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Forget Marvel's What If... ?, Superman & Lois is the comic book show you should be watching

Commentary: Shows like Loki and What If... ? get all the hype, but the latest incarnation of Superman is filled with heart.

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Superman & Lois offers a more relatable take on the character. 

CW Network

Superman has never been an easy character to relate to. He is, essentially, a perfect being. Because he's the most powerful and morally pure character in the DC universe, there's not a lot of drama or internal conflict to mine from the Man of Steel. Contrast this with Batman, whose dark and flawed character makes him a fan favorite.

Of course, in the Marvel universe you have complex characters like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Loki, who headline their respective hit shows on Disney Plus. In comparison, Superman & Lois, which aired on The CW network and will arrive on HBO Max later this month, has flown under the radar. But it may be more impressive, because it achieved a seemingly impossible goal: Create a version of Superman that retains his Boy Scout personality but still makes him relatable. The show does so by focusing on the theme of family, breathing new life into the franchise. 

As a result, Superman & Lois may be the best iteration of Superman in TV or film. And this is coming from someone who watched Christopher Reeve's pitch-perfect performance at just the right age for it to leave a permanent impression.

The Reeve portrayal is one to be placed on a pedestal. But this new version speaks to me to an almost frighteningly personal degree. The new version of Clark Kent, played by Tyler Hoechlin, has been married to Lois for a while, and has two teenage boys. I'm also a father of two young boys. As amazing as Superman is at averting nuclear meltdowns or fending off rogue Kryptonians, he struggles to be a good father and makes bad decisions with the best of intentions. I can relate. (To the fatherhood bits anyway.) 

That's not to say you need to be a father of two to appreciate the show. While it's technically part of the CW's "Arrowverse" universe of DC comic shows like The Flash and Supergirl, it stands apart and feels different from everything that's come before it. The budget and production values are markedly higher, and the show is structured differently. 

Where The Flash and Supergirl feature a group of do-gooders fighting off a threat of the week, Superman & Lois is a fascinating mashup of a typical comic book show and something grounded, like Friday Night Lights. There's a healthy amount of time spent on developing characters, who act like they're real people and not figures in some drama. 

Hoechlin's Superman (or Kent) isn't the only character to root for in this show. Bitsie Tulloch is a force of nature as Lois Lane, showing her strength not just as a hard-nosed investigative journalist but as a protective mother. A large chunk of the season sees Lois working with local reporter Chrissy Beppo (Sofia Hasmik) to investigate a story, with discussions of actual journalism work, which again hits near and dear to my heart. 

But perhaps the most surprising elements are Lois and Clark's teenage sons, Jonathan (Jordan Elsass) and Jordan (Alex Garfin). These characters could've easily been annoying or gotten wrapped up in the kind of melodrama that typical TV teenagers get into. At first blush, Jonathan, a quarterback, and Jordan, an awkward brooder, fall into the usual cliches.

But instead, the link between these two brothers, one of whom -- light spoilers! -- develops superpowers, serves as a centerpiece of the show. Yes, they get into conflicts, and there are misunderstandings. There's jealousy and teenage gripes. But at the end of the day, the two talk like actual people and display an enduring level of support for each other. 

The core family, flanked by a host of supporting characters who refuse to be typecast or go the obvious route, make for a show that's as enjoyable when they're hanging out at a local cafe as it is when Superman takes on an Iron Man-esque armored adversary. Emmanuelle Chriqui is a Lang Lang who's more world-weary than we remember, while Adam Rayner is deliciously devious as primary villain Morgan Edge. Wolé Parks, who plays the mysterious "Stranger" (hinted to be Lex Luthor... or not?) has one of the most satisfying character arcs in the show. 

That's not to say there isn't loads of action. Superman & Lois takes its time with setting up the pieces, but that expanded budget ensured there were a number of set pieces that displayed the Man of Steel's power. From the cinematography to the special effects, the show is a big step up from the standard CW show. 

The season starts slow, but the arcs pick up the pace near the end, with twists and epic battles between superpowered figures and all the stakes of any major comic book franchise. Plot points and clues buried early in the season pay off with almost overwhelming speed, and you're left with a satisfied conclusion. 

It's telling that the final scene of the show, which creates a huge cliff-hanger for the following season, isn't about some world-ending threat or new villain. It's about how the dynamics of the Kent family will change in interesting and even awkward ways.

Superman & Lois has already been green-lit for a second season. So you're safe knowing that your commitment to this first season will get some payoff. 

And if you're a die-hard Marvel fan, it's a great placeholder until the next big Disney Plus show.