Tonight we’ll see the second episode of the second season of Supergirl, and along with it, the second appearance of Tyler Hoechlin’s Superman. The series had already been doing fantastic work, making the addition of the most recognizable superhero in existence quite puzzling. After all, wasn’t part of the show’s success the fact that they staunchly refused to include the Man of Steel?
Well, yes and no. If you got into the commentary for the first season of Dan Harmon’s Community, you’d hear him talk a lot about how he forced the writers to keep everything on the campus. It was a relatively arbitrary restriction he instated to make sure the stories focused on the characters. He didn’t want them to be tempted by the grand scope and wilderness of the outside world.
That’s kind of the same thing with the first season of Supergirl, despite still going to the Fortress of Solitude and getting a visit from an interdimensional Flash. Superman could only have been a temptation. Most obviously he could have been a solution to any major problem that Kara couldn’t handle (which made his fallible Earthling upbringing more interesting in the climactic moments), but he also would have been too easy a source of conflict. How simple would it have been to make every episode about living in his shadow?
Instead, we have a show that stands on its own and a character that rises and falls on her own merits. For all her supporting cast, Kara is entirely a being of her own determination and desires. She gets help from the DEO tracking bad guys, Winn can get her insight into technological problems, and Cat provides her life mentorship, but she broadly creates her own troubles through naivety, hubris, or what-have-you, and then she fixes it, though admittedly they are often served through a monster-of-the-week structure.
This certainly came with its own set of issues in the first season, but it set up the second one beautifully. The introduction of Superman seemed to only provide ancillary complications (namely with Hank) and bolster the image of our heroine. The rescue of the Venture spacecraft was clearly dire, but hardly seemed outside of her realm of capabilities to solve. And then when it came to the two Els saving the Luthor Corp building, it was Kara who ultimately came up with the solution to keeping it upright and its denizens safe.
After last year’s 20 episodes of restraint, this has become a series that has taught itself how to work with something as monumental as Superman. We even got a taste of it in that Flash crossover. They know how to celebrate the characters and the things that made them successes in the past seven decades. For the Flash, it was all about an easy-going stranger smoothly coming into an odd, new world. For Superman, it’s actually all about Clark Kent.
Namely, how he’s nothing like Zack Snyder’s vision of Clark Kent. While he repeatedly proclaims his Henry Cavill as a more realistic depiction of the iconic hero, that’s not the point. And even though the broad popular reaction of the people in his DC movies to distrust an all-powerful being from another planet is probably—and unfortunately—accurate, it doesn’t even seem to be the point of his own films, either. (Mainly because, well, they don’t really have a point.)
And that’s nothing against Cavill’s steely Man of Steel. It’s more that he’s not a character. Even ignoring the monumental mess that was Batman v Superman, he wasn’t much more than a collection of solemn looks and dour responses in his own god damn movie. So not only was/is he completely devoid of what made him the immense pop culture figure that he is today but he also lacks what makes any story compelling.
A lot can, however, be said about all that classical Superman that Snyder is missing. (It’s what he’s missing about everyone, apparently.) The entirety of what this well-intentioned but heavily misguided director is swinging and missing at can be summed up in that first episode with Hoechlin’s debut. In fact, most of it can be further reduced into the following GIF.
Look at that. He’s capable. He’s confident. He’s charming. (The same qualities that made Brandon Routh the ideal choice for Superman Returns, even if the film itself refused to highlight that fact.) And most importantly, even in this moment of grave seriousness, he’s capable of being personally strong, not just physically. You can’t ignore his sweet Midwestern upbringing. He’s first and foremost a friendly, caring Kansas boy and not a flying, laser-shooting almost-god.
You can see it in the way Hoechlin’s Kent enters the DEO and shakes everyone’s hand. He’s not a celebrity glad-handing fans or even some civil servant putting in face time with constituents. He’s genuinely interested in saying hi to these people because they’re people as much as he is a person, and that’s just what you do when you meet new people.
And for all his legitimate follies (watching the elevator open to him help pick up the papers he knocked out of some guy’s hands was just the best), he’s still a fully capable hero, journalist, and boyfriend. But he very obviously worked to get there and stay there, a totem—a lighthouse on the horizon—to guide Kara on her similar path to what she sees as success (or whatever she will eventually determine as her own metric of success).
And that’s kind of the point. It’s not an overwhelming series of obstacles and faults and struggles that makes a hero, despite what the whole of the contemporary DC Extended Universe is trying to tell you. It’s not even the overcoming of that deluge of strife that does it. What matters is a full grounding and understanding of who you are—and not always against—with the hopeful end goal of saving the day.
These are characters of hope and inspiration. You can give both of those from the dark side of some seemingly insurmountable problem, but you can’t do it if you don’t believe it yourself. That’s the biggest problem that our cinematic Superman has and incessantly encounters, but it’s the greatest asset we have in our Kryptonian brethren of the small screen. We’ve got a problem, and now we’ve got the solution. Here’s hoping we get around to fixing it.