“Stark Raving Fan” is a column about one man’s love for all things involving popular culture – television, movies, and all facets of pop culture from here to there. Of course, it’s not the kind of love that unites a group of people like a bunch of hippies. More like the kind of love someone has when they’ve blown a gasket and have something to say. After all, aren’t we all just driven mad by fanaticism sometimes?
I want you all to think on all of the actors who’ve portrayed Clark Kent/Superman. The list really isn’t all that expansive. There’ve been a slew of actors who’ve handled the role in various DC Animation films, and only one talent matters anyway. (I see you there, Tim Daly, and we miss you.) I mean the live-action iterations who have strapped on the tights and fought the good fight over the last near 70 years. Christopher Reeve is the most iconic, right? No question. Hell, I’ll give Brandon Routh apropos too for his two turns as Superman, with Crisis bringing his story full-circle. No one thinks Dean Cain was the best representation of the Man of Steel. (Go on, try to watch the dated telenovela. Oof. Better yet, don’t.) But today’s audiences usually default to Henry Cavill, albeit the Brit only donning the tights for just three movies in the DCEU.
Cavill was screwed, but that’s an argument for another time. Not today, Snyder enthusiasts.
You’re forgetting the current actor who currently claims stake as Clark Kent/Superman. And I’ll argue with you why he ranks up there with Christopher Reeve. Hell, I bet many of you haven’t even given the freshman drama on The CW the time of day. That’s right – Tyler Hoechlin. That’s the one you all should be championing right now. Not the shell of the character Zack Snyder has gone and wrecked and totally missed the soul of the Shuster & Siegel creation.
Mid-August marked the completion of the inaugural season of CW’s Superman and Lois, a show that started off slower than a professional athlete trying to sew buttons on their pants. Oh, the first couple of episodes were at times painful and slogged on through each hour’s end. The balance between Clark/Lois and twin sons Jordan/Jonathan was like having half a sandwich with turkey and cheese, the other half peanut butter and jelly. Both sides in no way jived together and trying to maintain interest waned. But I continued on and, once Nadria Tucker’s influence was gone from the show, I found something irresistible on network television to watch on Tuesday’s. (She says she was termed over raising her voice but I don’t know what she’s talking about. Her reasons for her termination never came up much during this first season. Maybe she was fired for, you know, bad and amateurish writing? I’m just sayin’.)
The show’s even done so much of a stellar job at gradually rounding out the core characters, I found myself teary-eyed twice during the season finale. Okay, so only one of the two times involved Kal-El’s presence, but both instances were about the sense of patriarchy and family and how both of these matter the most.
See, this is one aspect of the character that is seemingly lost anymore. Kal-El is fully alien underneath, but his human parents are what instilled him with empathy, love, and compassion. And once Clark discovers his Kryptonian heritage and learns more of his history from his father, only then does the lone survivor of the House of El become more like his pappy. The meat and potatoes of the character’s growth as he matures has always been his relationship with both Jor-El (typically a hologram within the walls of the Fortress of Solitude) and Jonathan Kent, his human father who raised Clark on the straight and narrow. The crux of Richard Donner’s 1978 masterpiece? That very notion, how Clark’s patriarchs both molded him into the man he’d become. And the defining quotation?
You will make my strength your own, and see my life through your eyes, as your life will be seen through mine. The son becomes the father, and the father the son. This is all I… all I can send you, Kal-El.
We don’t need to see these figures much to know the legacy left within Clark. Kal-El embraces the seeds planted within his very essence, striving to become as honorable and stoic as both men were. Most shows and films, we don’t see much of the character, only in brief snippets and to get an understanding of both men’s importance to Superman. However, that sense of family is what endeavors Clark to be the best father he can be. That’s what makes Hoechlin’s rendition of Clark Kent/Superman to be superior at present. The heart and soul of Superman and Lois is how Clark seeks to be the best version of himself, as both a father at home and a hero to assail foes the world over.
Hoechlin shines as he tries to keep the scales balanced between his duty towards protecting the world and his dedication to his family. He and Lois both agree at first that the twins can’t know that their father is really faster than a speeding bullet. But over time, and given just how much Smallville isn’t as wholesome as Clark remembers, the two clue their sons into Clark’s other personality. While Superman and Lois focused much on Morgan Edge and his plans for Smallville, the CW show managed to find a way to still make Clark shine. Oh sure, the action scenes with his Superman are top-notch for a show with budgetary restrictions, but I wasn’t just enamored with that facet of the drama.
This version of Clark is a bit older, maybe late 30’s or early 40’s. He knows what he’s capable of donning his tights. But the struggles at home make Hoechlin shine. Trying to live up to both his fathers and raise his sons as best as he can is no easy feat, especially in the 21st century. The struggles of today’s society have such a different weight than a century ago. Hoechlin always has been a fantastic actor, ever since his debut in 2003’s Road To Perdition, and his ability to balance emotions is oft overlooked. Audiences may say that they want a Superman show to be nothing but heroics, but there are so many other layers to Kal-El.
Both Jordan and Jonathan are layered different from another. Jordan, with his mop of curly hair, struggles with both anxiety and depression, making for a relatable character that is compelling. And Jonathan comes to blows with not fitting in with a different crowd, seeking to find a place among his peers who don’t accept him. Clark, himself an only child, tries as hard as he can to appease both boys to the best of his abilities. Trying to find a harmonious balance isn’t the easiest, but that’s what makes the dramatic aspects of the show that much more riveting. For once, Clark doesn’t have all the answers. He must learn to nurture his family – and that’s hardest of all.
Reeve may always be the first actor who comes to mind, but Hoechlin is fast rising up the ranks. Superman and Lois is due to drop on HBO Max this fall. If you want to see something different that’ll both excite and tug at your heart strings, I urge you to give this a watch. Someone has to remind us what Kal-El really stands for – and the S doesn’t stand for hope, despite what Snyder and Goyer want us to believe. And now, I leave you with three smiling faces – three reasons why a Superman done the right way is because Clark became the father in the ways that both Jor-El and Jonathan Kent raised him to be.