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Clark Kent is always nice. My Adventures With Superman makes him complex

The new Max animated series gives us a Superman who can fly and maybe even flirt

Superman holding Jimmy Olsen (who’s cheering) and Lois Lane (who’s sitting calmly) in the animated series My Adventures With Superman. Image: Warner Media

As comic book mythology, Superman is pretty much chiseled in stone. He is the last son of the doomed planet of Krypton and was raised by a pair of hardworking farmers in Smallville. From there, he moved to Metropolis to be a reporter and use his extraordinary powers for the good of humankind. With such a foundation, it becomes easy to take his character for granted. Even when recalling the most respected on-screen take on the character (that of Christopher Reeve in the original 1978 Richard Donner film), we typically focus on Superman just being kind of a good guy as his most alluring attribute. Why wouldn’t we like him? He’s… nice.

But just “being a good guy” does not make for an interesting character, something that even Reeve knew as he imbued the Man of Steel with a cheeky sense of charm. And it’s something that the creators behind My Adventures With Superman, the new cartoon on Adult Swim and streaming on Max, seem to know as well. Creating a Superman is easy; the blueprint has been laid out for almost 90 years. Creating a Superman that is an actual great character is a bit tougher.

The series takes place in the early years of Clark Kent — he’s a new intern at the Daily Planet with his pal Jimmy Olsen. (The series sees them still living in the same room in their 20s, a reflection of the dismal pay inherent even in fictional media industries. In this essay, I will…) He’s getting used to life in Metropolis and also life as a guy who wants to help people while wearing a primary-colored costume. On the way to his first day of work, he runs into Lois Lane, a stroke of destiny and also a meet-cute that will inform their entire relationship. Their connection is one of the most energetic aspects of the show, and it’s where the vibrant take on the Superman character begins.

Lois, holding Clark’s arm as he blushes and looks down at her in a still from My Adventures with Superman Image: Warner Media

Lois Lane’s budding relationship with Clark Kent/Superman has taken a variety of forms over the years. In the 1978 film, Lois was curious about Clark but immediately smitten with Superman. In the DC Animated Universe, which has loomed over every other attempt at superhero animation made since, Lois was befuddled by Clark’s infallible amiability and fascinated by Superman, the “Nietzschean fantasy ideal all wrapped up in a red cape.” Inevitably, she grows to love both sides, but My Adventures With Superman opts to skip past the will-they-won’t-they and makes it clear from the beginning: These two kids have a crush on one another.

Superman dealing with his newfound emotions regarding Lois humanizes him a great deal. This take on Clark can be fairly buffoonish — he breaks alarm clocks and tears door handles off, the masterpiece of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster reimagined in pure himbo style. His clumsiness is only amplified now that he has to try and impress a cute girl, which gives him a fun dichotomy to play with. His drive to save the world? That’s perhaps his most natural instinct. His wish to start a relationship? That’s the complicated part.

Clark Kent awkwardly smiling Image: Warner Media
Superman flying and carrying Lois Lane over Metropolis Image: Warner Media

From the outset, it’s clear that the show is anime-inspired, from the action sequences (fast-paced and well-choreographed, they remind me of some Naruto Shippuden fights) to the character expressions. Lois and Clark are constantly and bashfully blushing when they interact, an anime staple. It’s honestly hard to think of another Clark Kent (outside of perhaps the one in Smallville) that’s been this devoted to the little joys of puppy love. It makes his character extremely easy to root for, whether in these scenarios or when he goes zooming off to battle later.

That’s not to say that Clark is defined solely by his aw-shucks smiles and heroics. It’s clear that, even as he works through the various overarching plots of the show (“Where did I come from and where are all of these villains coming from?” being the main two) that he’s quite inquisitive as both a hero and journalist. He’s not quite the gentle genius found in Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman comics, but he’ll get there. And while he’s often the most stable of his pals, he still slips up in his friendships and his emotional reactions. Eventually, he will come to inspire the world, but for right now, he’s often a little perturbed when others don’t adhere to what he thinks is important.

Overall, My Adventures With Superman has a Clark Kent that offers interest outside of his standard dedication to derring-do. Much of it has to do with his age and his need to learn to be the Superman that he’s gonna be (it’s closest cartoon compatriot is The Spectacular Spider-Man, a series constructed under the mantra of “the education of Peter Parker”), but it’s a well-rounded and thoughtful approach. We already believe that a man can fly. What’s far more concerning is if he can flirt.