My Adventures with Superman premiered on Adult Swim on July 7, 2023. Notably, it’s the first animated adaptation in 23 years. This show brings Superman back into the limelight and introduces the audience, who are too young to remember the previous Superman: The Animated Series, to this iconic hero.
As a result, the show does not bank on nostalgia but rather aims to attract a new audience. This, of course, makes it stand out among a flood of nostalgia-fueled shows. However, that isn’t to say that it throws out Superman’s history.
After all, Superman is a character with a long history. His saga spreads across comics, radio, television, film, and beyond. This new show aims to be a fresh retelling of these classics. The first two episodes, for example, make notable changes to Superman’s origin story, granting it a uniquely modern spin. Yet the overall tone and impact of the origin story remains the same.
To better understand this latest entry, let’s look back at Superman’s history.
Superman Theatrical CartoonsSuperman is THE all-American superhero, right? How did he get there, though?
In the 1940s, a series of animated shorts by Fleischer Studios helped cement his status as an icon. The cartoon shorts set precedents in many ways. The Academy even nominated the first short, The Mad Scientist, for Best Animated Short.
A high budget contributed to smooth animation, assisted by rotoscoping techniques. These shorts gave Superman his most iconic ability: flight. He could only leap tall buildings in the comics, but that proved too difficult to animate. When they drew him flying instead, it stuck.
The Mad Scientist consists of Clark Kent being assigned to help reporter Lois Lane chase a story. Lois insists on working alone when a scientist kidnaps her. Superman then appears to battle the Mad Scientist and rescue her. In the end, Lois writes the article with the help of Superman, but only Clark knows the whole truth.
The rest of these stories usually follow this formula. The characters are archetypes (the hero, the damsel, the villain). Lois herself, though, is slightly subversive of typical damsels because she chooses to go into danger to get the scoop.
The series gave Superman cultural relevance and inspired many animators. The robot robbery scene from The Mechanical Monsters influenced Hayao Miyazaki in his film Castle in the Sky. Its art style inspired Batman: The Animated Series, and its follow-up S: TAS. Creator Bruce Timm stated he tried to improve on the art style to give it a more futuristic feel, as he believed this was more appropriate for Superman’s optimistic character.
Superman: The Animated SeriesThis series starts as the follow-up to the iconic Batman: The Animated Series. Instead of making major changes from the source material, it went for a “back to basics” approach. The creators brought “classic” Superman to the wider audience.
The series follows season-long story arcs. Continuity between episodes matters. Tthe classic characters Lois, Clark, and Jimmy Olson are also more fleshed out here than in past cartoons.
Superman’s identity as Clark Kent is not just a costume. Similar to Bruce Wayne and Batman, the story spends time developing Superman’s alter ego and who he is in the daytime. If anything Superman is a part of Clark Kent, with Superman being just a way he helps others. Kinda like after-work volunteering.
No son, it doesn’t matter where you were born or what you can do. You’ll always be Clark Kent. Superman just helps out now and then.
Lois is confident and self-possessed, even earning Lex Luthor’s respect. She is already an award-winning reporter when introduced to her colleague and new rival Clark Kent. Lois is notably assertive, often finding her way out of danger even before Superman shows up.
Lois interacts with both sides of Clark’s identity. In the day-to-day, she interacts with him as Clark, and she is the person closest to Superman. The relationship between Lois and Clark develops in a “will they or won’t they?” fashion for all three seasons.
The goal here is a more adult-oriented version of the classic characters and story. This is why Clark is already confident in his role as Superman by the end of the three-part origin story The Last Son of Krypton.
He’s strong, he flies, he’s the Nietzschian fantasy ideal all wrapped up in a red cape. He’s superman.
Clark Kent is already confident in his role as Superman, which allows the story to explore other classic ideas. These include villains like Lex Luthor, or Jack Kirby’s New Gods.
This series adapted and improved upon the old, and 2023’s My Adventures with Superman changes the old into new.
My Adventures with SupermanMy Adventures with Superman changes Superman’s origin story by making it last beyond the first two episodes. Actually, the first two episodes don’t cover Krypton or Jor-El at all. This is a contrast to S:TAS where the entire first episode takes place on Krypton.
The writers stated in this interview that this is deliberate:
The big difference between all the Clark Kents you know and our Clark is that he doesn’t get a magic crystal that Jor-El pops out of and explains everything to him.”
In S: TAS, Clark is a grown-up. He owns his own apartment and has a job as a full-time reporter. By the end of his three-episode origin, he is confident in both halves of his identity.
This Clark, though? He’s still growing up in his early twenties. He is not in control of his powers. He’s constantly breaking things. His clumsiness is not an act, either. No, instead he is genuinely bumbling and lacks basic confidence. At The Daily Planet, he’s starting as an intern at the very bottom.
Unsure of himself and his powers, Clark constantly asserts that he’s just normal. Only toward the end of the first episode does he start to realize his powers can help others.
Lois: We would have died without him. A man flew down from the sky and risked his life to save us. Not for a reward or fame, but just because we needed help. Don’t you want to know who that person is?
By stretching out Clark’s origin, the audience discovers the character at the same time as Clark discovers himself.
Lois LaneLike her previous incarnations, My Adventure’s with Superman‘s Lois is self-confident and ambitious. However, she is not an award-winning reporter, but rather an intern like Clark. Though, according to Lois she is the head intern. This Lois lacks the experience to back up her confidence.
The developing relationship between Lois and Clark is still important for both characters. In fact, they spark development in each other. Lois becomes more open and honest with herself. Clark’s Superman side becomes more connected to humanity. Lois ends the series confirming her relationship with Superman when the general public has lost faith in him.
My Adventures with Superman gets rid of the “will they or won’t they?” aspect. Their feelings are obviously mutual from the get-go. The show instead focuses on Lois’ personal flaws. She still takes risks to get the scoop, but this quality veers into recklessness. In the first episode alone she lies to Jimmy and Clark and exposes them to danger.
However, Lois shares her same fascination with Superman, which helps Clark in turn figure out his own identity. It’s Lois’ pursuit of Superman that sparks Clark to think about who Superman is.
Lois: Hello, who are you?
Clark: A normal man having a normal day, huh? Who am I?
Lois: [Searching for Clark who went missing] Clark! Claaaaark!”
This is a relationship between two adults in their twenties figuring out their lives together, something many of this age can relate to.
However, there is one more character present which turns this duo into a trio.
Jimmy OlsonSuperman’s best friend, Jimmy Olson, is a classic character in the comics. Yet he is absent from the Fleischer cartoon, and relegated to a side character in S: TAS. Here he is just as important as Lois and Clark.
Jimmy is no longer the boy reporter. In this version, he’s Clark’s best friend before he is Superman’s. Clark and Jimmy are the same age and start as interns on the same day. As stated in this same interview:
They’re all interns. Lois isn’t a famous reporter. Clark is not yet the Man of Steel. And they kind of create each other as they move through this first season.
Jimmy balances out Lois and Clark’s more opposite personalities. Clark is lacking in self-confidence. Lois’s self-confidence sometimes makes her trample over others. Jimmy’s character is more laid back here, which helps the other two find a middle ground.
Plus, in this version, Jimmy’s’s also an alien conspiracy theorist. He actively tries to figure out Superman’s identity along with Lois. However, his friendship with Clark helps an alien in disguise fit into the modern world.
My Adventures with Superman is a Different DC UniverseWhile S: TAS adapts the classic comics to make them accessible to a wider audience. My Adventures with Superman updates canon to draw a modern audience in.
One example is Krypton itself. Each version presents its own version of Krypton. S: TAS spends an entire episode on Krypton in its final days in the original. The creators stated in an interview they wanted to bring Krypton to life.
We’re going to spend the entire first episode on another fricking planet. I just couldn’t resist it. I love the origin story and getting to design Krypton from the ground up into something that didn’t look like the Christopher Reeve movie or specifically like anything from the comics, was a super fun blast.
Here we are also seeing the show creators’ version of Krypton. However, rather than beginning Clark’s home planet is a mystery, we discover along with Clark.
In our first meeting with Jor-El, he chants in a strange language rather than speaking English. This unfamiliar Jor-El comes across as almost scary to the audience. Young Clark even proclaims he does not want to know about his origins. Krypton obviously is different this time around, because the audience does not know what to expect.
The classic villains are not around, either. In S: TAS the audience met Lex Luthor right away. There is no Lex Luthor here. Instead, the first two episodes explore a new origin for Live Wire and a younger version of Deathstroke.
Deathstroke is an unexpected change because he is typically a Teen Titans villain. He is most likely younger because we are working with a younger DC Universe as well. Since the DC Universe is young here, the audience does not need to know their comic book versions. It intrigues the audience instead, asking the question, “Here’s a Superman you’re unfamiliar with, want to know more?”
Watch My Adventures with Superman on Adult SwimMy Adventures with Superman seeks to modernize Superman to reach a modern audience. While paying homage to past series, it moves the concept forward.
The Fleisher cartoons made Superman the cultural icon he is today. S: TAS familiarized the audience with the comic book versions of the characters and world and created a timeless version of Superman.
Adventures is clearly a product of the modern era. It features the characters as early 20-somethings trying to figure out what to do with their lives, a relatable experience to people growing up today. Not only are the characters young, but the DC Universe itself is also young. This allows the readers to learn about the characters and world from the ground up.
The greatest strength of this series is it makes you want to watch and learn more about Superman.