My Adventures With Superman Is Everything I’ve Ever Wanted From A Comic Book Series

David B Morris
11 min readJun 3, 2024

And Makes So Many Live Action Film Adaptations Look Like The Shells They Are

If you have read my columns over the years you know that I have a dislike, if not outright contempt for almost every single comic book every made in the last twenty years. With the exception of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and Zack Snyder’s Watchmen I have found them basically everything I hate about the blockbuster film. This is true of DC or Marvel, Disney or Fox, MCU or whatever they call the DCU, woke versions, original, all equally suck in my eyes.

But I need to reveal something I haven’t before as to why I have for my entire viewing experience both as a viewer and a critic, found them all sorely and completely lacking as entertainment. I came of age in the 1990s. Those of you who grew up in the era know that this was the Golden age of Animated Cartoons. And no one who is a fan of either animation or comic books will argue that some of the greatest animated series of all time were the animated versions of comics of that era. The fact that millions of fans and hundreds of critics are still talking about them more than a quarter of a century after they left TV just tells what an impact they had and unlike so much, it’s not simple nostalgia.

It took until Nolan’s Batman Begins before I found any Batman story even close to the equal of any of the episodes in Batman: The Animated Series. Even after the Oscar winning performances of Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix, many consider the gold standard for the Joker Mark Hamill — and his Joker could never kill anybody. Every single one of the villains of the show had the same tragic arc to them that we have never truly seen in any Batman film for the last thirty years as incredible as Aaron Eckhart’s work in The Dark Knight was it didn’t have nearly the power of the way the animated series built Harvey Dent up and turned him into Two-Face over several episodes. With the exception of Cillian Murphy’s work as Scarecrow, I have seen few villain portrayals throughout thirty years of Batman films as sustained as it did during this period.

It didn’t shock me that when Disney did its X-Men animated series, it is a sequel to the one that aired on Fox in the 1990s. In twenty years of X-Men films none of the portrayals I’ve seen have rivaled the kind of work I saw on that show over five years. Yes Hugh Jackman is magnificent and some of the reboots do a fine job showing the relationship between Magneto and Charles Xavier, but honestly none of the films has ever come close to telling the kind of stories that the animated series could do either in an episode or in season-long arcs. The saga of Dark Phoenix and Days of Futures Past were done twenty years earlier in the animated series and both were weak copies of what both series did. The original death of Jean Grey in that series shocked me at fourteen and it has a power that no version has come close to copying.

And the major reason I loathe the MCU is that it got a dry run in Spiderman: The Animated Series from 1995 to 1999. There is not a single part of the dozens of Spiderman films or so much of the various phases that the animated series didn’t do first or better. I’ll be honest I’ve had issues with every single Spiderman series that started its arc with Norman Osborn as the Green Goblin because the Animated Series had an infinitely better approach. The Hobgoblin was introduced in the first season, we met him again in Season 2 and then Norman Osborn had his bout with insanity and became the Green Goblin. I realize this may differ based on what comics you read and what order, but as a viewer of television I have to say again there’s something to be said for a buildup. (By the way, the animated series managed to get to the Insidious Six in one season. We’ve had twenty years of movies and last I counted, there are at least two members who have yet make appearances.)

I could write pages about these series and their brilliance (indeed, I have another series about this planned) suffice to say, they led to believe almost from the start that the best way to tell these stories was only in animation. I think that’s why I have a better response to the animated films than the live-action ones. The Spider verse films seem to realize all the potential that I’ve never seen no matter whose worn the mask in twenty years in live-action. I’ve seen better attempts done in television over the years; I was a huge fan of many of the series in Berlanti’s Arrow-verse at least initially and I had similar feelings towards Netflix’s versions of The Defenders. And this brings me to the comic book character I’ve always had the greatest difficulty with: Superman.

Superman is the first comic book character but he’s always struggled with the fact that he’s frequently the least interesting. With the exception of Christopher Reeve’s work, almost no version of Superman on the big screen can do much to solve the issue that both Superman and Clark Kent are, compared to so many of the other characters in DC, not very interesting either in their backstory or their alter ego. TV has generally done a better job portraying the story in my lifetime but the reason they’ve done so is because they choose to make Clark Kent the focus more than Superman. Smallville was the gold standard because it spent ten years building Clark Kent from an adolescent trying to learn the truth about his past and rewrote many of the rules of the original comic for the better. A decade earlier Lois & Clark decided to rewrite the rules by playing Superman as a romantic comedy and it was immensely popular. Superman & Lois tried to change things up by flashing forward and having them parents of their own. All of these have their strengths and I have enjoyed them all to an extent, but I don’t think I knew what I was missing until last year when I saw Cartoon Network’s My Adventures With Superman which managed to resolve almost every issue I’ve had with Superman for decades and some I didn’t know existed.

Over nearly a century one of the biggest logical blind-spots in history has been how Lois Lane could work side by side with Clark Kent and not recognize that he’s Superman simply because he’s wearing a cape and doesn’t have his glasses on. This can be hard to manage in a film and it gets taken to an absurd extent in a TV series. Adventures resolves it by not only having Jimmy Olsen know early on but Lois figuring it out before the first season is half-over.

It also helps that in this version all three leads — Clark, Lois and Jimmy — are significantly younger than they were when they meet in most incarnations: all three look like they’re barely out of college if that. But the biggest help is the decision to draw the series as if it were close to anime then traditional animation. It is that style of drawing that historically makes the emotions of the characters almost over-the-top obvious and it works to the show’s immense advantage for almost every character I’ve met. The result is to add a level of goofiness to an entire style of comic that has almost always been played ridiculously deadpan, especially by both Clark and Superman. In almost every live action version I’ve seen of Clark Kent he seems stiff in his suit and his cape. Watching him Adventures both versions seem, well the only term is adorkable.

All three still work at the Daily Planet but Adventures acknowledges the reality of the times by having everybody working on their phones and the fact that Jimmy is essentially the leader of social media for the Planet. Like many other incarnations in leans both into canon for DC as well as other comics. Sam Lane, Lois’ father, is a general who has been tasked with finding out the source of alien invaders. In the first season we met his second in command Amanda Waller as well as several members of Task Force X that will strike familiar chords, including Live Wire. In the two episode premiere of the season we met a young entrepreneur named Lex Luthor, who looks remarkably different from most versions — he’s significantly younger, wears glasses and has all of his hair. However he has the same wealth and arrogance. Early in the season Amanda ended up partnering with him in order to deal with ‘the threat to Earth’. Amanda no doubts thinks she can control him; I suspect she will learn quickly.

We are still in the early stages of Clark’s backstory, but the show has cut through several chords by having Lois and Clark dating and Lois aware of her boyfriend’s secret identity. The series has managed to eliminate that issue and put up several other new secrets behind them. Clark has been looking for the beacon of his ship with which he hopes to find his cousin Kara but has not been able to tell Lois that over three episodes. In the most recent episode Lois managed to impress her role model and now arch-rival Vicki Vale (older, more arrogant) who offered her a job in Gotham. She has yet to tell Clark that.

The style of animation plays remarkably well with the characters, which is almost always brilliantly action-packed while managing to be hysterically funny at the same time. Much of the comedy plays around Jimmy (who is not only African-American but may also be gay) and who has been trying to be a leader to his social media crew, who is hysterically clowning around half the time. One of his most brilliant reporters is an eleven year old girl who somehow has access to a toy helicopter that’s also a drone. There’s also a story that Jimmy started this season as a multi-millionaire and I expect that by the end of the season he’ll be broke again, giving how freely he spends his money.

The humor can often come in unexpected place. In the Season 2 premiere Clark has found the wreckage of his ship in Antarctica and has encountered the holograph of Jor-El. Clark learns the backstory of what happened to Krypton but neglects to mention he’s brought Lois and Jimmy with him. When the hologram learns about this, he forgets his programming and becomes hysterically judgmental: “You brought non-Kryptonians to a malfunctioning Kryptonian warship?” When he learns Lois is there, he adds: “If I had to done this to my wife, I would need to make a very grand romantic gesture” which adds agita to Clark because he’s trying to figure out how to celebrate Valentine’s Day with Lois.

The next episode opens with Amanda Waller waking up and giving a motivational chant to herself before making breakfast to jaunty music. Those of you only who know her through Viola Davis’s one note portrayal in Suicide Squad would be encouraged to know that while she is just as ruthless and unfeeling as in previous versions she also seems to have something resembling a sense of humor as we see when she serves breakfast to Sam Lane, who she’s taken prisoner.

And its worth noting that Lois and Sam’s relationship is more at the center of Adventures then any version I’ve seen before. Lois knows very early the kind of man her father is but still loves him — and is enraged when she comes to rescue him and he’s not happy to see her. More humor comes when Sam is angry that Superman (who he was tasked with destroying) came with Lois but not her boyfriend. Lois then suggests that he room with Clark and Jimmy and that goes just as well as you’d think. (I love the scene where Sam refuses to move because he doesn’t want to give the enemy an advantage.)

This animation works wonders in a way that no special effects ever could: whenever Clark flies I like the zips that he leaves behind. The way that Lois often thinks about getting ahead shows signs of brilliant imagination and Superman loves to deflate her by just flying through walls. Paradoxically, this animated version of Superman seems more human and real than almost every live-action version I’ve seen over the years, with the possible exception of Tom Welling.

And that’s true to an extent of almost every aspect of My Adventures With Superman. It speaks volumes to the fact that a series that never lets you forget that it is a cartoon makes almost all of the major characters you meet, whether they be the heroes, the villains or even the guest stars, more character and range than I’ve seen not just in the DCU but in almost every major comic book film I’ve seen over the years. Perhaps it’s because animation doesn’t have to spend as much time and money on technical aspects that live-action films that do that it can give so many of the characters depth in a way that almost nothing I’ve seen in live-action films can. The Clark Kent and Lois Lane here seem more fully formed and realized in a few episodes than anything Henry Cavill and Amy Adams were able to do a decade of films and they genuinely seem to have more chemistry. I believe in their love story more easily then most versions, not because we know its canon but because they actually seem to feel it.

I know that there are some other great animated versions of comics out there that have a similar level of acclaim: Max’s Harley Quinn and X-Men 97 have received immense love from critics and fans over the last few years that has been sorely lacking for both the MCU and DCU. I’m sure I’ll be given many complicated reasons for that by those who love the former and loathe the latter, but I think it comes from a reason that explains why I’m in such awe of My Adventures with Superman. Regardless of whether they are meant for them or not, animated series have a much easier time appealing to the child in all of us, something that is infinitely harder to do no matter what the quality of the CGI or visual effects in so many blockbuster movies. It was easier to suspend disbelief when we are children then grownups and animation has a psychological built in way of doing this than live-action ever well. In short, the reason shows like this appeal to us because its always been easier for a child to believe that a man can fly and My Adventures With Superman never forgets the child in all of us.

My score: 4.75 stars.

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David B Morris

After years of laboring for love in my blog on TV, I have decided to expand my horizons by blogging about my great love to a new and hopefully wider field.