Warning: SPOILERS for Superman & Lois‘ premiere episode.
Superman & Lois breaks a key Arrowverse tradition: Superman (Tyler Hoechlin) doesn’t utilize a “Man in the Chair” or a support staff in his adventures – and he doesn’t need one. Also starring Elizabeth Tulloch as Lois Lane, Superman & Lois is a new vision of the Kryptonian hero, who is now a father of two teenage boys. Lois and Clark relocate their family to Smallville and try to build a new life in the all-American Kansas town where it all began for Clark Kent.
Although Spider-Man: Homecoming‘s Ned (Jacob Batalon) popularized the term “Man in the Chair”, he was referring to a prevalent plot device of the many superhero series set in the Arrowverse. From Batwoman (Javinica Leslie), to the Flash (Grant Gustin), t0 Clark’s cousin Supergirl (Melissa Benoist), they all have support teams at their home bases they are in constant contact with. Originally, Arrow‘s Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) worked alone when he was an avenging vigilante dubbed “the Hood”, but within a few episodes, Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) and John Diggle (David Ramsey) became the original Team Arrow. The Flash followed suit with Team Flash based in STAR Labs and Supergirl is backed up by the DEO. Both versions of Batwoman, starting with Kate Kane (Ruby Rose), have Luke Fox (Camrus Johnson) as their Man in the Chair in the Batcave.
Superman & Lois instantly broke the Arrowverse’s mold in its premiere episode. The Man of Steel was drawn to attacks at nuclear plants by a mystery villain called the Stranger (Wole Parks), who left ominous messages taunting Superman. Although the Kryptonian hero was summoned by his father-in-law, General Sam Lane (Dylan Walsh), Superman carried out his investigation by his lonesome, relying on his experience and his super senses. When the Man of Steel later battled the Stranger across the world and even in outer space, he noticeably didn’t have a support team giving him intel on how to defeat the villain like Flash, Green Arrow, Supergirl, and Batwoman do every week.
In truth, Superman doesn’t need a Man in the Chair. Even before the Man of Steel was formally introduced in Supergirl season 2, that show established that Clark Kent had been active as Superman for many years on Earth-38 before Kara Danvers decided to also use her powers to become a caped crimefighter. Superman was already an old hand at battling various supervillains like Lex Luthor (Jon Cryer) and alien menaces, and he did it on his own without a team of specialists watching his back. Now that Superman and Supergirl’s Earth has been merged into Earth-Prime after Crisis On Infinite Earths, Superman is still the most experienced superhero alive.
The “Man in the Chair” plot device isn’t really an invention of the Arrowverse; CBS’ The Flash TV show in 1990 saw its Barry Allen (John Wesley Shipp) supported by Tina McGee (Amanda Pays) at STAR Labs, for example. However, a superhero support team is a great device in an ongoing superhero series since it allows for a wide range of characters for the main hero to interact with. The Man in the Chair is also an easy way to convey exposition about the villain and problems of each episode to the hero and to the audience. The Arrowverse certainly made it a staple of their superhero universe, and even a team of heroes like in DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, have each other and a Man in the Chair in the form of Gideon (Amy Pemberton), the Waverider’s A.I.
Superman not needing a support team certainly reinforces just how capable the Man of Steel really is, and it’s a refreshing break of the tried-and-true (and somewhat predictable) Arrowverse format that helps Superman & Lois stand out from the pack. However, it remains to be seen if Superman & Lois will maintain Clark’s status as a solo hero; it’s possible now that his sons Jonathan (Jordan Elsass) and Jordan (Alexander Garfin) are clued in that their father is Superman that the whole Kent family could morph into Clark’s Men in the Chair as the series progresses.