Once a 'library nerd,' Lumbly now conquers Earth and Mars and beyond


"Supergirl" has always been a good show, but when it returns Monday (March 16) for the season's final nine episodes,it has a particularly strong hour. Alongside some boom-bang action scenes, there are moments of deep drama, some involving Carl Lumbly. Here's the story about Lumbly that I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Carl Lumbly keeps
rippling through the world of TV science-fiction.

He was a black
superhero, 23 years before Black Panther conquered Hollywood. He's
been a voice in many Superman and Batman cartoons. He's been the
Martian Manhunter and – currently, on “Supergirl” -- the
Manhunter's father.

So can we assume
this is some boyhood dream – that he used to gobble up comics as a
kid?

“Not comics,
books,” Lumbly said. “I was a library nerd. I read constantly.”

He devoured Robert
Heinlein, Philip K. Dick and, later, Oc tavia Butler. He savored “the
idea that we could move forward,” envisioning new worlds and often
reflecting on our current one.

In many ways, that's
what “Supergirl” does now: When the show returns Monday (April
16), it includes deeply dramatic scenes in which Lumbly's character
deals with age and memory loss.

“We all have a
curtain, we just don't know when it is,” said Lumbly, who is 66 and
widowed. “When you realize that, you react differently, including
gratitude for each and every moment you have.”

The show also
thrusts him into another issue – the immigrant experience.

M'ymn J'onzz
(Lumbly) has just arrived from Mars. His son J'onn (David Harewood),
the Martian Manhunter, has become accustomed to this country; for
M'ymn, it's a bewildering blur.

“That echoes
experiences in my own life,” Lumbly said. “It was a situation for
my mother and father.”

They were from
Jamaica and the dad had a job sponsor in Minneapolis. “You're going
from this beautiful, warm place to somewhere with 18-below
temperatures.”

That brings changes
in lifestyle, a tendency “to rely on infrastructure and to remain
walled off.”

Minnesota is famous
for good-natured people and Lumbly talks about “some wonderful
people I went to school with, of all backgrounds.” But even there,
he confronted bias.

He remained a book
person and a words person, graduating from Macalester College in St.
Paul and planning to be a journalist. But while covering a
Minneapolis theater group, he was cast in a show; it was the start of
a busy career.

Lumbly's roles have
ranged from small ones in support (including all seven years of
“Cagney & Lacey”) to big ones. He's played real-life people –
Bobby Seale, U.S. Rep. Ron Dellums, a heroic dad in the passionate
“The Ditchdigger's Daughter.” He also had “my Spandex role”
in the 1994 series “M.A.N.T.I.S,,” playing a scientist whose suit
gives him superpowers.

His wife, movie star
Vonetta McGee, died in 2010 of a heart attack at 65. Lumbly has
continued to be busy, ranging from voice work – including the
Martian Manhunter in several cartoon series – and often returning
to the stage. “I'm just really dedicated to the idea of being an
actor,” he said.

That makes him an
ideal link with Harewood, a Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts grad,
described by Lumbly as “a treasure and a good, good man.”

Harewood entered
“Supergirl” as Hank Henshaw, before viewers learned that's the
Earth identity of J'onn J'onzz. Now he learns that his powerhouse
father is losing his memories.

-- “Supergirl,”
8 p.m. Mondays, CW

-- Returns April 16
for the final nine episodes of its third season; already renewed for
its fourth