Superman on Television
Lois & Clark: Episode Reviews
Season 1 - Episode 5: "Requiem for a Superhero"Reviewed by: Rob Ó Conchúir
Originally Aired: October 17, 1993
Directed by Randall Zisk
Written by Robert Killebrew
Denis Arndt as Dr. Sam Lane
Matt Roe as Max Menken
Joe Sabatino as Tommy Garrison
John LaMotta as Allie Donelli
The episode opens with Clark on a baseball field, playing at every position entirely by himself, thanks to his super speed.
Perry invites Clark to a poker game at the Daily Planet. While playing, Clark is tempted to use his x-ray vision to cheat. Jimmy suggests that Superman would be excellent for poker, as he could cheat using his x-ray vision. Perry and Lois disagree as Superman stands for 'fair play'. Upon hearing this, Clark decides to fold his hand, as he had an unfair advantage.
The next day, Lois discovers that Perry has made Clark her reporting partner. Lois is displeased about this as it requires her to become closer to Clark than she would like. Perry puts Lois and Clark on a story about a boxing exhibition match knowing that Lois has connections in the fighting industry. Clark quickly learns that Lois is an expert on boxing, as her father, Dr. Sam Lane is a famous physician who treated many boxers throughout the 70s.
As Clark discusses the exhibition match with Allie Donelli (a trainer and close family friend of Lois'), he is goaded into the ring by one of the boxers, Tommy Garrison. Before Garrison tries to hurt Clark, the fight promoter Max Menken intervenes mentioning to everyone that Superman will fight the winner of the tournament.
Outside, Lois runs into her estranged father, Sam Lane and they have a strained conversation.
Menken phones Luthor, worried about Lois and Clark being involved in the story. Luthor tells him that Max is wasting his time and that he needs to solve the problem himself, for Luthor has no problems. Luthor is then revealed to be throwing darts at a picture of Superman.
While working on the story, Lois blurts all of her problems with her father out to Clark. Soon after, she receives a phone call from Allie, telling her that he has important information and that he needs to see her. When Lois goes to see him, Allie is run down and dies in her arms.
Luthor sits in his office and speaks about how disappointing it always is when it becomes necessary to kill someone. He is revealed to be talking to himself, in front of a mirror.
Lois is convinced Allie's death was no accident and that the information he had cost him his life. She goes to Dr. Lane for more information. Sam tries to get her to stay away from the story and they end up arguing about Sam's abilities and failures as a father.
Lois and Clark break into Dr. Lane's office and discover that in every case following Dr. Lane's surgery, fighters became more powerful. Clark discovers a secret room behind a book case where they find bionic limbs. When Clark sees two men coming, he runs up and down on the spot at super speed, simulating an earthquake. Lois and Clark then deliver photos of what they've seen to Jimmy.
Clark decides that in the interest of Sam Lane's life, it may be better to bury this story. Oblivious to why they decide to do this, Perry is very angry with Lois and Clark and gives them dull, uninteresting stories to cover.
Lois decides to visit Sam again, following the revelation of his office. They fight once more, with Sam now encouraging her to report her findings.
Menken and Luthor rejoice, believing they've gotten away with their scheme to field-test bionic limbs in a prizefight. Lex wants to continue this research, to create "An Army of Supermen".
Sam confronts Menken, telling him he wants to back out of this practice, but Menken refuses and threatens his life. Lane records the story, including Menken's admission that he ordered the death of Allie Donelli. He then provides the tape to Lois and Clark, who finally write the story. Perry is delighted by this scoop.
Lex instructs Max to kidnap Lois in order to get to Sam Lane. The boxing show goes ahead, in spite of the 'roboscandal', but that night, the announcer announces onstage that the show has been cancelled. Tommy Garrison is angry by this and demands a fight with Superman anyway.
Lex runs into Lois, and lies to her about him promising to help her father. Max Menken shows up and pulls a gun on the pair, kidnapping Lois. Superman shows up to save Lois, but is momentarily distracted by some of the other bionically enhanced fighters. Lex saves Lois by shooting and killing Max Menken.
Superman goes up against Garrison who is still ranting in the boxing ring. Garrison briefly catches Superman off-guard, before Superman flicks him away with ease.
Lex explains to his dog (!) that he didn't take Max out earlier because he knew it would provide him with an opportunity to win Lois' affections and annoy Superman.
Clark goes to the gym and works out, wrecking a punchbag.
Review Rating - 3 (out of 5): It's unfortunate that I have to give this a 3, because it really is a lot more enjoyable than the previous episode. It's just that at times it's a bit disjointed and certain parts of the episodes seem tacked on for the sake of stretching out the runtime of the episode (which is a bit shameful, seeing as how much trouble "Adventures of Superman" and especially "Superboy" had trying to keep their plots limited to 24-30 minutes). Even the excellent poker scene just doesn't really have much purpose in the episode, other than to give us an interesting vignette in the life of this humanized Superman. It has no relevance to the plot or the character arcs of the episode and it would have absolutely no relation to the chronology of the rest of the episode whatsoever, other than the (excellent) reaction on Clark's face when Allie tells him that Perry cheats at poker and the fact that Perry off-handedly mentions a poker game again at the end of the episode. That said, it's still a delightful sequence and another example of the characters (Lois, especially) building up the legend of Superman on their own, with Clark having to follow their beliefs as best he can, to the point of folding his poker hand because he used his x-ray vision to look at Mr. White's cards.
The biggest talking point of this episode has to be the reinvention of Sam Lane from an army general to a physician/robotics mad scientist. It's confusing and disappointing that the producers of the series felt they had to make this change and given how close the series usually is to the John Byrne era of comics (especially in this first season), it's a jarring departure from the mythos to have such an unnecessary change. Perhaps it had something to do with the producers not wanting to write themselves into a situation where appearances of Sam Lane as an army general would require lots of expensive vehicles and weapon props, but that still doesn't really make sense, as there as multiple army-centric episodes of this series, as early as the second season. And if they really wanted to, they easily could have tied the whole robotics thing in as an army research project. I'm stumped as to why they felt the need to make this change.
The plot of this episode is reasonable enough, but from a visual standpoint, it's a bit of a missed opportunity that Superman wasn't given more of a chance to really let his fists fly for the first time in the series. While I absolutely don't believe that a Superman series requires fisticuffs to be exciting, I do think that it's fun to see a bit of it from time to time, just to keep the visual appeal of the series fresh and exciting. Whenever I go back to the George Reeves series, I'm always frustrated (especially in the seasons following season one) that the writers never added a dash of science fiction in order to give Superman more physically-imposing enemies. "Superboy" and "Smallville" made it their business to address this directly and Clark Kent is happily seen brawling through dozens of aliens, mutants and supervillains throughout those mixed-bag shows, to the point where they very much became "villain fight of the week" shows (although "Smallville" didn't always adhere to that formula, in fairness). Superman rarely engaged in true 'fights' in the "Lois & Clark" show and while there were a few really interesting bouts (one of which I regard as being one of the best moments of the series), the series really seemed to shy away from them, as if they didn't have the proper choreographers for such scenes. This episode is no exception and it's a real shame. Superman is caught off guard once or twice and then very easily disables his cyborg enemies. Lex teases that he wants to make the cyborg fighters hundreds of times more powerful to be able to battle Superman. I wanted to see that!
Nevertheless, it's an interesting, kooky kind of plot that's never too goofy to enjoy. It's just a bit of a shame that it wasn't more epic, though.
From a "Lois & Clark" standpoint, this episode is significant in that it's the first episode where the duo are assigned together as reporting 'partners'. I'm not entirely sure, but I believe this was the first time Lois and Clark were officially tied together this way, in the Superman mythos. Usually in the comics and the other shows/movies, they'd work independent of one another and would try to scoop each other, occasionally teaming up at the behest of Perry White. For the first few episodes of "Lois & Clark" it's clear that the writers were trying to go that same traditional route, but it probably got too difficult to explain why Lois and Clark inevitably ended up covering the same story. Plus, it's not uncommon for newspapers to team up journalists like that. It was a good time in the season for this to happen, as we can clearly see at this point that Lois is really starting to warm to Clark as a person, even if she doesn't quite respect him as a journalist yet. There are a few notable moments in the episode where Clark's kindness and understanding catches Lois off-guard and we see her quiet moments of appreciation. The foundations of real friendship are being built from this point.
This is also a terrific Lex Luthor episode and in typical "Lois & Clark" style, it's wonderfully over-the-top. Lex's involvement in the whole scheme almost gives an air of credibility to the ridiculous plot. It makes more sense for technology like this to be tested in the unsuspecting, obscure environment of prizefighting when a shady white-collar criminal like Lex is funding the enterprise. Shea gets some great scenes shooing off Max Menken and some of his solo-scenes in this episode are among his best in the series. The scene where he is talking about how it's unfortunate when someone has to be eliminated in his quest for power is wonderful and the reveal that Lex is talking to himself is pulled off really well, considering other scenes of this nature usually come across as cheesy.
The fact that this show plucked an obscure villain from the Superman musical from 1966 (that was created solely because the producers of the musical weren't allowed to use Luthor) and used him as a villain in one of these episodes is in my opinion, the greatest Superman reference made in a television series. It's so easy to bring in memorable characters and elements from the comics for the sake of fan-service, because comics are readily available and the most obvious resource material to use when creating a TV series. The fact that the series referenced so odd a chapter in Superman's history speaks volumes about how much research they must have done and knowledge they must have had of the wealth of Superman media. It's doubly fun that Menken gets so much screen time with Luthor, seeing as how Menken was originally created as a stand-in for Lex. Rewatching this episode last Summer and realizing the significance was actually when I decided to request to write reviews for this show for the Superman Homepage. It was upsetting that there was such an excellent Superman show out there that no one seemed to be talking about any more, with everyone focusing on the continuing "Smallville" and the revived interest in the "Superboy" show.
Menken is played effectively enough by Matt Roe. In a lot of ways, he seems like a 90s version of all of the 'wiseguy' gangsters Superman fought in "Adventures of Superman", with garish, offensively flashy suits traded in for the fedora hats and cigarettes! He does his job well enough and plays well against John Shea (although that could be peppered by the historical significance of the character). The real disappointment in terms of acting comes from Dennis Arndt as Dr. Sam Lane. He wearily recites his lines as though he's reading them off the script for the first time. It's a shame and it's a disgrace to Teri Hatcher, who does a fine job conveying real emotion in the dramatic confrontations with her father. There's just no chemistry between the two actors, because Arndt is barely even trying. Like many actors in this series, Arndt was recast in Season Two, replaced by the far better Harve Presnell.
Throughout the series there are instances of what I'd like to refer to as "FX Camera", where the image quality takes a nosedive and looks really cheap, just as a special effect (usually Clark's x-ray vision) is about to occur. The reason for this is probably due to the visual effects process that was commonly used at the time, whereby CGI would be super-imposed over the original master video, onto a new video. Every time you copy over an image from one videotape to another though, the image quality is degraded and as this was a TV show and not a movie (and this was before the era of completely digital video), this probably couldn't be avoided. I stand to be corrected if I'm wrong about this, but it seems to be the case. "FX Cam" would show up frequently and annoyingly throughout the series, to the point where you find yourself exclaiming "Oh! There's going to be a special effect now!". In "Requiem for a Super-Hero" there is one conspicuous use of it, where Lois and Clark are snooping around Dr. Lane's office. Clark uses his x-ray vision and then afterwards starts a fake earthquake by running on the spot at super speed, to deter a pair of hoods that are about to walk into the office.
I should probably mention the baseball vignette at the start of the episode. In season one, there were a few of these, pre-credits and some of them are really fun and nice. This one's just okay. There's no effort made to show Clark moving at super speed - they simply cut from shot to shot with a quick "swoosh!" sound effect. Also, while I really, really don't subscribe to the '"Lois & Clark" ripped off all the stuff they did on the "Superboy" show' that many fans of that show do, I will admit that they did do this very same sequence on the "Superboy" show and it was done considerably better.
Finally, one last thing. What was up with the title of this episode? There was no mention of Superman's life being in any danger throughout this episode, even when he was fighting against the cyborg boxers. The only relevance I can think of is that Superman's death in the comics happened sort of around the time this episode was due to air. It's still a pretty loose connection, though and the title would have worked better for at least a dozen episodes of "Lois & Clark" where Superman actually was in danger of death.
Join me next week for an interesting character-driven episode featuring the first appearance of a singing Lois Lane in a regular Superman TV series.
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