Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie: “That Old Gang of Mine”/”A Bolt From the Blue”

Ronnie: We’re back at Lois & Clark & Chris & Ronnie, the one source for contemporary examination of the hit ABC series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. As you may or may not know, I’m an obsessive fan of the 90s syndicated superhero show Night Man. In it, jazz musician Johnny Domino dons an experimental supersuit to augment his accident-borne power that tunes him to the frequency of evil. I bring this up because I’m reasonably certain Night Man, 1997, wholly ripped off this episode of Lois & Clark, 1994. Night Man developer was nicknamed “Glen Larceny” for a reason, folks. My accusation becomes clear when you get into the meat of each show. For one thing, they’re both titled “That Ol[d]’ Gang Of Mine”. Okay, that could be a coincidence. How about the coincidence that both plots concern bringing classic gangsters back from the dead to wreak havoc in the present day? In Night Man it’s Bonnie, Dillinger and Capone. On Lois & Clark it’s Bonnie, Clyde, Dillinger and Capone. While there’s no writer overlap, there’s absolutely no way simultaneous trains of thought can explain these eerily similar hours of television. Do I expect to be given an award for my feat of investigative journalism? Well, no. But I would accept Steve Englehart admitting they blew it by letting a Lois & Clark script pass through relatively unmolested.


“Good news, Clark: Jimmy doesn’t have heartworm.”

Onto the actual content! Perry and Jimmy are carjacked by a resurrected Bonnie and Clyde. I want to see how this gets written up in competing newspapers; “Newsman and boy companion carnapped”, maybe? We establish the depths of Jimmy’s ignorance when one of the gangsters namedrops “Hoover” and he wonders about the vacuum cleaner company. They’re sentenced to a pretty grim fate: Clyde tapes the two to the seats of the other car in the garage, turns on the engine and closes the garage. Wouldn’t that be an amazing way to write off the characters? “Oh yeah, Perry and Jimmy asphyxiated when Clyde locked them in a car”. Perry enlists his two reporters to get to the bottom of the theft because the car isn’t insured.

There’s a cute scene at an impersonators agency wherein we find out the bad guy is Dr. Emil Hamilton and Dean Cain gets to have a little fun as a Jersey boy accented Superman impersonator. In the comics, Dr. Hamilton is essentially “Superman’s friend at S.T.A.R. Labs”, except when he becomes the supervillain Ruin and frames Vice President Pete Ross for the crimes. Anyway, he’s pretty low in this one, a dorkus with a bowtie who reminds me of Baxter Stockman before he became a fly. “I brought you back so you could help civilization, not hurt it,” he complains to his gangster wards. His big plan was to use SCIENCE! To modify behavior. Why he had to use four of the 20st century’s most notorious criminals is never really explained. At least in the Night Man episode the “ringleader” was J. Edgar Hoover’s son. Of course J. Edgar Hoover would’ve cryogenically frozen various criminals. Advantage: Night Man.

Chris: Doctor Hamilton was, like previous antagonists Intergang, a mainstay of 90’s era Superman comics that I was happy to see. He’s one of the many eccentric weirdos puttering around Metropolis, making the city feel like a real, colorful place and ready to drop everything at a moment’s notice to help his pal Superman should trouble arrive. And if you’re Superman, you need an unhinged fringe scientist like Hamilton to help them with whatever far-out problem you happened to be tackling that month. Like, say you’re fighting an army robot jewel thieves from space, or someone shoots you with a ray that makes you some kind of half-man, half-praying mantis monstrosity or something. You’re not gonna get help from some mainstream, accredited doctor or scientist. You need a loner who already has a half finished nuclear laser bazooka in the corner of his workshop (slash spare bedroom), or isn’t too bogged down in pesky ethical dilemmas related to radical molecular surgery. Superman has to focus on the problem in front of him, and doesn’t always have the time to go through the proper channels or practice science the responsible way. Damnit, he needs his solutions five minutes ago! Guys like Hamilton are forward thinking enough to spit in God’s eye and defy the immutable laws of time and space on the off chance that one of their crackpot notions might come in handy one day. I say more power to him.


This special effect cost 40% of the budget.

To that point, “The Old Gang of Mine”, was it a good idea to clone a bunch of old timey psychopathic gangsters in order to try and cure them of their anti-social tendencies via gene therapy? No. Obviously. And was it predictable that the gangsters would, if not fully rehabilitated, return to their murderous ways? Certainly. Would anyone with even an ounce of common sense recognize that cracking human cloning was enough of a scientic miracle that it would essentially cure death and change humanity forever? Would they probably not even worry about trying to top that by monkeying with the clones’ DNA in order to modify their core identity and in essence edit their souls? Again, yes. It’s not even something you’d have to think about. The moral and societal repercussions of successfully cloning a person are beyond calculation, adding gene editing to that already unfathomably complicated scenario would be kind of like trying to square infinity. On the one hand, you’d have to be totally devoid of decency and humanity to even attempt such a thing. But on the other hand sometimes you just gotta say fuck it and take your shot, you know?

Lois & Clark doesn’t really have time to explore (or mention) any of that though, because Clyde shoots Clark in the chest in front of witnesses and he has to let everyone think he’s dead while searching the city for the anachronistic villains as Superman. I’m sure he’d like to take a moment to marvel at how immortality had been discovered in his lifetime and no one would ever have to say goodbye to their loved ones ever again, but he’s busy being sad at the prospect of having to move and build a new identity and never seeing his friends at the Planet again. Not to mention finding the gangsters. He’s just got a lot on his plate is all I’m saying. Which was kind of my point to begin with. Similarly, Lois is too wrapped up in regret and loss about Clark dying to consider that Hamilton could have brought him back anyway. Along with her grandparents and her mom (is her mom dead on this show? You never hear about her) and anyone else she ever lost. Grief does funny things to people.


“McManus can’t help you now, pal!”

Ronnie: I’m torn with this episode, because objectively it’s got a lot of problems, but part of me doesn’t give a shit about that. Clark gets murdered by literal old timey gangsters and then he bitches to his mom about it. It’s very Silver Age, especially Clark’s half-assed explanation that Superman froze him, read Hamilton’s research and prevented Clark from dying. Why Superman wouldn’t do this all the time moving forward is unstated. Hamilton burned all the notes, but he’s got that supermemory, you dig? Anyway. This episode allows the creatives to do a number of creative-ish things, like retrofit a club into being a Prohibition-era joint and have these criminal characters marvel at whatever credit cards are supposed to be. Whereas Night Man cast Miller’s Crossing’s Jon Polito as Capone, Lois & Clark opts for Rolling Thunder’s William Devane. It’s been so long since I saw the former that I couldn’t tell you who does a better job, but I will say Devane seems to mispronounce Capone’s own name, putting an accent on the e. That no one told him to stop and do a take without it is breathtaking. Another fun fact: the guy who played CO Murphy on Oz is John Dillinger. Bonnie and Clyde are no one. You can’t win ‘em all.

Another reason I’m going to give “That Old Gang of Mine” a passing grade, so to speak, is that hilariously most things are left unresolved by the end. Yes, Dr. Hamilton destroyed all his notes, preventing further cloning. But because it can be done means somebody could replicate it. In any event, Bonnie, Clyde, Dillinger, Capone…they’re still out there. The cops arrest them! They still exist in the mid 90s and the people are going to be dimly aware of it. Cloning exists and they’re going to be in maximum security penitentiaries. Geraldo will try to open Capone’s vault and then on the next commercial break receive an irate phone call from prison. What the fuck, man. I hope this becomes a running gag in subsequent seasons, just in the background. A news anchor will talk about a story and then goes “in other news, the clone of Al Capone is up for parole today…”.


Do you think they reached out to Sean Connery’s stunt double to reprise his back of the head for this?

Chris: I totally agree about the whole thing having a Silver Age feel and enjoying the gonzo yeah, yeah, whatever hand waving at anything close to actual science or internal logic.Half the fun of watching shows like this is getting into the goofy spirit and not taking anything particularly seriously. This isn’t Blade Runner or Tree of Life, no one’s trying to say anything about the nature of consciousness, but the other half of the fun is letting your mind wander while considering the shit the writers didn’t. And speaking of that, John Dillinger was originally bagged by the feds coming out of a movie and Clark suspects maybe Dillinger 2.0 might also be a film fan. He stakes out a couple of Metropolis multiplexes and sure enough… Here’s my question though, what movie did he see, and what did he think of it? Because Dillinger got popped in 1934, when sound was the height of innovation, what would a guy from that era make of full color, wide screen, CG laden, MTV edited, Dolby Surround Sound infused 1994? Did John Dilinger watch Timecop? Or Stargate? If you were alive in the 20s and 30s, what would you make of a 90s period piece about the 50s like Quiz Show or Ed Wood? But here’s the thing Ronnie, I think given the likely selection of films in the fall of 1994, that there’s one that John Dillinger would have been drawn to above all others. That film of course is Natural Born Killers, and Ronnie, I might have to write some fanfic about that.

I’m glad you liked the episode, but it didn’t work for me. As evidenced I suppose, by the fact that I’ve managed to get this far without really discussing it. Like you, I found some interesting flourishes and B stories, but the main gangster plot left me cold. Maybe they should’ve played it a little more broadly, with everyone doubletaking and doing bug eyes at the fact that literal prohibition gangsters had been resurrected. Or if the gangsters had projected a desperate menace that threatened and unsettled the softer, modern Metropolis, it could have worked. But they didn’t, so you’re left with a bunch of forgettable actors doing very little (except Devane of course, he’s fine). I was more interested in the problem of Clark trying to figure out how to get out of everyone thinking he was dead without giving away his secret identity or leaving Metropolis outright and rebooting his identity. But it felt undercooked because they had to devote time to the gangster story. I wonder what would have happened if they’d “killed” Clark in a more conventional way and then devoted more of the episode to the fallout. It’s not like the fact that the gangsters were clones made them more powerful or anything. You could have had him shot and the villains apprehended by the first act break and spend the rest of the time with Clark’s dilemma. Oh well, moving on.

Odds & Ends
-Lois and Bonnie end up in a cake covered catfight because of course they do.
-They do the split-screen thing again with Cain playing Clark and the look-a-like hired out for parties. How has L&C mastered that one effect and can’t even sell hovering outside a window?
-Is it possible Devane deliberately mispronounces Capone as a weird meta-joke about how no one knows how to pronounce his own name?

Ronnie: Turns out this is a pretty monumental show because it furthers the stop-and-start plotline of Lex Luthor’s body. Last time we checked in on this one Tasha Yar had custody over Lex’s body. Of course, the idea that such a body still existed after dropping 80 stories is another issue to deal with. Lois and Clark received a tip from Mrs. Cox (remember her? She was Lex’s #2 in the last couple episodes of Season 1) that Lex’s body would be at the cemetery. While there, Clark happens upon a guy about to kill himself and talks him down as Superman. Unfortunately, some chance lightning causes Superman’s powers to replicate in the guy and now we’ve got another Superman on our hands. In this case it’s in the form of returning champion Leslie Jordan, not playing his invisible man character but instead portraying William Wallace Webster Walldecker. I think how much you like or dislike “A Bolt From The Blue” relies on your opinion of Leslie Jordan. I find him mildly irritating in small doses, and the larger the dose the more irritating he is.


He should bite her hand. Make him a zombie, why not.

Jordan immediately dons some spandex to become a superhero who charges money for his heroics. It’s an ethical issue that I don’t think Lois & Clark gives enough attention to, as it’s ultimately buried underneath gaffes and bad puns. It should reflect Superman and the road not traveled; remember when that guy in Season 1 tried to become his agent? Leslie Jordan is doing what Superman would’ve done had he not told that guy to fuck off. Lois & Clark focuses less on this and more a number of repetitive scenes in which Superman lectures the guy, he doesn’t get it and then eventually Tasha Yar kidnaps Lois and Leslie Jordan’s sister who believes she’s Mary Todd Lincoln. What? Yes. Sure. Fuck it. Whatever.

“A Bolt From The Blue” kinda falls apart at the end because it goes from comparing and contrasting Superman with a less ethically straightforward hero to some nonsense about containing people in a cage lined with TNT. I don’t know why these two plotlines have to coexist. Why not devote another hour to Lex’s body and give this plotline the deserved breathing room? To add insult to injury, the episode ends with us pretty much in the same place we were at the beginning of the hour: Lex in some sort of stasis between life and death with Tasha Yar in custody of his body. If we get more of these it’ll get old quick.

Chris: Yeah, this is the first episode to really have the zany wait a minute, what the fuck energy of season one. It jams two plotlines that have nothing to do with one another together and as a result ends up half assing both. Add to that some truly bizarre casting and character choices and you have an hour of baffling television the likes of which we haven’t seen in a while. Ronnie, why is Leslie Jordan in this? Why would they cast a very distinct actor in two different roles so close to one another? He doesn’t exactly disappear into a part, even when he’s playing an invisible fucking man. This isn’t like when Marty Rackham popped up as a cop for one scene in an early episode of Seinfeld before settling into Jake Jarmel. Jordan is the featured guest the plot revolves around each time. It wasn’t until the second act that I even realized he was playing a different character.


This looks like a shot from a Mel Brooks movie no one’s ever seen.

So yeah, Superman ends up giving Jordan his powers when they’re shaking hands and Superman gets struck by lightning. Because that’s a thing that can apparently happen. The show plays it with a confused exasperation that I enjoyed. It was as if the show was looking at us and saying, I know, it doesn’t make any sense to us either, but here we are. It’s an amusing enough plot, again, once you get over the fact that they’re using Leslie Jordan again. I particularly liked the ultra-confident, spandexed, egg-shaped Jordan putting the moves on Lois, and her amused reaction to his hammy come-on’s. What I didn’t like was Clark’s growing frustration with Walldecker’s antics, because Cain couldn’t seem to quite pull it off. It’s funny, remember when Clark had to pretend to be a tough guy in order to go undercover at the mob bar last season? It was clear Cain was reaching for menacing and dangerous but he came up with whiny petulance, remember? Here, he’s supposed to be increasingly concerned about Walldecker’s irresponsible selfishness, but instead he comes off as smug and cranky. Cain’s pretty good at low key charm and I buy that he cares about Lois and his parents, but he’s as deep as a puddle. Ask him to do anything complicated, like concern and he strikes out.

I was more interested in the Denise Crosby/Lex plot, not just because it was about Lex, but because Crosby just goes full on mad scientist. She gets to pull massive levers in a hidden laboratory in the basement of a mausoleum (note to self: check to see if mausoleums typically have basements) while wearing a lab coat, leather pants, vest and welding goggles. If you ever wondered what it would look like if Tasha Yar cosplayed as Trent Reznor in the “Closer” video, this is the episode for you. I also just like seeing characters more than once; it’s fun watching them grow and change. I wonder if they’re deliberately steering clear of the main antagonist trope as part of the reboot from the previous season, because we’re a third of the way through this one and Crosby is the only villain who’s appeared more than once. I’m all for changing things up and not immediately filling the vacuum Luthor left behind, but a little more continuity wouldn’t be terrible either. I like the idea that this is all taking place in one place and it’s not out of the question that a character from episode A would run into a character from episode B and the two of them might get together and effect the plot of episode C. Maybe Yar could hook up with that sound guy or Prankster or something. I dunno.

Ronnie: We don’t know yet, but I’m curious how long the show can tease out the Lex Luthor subplot. It could get tiring real quick if it continues to be Tasha Yar trying to resurrect Lex, failing and then absconding with his body to parts unknown. John Shea pops up eventually, but I don’t remember when and in what condition. In any event, the inclusion in the episode is pretty abrupt. When was the last time Lex was even mentioned? Superman’s been busy dealing with other monsters such as Al Capone and Charles Rocket. Asking for taut serialization for a frivolous 90s superhero show is a fool’s errand, but even I was forgetting about Lex Luthor.


“Wow! The remains of Lex Luthor’s body is just a pile of goo!” “And it’s green for some reason!”

We seem to be given a pretty straightforward Goofus and Gallant story lesson, with Resplendent Man as Goofus and Superman, as always, portraying Gallant. To wit: Goofus shares his identity with anyone (including a journalist), whereas Gallant keeps it a closely guarded secret. Goofus charges people for his heroics, whereas Gallant does it all for the love of the game. Goofus flirts openly with Lois, whereas Gallant keeps her in a sexless state of anticipation. The thing is, we don’t need to know Superman’s approach is the right one because we’ve been watching it for almost 18 months. If I wanted to see an old white gay man who looks like a gremlin from Looney Tunes do Hero for Hire I’d pitch Marvel my controversial revamp of Luke Cage that makes him into an old white gay man who looks like a gremlin from Looney Tunes.

Is this Lois & Clark’s attempt at a Parasite story? I guess. Maybe. Parasite’s schtick is he feeds off Superman’s powers, so it’s not 1:1, but the show has done pretty loose adaptations before. (Bizarro anyone?) One thing Parasite does not have is a sister who thinks she’s Mary Todd Lincoln. I hate to bring it up again but what the fuck was up with that. I don’t expect TV to be sensitive to the mentally ill, what with the mentally ill being monsters, but I really think that “person believes they’re an historical figure” is less a real occurrence and more a cute invention of fiction. My therapist’s waiting room I’ve never seen a guy dressed like Napoleon is all I’m saying. They could’ve given the sister a reason to be in a care home that wasn’t patently ridiculous.

Chris:I thought it was Parasite for a minute too, but the thing about Parasite is that he makes Superman weaker, you know, like a parasite. Wallace doesn’t do that. The Bizarro episode messed with the formula but kept the central premise of the character (an opposite version of Superman) intact. If anything, this is another version of that what if there was someone with Superman’s powers but not his personality trope.This time instead of recasting Superman as spoiled man child, they made him, well, an amoral old white gay man who looks like a gremlin from Looney Tunes. And about that, I again ask why they cast Leslie Jordan as Wallace if he’s going to be macking on Lois. Why cast a man who’s affect leans so far into a certain type of gay stereotype and then play his hitting on a woman for laughs?

I’m not saying Jordan can’t play straight. I’m just saying watching him being (mildly) sexually aggressive towards Teri Hatcher took me out of the episode because I was thinking about the intentions of the produciton and not what was happening in the scene. I know I’m not supposed to think Lois is actually attracted to Wallace, but is she, like me, mildly surprised that he’s straight? Is that why she’s flustered? She’s not, like, worried for her safety is she? Leslie Jordan is one of the least threatening men on the planet, but he’s also supposed to be super strong and mildly drunk on power. That’s the gist of the episode, right? A little man gets a taste of what it’s like to be the king and it goes straight to his head? He slugs Superman, maybe he’d get handsy with Lois. Maybe it’s supposed to be a kind of Benny Hill thing with a dirty old man chasing a pretty young thing around while Yakety Sax plays but it’s all in good fun? But instead of a dirty old man, it’s, one more time, Leslie Jordan, an effeminate southern gentleman type they already used last season.



I don’t think those are the questions the production wanted me to be asking during the episode. Or maybe they did, I dunno. And it’s gonna stick with me, so maybe they succeeded in that regard, but those are some weird ass, postmodern deconstructionist intentions for a family show airing at eight on a Sunday in 1994. Not until Michael Cera’s legendary turn as Wally Brando in Twin Peaks: The Return can I think of such a confusing mixture of character and casting. Now that I think of it, though, consider this: the other bit of really mystifying plotting and characterization in this episode involved Wallace’s sister who believes she’s Mary Todd Lincoln, right? And it’s confusing on a number of levels mainly why would this tv show have a deranged southern woman thinking she was the wife of a president who was assassinated by a deranged southerner? The internet tells me Mary Todd was born in Lexington Kentucky, and Kentucky was apparently “neutral” and sent soldiers to fight for both armies, so I guess it’s not entirely inaccurate to say she was a “southerner” but why am I thinking about any of this while watching Lois & Clark? What does this have to do with anything?     

Here’s what I’m thinking though, and it’s also where we’re gonna leave you all, there was another show that aired on ABC at eight in the 90’s that had a strange second season digression involving a character inexplicably thinking they were a real life Civil War figure. That show was Twin Peaks (do you have goosebumps? I have goosebumps). In Twin Peaks, local magnate and Lex Luthor type villain Benjamin Horne has a nervous breakdown where he convinces himself that he’s General Lee and he restages the Civil War using toy soldiers and miniature models. Is it hacky writing that led to L&C jamming the seemingly unrelated Lex and crazy Civil War plots together into one wonky episode? Or was it an elaborate hat tip from one pop art masterpiece to the other? I’m one hundred percent certain it’s the former, but a boy can dream. See you all next time!

Odds & Ends
-“What kind of person keeps a body frozen in a glass case?” Lois & Clark asking the important questions.
-Seinfeld alum tracker: 0. It’s a fallow period for Seinfeld actors but worry not, we’ll still find ways to bring the show up in these articles.
-Arguably Grant Morrison’s most celebrated Superman moment is when he has Superman talk down a suicidal woman. It’s funny to see the contrast in “A Bolt From The Blue”, where he bumbles through describing the sanctity of life and doing little to dissuade Leslie Jordan. Talk about Goofus and Gallant…

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