‘Superman & Lois’ Writer & Wolé Parks Explain That Man of Steel Curveball
[WARNING: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for Superman & Lois Season 1 Episode 7, “Man of Steel.” So if you haven’t seen it… well, what’s wrong with you?!]
Turns out that the episode entitled “The Man of Steel” meant it literally. In this evening’s just-aired hour, it was revealed that Wolé Parks‘ Alex Luthor, the lone survivor of a Crisis-destroyed Earth-3, is not who he says he is. Since the show’s premiere, we have been led to believe that Luthor was on a villainous, misguided mission to destroy Superman (Tyler Hoechlin) for causing his planet’s demise, as he posed as a freelance journalist to get closer to Lois (Bitsie Tulloch), the Earth-Prime version of the woman he was married to back home.
But through a series of jaw-dropping flashbacks—masterfully handled by director David Ramsey of Arrow—fans learned that Luthor was actually John Henry Irons, better known in the DC Comics canon as Steel, the metallic armor-suited good guy who stepped in as Metropolis’ savior after the famous “Death of Superman.”
This iteration casts the iconic character as a vengeful builder who lost his wife and daughter Natalie during an attack by a fleet of black-suited Supes and has come to this Earth armed with a hammer powered by kinetic energy to kill Kal-El before he can repeat the wreckage. This all led to a showdown that puts our hero in a position he never expected: Beaten. Thankfully, part-Kryptonian Jordan (Alexander Garfin) was able to focus his newly acquired super-hearing with the help of twin brother Jonathan (Jordan Elsass) in time to find their father, save the day and thwart Irons. For now, at least.
Here, Parks and the episode’s writer Jai Jamison break down the lead-up to this delightfully unspoiled development, how they have been sitting on the secret for almost a year and why this new man of Steel is about to forever alter things for the Kents going forward.
Congratulations, guys. This episode is massive. Did not expect this twist and it’s so great that nobody spoiled it! Jai, did you know going into this season that this was going to be the story?
Jai Jamison: We knew from the very beginning that there was going to be a redemption arc for Captain Luthor. And then a few months into it, we had the pitch of our writers pitched “What if we make him John Henry Irons?” And it was like “Yes, that is it!” Once that was the case, my brain went crazy. I started outlining all this stuff that happened on John Henry’s Earth in terms of his flashbacks and his backstory.
Wolé, how much did you know?
Wolé Parks: Okay, so I knew. [Laughs] I found out after I auditioned. My audition was based on old-school Lex Luthor, like the megalomaniac, “I’m rich, I’m psycho.” One of the [audition pages] was me firing somebody. It was great. And then after I booked it, COVID unfortunately that obviously shut everything down, so we went months in between. And then Todd called me in the summertime and was like “Hey, so listen, let’s talk about the character.” I only wanted to know just enough because I like to find out with the audience and he said, “No, no, no, no. You need to know.” So yeah, I found out before we started shooting.
There was a bit of an outcry early on over the show making a Black man the villain.
Parks: Yeah, 100 percent. I can go on a tangent about frickin’ social media, but that’s a whole other topic. For me, if I try to please everyone, I will fail, you know? Because you have some people who are like “Oh wow, it’s so cool. This is the first black Lex Luthor. That’s amazing.” And then other people are like “Oh, why you got to change it to make him Black? Why is it always the token?” Then other people are like “Oh, why does a Black man have to be the villain?” There’s always going to be somebody who’s going to find an issue with something. And ultimately for me, I always thought it was hilarious because we knew that it was going to be John Henry Irons, so in my mind, the madder some people got, I was laughing inside my head like, “Yeah. It’s okay.” [Laughs]
Now that we see his side of the story, you have to wonder if he’s even a villain? He’s trying to do the right thing by his Earth and this totally resets the table to position him as a possible ally to Superman.
Parks: That’s interesting what you say and I’m glad because he’s not a villain in his head. Jai can speak to this from a writer’s perspective, but from an actor’s perspective, to me, he’s trying to save his planet. He’s trying to save his daughter and his wife by saving this new planet. You know what I mean? Kind of like, “If I do this, then somehow it’ll make me feel better about the past.” Which will never be the case. You just have to accept the past. There’s no amount of good deeds you can do which will ever make up for something if you don’t know how to accept it. But I think you’re brilliant on the way you phrase that. I completely agree.
Oh, thank you! Now, is he carrying any romantic interest in Lois at this point?
Parks: Jai, you want to chime in on that? [Laughs]
Jai: You know, our thought process is that he recognizes that this is not his Lois. As much as she has the echoes of and is very similar to his Lois, it’s just not the same woman. She’s happily married to an assistant football coach in Smallville, who seems like a good guy. He wants to keep her safe and he wants her to be happy, and he sees that. I don’t think that there are any romantic ideas. He’s very mission-focused.
Wole: Now from an actor’s perspective, I slightly disagree only because I also agree with him. I agree that I don’t think he’s ever malicious. I don’t think he’s going to try to steal her away from Clark. But I think there is a weird balance where he does get those glimpses of remembrance because they are so similar. This is still the woman he loves. He fell in love with her for a reason. And I hope it came through occasionally with the episodes that you saw them on his Earth and thought, “Oh, I get how they could have been a pair.”
I can see he’s almost carrying a little bit of the heartache. He’s lost her, he’s lost a daughter…oh and I adored the nod to the movie “Hair Love,” where he puts the hair tie on Natalie. That humanized John Henry in such a lovely way.
Parks: That’s all Jai. That is Jai 100%.
Jai: That was definitely something that I wanted to put in there! This is how he remembers his daughter. This is how they bond…and he has her hair tie the whole time, you realize. Culturally, that was just something that I wanted to put in there to, like you said, humanize and add depth to John Henry and to their relationship.
And also, Lois probably wouldn’t have known how to do her hair…
Parks: Hold on. Let me tell you. Lois is smart because Lois would have learned. I will tell you this. Lois would figure it out and would probably do it better than he would. John would have been like “Lois, calm down.” [Laughs]
So true! How was that working with David Ramsey and being directed by who comes to it with Arrowverse experience? Because the feel of this show versus Arrow could not be more different.
Parks: You’re right, we have a different tone and that’s something which honestly we talked about from the start. As an actor, I remember before we even shot anything, our director of the pilot and the second episode, Lee Toland Krieger, he actually sat us all down through Zoom and he went through all these different examples of what he wanted to do with the tone. And they kept saying “Guys, this is a different tone. This is different. This is more grounded, blah, blah, blah.” And I’ve heard that many, many times before [on projects], but I don’t think I fully understood it or believed it. I was like “Yes. Got it. Okay.”
But when they screened an early cut of the pilot, I was like “Oh, well, they weren’t joking. This is serious.” And for me, that was crazy because I am a fan of the Arrowverse. And then to have David come in, it was really cool because he also speaks [the] language. He understands the world. And as an actor working with a director-actor, there’s also a language that we can share, which is different than somebody who just only directs.
That’s why I’m excited for you to see what’s coming up. As exciting as episode 107 is—and Jai killed it—there’s even more coming. I’m telling you there were episodes where my jaw dropped to the floor. As actors, we’d talk about this on set or we’d reach out to Todd to be like “What are you guys writing!? Who do you have in the room!?” [Laughs] What they’re doing is absolutely amazing. It’s crazy the topics and the way they deal with things. It’s great.
And Jai, how has it been for you being in that writer’s room and knowing what’s coming up? This must be very exciting.
Jamison: It’s been amazing. Especially since it’s my first writer’s room. This is my first show.
Shut up! That is amazing.
Jamison: And I got to write this episode! Being in this environment has been amazing. The executive producers have all just been so incredible, first of all as storytellers, but then also as mentors. I’ve learned so much and they’ve been so supportive. I’ve felt very heard throughout the entire process. The conversations we had around John Henry and the types of stories that we wanted to tell with him, and the whole concept of humanizing this person so that we’re showing another side of a character people thought was a villain. His story, it totally makes sense what he’s doing. We totally understand it now. We see that side of him. We see Nat and John Henry together, we see that love. And being able to tell those stories through this lens, it’s been amazing.
Parks: I am shocked that this is your first writer’s room here, Jai. Obviously, you’re going to work for a while.
And you realize, very few people actually get to kill Lois Lane on screen.
Jai: That was not my favorite part, but it was necessary for John Henry’s story. But Lois Lane is one of my favorite characters to write, period. I did not enjoy that part of it. I love Lois Lane. [Laughs]
Superman & Lois, Tuesdays, 9/8c, The CW