The Most Misused Names on Superman and Lois

The television show Superman and Lois has recently finished its first season. It’s not often I try to keep up with a piece of live-action superhero media as it comes out, but this show, and its cousin Supergirl, are obviously things I feel required to keep up on. But that’s okay, because it’s been mostly decent.

But one thing this show does that I’ve seen in too many adaptations of stuff from comics: it uses names from the source material in ways of which I do not approve.

Here’s what they did wrong (Full of Spoilers):

Captain Luthor

For the first couple episodes there is a man identified to the audience as Captain Luthor, whom we’re led to believe is the Lex Luthor of an alternate universe. Eventually, this is revealed to be false. He’s actually the John Henry Irons (aka Steel) from an alternate universe.

This is the most forgivable misuse of a name on this list, in part because I genuinely think the show’s creators named the character without knowing where the show was doing. I genuinely believe they did some rewriting and that Luthor was original what he appeared to be. I can understand wanting to change if you think something will work better, but I think they missed a storytelling opportunity here. As far as I can remember, none of the characters are ever led to believe that Irons is Lex. It’s fully a trick played on the audience, never used within the story.

Even so, the reason I find it so easy to forgive is that the Steel reveal was just great. One of the high points of the season.

Morgan Edge

The use of Morgan Edge as a name on this show is another trick played on the audience, because the character began as he’d appear in comics and went WILDLY different places.

In a way I was pleased, because I was worried that Morgan’s presence meant that they’d be bringing in Darkseid, and as I’ve said, I don’t care for Darkseid in my Superman stuff. But, as I’ve also said before, I prefer Morgan Edge when he’s just a supporting cast member who happens to be a jerk businessman, not a supervillain. That’s not what they did here either.

Nat Irons

In the show, there’s an alternate universe in which John Irons and Lois Lane had a daughter named Natalie (I don’t remember catching her surname). In the comics, John Irons has a niece named Natasha. Both go by Nat.

The thing is, I love Natasha. The existence of Natalie on this show almost certainly guarantees that Natasha will not appear. And that’s a dang shame.

Dabney Donovan

And then the worst of all these nominative crimes! They gave the name Dabney Donovan to a normal run-of-the-mill superscientist who was perfectly pleasant, cooperated with authority, and was utterly normal.

Dabney Donovan in the comics is the kind of unhinged loose cannon of science that he created a miniature planet! That had horns! And he hid it in a cemetery! And created life on it that he raised with horror movies! AND THAT IS JUST HIS FIRST APPEARANCE!

At no point should anyone involved in this show have said “We have a scientist here, we could throw in a name from the comics” and landed on Dabney Donovan. Call him Emil Hamilton if you want to phone it in. Call him Harold Vekko if you want to be more obscure. Call him Bernard Klein maybe. Call him Professor Pepperwinkle if you need to. But don’t waste Dabney Donovan on this minor character.

Look, television people. I can promise you that an appropriate name exists within the Superman franchise for anything you’ve got cooked up. I can name those characters for you. Just ask me before you cast Dabney Donovan as the kind of scientist who WOULDN’T create a horned horror planet.

A Deffense of Lois Lane, Chronick Mispeller

There is a running gag in Superman media that Lois Lane is bad at spelling. It seems to me that the momentum of this gag is 99% referencing Superman: The Movie, which seems to be the first place it came up. In that instance, it was a moment in which Perry White quickly glances over an article that Lois has handed him. “There’s only one ‘p’ in rapist,” Perry says. The scene continues and Jimmy Olsen mutters “Told you one ‘p’.” It’s a little bit, but it’s good. The joke is less that Lois has misspelled the word and more that the article is apparently so dark.

There have been similar scenes crafted where the juxtaposition of macabre article content and a spelling error has been used to amuse. But sometimes, especially in media that are geared more toward younger viewers, the spelling error on its own is enough for the joke. And sometimes, over time, it has come to just be a part of Lois’s characterization, regardless of joke context. She’s just a bad speller. It even comes up in Gwenda Bond’s Lois novels, which are a favourite of mine.

I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned in any other Superman Thoughts post, but I’m currently attempting to get caught up on all the Superman podcasts out there. It’s an exhausting task, but I’m working at it. A couple times people on podcasts have noticed the Lois Spells Bad runner and they’ve said they don’t like it. I don’t want to put words into their mouths, but I think they feel that this is something that makes Lois look dumb. I don’t feel that way. I’ve always thought that Lois is just so passionate about getting her story out, she doesn’t stop to check her spelling. That feels right to me. My ideal Lois Lane is absolutely a person who doesn’t let arbitrary things like rules get between her and the truth.

Morgan Edge Can Just Be Some Jerk

Morgan Edge was introduced in the 70s as the new boss of Superman and friends but then after a while it was revealed he was a servant of Darkseid, a big bad alien supervillain. But here’s the thing: After that reveal, they did a further reveal in which we learned that that Morgan Edge had been a clone and there was a real Morgan Edge who could come back and be the new boss of Superman and friends and who stuck around for the better part of a decade in that role. But why, one might ask, did they bother with that second reveal?

That question is most likely to be posed by people who are only familiar with other iterations of Edge. For example, in the “post-Crisis” era the story was almost identical: Edge was a businessman who had ties to Darkseid, Superman stopped him and the even went further into supervillainy. On shows like Smallville and Supergirl, he’s just a generic businessman with ties to the mob. To people who know Morgan only from these depictions, he’s bound to seem like a boring character.

And I want to be clear, I like it when Superman opposes criminal businessmen. That’s my ideal setup. The list of villains I’d use in a Superman run easily has a dozen of them. But Morgan Edge isn’t one of them, because in the 70s and 80s, after the clone reveal, Morgan Edge stopped being a villain and became a supporting cast member. Someone on the creative staff realized that Edge added an element to the setup. He was a capitalist jerk, but he could also have some depth. We got to learn about his life, and he could present viewpoints that weren’t the same as everyone else, but which didn’t need to end in a fight scene. They did the clone thing so that they could have him around again.

So what’s my point? I guess it’s just that I wish they’d bring him back for that purpose. I’ve said that journalism would play a bigger role in the Superman books if I were in charge and I think it’d be great to have the WGBS news team out there as supporting cast members outside of the main Planet cast, and Edge would be a part of that. That’s it.

I suppose that really this is just me continuing my exclamation that superhero comics need to put more effort into their supporting casts. Is that so much to ask?

Bill Henderson: Superman’s Cop in Black and White

I don’t have any big point to this one, it’s just something I find mildly interesting: Of all the recurring characters in the canon of Superman, none has been reinterpreted as either black or white more often than Bill Henderson.

Why is that? I suppose it starts with a noble effort to add diversity to the franchise. The cast that dates back to the 40s and 50s is very white, but the characters are also very iconic. While we’ve recently had movies where Perry is black and Jimmy has been black on Supergirl’s show and in at least one comics miniseries I can think of. But Bill here has consistently all over the place and that has got to be because he’s the least iconic of that cast. As you can see from how jerks on the internet reacted to the Perry and Jimmy iterations I just mentioned, it can be considered a risk to make a traditionally white character black. But nobody cares about Bill Henderson.

He’s just Clark’s police officer friend. The franchise in general has drifted away from stories in which Clark would consult with a police officer, and even when he gets them there are others, like Maggie Sawyer, who can fill the role. So if you’re back in the 90s and you’re making a show about Superman and want a good role for a black character, you can do it with Bill! Of course, in the case of the cartoon he occurred very rarely. And in Lois and Clark he had two appearances played by different black actors before being replaced by Richard Belzer. (For the record, I am ignoring appearances that Henderson has made in Black Lightning’s comics and shows, but I believe he’s been black and white in those as well. Just because some other superhero is going to steal Superman’s cast doesn’t mean I need to pay attention.)

It’s also interesting (to me) to note that there was a period in the comics in which we had TWO Hendersons. Bill Henderson was the traditional white one and he’d been promoted to Commissioner. But then there was a new inspector, Mike Henderson, who was black. The two even spoke to one another in at least one issue. Honestly, as someone who would scale Superman’s adventures such that interacting with people in the city would come back, I’d take two Hendersons without complaint.

But the bottom line is this: There’s only yet been one time that I’ve seen Henderson’s ethnic makeup matter to a story, and that was in Superman Smashes the Klan. That was a very good book.

Superman’s Doorman, Frank

Back in the 70s and 80s, the doorman at 344 Clinton St. (Clark Kent’s apartment building) was a minor recurring character in the Superman titles. He was named Frank. He was never a major player, but his recurring presence added an element of verisimilitude that made Metropolis seem like a real place. But then, when the franchise was revamped in 1986, Frank was dropped. Even on the occasions when a doorman was seen, it wasn’t him. I contend that this is a shame.

What I’m here to address, however, is the matter of Frank’s name. On the Internet, one can find him listed as Frank Morris or as Frank Johnson. Well how did the Internet mess that up? Well, it’s a mistake that comes from the comics. For a long time Frank was never given a surname. The earliest I can find of him having one is Superman #360, which was June 1981. He was Frank Morris there. It was a single off-hand reference in a story that wasn’t even about Frank. That was upended by Superman Family #215 (February 1982) in which Frank gives his full name as Franklin Pierce Jackson. That story is actually about Frank reveals that he’s a retired baseball player who was keeping his identity quiet for personal reasons. So maybe he was using Frank Morris as an alias? Well, maybe, but we only ever learned the Morris surname from a narrative caption, not a character in the story, so you think it’d be a fact given from an omniscient viewpoint. No, clearly Morris was never an alias, it was just that the writer of the Superman Family story didn’t know about the Morris naming. The latter story even has Clark explicitly note that he’d never bothered to learn Frank’s name. Anyway, the Jackson name is the one that stuck (It was used in Superman #413 in 1985, for example). So I’d say Jackson is pretty clearly the one that counts.

So why did they get rid of a nice guy like Frank? Well, I have my suspicions, which I can not prove, that maybe it was an overcorrection for fear of being perceived as racist. “The one black guy in here is the doorman?” they might have thought. Well, sure. If Frank Jackson was the only representative of black people in the franchise, I’d agree that was unfortunate. But I’d also say that the solution isn’t to cut Frank out, it’s to add more roles for black people (and that is better in the books now than it was back in Frank’s day). After all, I don’t think there’s shame in being a doorman. Working class people deserve to be represented in stories as well as anyone else. I for one, would be happy to see Frank back at his post.

Also, it’s worth noting that the era that ignored Frank Jackson was also the era that introduced Franklin Stern as the publisher of the Daily Planet. I’m not going to pretend I know why, but it seems like the name “Franklin” was very popular for token black characters. I’d guess it’s a name that they thought sounded black, but not so black as to scare anybody. You had Franklin from Peanuts, and Roosevelt Franklin from Sesame Street, and the latter led to Franklin Delano Bluth. Anyway, Superman has outdone them all by having two Black Franklins. Take that, everybody else.