1978 was a big year for Superman, and for superhero movies in general. Superman: The Movie, a huge Hollywood production, brought to life a comic book character for the first time on this scale, with big name actors like Marlon Brando, and state of the art special effects, all in service of the dream of doing justice to the comic books. This desire was a fight in and of itself. Early studio versions of the script were far more comical than the eventual finished product. Says director Richard Donner, “I was brought up on Superman as a kid. There was a whole point in my life where I read Superman. So when I was finished with [the studio’s first script], I was like, ‘Man, if they make this movie, they are destroying the legend of Superman.’ I wanted to do it just to defend him.” At the end of a long, hard fought journey, Superman: The Movie would be released to great critical reception and huge box office returns (adjusted for inflation, it is still the highest grossing Superman movie of all time). Keep in mind, the biggest live action superhero property at the time was the Adam West Batman series, which, while faithful to some major elements of the comics at the time, was distinctly farcical. For the entire movie genre of comic book adaptations, Superman: The Movie was a huge step forward.
But for Superman in live action, sadly, that was pretty much the last one. For as faithful as it was at the time, the movie still took huge liberties with the source material, which live action productions of Superman are still following. Down to today, Pa Kent still dies, like in the Donner movies; the Superman logo now comes from Krypton instead of being designed by Ma Kent, like in the Donner movies (which, granted, was adapted into the comics after the film); the barren, crystalline design of the Fortress of Solitude and Kryptonian technology persists, like in the Donner movies; and the only comic book villains who have appeared on theatre screens are still Lex Luthor (arch criminal version, not the amoral, greedy, self-made industrialist version in use for the past 30 years) and General Zod (who was never as big a deal in the comics as he was in the films), which just so happened to be the only two comic book villains featured in the Donner movies. While the hugely successful Marvel films are busy delivering stories, sequences, and at times full images directly from the comics onto the big screen, Hollywood seems to have forgotten that there’s much to Superman outside of what they remember from 1978 and 1980.
Television has done a little better, but not by much. Until recently, perhaps the most amount of Superman’s mythology portrayed on television was on WB’s Smallville, a show so dedicated to being about Clark Kent in his time before he officially became Superman that it spent 10 years refusing to let him fly or wear the costume, going by the codename The Blur instead of his more famous moniker. Don’t get me wrong, the show was still a huge step forward in terms of actually acknowledging decades worth of lore from the comics, but in terms of finally seeing a straight up adaptation of Superman and his mythology into live action, well, most fans are still waiting for it.
And that brings me to Supergirl.
Superman was not a character in Supergirl’s first season, at least not a character who ever fully appeared on screen. Despite that, this show has managed to deliver what is quite possibly the most faithful adaptation of comic book Superman in all his glory in any live action version of the DC Comics universe. While there’s many reasons that could be given for why this version is so great (take for instance, this wonderful piece by Charlotte Finn on Comics Alliance), one of the reasons I’d like to focus on is that they are finally actually using Superman’s long, weird history and mythology. Again, while Superman himself has not been fully seen, the show has shown us the Fortress of Solitude, including the million ton key to the front door, the statue of Jor and Lara-El holding up Krypton, a Legion of Superheroes flight ring, and the friendly talking robots. Many of his villains have been either fully appeared or been foreshadowed, from Brainiac-8 (complete with the Brainiac clan’s origin from the planet Colu) to Cyborg Superman to the cursed Silver Banshee. We’ve seen some of comic Kryptonians’ less frequently used powers, like freeze breath. Even Superman’s human nature, the emphasis that he is Clark Kent rather than Kal-El, is mostly a unique (in live action) feature of this show’s interpretation.
The joy of seeing these pieces of lore brought to life for the first time has only been multiplied by the knowledge that Superman will be appearing in the flesh next season, to be played by the newly cast Tyler Hoechlin. And with that knowledge comes a host of hopes and expectations. So I’d like to take a moment to celebrate this news with some ideas for what else from the comics I’d like to see on the show.
Krypto the Superdog: Superman has a white, alien dog from Krypton that
shoots lasers from its eyes and wears a little cape. This is easily one of the greatest things about Superman, and 61 years after his creation (by Supergirl co-creator Otto Binder, mind you) he still has yet to appear in live action (even most of the cartoons have been hesitant to use him, for reasons I cannot possibly understand). Supergirl’s showrunners have discussed the possibility of various super pets appearing in season two. While Streaky the super cat and Comet the super horse were the only ones mentioned by name, Krypto would actually be the easiest of them all to have appear; Streaky and Comet are Supergirl’s pets specifically, and adding either of them to the show means the writers would need a reason to keep them away from Kara for extended periods of time or else figure out how to add them to a full, ongoing spot on the show (which even I can understand the difficulty of). Krypto, on the other hand, is Superman’s dog, and therefore lives in a different city. It would be much easier to simply have Kara housesit Krypto every once in a while than it would be to bring in Streaky and Comet (but I still hope to see them in some capacity).
Superman’s fridge: As much as I frequently argue otherwise, not all great pieces of Superman’s mythology come from the comics, actually. Of all places, a thread in the /co/ board on 4chan invented the idea of Superman owning a fridge in the Fortress of Solitude (a giant fridge, to scale with the giant version of the key from the Silver Age), used entirely for the purpose of posting drawings made for him by children the world over. The thread discusses the idea that Superman has pictures dating back to 1938, that he can name every single kid whose drawing is up there, and they imagine a scene where some teen punk tries to rag that Superman doesn’t really care about people, only for Superman to fly away for a few seconds and return with a picture that teen drew 10 years ago. FYI, the thread in question was originally regarding manly tears.
What’s Written on Superman’s Tombstone?: A strong argument could be made that Grant Morrison is the best Superman writer of the current comics’ industry, if not of all time, so don’t be surprised that there’s several items on this list that originate from one of his comics. Superman Beyond 3D might be slightly less celebrated than his wonderful All-Star Superman, but it’s no less perfect as a source of Superman feats to delight and amaze. The book opens in media res with Superman fighting a cosmic monster, who tauntingly asks Superman what he wants engraved upon his tombstone. The book then backs up to tell us the whole story, making us wait ‘til the very last page to see Superman’s answer. Maybe not everyone has read this book, considering it was very densely written, extremely meta, difficult to understand, and sort of tied in to the densely written and extremely meta and difficult to understand Final Crisis, but the book is a beautiful mess that I highly suggest everyone read at some point. To avoid spoiling anyone, I’ll go ahead and link to his message, rather than display it here, but to quote Lois Lane: “I saw your grave. I... I read the inscription... and... and that’s when I knew everything was going to be okay.”
That Lion Head: If it hasn’t already become apparent, Superman’s mythos is a really, really weird one. This has a lot to do with how Superman is built: he’s essentially the strongest, most invulnerable, most good person in the room at any given moment, and that can be a difficult character to create credible stakes for. This is the challenge to writing a good Superman story, and while there are many different ways to answer that challenge, my favorite is the approach the Silver Age took in gusto: just make his world really, really weird. Supergirl has done an excellent job at balancing the best pieces of the super weird Silver Age and the much more grounded and realistic Post-Crisis Age, which especially works for Supergirl herself, considering she’s still working towards Superman’s level of power and invulnerability. But the show’s version of Superman is in his prime, and therefore he really ought to be touching on some really weird stuff if his threats are going to be any challenge to him at all, without being planet destroying threats every single day. What I’m getting at, basically, is isn’t it time to see Superman on TV acting out a modern version of “Beauty and the Beast”?
And by the Way, He’s a Vegetarian: It’s a little detail from the much larger scope of the amazing Superman: Birthright by Mark Waid, but it’s a really meaningful one that just fits him to a tee. Superman’s super vision can do more than just look through solid objects, he can see the full spectrum of light and waves, which includes (in comic books) something of an aura that surrounds every living thing. In his words, a dead thing doesn’t give off that aura, and the result is something disconcerting that only Superman can even see. His response is a perfectly within character decision to simply not eat meat, and it’s a small but delightful bit of trivia that would be worth a mention on TV.
“Suns, What Else?!”: The last appearance of the Fortress of Solitude on Supergirl was a treasure trove of easter eggs, so if we’re meeting the Man of Steel in the flesh, isn’t it fitting that we revisit his secret fort? There’s a huge number of things that would just be great to see there, one of the best of which would be his cosmic anvil. Superman needs a cosmic anvil to create miniature suns, which he needs to feed his pet sun-eater that he found wandering around the rings of Jupiter and is hand feeding before releasing back into the wild. You know, as one does. Other great things to see in the Fortress would be the Titanic, which Superman is restoring as a hobby, and the tragic Robot 7 who must atone.
King Superman’s Crown: Another easter egg item that would be great in the Fortress of Solitude, I give this one its own spot on the list because it actually could represent something more for Superman and Supergirl. Perhaps the most emotional arc of Supergirl’s first season was her bout with Red Kryptonite, which changed her personality and let her run amok, drunk with power, and it took a good chunk of the remainder of the season to get just the population of National City back on her side. In the Silver Age, Superman also went through a similar situation, though he went a little farther, proclaiming himself King of the Earth and demanding the U.N. regard him as such. During this time, he wore this crown, which would not just be a fun little tidbit to find in the Fortress, it would also give our Super cousins something to bond over. Fun fact: Jimmy Olsen wore the same, or a similar crown on another occasion, though his reasons turned out to be a little more altruistic.
The Million Pointed Spear: So here’s the deal, I already want Mr. Mxyzptlk to appear on Supergirl sooner or later, but I’d personally love to see the show go a little further than that. The New 52's first run on Action Comics, written by, you guessed it, Grant Morrison, involved the imp from the fifth dimension, but it took a few interesting turns. Mr. Mxyzptlk’s relationship with Superman has always been antagonistic, but rather good naturedly so, a playful game between them. Morrison introduced us to another fifth dimensional being, Vyndktvx, this one a whole lot more malevolent. Among the many forces he used against Superman was a weapon called the Million Pointed Spear, or as it was known in Superman’s dimension, the Multitude. Funny story, I was actually very excited when Supergirl first dropped hints of Myriad, because I was confusing it with the other Superman related mystery threat that starts with M and means a lot of something. So bottom line, I would love to see Vyndktvx, and Princess Nyxlygsptlnz and Mr. Mxyzptlk on Supergirl at some point in the future, though I will admit that this might be too much for Superman’s first appearance, so I am totally willing to wait to see this storyline get the build up it deserves. Trust me, it’s so much better than it might sound with that many consonants; after all, fifth dimensional words sound like lightning.
The Tiny Planet in the Basement: In the 1970's, Jack Kirby came to comics. Being the artist who co-invented most of Marvel Comics’ biggest characters (including Captain America, long before Stan Lee ever got involved with writing), this was a big deal, therefore DC immediately put Jack Kirby on one of their biggest possible titles: Superman ...’s Pal Jimmy Olsen. Despite being placed on a relatively low tier comic, Jack Kirby proceeded to embark on a whirlwind spree of pure creation, and thanks to that period we now have the entire Fourth World Saga, the New Gods like Big Barda and Mister Miracle, and Darkseid and all his minions on the planet of Apokalips. And also a tiny planet in Superman’s basement so evil that its only inhabitants take the form of Universal Studios monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein and the planet itself actually has devil horns. Okay, so long story short, the planet itself isn’t actually evil, it was a science experiment meant to simulate and study alien environments by NASA, but the mad scientist in charge of the program seeded it with tiny life forms and projected horror movies into its atmosphere, causing its inhabitants to quickly evolve into movie monsters. My point here is this: Jack Kirby’s more famous DC creations, like Darkseid and the Parademons and the Boom Tubes and maybe even the Anti-Life Equation may very well be too tied up with the movies for Supergirl to get anywhere close to them, and even if they weren’t, I’m not sure the CW has the headgear budget to truly do justice to most of Jack Kirby’s work. But there are some elements of Jack Kirby’s run adjacent to Superman that will likely never, ever, ever show up in the movies and these are the things that it would be amazing to see show up on Supergirl, like the Newsboy Legion, Project CADMUS (which is showing up in season 2), and of course, the tiny planet of vampires and werewolves that Superman befriended.
Lifting Eternity and/or Infinity: Two separate occasions we’re talking about here, just so you know Superman is rad. Back in Superman Beyond 3D, Superman and a team of Supermen from across the Multiverse journeyed to Limbo, where nothing ever happens, to find a library that housed only one book, a book of infinite pages that contained every story possible. Superman (with the help of Captain Marvel, who it should be noted has finite super strength), proceeded to pick up the book to take it back to their Moniter Ship. On another occasion, Superman (along with Wonder Woman, who also has finite strength) lifted the Spectre, who said of himself, “The Spectre’s body you see is composed of consciousness. A cosmic consciousness that contains eternity itself. And eternity is heavy.” Ergo, Superman has lifted both Infinity and Eternity. Now, I’ll grant you, both of these situations had extenuating circumstances; the book of infinite pages was in a place outside of the Multiverse, where the normal laws of physics pointedly don’t apply; the Spectre is a magical being, and magic tends to operate differently than true science can measure; and in both situations, Superman had help and that help was magical in nature as well, so hey, whattayagonnado? Maybe neither of these situations can really be used as a solid basis for measuring the extent of Superman’s physical strength, but what these situations are good for is spouting off awesome comic book trivia. And it would be really cool to see Supergirl let Superman perform some amazing sounding, conceptual feats of strength. Or maybe just wrestle an angel.
Prince Charming: Another great, if sadly brief run was Gail Simone’s Action Comics from 2005, and in it there is a wonderful story where Superman fights the Queen of Fables, a magical being who attacks via fairy tale transformation. Long story short, yeah, Superman gets turned into literal Prince Charming. It is as spectacular as it sounds. The Queen of Fables was a good villain, powerful and dangerous, but not to the point of being a season long threat; the kind of villain who could be wrapped up in a single or two part episode, but might take a superhero team up to take down. And it would be truly fun to see Superman and Supergirl turned into fairy tale archetypes, and to see how Supergirl as a show dealt with those archetypes. Bonus points if they include the bit from Simone’s run where Lois Lane wakes in the morning to find Superman has already gone off to save the world, but stopped to do the dishes before he left.
“Your doctor really did get held up, Regan”: Full disclosure, if I get to see this scene performed in live action at some point in my life, I will never stop crying. This is a scene that has frequently been described as the greatest Superman moment of all time, and possibly the greatest scene in superhero comics of all time. This is a scene that saved lives in our real world, with numerous accounts from people who say reading this exchange was key in preventing their suicide. This is a scene that deserves, and I might argue, needs to be performed in such a way that it can be seen by as many people as possible. And the best part is, it would be so easy. This page is one standalone moment in its chapter, but it has nothing really to do with the rest of the book and could be placed without alteration in the context of nearly any other Superman story. There’s a single moment of setup earlier in the issue, where Superman saves a runaway train and in the foreground we see one half of a cell phone conversation from a civilian on it. And that’s all it takes. Just a hint in passing dialogue that someone somewhere is in trouble, something we may not even initially pick up on, but Superman does, and as soon as he does he is listening, super senses attuned to the voices of a city, looking for one person in trouble. And then he finds them, and he saves the day. One single scene that tells us who Superman as a character is, and you can put it in the middle of just about any story you can tell. If there’s one thing I hope to see Superman do when he makes his way to Supergirl this fall, I hope it’s this.