ordered for two seasons on HBO Max and Cartoon Network. Thanks to lots of mergers and restructuring, one of those channels doesn’t exist, and the other is a shell of its former self. The show instead airs on Adult Swim and streams the next day on Max. The second season of My Adventures with Superman is supposedly still in the works, but after that? It seems unlikely that Warner Bros. Discovery will want a competing version of Superman against the James Gunn-helmed origin pic slated for 2025. The Zaslav Era of Warner Bros. has seen the obliteration of Batgirl, the cancelation of a new Batman show from Bruce Timm, and the complete jerking around of Henry Cavill. Oh, and a historic labor dispute with lots of little guys fighting for a fair deal. Hollywood appears to be full of Lex Luthors at the moment, and (idk if you know this) that guy hates Superman. It’s a shame. Because we need this sweetie-pie version of Superman now more than ever.