Superman: Lois and Clark #1 is a strange patchwork of references and homages to prior Superman series. This in itself is not problematic; in an overly reductionist way, even Morrison’s All-Star Superman could be described as vignettes heavily inspired by Silver-Age stories and his own previous work on the character. With regards to Lois and Clark, however, such a description is not overly reductionist, but simply accurate. The connective thread which binds its uneven patchwork is itself too insubstantial to provide the issue with a clear sense of cohesion or an identity of its own.
The title, of course, derives from the romantic comedy Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, in a clear appeal to the current wave of ‘90s nostalgia. In opening the issue, the opening few pages begin with a recap for the first arc of Justice League and the recent Convergence event. This expository dump is largely unnecessary for readers familiar with the continuity being referenced while at the same time providing insufficient information to entirely new readers uninitiated with either. Given the high level concept of Lois and Clark, which not only follows alternate versions of the characters who are married and raising a son together, but also places them in the same universe as the New 52 Superman, there was perhaps no good means of establishing the series’ premise which served the needs of the narrative. Nevertheless, it seems as if a writer as skilled as Dan Jurgens could have found some better way than this.
The rest of the issue draws it inspiration and imagery from the long-running teen-soap Smallville (the exterior of the “White” farm might as well have been a rotoscope of a frame from one of the show’s establishing shots, while Jonathan’s wardrobe is identical to clothes worn by Clark in every episode), and the classic John Byrne run (including an appearance by the the most famous of Superman’s rogues to be created by Byrne). That appearance is the one part of the issue which truly executes on the the series’ high concept well. Because this is a veteran Superman from not only a different universe but an earlier timeline as well, his knowledge of events of the post-Crisis continuity grants him imperfect insight into how history may play out in his newly adopted universe. Thus, when the space shuttle Excalibur comes crashing back down towards earth, he knows not only is this a job for Superman, but the particulars of the foe he’s likely to face as a result.
Where the series has yet to find its footing is in the family dynamic it introduces. Like his mother before him, Clark’s son Jonathan is perturbed by the inconsistencies in the explanations for his father’s absences. But this is otherwise an altogether normal family, far too closely a mirror of the Kents. The normalcy of the Kents was a necessary counterbalance to the extraordinary nature of their adoptive son. But here all three “Whites” are the lasts sons, the sole survivors of a doomed world, yet that alien tension is never played upon by Jurgens.
Lee Weeks’ art is in no way outstanding, but it is certainly serviceable. That may seem faint praise, and in most contexts it would be, but the fact remains that Superman is one of the most difficult characters to illustrate, not despite the fact that he’s so iconic but precisely because of it. The versions of the character drawn by Curt Swan and the aforementioned John Byrne are so ingrained into the popular consciousness as the definitive look of the character that any deviation will always seem off. The fact that Weeks actually adheres to this traditional design fairly closely (much more than the current buzz cut version) helps matters. In this sense, because the classic split-curl is preserved, the addition of the beard works in favor of the character as he remains fully recognizable. Additionally, Weeks nails the movement of Superman, who’s seen striking signature poses throughout the issue.
Lois and Clark #1 is a mixed-bag; first in the sense that it’s a mix of numerous references ranging from Byrne to Convergence to Justice League to Smallville and more, but also in the sense that it’s a mix of narrative and visual elements that do and do not work.