Since Superman’s debut in Action Comics #1 in 1938, we’ve seen several versions of him. Evil versions, younger and older versions, even a version that became his earth’s sun! The incarnations that always tend to do the best are the ones that focus on the values of the character. Namely, his family values as mild-mannered, small-town raised Clark Kent, and his heroic values as the powerful protector of Metropolis.
The latest telling of Kent’s story, Superman and Lois, is a prime example. The CW series sees the titular couple juggling their responsibilities as parents to twin boys (one of which has abilities similar to his father’s), and Superman’s duties to the world as a superhero. The most recent episode, “Man of Steel,” saw Supes continuing to try to keep his keep family together while simultaneously facing off against the mysterious Captain Luthor. The episode concluded with Luthor’s defeat, but not before we were finally given some answers regarding the alternate universe adversary.
The NOC got to speak to Wolé Parks, who portrays Captain Luthor, as well as episode writer Jai Jamison, about the shocking reveal and what we can expect to see from the character in future episodes. Read on below, but beware for major spoilers for this week’s episode!
So first things first, “Captain Luthor” is really John Henry Irons! Steel! How long have you known about this mind-blowing reveal?
JAMISON: So we were planning from like the first day about how we were going to make the character of “Captain Luthor” different. There was always a plan to explain why he is the way he is. Someone, one of the writers, came up to us one day and was like “What if we make him John Henry Irons?” and it was one of those things where we all like “Yes! That’s it!” [laughs] Personally I wish I’d thought of it.
PARKS: I found out soon after I auditioned for it. The funny thing for me about the character was how many secrets he has. When we meet him he’s “The Stranger,” then he’s “Captain Luthor,” and now he’s John Henry Irons. It’s been a fun journey for me because I’ve never played a character with so many different personalities [laughs]. I think playing Luthor initially was really cool in its own way, but I find this even better because I haven’t really seen many live-action versions of the character. Well, I haven’t seen the Shaq movie, so barring that one.
It’s funny you mention all the secrecy surrounding your character, Wolé. That’s one of the coolest things about Irons for me, that you don’t really know everything that’s going on with him right away. Are we going to see more huge secrets about the character revealed in in future episodes?
PARKS: Oh absolutely. I’d say the biggest thing about John Henry Irons that we know is that in the comics he’s considered a hero. The whole thing with “Captain Luthor” when he first got introduced was that he was more of an anti-hero or — I wouldn’t even say villain, because I think the writer’s did a great job in justifying his issues with Superman. I think what’s going to be beautiful is to see him go on this journey from being this anti-Superman kind of character to becoming a hero in his own right. It’s gonna be a great arc to watch, and a great arc to play!
So we got to see the iconic hammer and even an updated version of his suit. Are we going to see any other nods to his comic book origins?
JAMISON: Uh… I’ll say yes, we will be learning more about John Henry in the future.
JAMISON: Sorry, I don’t want WB crashing into my room! [laughs]
What would you say is your favorite scene in this episode?
PARKS: For me it’s the one with Taylor who plays my daughter. Just because of that emotional aspect of it. It’s funny because when you’re working movies it’s one of those things where everyone is together for a couple months, unlike TV where people kind of come and go. So the funny thing about that scene we did, essentially the last scene with them together where they knew it would be awhile before they saw each other again, that was the first scene we did after we had just met [laughs]. So it was like, “Hi nice meeting you! Now let’s do this really emotional scene!” But it was great working with her and the director David Ramsey (fellow “Arrowverse” alumni) who redid a great job giving us the space to sort of have that emotionality. So it’s between that, and the scene where I finally get the big hammer! Those are my two big ones.
JAMISON: It’s funny, I think it’s the same two for me [laughs]. But honestly though, in writing the episode, I was literally trapped inside my house with my younger sister in lockdown. So with that bunker scene there were elements of it in my real life. Not only that, but getting to explore John Henry Irons as this family man and as a father and introducing the character of Natalie and letting them have those emotional moments. That’s what I spent a lot of time on in writing. Even when I was watching the dailies for the episode, I was getting emotional. It was like I wrote this thing and [Wolé and Taylor] brought it to life. They imbued it with so much emotion. And of course, I’m a kid at heart who loves superheroes so the hammer and the fight scenes were cool! It was so fun to write the action sequences and see the stunt team bring it together.
PARKS: Oh yeah, our stunt team did a great job! [laughs] Two very long night shoots in a row!
So I know we’re all tired of these kinds of questions, but I wanted to ask: How much did the pandemic affect the writing process of this episode? Were there any huge changes you had to make?
JAMISON: I think in a way it gave us more time to kind of weave things together. There’s always a general plan for how things are going to go. But a lot of the times you’re sort of building the track as the train is moving down, and we had a little more time to build the track. At least from my understanding. This is my first writer’s room, so like [Todd Helbing] keeps saying like, “Oh man, this has been a crazy project” and I’m like this is all I know [laughs]. But we definitely had a lot more time to sort of plant seeds for later on. I’ll say one thing that wasn’t great was that we only had like two weeks in person before lockdown started. So I was able to meet some of the other writers before we transferred to Zoom world. But I haven’t seen them in person since. I can’t wait until we’re able to be in the same place again.
Finally, are there any particular messages or themes that you’re hoping resonate with fans this episode? Any in particular that resonated with either of you?
JAMISON: My whole approach to this episode was humanizing John Henry Irons. I wanted to show a different side, a human side to the character. He is the hero of his own story, and showing him happy with his family, with Natalie, showing this other side to the character and weaving that into the fabric of our show was very important to me.
PARKS: For me, since the beginning, the way I saw John and the way I portrayed him was rooted in how he deals with grief. How he channels it. Which has of course been a topic of discussion recently because of shows like WandaVision, which did a great job exploring that kind of thing. But for him, he can’t really move on because he hasn’t been able to accept the past or let it go. He’s lost his wife, his daughter, and his father-in-law. Not to mention the mental toll of a war, a war with super people no less! This guy is dealing with a lot of emotional scars. I really wanted to find a way as an actor to identify and connect with where he is emotionally and how he identifies with that darkness inside of him. And I think what’s going to be really beautiful going forward is getting to see how he finally comes to terms with it and how he accepts it.
Superman and Lois airs Tuesday nights at 8/7c on The CW!