Superman on Television
Lois & Clark: Episode Reviews
Season 2 - Episode 8: "A Bolt from the Blue"Reviewed by: Rob Ó Conchúir
Originally Aired: November 20, 1994
Directed by Philip Sgriccia
Written by Kathy McCormick
Leslie Jordan as William Wallace Webster Waldecker/Resplendent Man
Denise Crosby as Dr. Gretchen Kelly
Cindy Williams as Wandamae Waldecker
Delaune Michel as Allegra Venom
Jean Sincere as Distraught woman
Dan Stanton as Officer #1
Don Stanton as Officer #2
Rachel Winfree as Matron
Lois and Clark receive a phone call from Mrs. Cox directing them to a cemetery in Metropolis; telling them to go there if they want to learn the truth about what happened to Lex Luthor. While snooping around the stormy cemetery after-hours with Lois, Clark's super-hearing picks up the sounds of a man nearby, speaking to the grave of his deceased mother, whose family name was Waldecker. The Waldecker son has lost all of his considerable wealth and thinks he'd be better off dead. He puts a gun to his head and it just about to shoot when Superman intervenes, grabbing the Waldecker's hand and redirecting the gun before it can fire. At that moment, both men are struck by lightning, but neither show any sign of bodily harm.
From afar, Dr. Gretchen Kelley watches as Superman convinces Waldecker that life is worth living. He hesitantly agrees and Superman bends the gun, rendering it useless. After the Man of Steel has left, Waldecker kicks the broken gun and is shocked to see it rip through the sky and into the upper atmosphere.
The next day, Lois carelessly steps out in front of traffic and is saved by a flying man clad in a blue and red suit, his face hidden by a domino mask. When Lois asks his name, he says that he hasn't thought of one yet. Lois notices a rose-shaped tattoo on his hand.
Later at the newsroom, Lois receives a bill for $38 from the mysterious hero who states that the fee is a "small price to pay to be saved from the clutches of doom". Clark leaves to become Superman and attempt to find this mysterious new superhero.
Across town, a building is burning and the new superhero is negotiating with an old lady as to whether or not she is happy to pay the fee to save her dog. Superman arrives and effortlessly saves the hapless hound, and succeeds in extinguishing the fire as well. He then forces the new hero to come with him so that they can talk about where he's from and how he got these new powers. The mystery hero confirms that his powers came when he was struck by lightning alongside Superman. Superman tries to instill a sense of morality in this new hero, by trying to convince him not to charge people to save their lives. Unfortunately, the new hero doesn't see it this way and flies away.
Dr. Kelley retreats to a secret lab in the cemetery and tells the cryogenically frozen Lex Luthor about the power-transfer she witnessed between Superman and Waldecker. She promises him a similar treatment.
Clark tells his parents about the bizarre ordeal regarding the power-transfer and this new, selfish 'hero' flying around Metropolis.
The superpowered Waldecker stops by Lois' apartment with a bouquet of various wildflowers, claiming that they're from exotic locations. Thinking that they're outdated, he shreds her tax records, which greatly irritates Lois as they are her current tax records. Lois attempts to get an interview, but the hero states that he's trying to sell the rights to his life-story. He then tells Lois that the reason he stopped by was so that he could give her his price list, with the hopes that she would print it in the Daily Planet. Clark arrives, much to Lois' delight. Waldecker decides to leave at that point. Lois tells Clark about the tattoo she noticed on the hero's hand the other day and that perhaps they could track the design to a local tattoo parlor.
When they discover the tattoo parlor where the design came from, Clark decides to burn the floppy disk containing the parlor's records, to prevent Lois from discovering Waldecker's identity. Nevertheless, the tattoo remembers the man having an odd name and tells Lois that his name was William Wallace Webster Waldecker.
Waldecker visits his sister in the institution in which she lives. Wanda Mae Waldecker is "challenged by reality" and believes herself to be Abraham Lincoln's wife, Mary Todd. Waldecker struggles to tell his distracted sister about his new abilities, but finally manages to get through to her and describes his suit in vivid detail. Nearby, Gretchen Kelley listens in. When Waldecker leaves, Kelley confronts him and offers to represent him and make lots of money for him. Waldecker refuses, as he doesn't think Kelley seems like a particularly honest person.
Back in the newsroom, the news team see a commercial for "Resplendent Man," featuring the mystery hero who has finally decided on a name. The commercial features a 1-900 phone number and Lois remarks that it's disgraceful that he's even making money on the phone call.
Superman later catches Resplendent Man using his X-ray vision on a women's locker room. The Man of Steel angrily scolds the new hero for the ways in which he is abusing his superpowers for personal gain. Again, Waldecker brushes him off.
Later, while talking to Lois, Superman lies to Lois, stating that he has no idea where Resplendent Man's powers originated.
Lois and Clark visit Wanda Mae and amidst her usual eccentricity, she slips that she knows that her brother William now has superpowers and that he got them from Superman. Lois believes this to be big news, but Superman visits her later and warns her not to print the story. He tells her that he lied to her because he couldn't let the public know that his powers could be transferred, as it would lead to mass hysteria, with everyone believing they were worthy of superpowers.
Superman once again criticizes Resplendent Man for almost botching a rescue for the sake of ensuring profits. This leads to a physical altercation between the two heroes on the streets of Metropolis.
Lois follows Gretchen Kelley who has kidnapped Wanda Mae and brought her to the private cemetery lab. Lois finds herself and Wanda Mae trapped in a booby-trapped cage by Gretchen Kelley, who plans to use them as bait to steal Resplendent Man's powers. When Waldecker reluctantly goes along with Kelley in order to save his sister's life, Kelley attempts to use a power coil to transfer Waldecker's power to a lab rat.
After receiving a page-one credit for his story on Superman's battle with Resplendent Man, Clark finds it odd that he hasn't seen Lois since they visited the institution. Perry mentions that he spoke to her on the phone and that she said she was onto something big.
After many failed attempts, Kelley finally succeeds in unlocking the secrets of how to transfer the superpowers and reveals how she plans to resuscitate Lex by transferring Superman's power to him. She initiates her plan by giving herself superpowers.
Superman manages to arrive in time and he and Waldecker manage to reverse the polarity of the power coil, exorcizing all of the superpower from Waldecker and Kelley back into Superman. Lois manages to guess the combination for her booby-trapped cage just as the trap was about to explode (it was the date of her botched wedding to Luthor).
Waldecker visits the newsroom and reveals that he is glad to be rid of his superpowers as they were more of a burden than a gift. He also says that he has now learned how life is truly worth living, even though he's not much of a hero. Clark reminds him that when his sister was in trouble, he put everything on the line to save her and that if Superman were there, he would have said that that was what being a hero is all about.
Later, Lois and Clark are relieved that Luthor's body was taken away by coroners and that his death is final. However, what they don't know is that Dr. Kelley, disguised as a coroner, is the one who retrieves the frozen body.
Review Rating - 4 (out of 5): "Oh please! What would you know about it, Mister?" "Nothing can hurt me, I don't need money to live". "And didn't anybody ever tell you that two primary colors just do not work together?"
A marvelous episode that not only gives Superman (rather than Clark) a personal dilemma (as opposed to just the usual physical dilemmas he's usually faced with), but also ties in with one of the major story threads established in "Madame Ex". It even gives good old Mrs. Cox one last mention before she completely fades into nothingness (I was sure she was never mentioned again in the series).
Sure, Leslie Jordan appeared in the series before as another character (in "I'm Looking Through You"), and sure his mannerisms and character tics are quite similar here to what they were in that earlier episode. The argument can even be made that he even strays too far into campdom. But man, is William Wallace Webster Waldecker a fun character. Thanks to some really funny dialogue, Resplendent Man is never so corny as to be unentertaining and Jordan plays really well off the increasingly frustrated Dean Cain who gives some excellent speeches about right and wrong to an uninterested Waldecker. One of my favorite moments in the episode was when Resplendent Man asks Superman where he stores things like money in his costume; showing the Man of Steel a zipper he has incorporated into his cape and complaining about having to unzip and re-zip it every time he needs to use it. Weird little considerations like that are always welcome inclusions and contribute to the down-to-Earth x-factor that makes "Lois & Clark" so entertaining.
I've mentioned before how this episode was one of the ones I taped as a kid and watched and rewatched to death, until the tape wouldn't work anymore. So it's safe to say I'm fairly fond of it on a nostalgic level. What I've never noticed before now however is that in almost every way, it's a better version of "Vat Man," to the point of almost being a spiritual remake. Superman discovers a new super-powered individual flying around Metropolis and when he finds that their moral values aren't as true, he finds himself with the unenviable challenge of having to teach this new superhero a few lessons about right and wrong. That's the basic gist of the plot of both episodes, minus some science-fiction McGuffins courtesy of Lex Luthor, Gretchen Kelley and some frogs. This episode is written with so much more skill and affection - we really care about Waldecker and his unfortunate sister, even though as Resplendent Man his actions leave a lot to be desired.
The science of this episode is also hilarious. The idea that Superman's powers can be taken away or transferred leads to many interesting story possibilities, but there's always an inherent difficulty in trying to explain why the established pseudoscience of the yellow sun radiation no longer affecting him or that a human being's physiology can be changed so dramatically that they are now able to harness the sun's energy the same way Kryptonians can. The ridiculousness of this is played for one of the finest moments of intentional comedy in the entire series that takes place when Clark visits the Kent farm in this episode. Jonathan Kent starts to theorize that the sun's effect on Clark/Kryptonians as well as the heat it creates causing clouds which result in lightning, may have something to do with the power transfer...until Martha tells him to stop trying to come up with an answer as to WHY it happened and just focus on the current situation. It's very possible that the writers of the show were poking fun at obsessive fanboys, always trying to come up with credible solutions to ridiculous problems in comic book stories.
Nevertheless, I've always said that if I could hang out with any version of Superman, it would be the Dean Cain version, not just because he seems like a really likable, down-to-Earth guy with whom you could watch a movie or share a beer (both things we've seen this version of Clark Kent do), but also because in this particular universe, it appears to be ridiculously easy to transfer Superman's powers to humans. We'd see this happen at least twice more in the series.
On a more serious note though, I really like the scene in this episode where Superman explains to Lois the serious moral and ethical ramifications of revealing to the world that Superman's powers can be transferred. While it's a fairly light ethical discussion, it's nice that the writers at least attempted a look at the ethics of journalism, as it's a far bigger cause for concern than this series usually shows. There are many, many more things that aren't taken into consideration within Superman's argument for why the power transfer shouldn't become public knowledge (think of how many terminally ill people would be completely cured by a temporary transfer; AIDS could be wiped out!), but those are concerns for a bigger story.
One interesting thing about Resplendent Man is that his costume features an inverted design to the Superman costume. In the Silver Age, from time to time characters would show up in Metropolis with similar powers to Superman, but with different motivations. The most notable examples I can think of are Halk-Kar in "Superman's Brother" (circa 1951) who had almost the exact same costume, minus the chest-logo and domino mask; and Mon-El/Lar Gand/Valor in later stories. This is probably more down to coincidence rather than design, but with all of the comic-book influences seen throughout the second season of "Lois & Clark", it's entirely possible that Resplendent Man was simply a loose adaptation of one of these different characters.
The obvious, colossal downside of this episode was that a huge, Superman II-esque battle takes place offscreen that we the viewers never get to see, because of obvious budgetary restraints. It's really a darn shame that the showrunners couldn't have found a low-budget way around this. As a personal preference, I prefer under-whelming superhero fights on shows such as this, compared to awkward off-screen fights. Later episodes featuring super-characters correctly rectified this with low-key, but utterly lovable battles between Superman and super-powered Kryptonians. "Smallville" occasionally excelled at showing how you could do super-battles on a small budget (the battle between Clark and the possessed LexZod was great, and the Season 9 finale where Clark fought the actual, physical General Zod was pretty good too).
Outside of this massive flaw (one of the contributing factors that downgraded this episode to a 4/5), the special effects are notably good in a few scenes. The series is getting more and more accustomed to "Cape Out," with both Superman and Resplendant Man using it in lieu of traditional wire takeoffs in a couple of scenes (although there is at least one wire-landing in the episode). The main special effects treat is the impressive green-screening of Superman and Resplendant Man flying alongside each other through the skyline of Metropolis. Sure, Waldecker is swaying his arms around unconvincingly in a manner that flies in the face (heh) of the kinds of gracefulness championed by Christopher Reeve in the "Superman" movies, but the scene is nevertheless impressive and realistic; more so than many of the green-screen stock footage sequences of Dean Cain flying through Metropolis, used in most episodes. There's also a pretty good x-ray effect when Resplendant Man is looking at the women's locker room and Superman catches him. This scene confirms that Superman can SEE the blue x-ray beams because they exist on a spectrum that only he can see. We see him flying through the sky, noticing the beams and turning over to respond to Resplendant Man's tomfoolery. Just an interesting fanboy observation!
Next week the Toyman's in town just in time for Christmas, for an episode written by Dean Cain himself. See you all next week for "Seasons Greedings" - appropriate for the middle of June! :-P
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