How Supergirl Got Superman Right

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…our favorite portrayal of Superman this year. (Sorry, not sorry, Henry Cavill.)

When Tyler Hoechlin flew in to National City during Supergirl‘s season two premiere in that familiar blue and red suit, he brought with him a version of Kal-El that’s been largely missing pop culture for the last few passes at the iconic character. He was fun, he was endlessly charming, and, most importantly, he wasn’t so damn caught up in his feelings. The show’s creators had a fine line to walk, bringing in arguably one of the most famous comic book characters in existence and making sure he didn’t overshadow the star of the show, his cousin Kara (Melissa Benoist). And they pulled it off.

Here’s how.

For the first time maybe ever, Superman was introduced not as as someone learning how to be a superhero, but rather a seasoned vet who had settled into a comfortable groove years ago. “We very cognizant of not wanting him to come in and steal her thunder, so this Superman that we designed was something that you really haven’t seen too much of,” executive producer Andrew Kreisberg told reporters following a screening of tonight’s new episode . “Usually when you see Superman, even when it’s in the Christopher Reeve movie or Man of Steel or Lois & Clark, he’s just starting out and we wanted to show Superman who’s been doing this for a decade and has gotten really, really good at it.”

“Usually when someone comes in, they have a massive character arc and that wasn’t entirely the case here. He was really coming in as a supporting character for Kara, to be a friend and a cousin and a mentor,” he continued. “We simultaneously wanted to have a Superman who was relatable and fun and sort of everything that you remember about Superman from your childhood that was great, while also, at the same time, de-mystifying him a little bit.”

For Hoechlin, he saw his version of Superman as the seasoned vet on the team whose role is to encourage and foster the next generation of talent. 

“That word ‘support’ is the strongest one that I tried to lean on. Again, it’s not his origin story. This is somebody that’s been doing this for a long time and become very comfortable. The way I can always relate to things best, it’s like a sports thing where the game has slowed down for him,” he said. “So these things that maybe seem like a big deal to her, he’s gone through those issues already, so the role of him coming in to this, for me, from the very beginning, was to support her. And that kind of lends itself into being a supporting character. There was never an intention for this to be about him. It’s always about her. It’s called Supergirl, it’s about her. And Melissa’s done such a great job.”

Supergirl, Season 2, Crisis

The CW

And if Hoechlin’s performance in the role feels unlike anything you’ve seen recently, that’s because he went to painstaking lengths to make it so. “I distinctly stayed away from every other Superman thing. I am very ignorant to the past films and series,” he said. “I wanted to do that because as an actor, I wanted zero temptation to imitate or emulate anything…There’s something very freeing creatively when you commit to something you believe in personally. If the reception today was that everyone hated it, I’d be like, ‘Well, that sucks, that really sucks, but I committed to what I honestly thought was great about it and if that’s not what everybody else sees about it, that’s fine.’ But the worst thing is to try to do something thinking that it’s what other people will think is right about it, and then they still don’t like it. Because then you’ve failed without even actually trusting yourself to do something you believe in in the first place.”

Spoken like a true Superman.

In tonight’s new episode, Hoechlin’s last in the role (for now), a kryptonite-powered villain comes to National City thank to CADMUS and Supergirl winds up seriously injured. Luckily, she’s got Superman on hand to come to her aid. For a first look at that, in a recreation of the famous Crisis on Infinite Earths comic book cover, check out the photo above.

Supergirl airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on the CW.

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