Superman goes Super Saiyan in Adult Swim’s sweet anime–inspired take on the Man of Steel.
The question of who would win in a fight between Dragon Ball’s Goku and DC Comics’ Superman has been a popular debate subject for decades given that they’re both extraordinarily powerful and remarkably good–natured defenders of the Earth. The Adult Swim series My Adventures with Superman doesn’t settle the argument, but it does draw on the parallels between the two characters by effectively fusing them to produce a charming shonen anime–inspired spin on the superhero that feels both fresh and deeply true to the character.
One of the most common complaints about Superman is that he’s both too good and too powerful to be interesting, but those aren’t conflicts that tend to overly trouble the writers of shonen stories focused on fighting monsters with the power of friendship. My Adventures of Superman fits perfectly into that framework, with The Boys’ Jack Quaid playing a young and bright–eyed version of Clark Kent who just landed an internship at the Daily Planet along with his best pal and roommate Jimmy Olsen (Ishmel Sahid).
There they meet slightly more experienced intern Lois Lane (Alice Lee) and form a tight trio more reminiscent of bonds between the characters in Dragon Ball or the Arrowverse’s Team Flash than Clark, Jimmy, and Lois’ traditional hero/sidekick/love interest dynamic. It’s a shift that leaves more room for character development, relationship drama, and complex fights that are solved by teamwork, such as Superman tanking a group of robots while Lois figures out a way to remotely disable them.
A relatively low–powered Superman also gives the show room to lean on the strengths of his allies. Lois is presented as a brilliant investigator with combat and survival skills she learned from her U.S. Army general father. She shares a mix of competence and awkwardness with Clark that makes their romantic relationship feel instantly believable. Jimmy, by comparison, is a bit one–note in the early episodes, where his dominant characteristic is believing in conspiracies about aliens and Atlantis (which of course are all true in the world of DC Comics), but his odd version of genre savvy and general sweetness grew on me over time. Like the ensemble shows Evil and Lockwood & Co., My Adventures with Superman shows that having two protagonists with romantic chemistry and a weird third wheel can be a winning formula.
The plots lean heavily on the crew’s work at the Daily Planet as they hunt for stories that inevitably lead them into dangerous circumstances, making for one of the best portrayals of journalism ever seen in a Superman adaptation. There’s a perpetually exasperated version of Perry White (Darrell Brown), plus a whole smug crew of senior newsroom staff including obnoxious sports writer Steve Lombard (Vincent Tong) and preening lifestyle writer Cat Grant (Melanie Minichino) providing antagonists who only threaten the heroes’ livelihoods, not their lives.
Smallville and Superman & Lois played with the idea that Kal–El was sent to Earth to conquer it for Krypton, and My Adventures with Superman certainly seems to be weaving those narrative threads even tighter in its first seven episodes, flooding Metropolis with strange futuristic technology that has a special connection to Superman. The plot device provides weapons for a parade of villains of the week as the show slowly builds its world and digs into the central mystery of who Clark is and where his powers come from.
A relatively low–powered Superman gives the show room to lean on the strengths of his allies.
Not all of these adversaries are created equal. The reimagining of mad scientist Anthony Ivo (Jake Green) as a tech bro is quickly squandered when he fuses with Parasite, and Heat Wave (Laila Berzins) and Silver Banshee (Catherine Taber) are part of an inept version of Intergang. At times it feels like the writers were trying too hard to tick off names on a list of minor DC villains.
The show is much better when it dares to go weirder – like its deepest cut, the version of superintelligent gorilla Monsieur Mallah (Andre Sogliuzzo) and the disembodied mind known as the Brain (Jessie Inocalla) imagined in Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol run. Here, they’re a couple that just wants to escape judgment and live a quiet life – which happens to involve assembling a mutant army and building a black hole. It’s a hilariously absurd plot that digs into the show’s emotional core and appeals to Clark’s perpetual feelings of outsiderdom.
Superman himself also gets a heavy serving of anime aesthetic, including the charmingly goofy touch of giving him a magical girl transformation sequence when he dons his costume for the first time. When he’s particularly stretching his powers, he sometimes crackles with blue energy, which not only makes him look more like Goku but seems to hint that the show is building to a more complex explanation of where those abilities come from than the usual solar receptors.
But for all the changes, this version of the Last Son of Krypton feels much more like a natural successor to the compassionate version of the character imagined by Bruce Timm in Superman: The Animated Series and Justice League than the more aloof portrayals in recent films. By incorporating anime tropes familiar to younger viewers, My Adventures with Superman might just allow the character to soar into the hearts of a new generation of viewers.
Adult Swim’s My Adventures with Superman fuses DC Comics canon and shonen anime tropes to put a fresh and charming spin on the Man of Steel. While there are a few weaker characters, the show’s first seven episodes show huge potential driven by weird villains, complex fights and a tight ensemble.