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.

A Superman Character By Any Other Name Would Something Something

There’s a lot of mistakes on the Internet, and nobody ought to be surprised by that. I am not smart, so I don’t always catch the mistakes. Sure, I’ll notice if a lyrics page has the wrong words to a song I like or whatever, but most of the time I just innocently wander the Internet and assume that somebody knows what they’re talking about. I’ve probably taken in all sorts of incorrect information from such mistakes.

But not all incorrect information on the Internet is a mistake. Some of it has been put there on purpose. Yup. Sometimes, people on the Internet lie. (It’s okay, take some time to deal with the shock you are feeling to learn that.) And some of those lies relate to Superman.

For example, the DC Fandom page for Bash Bashford, a minor Superboy supporting cast member, insists that he is named Bradley. There’s no basis for that in the comics. But someone who edited that page decided to claim he is named Bradley.

Similarly, several sources on the Internet think that the minor Superman villain called the Archer was named Fenton Quigley. The surname is correct, he was called Quigley in the comics, but given name Fenton comes from someone claiming it once, and it propagating from there. (In fairness the the DC Fandom page, they correctly do not call him Fenton.)

Even the mighty Wikipedia, which has mostly overcome its former reputation for being inaccurate, has such errors, one example being on the “List of Superman enemies” page, where the one-appearance villain Mr. Sinister (who predates the Marvel villain of that name by decades) is given the real name “Lylo”. Again, this is the invention of someone outside the source material.

I have my suspicions about why people make such “mistakes” on the sites: I think they are hoping the inaccuracies will become real. I think that they think that some writer who wants to use an obscure supervillain or reference an obscure Superboy cast member might search the ol’ Superhighway for easy information, see the lies about character names, and use them in official books unknowingly. On some level I can respect that. I don’t particularly like that the Superman franchise is entirely controlled by corporate interests, so I can almost root for these people to add a dash of the common folk into the lore. But it’s also dishonest. The Internet doesn’t need more inaccurate information.

I don’t think I’ll ever call Bash Bashford “Bradley” (Smallville is already home to Brad Wilson and that’s Brad enough for me), but I admit the name “Fenton Quigley” has kind of grown on me over the years. If that or Lylo were mistakenly added to official canon in some way, I’d be conflicted. It would be a victory for some regular fan person who wanted to get their fingerprints on a part of Superman’s world, no matter how small that part is. But it would also be a victory for a jerk. That’s not as good.

More like Yawn of Steel

As should be clear by now, when I am interested in something, I go all in. For that reason, I have been trying to work my way through every podcast on the topic of Superman that I can find online. I’ve listened to hundreds of episodes of such by this point. There’s a lot of hours of people talking about Superman out there. It’s a lot to get through. I’m not gonna stop, but it is a struggle.

One thing that comes up so often is the movie Man of Steel that came out back in some year that starts with a 20-. It’s pretty damned divisive and everyone gets so worked up about it. I’ve only watched it only once, when it was in theatres, and I don’t remember liking it much. But I don’t feel nearly as strongly about it as the internet people do. My primary memory of the thing was that is was pretty boring except for action scenes that were too shaky for me to tell what was going on. I also hated (and continue to hate) the stylized bleakness represented by a dimming of colours which apparently people think is “realistic” even though just looking at the real world for a moment will show that it isn’t. I absolutely did not the film’s take on Pa Kent. But mostly it was a forgettable and overlong action movie, I thought.

But you know what everyone who rants about the movie cares about that I don’t? Superman killing Zod. This is the single biggest point of debate, and I’ve yet to hear anyone come at it from an angle I agree with.

First, there’s the people who argue against it because Superman should never kill anyone. Okay, sure. I prefer my Superman as a non-killer myself, but that isn’t a debate that came up in the movie before that point (or after, really, except that he screamed in anguish for a second). Again, it’s been years since I watched it, but whether he should kill or not wasn’t a theme of the movie. It was more concerned with whether he should do anything at all, which had basically been decided by that point. So the kill is sort of unearned drama at worst, but it doesn’t go against Clark’s character as portrayed within the film. If you’re against it because of your opinion of the character based on portrayals outside the film, sure, but that’s not the film’s fault. And this isn’t even the only depiction of Superman specifically killing Zod. There’s a million takes on Superman out there and I’m certainly not going to say this one is “wrong” based on this one aspect.

But also, I don’t agree with the people defending Superman’s murder choice often frame it as Superman doing what needed to be done to save people. I didn’t see that when I watched the movie. Zod was already defeated in that moment and he wanted to die.

Look, if Zod wanted to kill this family, he could easily have done so by moving his eyes slightly to his right, but he held off for moments without doing it. He was just threatening to do it. It wasn’t as if he’s straining to reach them with his laservision and just couldn’t do it because Clark held him out of reach. He was taunting Clark into killing him, as if saying “I’ll do it! Kill me, or I’ll do it!” And so Clark killed him. Superman fell for Zod’s “Suicide by Superhero” ploy.

At the time, my biggest complaint regarding the Zod’s death was that they always kill the villains in superhero movies. It felt that way to me then at least. Back then I’d seen a higher percentage of existing superhero films that were released, whereas now I see maybe a quarter of them. But I thought of how many times I’d seen Green Goblin or Joker* or Doctor Octopus or Two-Face or whomever else get killed off, and wanted something different. (* I specifically remember citing the time when they didn’t kill off the Joker and then the actor died.)

One of the best things in superhero comics is how long-running relationships between characters, including heroes and villains, grow over time. Back in those days I wanted to see more of that on film. I think they may do more of that these days, but I’ve mostly tapped out. Either way, Man of Steel just did what those movies did, I thought. And that just made it a boring choice. I can’t believe people still spend so much time arguing about it.

Anyway, my most controversial belief now: Superman’s never had a movie that goes above mediocre and yes I’m including the Christopher Reeve stuff. Good night!

Darkseid Is Not A Superman Villain

You will often find Darkseid on lists of the best Superman enemies. As I always seem to be doing here, I’m going to go contrary to the popular opinion and say, no he ain’t. And by that I don’t mean that he’s not a good villain, but that’s he not a Superman villain.

Regarding the quality of Darkseid’s villainy, it’s fine. He’s okay. He’s nothing special in my opinion, but I can see the reasons people like him. But he’s at most a “DC Universe” villain, to be dealt with by teams like the Justice League and in my ideal world, he’d be recognized as a New Gods villain, because that’s what he was actually created to be.

Sure, Darkseid first appeared in Jimmy Olsen’s book, a Superman Family title, but I am unconvinced that Jack Kirby did that for any reason other than that was the book he was writing. He wanted to establish his Fourth World stuff, so he did it there. If he’d been writing the Flash or something, he’d have done it there. I strongly feel that Darkseid, and Apokalyps and related story elements, belong in the Fourth World stories. The fact they show up in Superman all the time feels to me as it would feel if Loki showed up as Spider-Man’s biggest enemy every few months, or if the Red Lanterns set up their base in Gotham so they could appear in Batman’s books all the time. Crossing elements can be one of the funnest parts of shared universes, but certain story elements still belong where they belong. And any time Darkseid is a villain to anyone other than the New Gods, I feel like the whole Fourth World concept is being mined and left as a husk of what it should be.

It’s similar to how I don’t want Batman and Superman in stories together. I will admit that good stories have been done with those crossovers, but the ideas are being cheapened by constant exposure.

There are other elements from Kirby’s run on Jimmy that I welcome a lot more. Intergang is nice as a simplification of organized crime and it doesn’t need to be tied to Darkseid (and in several other media, they are not). The DNA Project with the Hairies and especially Dubbilex work well for me because they are a sort of attempt to create literal “Men of Tomorrow” through science, who can contrast and compare with Clark. The Habitat as a wild space outside Metropolis is a great addition, and Dabney Donovan is in keeping with the super-scientists that Superman deals with all the time. I’ve already mentioned that I like Morgan Edge, and even there I cut Darkseid out of what I want from the character. But the Fourth World is a story of its own, and trying to make it a part of Superman’s story weakens the Fourth World and distracts from the Superman elements I want.

Anyway, if you just want a big alien warlord for Superman to punch, use Mongul. If you just want an alien to be providing alien technology to Earth mobsters, use Grax. If you want a cosmic boss with soldiers and minions, use Rava and the Superman Revenge Squad. Use Drang the Destroyer, aka Dr. Supernatural. Use Amalak the Kryptonian Killer. Use the Galactic Golem. Use Intellex the Brain Bandit. Just stop using Darkseid.

And most importantly, use Clawster.