‘My Adventures with Superman’ Season 2 Delivers a Dark Twist on a Classic DC Story

'My Adventures with Superman' Season 2 Delivers a Dark Twist on a Classic DC Story

The Big Picture

  • Season 2 of
    My Adventures with Superman
    delves into darker emotional territory, challenging Clark’s relationships and sense of isolation.
  • Season 2, Episode 8 pays homage to the classic Superman tale “For the Man Who Has Everything,” exploring themes of fantasy and reality.
  • Brainiac exploits Clark’s insecurities by manipulating his memories and offering him visions of life on Krypton, impacting his sense of self.

My Adventures with Superman has been praised for offering a mostly lighthearted, often comedic take on the Superman mythology. The animated series is essentially a romantic sitcom that prioritizes exploring Clark Kent/Superman’s (Jack Quaid) love affair with Lois Lane (Alice Lee) and friendship with Jimmy Olsen (Ishmel Sahid) over everything, even if there is still plenty of the requisite superhero action and science fiction drama. But the back half of Season 2 has pushed the show into darker emotional territory. Challenges to his and Lois’ relationship, which eventually led her to break up with him, misunderstandings with Jimmy, and the public fear of aliens and superpowered beings have all contributed to making Clark feel increasingly isolated. In the latest episode, his current enemy, Brainiac (Michael Emerson), takes advantage of these feelings to corrupt Clark’s mind, and the way he does so presents an especially chilling version of a classic Superman story from DC Comics.

My Adventures with Superman TV Show Poster

My Adventures With Superman

Clark Kent builds his secret Superman identity and embraces his role as the hero of Metropolis, while sharing adventures and falling in love with Lois, a star investigative journalist, who also takes Jimmy Olsen under her wing.

‘My Adventures with Superman’ Pays Homage to “For the Man Who Has Everything”

In the aptly titled “The Death of Clark Kent,” Clark and his long-lost cousin Kara Zor-El (Kiana Madeira) essentially switch roles. After learning how he’s used her to build his “new Kryptonian empire” by destructively conquering other planets, Kara confronts Brainiac, believing that the AI she thinks of as an adoptive father is malfunctioning. But, angered by Kara’s growing defiance of him, Brainiac unapologetically confirms that he has repeatedly brainwashed Kara to be more obedient to him and has no intention of stopping his tyrannical conquest. Kara destroys his robotic body in battle, but Brainiac has already begun working on a contingency. Using a device he calls “the Black Mercy,” a part of his consciousness has entered Clark’s mind and started altering his memories in the hope of brainwashing Clark to serve him as Kara once did.

Using the Black Mercy to mess with Clark’s mind connects the episode to the classic Superman tale “For the Man Who Has Everything.” Written by Alan Moore with art by Dave Gibbons, the storyline was featured in 1985’s Superman Annual #11. It begins with Bruce Wayne/Batman, Jason Todd/Robin, and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman arriving at Clark’s Fortress of Solitude to celebrate his birthday, which is Leap Day, February 29th. As they enter the Fortress, Diana and the Dynamic Duo discuss how difficult it is to find a good present for Clark, alluding to the titular phrase. The trio is shocked to discover Clark with the Black Mercy (which in the comics is an alien plant) wrapped around him. Bruce quickly deduces that the plant has trapped Clark’s mind in an illusion. Scenes from his perspective show him imagining a life where Krypton was never destroyed. Clark, referred to by his birth name, Kal-El, lives on Krypton with a wife, Kryptonian actress Lyla Lerrol (who had been introduced in earlier stories through time travel), and two children. He has seemingly never been to Earth to develop his human life.

“For the Man Who Has Everything” is an Influential Tale in DC History

Back in the real world, Bruce, Jason, and Diana are attacked by Mongul, the alien despot who previously ruled the artificial planet Warworld and an old enemy of Clark’s. Mongul confirms that he sent the Black Mercy, disguised as a gift, to trap Clark’s mind by giving it his “heart’s desire” before Mongul could take revenge on him (presumably killing him) and conquer Earth. Diana engages Mongul in a brutal battle while Bruce and Jason work on freeing their friend. As they do so, Clark begins to suspect something is wrong with the reality he is experiencing. As Bruce gets the plant off him, Clark tells his imaginary son, Van-El, how he feels and attempts to hold him one last time but wakes up before he can do so. But after being removed from Clark, the Mercy latches on to Bruce, who imagines his father fighting off the mugger that killed him and his mother in the real world. While Jason frees his mentor, using the gloves Mongul had used to handle the Mercy, an enraged Clark attacks Mongul with an unusual degree of vengeful savagery. Just when Mongul gains the upper hand in their fight, Jason gets the Mercy off Bruce and throws it onto Mongul, who envisions killing the heroes, decimating Earth, retaking Warworld, and using it to conquer various worlds throughout the universe.

As the heroes recover, Clark announces his plan to drop Mongul’s catatonic body in a black hole. Bruce notes that as his Black Mercy fantasy continued, he saw himself married to Kathy Kane, the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths version of Batwoman, with whom he had a teenage daughter. He then gives Clark his gift, a genetically replicated Kryptonian rose, but apologizes, as it had gotten trampled and killed in the fighting. Clark notes that, “Maybe it’s for the best.”

Although it certainly didn’t originate the idea of having fictional characters experience their own fantasies, “For the Man Who Has Everything” is a groundbreaking example of the trope and has influenced various later superhero comics, especially within the DC Universe, in which several other characters, such as Hal Jordan/Green Lantern and Oliver Queen/Green Arrow have themselves been victims of Black Mercies. The storyline was directly adapted into the Justice League Unlimited episode of the same name, with the most significant change being the exclusion of Jason, who was not introduced into the DC Animated Universe until many years later in spin-off comics. These stories are often somewhat vague and inconsistent about how exactly the Mercy plants work, especially in regards to whether or not they actually show someone their ideal life. While the later problems in Clark’s vision, such as his father, Jor-El’s political extremism, and a related mob attack on Kara, could be explained as a result of Bruce getting the Mercy to loosen its grip on Clark’s body, the fact that his vision is purely focused on his Kryptonian side is arguably out of character, as Clark usually views himself as at least partially human despite his biology. Conversely, Bruce and Mongul’s visions are much more fitting.

With or without a Black Mercy being involved, several other DC TV series have also delivered episodes exploring the same themes. Before the aforementioned JLU installment, the DCAU had already given Bruce (Kevin Conroy) a more elaborate look at what life with his parents could have been in the acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series episode, “Perchance to Dream.” Likewise, the live-action series Arrow and Supergirl both presented their protagonists with visions of lives without the tragic parts of their origin stories having taken place. The latter did so by having Kara (Melissa Benoist) be affected by a Black Mercy.

Brainiac Exploits Clark’s Insecurities in ‘My Adventures with Superman’

Primus's first appearance in the Season 1 Finale of 'My Adventures with Superman.'
Image via Max 

Although the use of the mechanical Black Mercy at first seems like an Easter Egg for fans, My Adventures with Superman’s story goes in a different direction. Brainiac eventually resorts to giving Clark a vision more directly reminiscent of “For the Man Who Has Everything.” Clark imagines defeating Brainiac before happily returning home. But as he runs to his parents, the image of him transforms into one of his younger self in Kryptonian clothes before it is revealed that the family he is embracing is his biological one on what appears to be a surviving or rebuilt Krypton. This allows Brainiac to gain full control of his body in the real world, with his costume transforming into more militaristic armor.

Clark being enthralled by the idea of life on Krypton arguably makes more sense in the series’ context than it did in the original comic. This Clark is young and still learning about his heritage, and he’s been feeling more and more alone as this season has gone on. Brainiac’s most perversely clever move is including one of Clark’s real memories, that of Lois breaking up with him, among the flood of manipulated ones, as this exacerbates his pain and makes him question his reality, leading him to wonder if the other memories Brainiac’s shown him might actually be real. It’s natural that he would cling to the happy illusion of an accepting Kryptonian family, given how his recent experiences, especially the break-up, have made him feel rejected by humanity. Presumably, Clark, like his comic book counterpart, will remember that Krypton is far from perfect and that he is loved by his human family, especially given that the episode ends with Lois putting on the Black Mercy herself in an attempt to free his mind, but doing so may be his most difficult and emotional challenge yet.

New episodes of My Adventures with Superman premiere on Saturdays at 12 A.M. ET on Cartoon Network and the series is available to stream on Max.

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