Man of Steel was a confused mess. Batman v Superman was like Kryptonite to critics. DC might be pressing on with its movie masterplan – Justice League lands this November – but their efforts right now pale in comparison to those of their biggest rival, Marvel.
Superman is the most famous hero of them all, so any big fix has to start with the Big Blue. But is it really so hard to get him right?
Back in the '90s, a small-screen outing nailed what makes Supes so great. DC, and Hollywood in general, should sit up and pay attention…
1. Everybody loves Supes
Superman is supposed to be the polar opposite of DC's other big gun, Batman. While the Dark Knight is feared, even by those he's sworn to protect, Supes is supposed to be a symbol of hope, an inspiration.
His adventures are meant to be optimistic, sunny tales of good triumphing over evil. And in Lois & Clark, Superman was very much The Hero – think fewer congressional hearings, more parades in his honour.
2. Clark Kent is the hero
Doctor Who boss Steven Moffat is a big fan of Lois & Clark: "That was very good, some very good writing in that, I thought," he told us while promoting his show's 2016 Christmas special, which aped Superman with a costumed crusader of its own.
Moffat also made a key observation about adapting Supes for the screen: "The best thing about superheroes is not the superhero... it's the guy he pretends to be the rest of the time. When Superman doesn't work, it's because there isn't enough Clark Kent. Clark Kent is really important."
Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, has literally about 20 seconds of screen time in Man of Steel and remains very much secondary to his alter-ego in Batman v Superman.
Not so in Lois & Clark, where Kent very much leads the narrative and Superman is usually reserved for a few action sequences peppered throughout each episode.
3. Don't let race be a factor in casting
Whitewashing is still a major problem in Hollywood, and in superhero storytelling, as recent controversies surrounding Ghost in the Shell and Marvel's Iron Fist series prove. There's almost always a backlash from the ignorant when a person of colour is hired to play a traditionally white character, too. Remember all the horridness surrounding Idris Elba's casting in Thor?
Except 25 years ago, some smart cookie cast Dean Tanaka – stage name Dean Cain – an American actor with Japanese heritage, as Superman. He was brilliant. And, y'know what, no-one even batted an eyelid. More please...
4. Lois Lane is smart, sassy and brilliant
It's telling that the show's called Lois & Clark, not Clark & Lois. She's every bit as important to the story and Teri Hatcher's portrayal gets it just right. Lois is the Daily Planet's top dog – intelligent, inquisitive, forthright, but lying beneath her ballsy exterior is a big heart.
Put her up against the wet dishcloth in DC's latest movies and there's just no comparison. If a five-time Oscar nominee like Amy Adams can't breathe life into a character, you know you've got a problem.
5. Jimmy Olsen is super important
Lois & Clark is one of the few Superman adaptation to nail Jimmy Olsen's characterisation – a little geeky and awkward, but still a capable and talented journalist – and also give the character (played first by Michael Landes, and later by Justin Whalin) the screen-time he deserves.
The few other times that Jimmy's been pitched right, like the vintage Superman films starring Christopher Reeve, or in 2006's Superman Returns, he's been relegated to the background. Elsewhere, he's reinvented to the point of being totally unrecognisable.
The new Supergirl series transformed Jimmy – sorry, James – into a wannabe superhero with a physique better than Superman's, while Batman v Superman relegated the character to a cameo appearance and actually shot him in the head.
6. Lex Luthor is a smart, ruthless tyrant
Gene Hackman gets all the love, but played Superman's arch-nemesis almost entirely for laughs. Luthor is supposed to be a power-mad magnate – utterly merciless, hugely charismatic, fiercely intelligent.
No-one's captured that mixture of charm and unhinged brilliance better than Lois & Clark's John Shea. One scene from the pilot episode, in which Luthor stares down a venomous snake, has a comic edge but sort of nails it – he's that damn scary.
We might flinch whenever Jesse Eisenberg's nebbish Luthor makes an appearance on the big-screen, but it's not quite the same thing.
7. Clark Kent loves Lois Lane
Lois & Clark was basically Moonlighting with superpowers and it's no coincidence that the best received Superman adaptations (this and the Christopher Reeve movies) have put the central duo's romance right at the forefront.
Lois loving Superman while giving Clark the cold shoulder is key. Bar a few frolics in a bathtub, neither Man of Steel or Batman v Superman had much time for their relationship. Quite remarkable given the two movies span 5 hours between them.
8. Have a Super Fun Time
Lois & Clark was pure popcorn entertainment: perfectly-cast and perfectly-pitched, with a healthy dollop of romance and humour. The colours weren't muted, they were big and bold. It. Was. Fun.
There was none of the sullen soul-searching that's become the trademark of Henry Cavill's film version. (After two films' worth of sullen Supes, you'll believe a man can frown.)
Being po-faced doesn't automatically equate to being "grown up" – is it so much to ask that Superman, the champion of trust, justice and the American way, deliver colourful, escapist entertainment? Just like we enjoyed back in the '90s...
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