It's no secret—everybody loves a superhero origin story! Sure, you can argue that we see them too many times, or that there's only so many ways to show pearls falling into the gutters of Crime Alley, and maybe you're right! But the thing is, we return to these origin stories again and again, decade after decade, because they continue to matter to us. You don't need to fix something that isn't broken, you just need to tweak it a little bit to make it better resonate with the times. And that, friends, is exactly what the new animated TV show, My Adventures with Superman, manages to do with Superman himself.
I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting when I went into the new show. Superman's been animated before, of course, but this felt different right off the bat. Not because it was meant to be edgier or darker, somehow, or because it was catering more towards the adult crowd on Adult Swim than the traditional Saturday morning demographic, but because it felt specifically like it wasn't trying to reinvent the wheel, and, in doing that, made itself inexplicably fresh. It's a story we've seen hundreds of times, sure—the earliest days of Superman, Clark Kent trying to figure out his place in the world, struggling to get his feet on the ground at the Daily Planet, meeting Lois for the first time. But My Adventures with Superman takes these familiar ideas and cants them just slightly off center.
This is a Clark who maybe doesn't have all the answers, he's still a lovable dork with a huge heart that's always on his sleeve, but he's certainly got some of them. He's at a critical juncture in his personal evolution. As a young adult, he's formed some real opinions about how the world works and where he fits in it. He's shy and easily embarrassed, especially around Lois, but he's not afraid to stand up for himself when her enthusiasm gets the better of her. His convictions are maybe a bit too simple or too naive at times, but they're still very much convictions. These are tiny details, sure, and on their own they might not mean a ton, but together, they combine to make something that feels relevant.
Watching the show, which streams on Max, made me think a lot about the way so many of us tend to shrug off Superman as a character that is just too easy, too good, too perfect. I'll be the first to admit, I've had those moments too, especially as a teenager. I was always a Batman guy growing up, and the idea of finding something to relate to in a character like Superman felt impossible. That changed over time, of course, but I still find myself surprised at times by these little moments I'll stumble on with Clark that sneak up on me.
It's fun, especially in this show, to watch Clark get to hop back and forth between being the straight man to Lois and Jimmy's over-the-top antics, to watching him fumble and trip over his own feet as he tries to figure out exactly where to put them. We get to see him fret about his own origins, interact with Ma and Pa as a young adult trying to leave home and accidentally become Perry's secret weapon for reigning in Lois's more risky ambitions. All while occasionally stepping up to stop the likes of Livewire or Intergang or Dr. Ivo. It's familiar—these are beats that anyone who's spent any time reading Superman stories will know—but more than that, it's a comfort. There's just enough expectation here to make the unexpected moments really pop, and just enough that’s the same to make the differences really stand out. There's even a moment where Clark first suits up as Superman and gets a full-on magical girl transformation sequence. If that's not an unexpected moment, I'm not sure what is. And you know what? It absolutely works. It's the perfect way to update this story without trying to rebuild it from the ground up.
There's a reason these characters have stuck around for so long, and there's a reason we can't help but love them as much as we do. My Adventures with Superman really drives this home. Every great character needs a great origin. You can't start with nothing, and we keep returning to these early days again and again because it's worthwhile, not because they're too easy.
Season one of My Adventures with Superman is now streaming on Max.
Mason Downey writes about comics, movies and superhero history for DC.com. Look for more of his work on GameSpot, IGN and Polygon and follow him on Twitter at @rustypolished.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Mason Downey and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros., nor should they be read as confirmation or denial of future DC plans.