Perfecting Kelex

If you only casually know about Superman stuff, it is entirely possible and understandable that you don’t know who Kelex is. Kelex is essentially Superman’s Alfred, but since Superman is a more sci-fi concept than Batman, Superman’s butler is a robot, so he’s also kind of Alfred and the Bat Computer all rolled into one.

As with anything in Superman’s long history, there are contradictory explanations of Kelex, but there’s enough in common that we can basically distill it down to this: Kelex is a Kryptonian robot that belonged to Kal-El’s parents before that planet exploded. Through some manner or another, Superman acquired Kelex decades later on Earth and the robot now lives in the Fortress of Solitude to take care of things around there and perform scans and stuff.

This is all well and good. I like Kelex, even though most of his appearances consist of him either floating around the Fortress to make it look cool and futuristic, or being destroyed to show how powerful some threat is.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t do better. Here’s what I’d do to give us a perfect Kelex:

Kelex Was In Kal-El’s Spacecraft:

When we first learned the origin of Superman, we saw young Kal-El’s parents desperately trying to save their son while their planet fell apart in minutes. Over the decades stories have added to that simple concept by suggesting that Jor-El, Superman’s father, had had years of setup for this. Sometimes we’re told he’d scouted out planet Earth (or even visited it). He had sent out test rockets with dogs and monkeys. He’d made plans for what his son would do on Earth and so on and so on.

I hate all of that stuff. I like it when saving the baby in a rocket is an act of desperation by people who just couldn’t make the world listen to reason in time. They tried other ways to save Krypton for years and this is not something they were ready for. Now they have maybe ten minutes to save the kid via rocket, and that’s it. And maybe they need an AI in the rocket to keep life support systems in the running and steer it away from stars or whatever? And maybe they improvise by using the AI from the household robot? This works a lot better for me.

(Incidentally, I remember reading a script for one of the failed Superman film projects over the years (maybe it was Flyby?) and it included an AI on the ship called K. The movie was never made, but I felt this justified my preferred method of getting Kelex to Earth. I legitimately don’t remember what happened to K later in the script, though, so for all I know they turned him into Brainiac‘s stooge or something.)

Kelex Taught Clark About Krypton:

Most of the most prominent tellings of Superman’s origins have Clark learning his origins from some sort of AI recreation of his father that was included in a crystal that came in the rocket with him. I don’t like that. In part, it’s related to my complaint above about Jor-El having accomplished way too much in what should have been far too short a time. But it just isn’t my preferred origin for Superman. Maybe it’s because I’m such a fan of the Golden Age Superman who didn’t know or question his origin much until he was an adult, but I like teenage Clark to be uncertain where he came from, let alone have a whole talking encyclopedia devoted to his origin. It also bugs me that the Jor-Elogram origin also tends to serve as a replacement for Clark going to university and I like Clark to be a student.

Here’s what I’d do: We have Kelex’s AI in the ship and perhaps he is damaged in the crash. Kelex is inactive for decades while Clark grows and becomes a superhero who doesn’t know his origin. At some point he learns of Kelex and activates it. Kelex becomes a sort of super-teacher from Krypton then, but isn’t an omnipotent repository of all Kryptonian knowledge, but rather a household robot that was damaged in a rocket crash. Kelex and definitely lay down the basics, reveal the name Kal-El, explain who his parents were, what happened to the planet, but Clark and Kelex will have to work together to learn more about what the lost world.

* I should clarify, I don’t mind Clark having AI simulacra of his parents at the Fortress when he’s an experienced hero who has been through hundreds of fantastical adventures. By that point in his career, those should be one of the most mundane things in the Fortess. I just don’t like it being a factor in his origin.

Kelex Never Calls Clark “Master”:

I think this is just something some writers like, having robot servants call the people they work for “Master”. Superman, as I prefer him, should never allow anyone to call him “Master”. I won’t say this is one that Kelex is always shown to do, I’ve seen him use “Kal-El” as well, but it has happened and I don’t care for it.

Kelex should have a protective attitude toward Clark, as if he’s a robotic aunt who is cooking for a child they used to babysit, but in no way should Kelex act like a slave of Kal-El. Even an employee relationship goes too far for me. They may not biologically be family, given that one isn’t even biological, but they are family. One of them just happens to like taking care of the Fortress of Solitude an awful lot.

Kelex Is Friends With Natasha Irons:

At some point in the 2000s there was a running joke in the comics where Natasha Irons upgraded Kelex’s program so that it would use contemporary urban slang. The main joke was that we were seeing an uptight robot talking “street” and that’s not how they usually talk. But it also gave Kelex a friendship that wasn’t related (directly) to Kal-El. I don’t know that Kelex would enjoy going out on the town (Kelex may, in fact, not enjoy leaving the Fortress at all by nature), but having a friendship with a tech-based superhero genius is an opportunity to socialize. I liked it a lot and want it back. We don’t need the “street” talk thing to continue, but it could. As long as Kelex has someone to talk to.

Kelex Doesn’t Get Along With Jimmy Olsen:

I just think it’d be funny if Kelex sees Jimmy and all his foolishness as a bad influence on Clark. That would amuse me.

This has been a long one. Maybe those four things won’t perfect Kelex, but I feel like they’re a good start. Look how Alfred is now this father figure who raised Bruce Wayne and serves as a father figure to him. Then remember that for the first four decades that wasn’t an aspect of the character. Until the 80s, Alfred was just some guy that dull-grown Batman hired to butle his lonely mansion. If Batman’s Alfred can move from that to such a prominent role, then Superman’s equivalent character can be made into something really great.

They Missed The Chance To Have A Good Superman Game

I’ve occasionally put thought into how I’d want a Superman video game to be made. I’ve been doing so publicly on this site since at least 2018, when I declared that with today’s technology the best option would be to actually do a Jimmy Olsen game. And, indeed, I still think that a Jimmy game would be an excellent way to go, but this week I read this post about a real undeveloped Superman game, working under the code name Blue Steel. Seeing the admirable effort they put into the project, I think that they could have actually had a decent game on their hands a full decade before I started weighing in.

Impressed though I am with what they show us, there are, as always, nits I can pick. It saddens me at how quickly they became excited about character-based ideas and using investigative journalism as an aspect of gameplay. That would’ve been exactly what I wanted! That could have been the start of something beautiful. But their game, they were told, have to be an action-filled super brawl game. It’s exactly the kind of decision I consider a major problem with the superhero genre, but I can understand. Video games, especially back then, are more limited than other media, so focus on the fighting and maybe we can do the fighting well, right?

But even within the superhuman brawling concept there are things I don’t want here. Mostly, it’s the focus on Darkseid. I’ve beaten this one in repeatedly, but I don’t want Darkseid in my Superman, nor general DC Universe characters like Solomon Grundy. My ideal Superman game would be chock full of Superman characters and not have to rely on other franchises. This can easily be done!

I’ve already discussed the kinds of mook enemies Superman would be able to beat up in a game like this. But what matters here is the bosses and the other superheroes. Blue Steel was intended to have a multiplayer mode in which players would choose their character and have superhuman brawls. It sounds neat. Note that Livewire is prominently featured as an opponent in the game, but is not on the list of playable characters, so I assume the “Brawlers” were intended to be of a certain level and not have powers like hers, which are perhaps too complex to easily put into a game like this.

By my count there are thirteen playable Brawlers listed on the page about Blue Steel that I would choose to excise from the game (most of them Darkseid-related, of course). To prove there are still enough Superman characters to work with, I will now offer up a list of twice that many options for replacements.

  1. STEEL: This one feels like a no-brainer. If you’re going to have Lex Luthor around in his power suit, why not have the superhero with the power suit and cool hammer. And, Bonus, there’s John Henry Irons and Natasha Irons. That’s two more characters and you’d really only have to design the moves for one.
  2. MALA: Okay, the game already has Clark, Kara, Zod, Ursa, and Non. There are easily a dozen more Kryptonians who could be added, but I don’t want to rely on that as a crutch. I have picked Mala to represent this group because I like her and she isn’t necessarily aligned to Zod, so it would offer more nuance in the story.
  3. TOYMAN: Toyman is a classic Superman villain even though many people don’t seem to like him. He’s not often seen as a “powerhouse” kind of villain on the level of the other Brawlers on this list, but y’know, he’s been seen in mechs. Why not just make the mech smaller and come up with a cobbled-together toy-themed power suit? It may not be the direction I’d take the character in stories or television, but for the sake of this game, I’d love it.
  4. MONGUL: He’s a popular Superman enemy and basically brawling is his whole deal. He may not do much for me, but he’s even been in Superman games before, so it’s pretty much a given for him to be there. Bonus: Recent comics have fleshed out his Warworld with a lot more characters who could be brought in as well, though I’m limiting myself to characters who would have been available when Blue Steel was being developed.
  5. MASTER JAILER: An underutilized classic Superman foe, the Master Jailer could easily be given moves that focus on either immobilizing opponents, or grabbing them with a chain and pulling them closer like Scorpion. Bonus: His daughter has taken up the name Snare to do pretty much the same thing, so let’s get her in there too.
  6. CLAWSTER: The big tough mutant who, I have said, is a necessary addition to Superman games could shine in this field. Brawl, Clawster, brawl.
  7. DRAAGA: Draaga, like Mongul, is basically an alien gladiator. I don’t know that he offers anything especially unique, but he’s another prominent Brawler from the franchise who seems like an easy inclusion.
  8. ATOMIC SKULL: The Atomic Skull has one of the best names in comics and we’d be pretty stupid not to let him into the game.
  9. MAXIMA: Alien warrior woman. Perfect for this game. Bonus: There’s more than one technically, if we wanted more than one.
  10. ROCK: He’s a big guy made out of stone who hates Lex Luthor. Works for me.
  11. NEUTRON: An energy based Superman foe who can fight on the level of the Brawlers in this game.
  12. REACTRON: Just another villain who can fight on this level.
  13. RAMPAGE: She’s like the Hulk, but she’s a scientist who Superman knows.
  14. TIMEBOMB: I’ve already said this guy needs to get used more. With the destructible environments of the game, he’d cause a lot of damage.
  15. SILVER BANSHEE: Flies, has sonic and/or magic attacks, cool skull design. Keep it coming.
  16. AMALAK: An alien who hates Kryptonians with a passion and devotes himself to killing them. Decent for the Brawling, but could be a focal point for the story (could even come with an army of alien soldiers).
  17. ANNIHILATOR: Another supervillain I’ve discussed before. He can hold his own against Superman, so he’s clearly able to Brawl on this level. Bonus: Annihilator Jr.
  18. WHIRLICANE: A personal favourite, Whirlicane has the power of both the whirlwind and the hurricane! He may not traditionally be the type to take punches from the likes of Superman, but just say he can cushion himself with a field of wind around him or something. And let him shoot lightning. Easy.
  19. HI-TECH: Another supervillain I have mentioned before, she has a robot body that could easily put her on par with the Brawlers in the game.
  20. METALLO: I get that the Blue Steel designers probably avoided Metallo because they were avoiding using kryptonite and Metallo is a kryptonite-powered cyborg. But he’s also one of Superman’s most recognizable foes who also just happens to be perfect for fights like those this game offers. If you don’t want to bother programming it so some characters are more weak to kryptonite attacks than others, just make sure his chest beam shoots out with enough force and energy that it would clearly hurt anyone.
  21. MR. MCTAVISH: If we’re working in Metallo, we could basically the same powerset to make Mr. McTavish, the kryptonite-powered robot from the ’50s show. This should only be done if you’re willing to have him look like a boxy ’50s robot. If you’re too cowardly to do that, you don’t deserve Mr. McTavish.
  22. TERRA-MAN: Superman awesome space cowboy foe. He’s less of the Brawler type and more a gunslinger, but I’d love for him to be included nonetheless. Within the game, his weapons aren’t really that functionally different than heat vision or whatever. There’s no reason to assume he can’t hold his own in a super-fight. We’ll just assume he left the horse at home.
  23. BLACKROCK: There have actually been a lot of different takes on Blackrock, as it is not an individual but an identity that has been used multiple ways over the years. No matter what, it’s a supervillain design that could be worked into the story and provide another Brawler for the game. If anything, the lack of existing specific lore means it is a more malleable concept to work within the context of the game.
  24. THE GALACTIC GOLEM: It may actually be above the level of the rest of the Brawlers in the game, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s an interesting design and could be used as a final boss or something in the story.
  25. BIZARROS: The real Blue Steel game was going to include the Bizarro Superman, but it’s important to remember that there can be more Bizarros as well. Bizarro Supergirl, Bizarro Steel, Bizarro Clawster. Some would have different powers, but some could really just be palette swaps for other Brawlers.
  26. KRYPTO: Yes, the Super-Dog himself. I recognize that there would probably have to be a few changes to gameplay if you’re playing as a dog, but honestly I can’t see it being that many if the mechanics of the game are just brawling and fighting. A dog can do as well as any humanoid man, surely. Bonus: You could use those same mechanics and include Lex Luthor’s super-powered dog Destructo as well.

So there we go, twenty-six options for playable characters who would be fun to play in a Superman game and I didn’t even have to be exhaustive, let alone dip into the well of the New Gods. Somebody send this list back in time to Blue Steel people, and while you’re there make it so that game didn’t get cancelled, I guess.

Keeping the Kirby in Superman

I worry that, when I frequently repeat my refrain about how I don’t want any Darkseid in my Superman stories, I make it sound like I don’t want any of the contributions that Jack Kirby made in his Jimmy Olsen run to carry on into Superman stories. That’s not true at all!

I’m actually a huge fan of Jack Kirby’s work and I think any superhero franchise that has the opportunity to draw upon his imagination, it would be a mistake not to. It’s just that I consider the New Gods a separate franchise altogether, so I don’t want them to pollute one another. Similarly, I don’t care to see Guardian and the Newsboy Legion in Superman, because they ought to be allowed to stand on their own, not that I expect DC to ever be brave enough to try that (and I love those kids). But Kirby definitely put things into Jimmy’s book that I think belong in Superman:

If you don't love Dubbilex, you are incorrect.

To start, there’s the whole of the DNA Project (except, as I’ve said, for their Newsboy Legion connection). If Superman is, as I believe ought to be, an aspirational figure meant to show what the “Man of Tomorrow” should be like, then the DNA Project is a natural accompaniment to that idea. They are scientists in the employ of the government trying to create “men of tomorrow” with their science. There’s a whole race of “better” people called the Step-Ups who have essentially been created by the military industrial complex and who became hippies. And, of course, there are the less human “DNAliens” they create, such as Dubbilex, who is a fun character I absolutely think deserves to show up more often. (Naturally after some continuity revisions in the DC universe, the DNA Project would become known as Cadmus and would be responsible for cloning Superman to give us the 90s iteration of Superboy as well.)

Related to the DNA Project is Dabney Donovan. He’s one of many mad scientist villains you can have in Superman, but science is one of the key themes, so you can never have too many. Donovan’s particular brand of cloning and genetic modification gives him a niche to stand out against the rest. And his finest creation, the planet Transilvane, is simply a wonderful concept and the fact it has not yet been crossed over with Kandor in some story is a shame.

And it goes on. I’ve already mentioned that I think the books should keep Morgan Edge around, although I’d want him to use the post-Kirby characterization. Intergang has had iterations on television and (I think) in comics that had noting to do with Darkseid so that’s fine as the name for fancy sci-fi gangsters for Lois and Clark to deal with. Heck, even the Outsiders biker gang gives Metropolis something that resembles a common crime story element but with a more sci-fi take. I’m just saying, there’s plenty of things in Kirby’s short Jimmy run that are more than welcome in my idea of Superman books. Just not Darkseid. I can’t reiterate this enough. Let the New Gods have their villain.

Defending Lois Lane, Secret Identity Seeker

The easy joke about Lois Lane is something like “If she’s such a good reporter, how come she can’t tell that the guy she works with is Superman except he’s wearing glasses?” This is all well and good when done in jest, but sometimes people who don’t care for Lois will use this as actual evidence that she’s not a good reporter. The temerity!

Over the decades of Superman’s existence we’ve had almost every kind of story play out with these characters. More often than not these days, Lois does find out that Clark is Superman. I don’t know that there’s been a Superman continuity for decades in which Lois doesn’t find out Clark’s secret identity (actually, maybe the Superman Returns movie, but I legitimately don’t recall). When people mock Lois in this way, they’re actually mocking the Silver Age Lois, which is probably still the most iconic version of the character, which is a shame because it’s not the best by any means.

But even that Silver Age Lois was suspicious that Clark and Superman were one-and-the-same, right? You Loismockers have to admit that. And how did Silver Age Superman escape her suspicion? He used robot duplicates, hypnotism, amnesia, shapechangers, time-travel, and all manner of other Super-Schemes to throw her off the tail. Superman had to use these high-concept deity-level tactics to avoid being found out by Lois Lane, ordinary human reporter. And she was STILL suspicious of him. If anything, Lois Lane’s inability to prove the Clark-Superman connection in that era is a sign that she’s capable of rivalling a human god in a grand intellectual game. Lois Lane is not a bad reporter, people. She’s a super-reporter.

Jimmy Olsember II Roundup

Hey, last month I did the #JimmyOlsember thing on twitter again. But I don’t do content that isn’t ultimately intended to go on this site, so now I shall bring it back here.

2 December:

FIRE ELEMENTAL JIMMY

Some people would be fazed by being transformed into a fire elemental, but Jimmy’s on a hot streak and knows he’ll get a column out of it. (Don’t worry, his watch is fireproof.)

4 December:

PICKLE JIM

That time Jimmy got turned into a pickle he didn’t make a big deal out of it.

6 December:

FRANKENJIMMY

Jimmy is going undercover on the miniature monster planet Transilvane, to get a story but also to justify to Ron Troupe how much money he spent on neck bolts last year.

8 December:

MAYOR FRANKENJIMMY

The bad news: Jimmy’s mission to Transilvane has gone off the rails. The good news: He won the election!

10 December:

NANOCLOUD JIMMY

Well, Jimmy’s physical form has been completely devoured by tiny machines and his consciousness now resides in a cloud of nanobots. Still, he can’t miss today’s meeting, or the Chief will really get angry.

12 December:

ELASTIC LORD

Jim’s evil side has been released by a transporter accident and is now running around as a supervillain! But Lex Luthor won’t take kindly to a new crook moving in on his turf.

14 December:

MR. ACTION ARCTIC ASSAULT ACTION SUIT

I think we can all agree that the Mr. Action Arctic Assault Action variant costume is more just an excuse to sell a different action figure and will probably never actually be used.

18 December:

PUPPET JIMMY

And now Jim is a puppet who has control of one of Ron Troupe’s hands. Let’s hope this can somehow help him investigate that counterfeit toy ring.

20 December:

SPIRIT OF JUSTICE JIMMY

Mxyzptlk needs a human to represent him in court to fight all those parking tickets, so it’s a good thing he can infuse Jimmy with the Spirit of Justice.

22 December:

MUMMY BOXER JIMMY

Naturally, Jimmy isn’t allowed to participate in the Metropolis Underground Supervillain Fighting Tournament, but who anyway, this new Boxing Mummy seems to be taking the lead.

30 December:

PUMPKINHEAD JIMMY

The Wicked Warlock cursed Jimmy to become a pumpkinheaded monster! Honestly, it’s the kind of thing Jimmy doesn’t even notice anymore.

31 December:

WOLF CUB REPORTER JIMMY

Jimmy accidentally mixed some fountain of youth water into his werewolf serum. Oh well, now this literal cub reporter can get that interview with Krypto he wanted.