Superman & Lois is the best show DC has ever made on the CW. In fact, it is one of the best superhero shows ever made, ever. If that sounds hyperbolic, season three proves why Superman & Lois deserves the praise.
The basic premise of the series is an update on Smallville: Clark Kent and Lois Lane return to the farm to raise their boys. One of them has superpowers, and hijinks ensue in their small-town community. For three consistent seasons, the show has adapted ridiculous comicbook material with a reverential balance of action, romance, humor, consequences, and emotional intelligence. By making Superman a father figure, the show explores the challenges and responsibilities of superpowers in an all-new way.
The strong cast is led by Tyler Hoechlin and Bitsie Tulloch, who have earned their place as one of the best Clark & Lois teams in any adaptation. The story is presented from the points of view of both the kids and the adults, mixing the layered complexity of real human drama with the youthful fun of superheroics.
The core of Superman & Lois is family. The show captures family dysfunction and reconciliation extremely well. Sometimes the family conflicts aren’t easy to watch, but that’s because they feel real. In every episode, families fall apart and come back together and it makes sense for the characters because of the smart emotional writing. Sometimes characters make frustrating decisions, but then they apologize and grow up.
Having a real human element with dynamic character growth is how Superman & Lois stands apart from other comicbook adaptations. If you strip away all the comicbookisms, the characters simply feel like real families going through real family conflicts.
And in season three, Superman & Lois takes its family realism to the next level, starting with a major change to Lois Lane.
[Warning – spoilers for all of Superman & Lois season 3]
Lois Lane has breast cancer
This is the ultimate challenge to these characters. Superman, the ultimate optimist, the omnipotent hero who can defeat anything with his amazing abilities, the last mythical god: How does he face this very real danger to his wife? And Lois Lane, the fearless reporter: How does she face the ultimate fear? The entirety of season three is dedicated to exploring their reactions, conflicts, and character growth through real, major arcs centered around Lois’ cancer diagnosis.
I am so glad the show creators didn’t try to magic the cancer away, or shy from the fear and discomfort of the storyline. They made a bold decision to give Lois cancer and they told that story as authentically as they could, even in the world of Superman. The result is one of the most emotionally powerful stories ever told in any Superman adaptation because Superman can’t beat cancer. For the first time ever, he’s truly helpless. As foreshadowed in the recurring nightmares from the beginning of the season, this is the one time where Superman cannot save Lois Lane.
Different from Pa Kent’s heart attack or Ma Kent’s stroke, this is the first time Clark Kent has to live with the feeling of powerlessness on a day-to-day basis. Coming to this new understanding of humanity is the most significant challenge for Superman this season, and quite frankly, one of the biggest arcs across Superman history.
Meanwhile for Lois, facing this makes her a stronger character. The fragility of life is what makes our fleeting human existences so precious. Her struggle to continue working even while her body is betraying her is as heartbreaking as it is inspiring. Her conflicts with Clark are the most dynamic parts of not only the season but the whole show. Super-optimist Clark vs cancer-realist Lois is one of the most groundbreaking concepts a Superman story has ever had. In the end, the result is a powerful woman-centric story that reminds us why Lois Lane is in the title of the show.
Superman & Lois mirror Bruno & Peia Mannheim
The show was also brilliant to mirror Superman and Lois with Bruno Mannheim and Peia. The season introduced Mannheim as a powerful Luthor-like figure. However, the revelations about his family, Peia and Matteo, immediately add a sympathetic layer of humanity, even despite his dastardly corruption. In another show, these beats would have felt like jarring soap opera twists, but it works in Superman & Lois because of the strength of the writing and the actors’ emotional performances.
This new version of Onomatopoeia is an incredible revamp of the character that most CW shows wouldn’t have been able to pull off. By first meeting Peia through Lois’ cancer storyline, we form a human connection with her before learning about her villain turn. And because we’re so attuned to Clark’s pain, we can immediately understand Mannheim at a more human level. Putting the elements together, we can understand Bruno and Peia almost as well as we understand the protagonists, and our hearts break for them.
Lois Lane’s cancer storyline reminds us that this isn’t just a superhero show, it’s a human drama set in a superhero world. The human characters are still real humans with real human problems. Aiming for that level of authentic realism is what sets Superman & Lois apart.
Jonathan and Jordan Kent
From the beginning, I thought it was smart to give Lois and Clark two kids. For one thing, it creates an interesting character dynamic to have one son representing Superman and another representing Lois. But secondly, the super kid needs someone to talk to, so that the show can avoid the endless secret identity drama of Smallville. Jon and Jordan had a great relationship in the first two seasons, and season three takes the boys’ duality to a whole new level.
In his own way, Jonathan Kent is becoming a hero, just like his brother. But Jon is a foil for Jordan. One is humble, the other is not. One has powers, the other has values. Joining the fire brigade helps Jon mature as a son of Superman, while also having repercussions for Jordan’s arc. And by helping Jordan through his humanity, Jon proves to himself as a son of Lois too.
Overall, Jon’s role in season three is a smart way to resolve his frustrating storyline from season two. His budding relationship with Kyle also helps resolve his search for a father figure, which we saw him struggle with in earlier seasons through General Lane and John Henry.
Jordan had a tough arc this season, but I love how he is able to begin resolving his feelings for Sarah. Jordan and Sarah have long-since proven themselves to be the new Clark and Lana. I am impressed by how Superman & Lois managed to resolve both the Clark/Lana and the Jordan/Sarah relationships in mature, responsible ways, which Smallville spent years struggling to do properly with just one. Watching the characters actually grow and change has been one of my favorite parts of the show. The development is most apparent with the kids this season, who are now maturing into true young adults.
Character growth in Superman & Lois season 3
The entire third season of Superman & Lois was about consequences and repercussions. Every scene has meaning, every action has a reaction, and the writers relish the opportunity to explore these complicated situations from multiple points of view.
This is what leads to the fantastic character development in the show. All the kids are truly becoming adults, like a natural coming-of-age story. But Superman & Lois is also a smart story about adult relationships, as each adult struggles to move into a new chapter in their lives. Every character gets meaningful new developments that pushes them beyond where they’ve ever been. Season three puts each character in uncomfortable new situations and they all become stronger as a result.
Two of my favorite moments of growth in the season are both in episode 11, “Complications”. The first is when Jordan’s panic attack triggers his X-ray vision and Jonathan comforts him, showing Jon’s own strength as a son of both Superman and Lois. The second is when Superman comes to help Peia for the last time. The scene was a smart homage to “Bomb”, an alternate-universe Superman film created by Bruce Timm, which ends very differently. Both of these phenomenal scenes were only possible because of the characters’ growth this season.
What comes next for Superman & Lois?
At the end of season three, it seemed like they’d do Death of Superman, but then they subverted it. So what comes next? My guess is that the literal next moment is Superman throwing the Bizarro/Doomsday monster into the Sun. Then, given the likelihood that season four might be the final season, I think the show will jump a year into the future, so the kids can graduate high school at the end of the show. Given the “Smallville Samaritan” news story, I also think Lex Luthor will figure out the Kents’ secret identities, adding immediate conflict at the beginning of next season.
However, the biggest question about the future of the show is the cast. All series regulars except the Kent family and Luthor will be demoted to guest stars. Some may not return at all. Smallville is a small town where everyone knows each other, and the writers have done a fantastic job interweaving all the different storylines cohesively. Without the full cast, this style of layered storytelling simply won’t feel authentic. Therefore, fans have been speculating that the series may move to Metropolis in season four.
Season three already began the transition, with Metropolis recurring throughout the show. Superman & Lois season four could bring the story full circle by moving the Superman family back to Metropolis, returning to the Daily Planet, and showing how much the family has grown since they left. Introducing Jordan as an adult superhero in Metropolis could represent the final step in his training.
One of the most important Superman stories ever told
With Superman & Lois ending this week, Superman: Legacy casting its Superman and Lois on the same day, and My Adventures with Superman premiering the week after, we are blessed with so much good Superman content right now. It is a fantastic time to be a Superman fan, and this monumental season of Superman & Lois has been the peak of it all.
Across three consistent seasons, Superman & Lois has explored the strength, hope, and humanity of Superman through his impact on his family and his entire community of Smallville. We have seen Superman and Lois at their weakest and their strongest, and we have seen the incredible resilience and fortitude they bring to each other, even through impossible and insurmountable odds. By authentically portraying Superman and Lois in the fight against cancer, Superman & Lois has earned its place among the best Superman stories ever told.