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Thursday, 17 November 2011

Smallville: My epic review

I started watching Smallville when it first came out in 2001. I followed it for awhile, and then life and my general disinterest in television prevented me from following the series to completion...until now. I recently ran out of other shows to watch and decided it was time to start and finish the entire series.
I make it sound like torture, but it really wasn't. I am a huge Superman fan, and self-proclaimed expert, but the show is 10 seasons long, that's a bit daunting. Not to mention that I already had my problems with the few seasons I had seen and wasn't sure I'd like the rest. But, I figured I cannot properly complain about a TV show until I had either seen enough to break my interest entirely, or until I watched the whole thing and could take it in.
Let me just say here and now that I liked it. It's a long journey, but really does a great job of getting Clark Kent from his Smallville roots to the hero he eventually becomes. Let me also say that Here: There be spoilers!
I will start off by synopsising the story of Smallville, move into character analysis of some of the key figures, and finally move onto expectations, and differences of the show compared to the classic mythos.


            For those of you unfamiliar with the classic Superman tale, I will provide you with a short synopsis here:

            A baby from an alien planet arrives on Earth, in Kansas. The last son of an advanced race whose planet was destroyed, the baby is taken in by a couple of loving farmers and raised as one of their own. Developing abilities beyond that of humans via the energetic yellow Sun, the child grows up believing in truth, and justice. He eventually learns his origins, moves to Metropolis, works at the Daily Planet (as a reporter) and becomes Earth’s greatest hero and protector: Superman.

            That is the story of Clark Kent, of Superman, as seen over countless renditions. Smallville contains all of these elements, but explores more of Clark’s past, his youth, before he became Superman.
            Smallville is the name of the town Clark grew up in, and the show starts with his adventures through high school. The first couple of seasons follow a predictable, typical youth-dramatic plot with Clark struggling to learn more about himself and in keeping relationships with those around him. The meteorites which crashed upon Clark’s arrival are radioactive rocks from his home planet, Krypton, and their existence has always threatened Clark, being a material that can kill him, even when bullets cannot. In Smallville, these rocks also affect human beings, causing mutations, unpredictable abilities and usually abnormal personality changes. Clark spends the first few seasons investigating and fighting off these unusual mutants.
            Additionally, the craft which brought Clark to Earth contains an artificial intelligence; that of Jor-El, Clark’s biological father, and through that intelligence Clark learns more about his origins and abilities. The yellow Sun which keeps us warm also powers Clark, giving him super-strength, speed, and other powers. Interesting to note, is how these powers develop/are explained, and I will go into this later when comparing this show to the classic Superman saga.
            Eventually, the scale at which Clark can effect change grows, and he moves to Metropolis, and begins working with and for The Daily Planet, fighting crime and stopping alien threats including clones of some of his own people, fellow Kryptonians. Joining with other super-powered heroes, making the Justice League, Clark eventually comes into his own, becoming Superman at the end of the series.

            And that’s the show, that’s the majority of what happens, concerning Clark. There are several episodes, arguably seasons, dedicated to the major plot twists, and character arcs. In the later sections, I will go into detail concerning those characters, and finally, I will attempt to explain the major differences between this show and the main Superman saga.


Jonathan Kent

Clark’s adoptive father, married to Martha Kent (see below), became state Senator
One thing I have to say is that I love Jonathan Kent. First off, I love the fact that the actor who played him, John Schneider, also played Beau Duke from the Dukes of Hazzard. More than that, I’ve always loved the role of Jonathan Kent; a simple farmer who discovers a baby in a cornfield and tries to raise said baby with good moral principles. Jonathan Kent has always been a source of wisdom in Clark’s life in the comics, in the 1978 movie, and here in Smallville. 
Let me just say that Jonathan is one badass man, and usually the only one in the show with any common sense. In the crazy world that is Smallville, Jonathan often is the one asking the questions I ask; the questions I expect any sane, cutting-to-the-chase audience member to be asking. Being a simple farmer may seem like a limitation to his character, but it is actually a great strength. It grounds his character in reality, helping us to relate to him, and while a bit judgemental at times, Jonathan’s simple ways often make sense.
The only time he strays from this is when the Luthors are involved. For more on the Luthors see below, but succinctly, they are the business-mogul “evil corporate” types. Due to some shady dealings in the past, plus the dichotomy between simple farmer and mega-mogul, Jonathan goes from calm to crazy the instant a Luthor is mentioned. It's understandable, but it really bugs me when characters or just people in general are so closed-minded about one subject. More often than not, his skepticism and distrust are justified, as the Luthors usually turn out to be serving an evil purpose, but it still creates a strange metronome of relation between Clark and Jonathan.
The show is about Clark, thus we are supposed to relate to him, and side with him on everything. However, sometimes Clark, being an impulsive teenager, is limited in his actions by the warnings of Jonathan. Sometimes, when this happens, it angers us, or at least me, making me say, “Oh come on, Jonathan, you don’t know what you’re talking about!” But sometimes, his wisdom just makes too much sense, and we side with him, willing Clark to think for a moment. I guess the toying with emotions is all part of the dramatic experience and what helps draw us in, and involve us with the characters and the show. This emotional tug-of-war is probably a lot more real, and a lot better for a show of this nature, than a one-dimensional paternal love.
Either way, Jonathan is amazing. He's tough; he’s forthright, and he raises his family with compassion, strength, and wisdom. This strength of character is obvious to the people of Kansas as well, as he is elected state Senator based on it.
If you know anything about a hero’s journey, you’ll know that the mentor, that anyone on the hero’s side who is more capable than (s)he is, usually dies or is otherwise incapacitated providing the hero with more incentive and responsibility to live up to his/her heroism. Jonathan Kent dies in the fifth season of Smallville and it is one of the saddest things I have ever seen on television. Being a die-hard Superman fan, I knew Jonathan was going to die, his death being a staple of the story in all but one rendition, but knowing that ahead of time did not prepare me for the emotional impact of losing him. I will go into further analysis of this moment later, but for now I will just say that his loss was deeply felt and goes to show how important his character is in Smallville.

Martha Kent

Clark’s adoptive mother, wife to Jonathan Kent, takes over as state Senator and becomes Governor, later becomes Red Queen, fights for and wins on bill concerning vigilantes

Played by Annette O’Toole, who, oddly enough, played Lana Lang (see below) in the movie Superman III.
Just as strong as her husband, Martha’s characteristics generally come through in a more subtle way. For anyone familiar with the comics, Martha Kent is usually depicted as an old lady who sits at home after Clark moves out. She’s not usually developed as a character, but Smallville does a great job of carving a niche. Curious enough, Martha used to be a business mogul; she lived in Metropolis and was known as a shark in the high finance world. However, her love for Jonathan made her give up her old life and move to Smallville. She never regrets her choice, but as the show goes on, she starts to feel the pull to do something more fulfilling than tending cows.
Eventually, Jonathan decides to take up politics as he realizes that there needs to be someone with a good heart in office. After his death, (gasp! I’ll talk about that later), Martha takes on the role. She works her way up to becoming Senator and even Governor of Kansas. I wasn’t so familiar with American political titles at first, but basically, a Senator is one of two elected officials per state who votes on that which runs through the state politics, whereas a Governor is the head of a state and generally only answers to the President, in terms of rank. This is pretty amazing, Martha Kent, usually depicted as a stay-at-home mom, becomes the head of an entire state. Her strength, her passion, and conviction carries through the later seasons even when she’s less than present.
Later in the series, the American people become split on the idea of vigilantes. Whether they should be locked up or allowed to serve the greater good becomes an important question, and while I won’t get into that argument here, Martha fights for the right for heroes like Clark to help people. Toward the end of the series, when things become hectic and full of conspiracy, Martha Kent becomes a serious player in a game involving vigilantes, secret government agencies, and corporate espionage. She comes out of nowhere and is seen as the Red Queen, a character that everyone feels is running the game. Long story short, Martha’s cleverness and compassion continue to surprise throughout the series, and I really love what they did with her character.


Clark’s biological father, great scientist who foresaw his planet’s destruction and sent his child away to be safe. Represented in the show by an artificial intelligence of his own design which guides Clark.

            Jor-El has been a part of this story for a long time, however his presence and guidance has only been present since the 1970s. Made most famous by Marlon Brando in Superman (1978), Jor-El has since been seen as some sort of messianic, wizard of Oz character, speaking behind the curtain, guiding Clark. As I’ve been including some trivia for most characters, let me just say that the voice of Jor-El in Smallville is provided by Terrence Stamp, who played Zod in Superman II. For anyone unfamiliar with Zod, basically, he was the lead general of Krypton and a very bad guy.
            Speaking of which, I heard a rumour from a friend of mine that I have not been able to validate, that the creators of the show thought Jor-El was in fact Zod, in the sense that Jor-El was supposed to be a villain to Clark. I don’t think it’s actually true, as you don’t tackle a story like this without doing your homework, but I will admit that, in the beginning, Jor-El is not a very nice guy.
            Jor-El’s involvement starts as a mere voice echoing from the spaceship which brought Clark to Earth. Telling Clark that he has a greater destiny, he pressures Clark and even threatens him. Obviously, at first, Clark sees Jor-El as an enemy; a dead, estranged father, with plans quite unlike his own. However, Jor-El is not content to just whisper and begins tampering with Clark’s life, even punishing him to make his lessons clear.
This show was all about exploring Clark's background and he needed a conduit, a link, to his home planet. And Jor-El has been present in Superman comics since the beginning, but Jor-El is a hard character to relate to and you really have to watch the entire show before you can understand him, and his ways. In fact, the first few times he is portrayed in the show, you wonder if he really is here to help his son. Through the show, he constantly tests Clark (an interesting analogy to Lionel Luthor as seen later) and his will and decisions are often absolute without compassion or compensation. Jor-El causes a lot of pain in Clark's life, and all in the name of helping him.
One example is that Jor-El warns that someone will have to die before Clark can move on to accepting his destiny. It’s one thing to say that people might die in his quest, but to actually say someone will die and to be so specific, comes across as a threat, as opposed to a warning. Halfway through season 5, Clark decides to tell Lana Lang his secret, against Jor-El’s warning. For more on her character, see below. Lana then suffers a fatal accident causing Clark to wish he had never told her. He begs Jor-El to somehow make it right, to take it back, and Jor-El gives him a do-over, sending Clark back in time to before he told Lana. He then avoids telling her and it’s Jonathan Kent who then dies.
It’s a terrible tragedy in the show, but what makes it worse for me is that Jor-El seemed to know it was going to happen, and actually seemed to make it happen. I understand having to tell a hero that his path will be a lonely one, but Jor-El comes across no better than Lionel Luthor, pushing his son to pursue his destiny no matter the consequences. Perhaps this was done intentionally, to draw a comparison and strengthen the similarities between Lex and Clark, but I found it hard to handle at times. Jor-El wants his son to protect the people of Earth, yet he nearly tortures his son and the people he loves to force Clark to accept his destiny. It’s not until the end of the show that you can really understand Jor-El, but even so, Clark never really likes him, and while making Clark abandon his heritage in order to better embrace humanity can be a good thing, I would have preferred that he not think so poorly of his origins.

Lionel Luthor

Business mogul, father to Lex Luthor (see below). At first, seen as an evil, corporate type, enemy to people like Clark; later takes on a greater role.

Lionel Luthor was a character created just for the show Smallville. At first, his presence is simply to be the father and the reason for Lex Luthor’s destiny. For the first few seasons, we see him as cold, calculating, and conniving. Not only in his attitude do we not trust him, but it never helped that you could practically hear Jonathan Kent growling whenever Lionel’s name was mentioned or whenever he made an appearance. Even with his calculating nature, at times you feel like you understand Lionel. He may be an unloving father, but he is doing his best to teach his son the ways of the business world. It doesn’t make his behaviour right, but it does give a more human connection to his character rather than seeing him as purely evil. Also, with all the super-powered people running around this universe, Lionel’s ability to know things seems to be super-human in nature. He discovers Clark’s abilities and origins way before anyone else, and he constantly seems to know what everyone is doing at all times. As Lex becomes more conspiring later in the series, Lionel actually seems to become a willing ally for Clark. Obviously, no one trusts him right away, but the fact is he helps Clark quite often, no matter his ulterior motives. Eventually, as Jor-El’s influence becomes more prominent, we see an unlikely allegiance between Lionel and Jor-El.  
A little more than halfway through the series, Jor-El seems to know that Clark’s destiny is at stake, so he basically downloads his consciousness into Lionel. This interaction gives Lionel the insight to see Clark for what he is. Now, Lionel had already determined Clark’s abilities, but this event filled in the gaps, and even created a bridge of understanding between him and Clark. Not to be trusted right away, he struggles to help Clark, all the while fighting the man he is, and the son he has raised. Lionel falls in love, or at least is extremely attracted to Martha Kent, and this combined with his past makes it extremely difficult to trust him. Eventually, Lex’s mistrust drives him to murder Lionel, but not before Clark finally sees Lionel as a changed man, a good man in the end.
Lionel’s character arc is interesting. Never fully coming over to the good side, at least not without a selfish price, Lionel is important for driving Lex’s character, for bringing Jor-El’s intentions and presence forward, and for the thoughts provoked by considering his actions. Also, John Glover is very talented at playing the bad guy, at least for awhile.

Chloe Sullivan

Friend of Clark’s, Lois Lane’s cousin, works for the Torch, then Daily Planet, then Watchtower

Chloe Sullivan was another newly created character for Smallville. In order to further ground her in the series, the show’s creators make her Lois Lane’s cousin. Her character arc is quite interesting and it's incredible what she adds to the show. As the show increased in scale, so too does her role and importance.
 At first, Chloe is seen as a friend of Clark’s, working for the high school newspaper, The Torch. Her role is pretty straightforward: the bright, energetic, informative character whose insights and investigations often lead to the main character solving the case, or saving the day. Whenever Clark needs to find out more about someone, or attempts to connect the dots between strange things happening in Smallville, Chloe’s office is the first place he looks. When Clark arrived in Kansas, as a baby aboard his spaceship (I know, sounds funny, doesn’t it?), his arrival is accompanied by a meteor shower. Chloe is the first person to attribute a link between said meteor shower and all the strange events that occur in Smallville.
Chloe always impresses us with her talents. At first, she’s a research hound, drawing together information better than anyone else in the show. Her snoopiness gets her into some trouble, but nothing too risky. Eventually, she moves on to work at The Daily Planet, the world’s foremost newspaper franchise, and interestingly enough, it’s her influence that interests Clark and Lois to reporting. Not only that, but referring to her talents again, it’s almost reality-breaking how skilled this girl is. She hacks into everything, has tech to handle almost any situation, it seems a lot to dump on one character, and if I were to be objective, I would say it’s unrealistic how connected she is.
However, Alison Mack, who plays Chloe, only improves in acting ability, and I find myself cheering her on every step of the way. The fact that she gets more and more attractive as the series progresses lends some bias to that. Chloe has a crush on Clark right from the start, and honestly, I really wanted things to work out with them, in the beginning. Instead, Clark seeks out Lana Lang, and I’ll get into why that’s so stupid later. But what adds credence to Chloe’s character is her ability to move past that, to be supportive of Clark, at any cost.
She discovers Clark’s secret, but doesn’t tell him, and doesn’t really begrudge him for not telling her. She drops some obvious hints, trying to get Clark to confess, but understands that he is trying to protect people, trying to do the right thing. She moves past any emotions she has, becoming his strongest ally and closest friend. Eventually, in the fight between government agents, the army, and vigilantes, mentioned in the story section, she becomes a major player. In fact, her love and willingness to protect Clark go a little too far sometimes; she being willing to do anything to protect him, and he not being too comfortable with that.
Additionally, Chloe helps run Watchtower, Smallville’s take on the Justice League, and it is just another amazing way she helps Clark fight for truth and justice.
All in all, she starts small, but works her way to being one of the most important people in the Smallville universe. Chloe is a major player, and the show would have suffered greatly without her. 

Lex Luthor

Business mogul. Befriends Clark and then becomes his greatest adversary

Lex Luthor is introduced as a cocky but intelligent young man, son to Lionel Luthor, mega-business mogul. Lionel is shown right away as a distant, tough-to-handle father who constantly tests and challenges his son. Lex's presence in Smallville turns out to be another trial, the result of Lionel testing Lex's ability to run even a subsidiary of LuthorCorp. Having Lex Luthor in Smallville was an interesting twist, and gave us a chance to know his character. Too often, Lex Luthor is seen as just the darkness to Superman's light, and I enjoyed this show's efforts of exploring the character of Lex, not just exhibiting his evil.
Lex’s story gets started right away with an accident that sets the scene for the rest of the show. Lex, angry at his father, speeds along the back-roads of Smallville in his Porsche. Clark, absorbed in his own world, full of drama and the high school blues, doesn't notice Lex's car spin out of control. He crashes into Clark, and both go off a bridge. Clark, unharmed of course, saves Lex.
This is the most important moment of the first season, and arguably one of the most important moments in the entire series. This is how Clark and Lex meet, and this accident is responsible for their friendship, Lex's obsession, and his inevitable betrayal. Lex is sure he hit Clark, but he can't prove it. He befriends the bumbling teenager while subconsciously envying Clark's normal life. Clark has friends, a loving family, and his seemingly only cares are those of a typical teenage boy. Lex, on the other hand, has no friends, and a father who doesn't love him, or rather treats him more as a future replacement than as a son.
Their friendship was a nice change in the show. It was great seeing Lex before he was a mega-business mogul. Michael Rosenbaum, who also did the voice of the Flash in the Justice League cartoon, dons the role well, with one part suave, one part cheeky rich boy, and one part dark and mysterious. Lex struggles with his friendship with Clark, and most of the time, it’s not Lex’s fault.
First off, his family name, Luthor, sets everyone against him. Everyone prejudges him, even with his intentions are clearly good. As mentioned, Jonathan Kent himself suspects Lex at every turn. Yes, usually Lex does have some ulterior motive, but it’s hard to be good when the whole world seems to have written you off as evil.
Secondly, Lex struggles with his father and his destiny. Lionel Luthor, Lex’s father, is constantly testing him, attempting to best him, lying to him, all in the name of preparing Lex for a greater future. Lionel sees anything other than his own plans for Lex as foolish and even tricks Lex into doing something that casts him in the wrong light.
Finally, Lex struggles with Clark’s secrets and high moral standing. The reason for the latter is obvious: Clark’s been raised by Jonathan, to follow a strong moral code and I will get into the judgemental problems with this later. For now, let’s just say that Clark often jumps the gun, and is more judgemental of Lex and of many situations than he should be. Because of this, Clark often is one of the first to suspect Lex of wrong-doing.
The former, that being Clark’s secrets, is again an understandable reason for a friendship to struggle. Clark feels he needs to hide his secret from everyone. Not only because he thinks people might turn on him, but also because Clark thinks someone could use his secret to harm those he loves. The problem is, Clark isn’t very good at hiding his secret at first. Lex’s collision with Clark which marked their meeting was all too obvious to Lex. Several times, Clark rushes in to save the day, and barely escapes Lex’s notice or suspicion. Additionally, Clark seems hesitant to share his obvious feelings for Lana Lang, (see below) and this causes Lex to question his motives. Strange things surround Clark, and Lex’s obsessive personality cause him to search deeper and deeper, driving him and Clark further and further apart.
 Eventually, Clark and Lex stop being friends, and Lex’s schemes become grander as he begins to accept his destiny. Lex worries about the possibility of invasion by powerful beings, beings capable of explaining all the strange occurrences in Smallville. His concern and obsession grow and, eventually, Lex creates an army of Kryptonite mutants.
All of this drives a major part of the story and drama of Smallville. What I find most fascinating, though, is the downward spiral of Lex Luthor. I have a friend who believes, wholeheartedly, that Lex Luthor is not a bad guy, not an antagonist. He believes that Lex’s role is to serve as the ultimate human being, and stand against the idealistic, powerful, uncontrollable Superman. I, being a fan of Superman, do not like this opinion, but I have to admit it has times. Smallville does a fantastic job of showing how everything around Lex turns him onto his greater path, and how it can all be defended as trying to do what’s best for the human race. The problem is the question of the means justifying the end. Lex is willing to do whatever it takes to ensure a protected humanity, and if that includes murder, conspiracy, espionage, sabotage, blackmail, torture, then so be it, as long as it gets the job done. I have a hard time justifying this, but we’ve seen this debate many times in the past, and I for one have seen the benefits of both sides of the debate. I cannot say which is right, and I cannot entirely justify Lex’s actions, but it is important to note that he was not inherently evil, but rather was driven to paranoia and obsession, mostly and inadvertently by Clark.

Lana Lang

Friend, and love interest to Clark, went to Smallville high school.
Lana Lang has been a part of Superman comics for years; there have been many comics dedicated to her relationship with Clark. The main subplot for the film Superman III, released in 1983, featured a love story between Clark Kent and Lana Lang, his high-school sweetheart. Funny enough, Annette O'Toole, who plays Martha Kent in Smallville, played Lana Lang in this film. Usually, Lana Lang is seen as a high-school friend of Clark’s, who falls in love with him. Clark usually reveals his secret to her, saying the world needs him, and moves away, leaving her at the very least, heartbroken, and at most, extremely bitter.
            True to form, Smallville turns things upside-down, featuring Clark as the one who falls for Lana. Initially, besides a pull at Clark’s heartstrings, Lana’s presence in the show is to provide a seed for the guilt Clark later feels by his own existence and arrival to Earth. Lana’s parents were killed by some meteorites that fell when Clark arrived. Her character is very vulnerable and a little angry because of this tragic event, and Lana’s main affect in the early part of the series is to make Clark feel extremely happy and sad at the same time.
            I had heard some good things about Kristen Kreuk, who plays Lana, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. Perhaps the character overshadowed her ability as an actress, as I ended up not liking Lana very much. I will have to admit that she played the part admirably, it is just unfortunate how her part played out.
            So, the show starts, as many youth dramas do, in high school. Clark is seen as a bumbling teenager, being most awkward when the beautiful brunette, Lana Lang, is around. (The fact that she has a Kryptonite necklace doesn't help) Their friendship grows, and Lana usually ends up playing the damsel in distress. I don’t know what it was about this show which drew me to Chloe so much more than Lana, but I can tell you that most people I know who watch Smallville can agree that Lana needs to go away and Clark needs to be with Chloe. Perhaps, it’s because of Chloe’s more interesting and perhaps compatible character. Perhaps, it has something to do with the trouble Lana inadvertently puts Clark through. Either way, I honestly can say that I yelled at my screen more than once because of Lana.
            Eventually, Lana Lang grows up and toughens up as a character. Suspicious of Lex Luthor, she begins to investigate him and even play his cat-and-mouse game. The tension and drama build as her feelings go back and forth between Clark and Lex. Eventually, in an attempt to protect Clark and destroy Lex, Lana goes on a girl-power training adventure which makes her a pretty dangerous character. Lex, however, wins in the end, forcing Lana and Clark to part ways forever.
            I guess it’s supposed to be sad, but honestly, I had moved past Lana and was far too interested in Lois Lane at this point. That’s mean to say, but it’s the truth.

Lois Lane

Chloe’s cousin, reporter at The Daily Planet,

            For anyone familiar with the Superman mythos, you’ll know Lois Lane. She’s the Juliet to Clark’s Romeo, and she has been a part of the story since the very beginning. Certain traits are almost always present in the character of Lois. She’s headstrong, determined to get to the truth of things, works hard, and moves fast. I don’t mean she has super speed, I just mean that she embodies the busy atmosphere that is the urban, and Clark often feels more like a farmboy in comparison.
            We first meet Lois in Smallville, the town itself, rather than in Metropolis, as we are accustomed. Cousin to Chloe, Lois’(s) arrival to Smallville comes about because she needs to finish some high school classes, having never finished as she moved from place to place as an army brat.
            Lois adds a lot of energy to the show. The actress, Erica Durance, has starred in a few other things, but it was my first time seeing her. Still, Lois Lane is not an easy character to portray, and usually she comes across as either too bossy, too naive, or paradoxically as too vulnerable. This vulnerability comes about because Lois eventually becomes the damsel in distress and the audience, in previous renditions, gets a little frustrated at Lois’(s) carefree attitude, walking into danger because she knows Superman will save her.
            Contrary to previous versions, Lois does not start out wanting to be a reporter here in Smallville. Instead, her curiosity and obsession with getting to the truth about things causes her cousin Chloe to suggest she go into journalism. Pursuing this, Lois eventually moves to Metropolis and, like everyone else it seems, works for The Daily Planet. Eventually, she teams up with Clark Kent and we get to see the chemistry play itself out again.
            Lois doesn’t really undergo a character arc. She starts out as a headstrong, independent truth-seeking character, and that doesn’t really change. However, her character is not only interesting, but essential to the mythos. For one, Lois takes on the role of the one who cuts-to-the-chase. She is bold, and blunt, but often asks the questions we are all wondering, and it’s nice to not see someone being entirely clueless. Additionally, the show’s creators did a wonderful job of keeping the secret of Clark’s secret identity hidden; she never having seen the face of her hero until she discovers the truth anyway.
            Finally, Lois is essential to Clark Kent. As they mention in the show, she grounds him, but also pushes him to become the man he needs to be. She inspires him to push for truth and justice, while at the same time, reminding him of what and for whom he is fighting. Erica Durance meets all these requirements well, and did a fantastic job, actually the best I’ve seen so far, of portraying Lois Lane and, well, she is quite nice to look at, there is that too, haha.

Clark Kent

You should probably know who he is by now.

            The character of Clark Kent has remained more or less consistent over the years, usually coming across as bumbling, humble, and mild-mannered. As is common to many comic book heroes, the persona of Clark Kent is an act; a meek persona meant to throw everyone off of the hero within. In the television show, Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Dean Cain, who played Clark, decided to make the role a little more confident. Strong, but disarmingly kind, Cain’s Clark managed to successfully throw people off track without compromising his strength, without compromising his character. An interesting critique of the character of Clark Kent is given in Kill Bill 2, and I’ve provided it here. Bill's critique on Clark Kent
            In Smallville, there is no need for a disguise, at least not in the beginning. The show is about Clark, not about Superman, so we get a great chance to get to know what he is really like.
            First thing I have to tell you is that I didn’t like Clark for a long time. He’s stupid, he’s a liar, and he’s quick to judge. It takes a long time for Clark to discover himself and a long time for me to like him.
            Let’s tackle the stupidity. Clark Kent/Superman has always been seen as a little foolish, especially in comparison to other heroes. Superman has so many powers and is so nearly invincible that, often, making him a little foolish is the only way the comic/television writers can make their hero not so perfect. You know the saying about fools rushing in? Well, Clark rushes in. That’s his M.O. The second Clark hears of some trouble, he runs in with no thought to himself, ready to save the day. He then rushes out and later has to cover up any suspicions that anyone has. Now, rushing in, and caring only for the safety of others is all well and good, and honestly an admirable trait, but rarely having the wherewithal to make sure a trap isn’t set for his arrival, well that just bothers me. Clark has telescopic, microscopic, X-ray and several other types of vision and yet he rarely sees trouble ahead of time, falling for many traps. Like I said before, his bravery is admirable, but it’s a fine balance between courage and foolishness, and one which the writers struggle to achieve, not just in Smallville, but with Superman comics in general. So, stupidity is almost forgivable here.
            Clark is a liar. He has to be. Without lies, people would find out his secret and either ruin his life, or harm those about whom he cares. In Superman, the eponymous hero said he never lied. I hate that line. It, in itself, was a lie, and like I said, lies are necessary for a vigilante. However, you combine Clark’s lies with his stupidity and you get issues. Clark’s lies push people away from him, which isn’t too bad in itself, a hero’s journey being a lonely one. But Clark’s lies are usually so weak, so foolish, that he causes more trouble than was necessary. Clark’s haphazard attempts at explaining himself, where he was, or what a logical and non-super-powered explanation would be for the events around him are so terrible at times that I actually shouted at the screen. His lies cause him to break up and seriously hurt Lana Lang, a girl he loves for a long time, and they are a great driving force in making an enemy out of Lex Luthor. Like I said, lies are a necessary evil, as it were, in the superhero business, but Clark’s lies are so bad that he really hurts the people he loves. I guess this complaint is a silly one, especially since as the series continues Clark gets better at it. I guess it’s a part of his character development and necessary to give Clark a weakness, but it was a little annoying to watch.
            Finally, Clark is quick to judge. Unlike his lying and stupidity, this is not a necessary character trait, in my opinion. Superman is always rash and impulsive, and while he may jump to conclusions a little quickly, he rarely does so with the speed and absolute conviction as seen in Smallville. Throughout the series, as soon as Clark gets any inkling that someone is up to no good, he immediately rushes in with that assumption and it takes a lot of convincing and proof to convince him otherwise. Perhaps, this is due to Jonathan Kent’s quick mistrust of the Luthors, but either way, it’s a little frustrating. I guess it’s all a part of his character arc, as it does become less and less of a problem later in the series, but it is a frustrating part of his character through which I feel the audience has to suffer.
            But, of course, it’s not all bad. Clark’s bravery, compassion, determination, and humanity come through over the course of the show, and the trip, while long, is worth it. The faults I mentioned earlier, add to his character, and while a little frustrating at times, add to the depth and complexity of all that is Clark Kent. As the show progresses, we see Clark overcome his character weaknesses and become the man he wants to be, the Man of Steel. The last season especially shows Clark becoming a man, capable, confident, compassionate, and Tom Welling, virtually unknown to me before this series, does a fantastic job. His ability to show the depth of the character, the contradiction of emotional strength and weakness, and the paradoxical juxtaposition of humane and alien values is what has always drawn me to the character, and as I’ve said before, Tom Welling does a great job of delivering.

Comparison to classic Superman – including similarities, differences, what I liked and didn’t

            By now, you have read, or skimmed, many of my comments concerning the comparison of this show to the usual Superman mythos. I will sum them all up here.
            The origin story is exactly the same, with Clark arriving on Earth as a baby, sent from a devastated advanced alien world. However, the key difference is that this show explores Clark’s youth, and how he became the Man of Steel.
            One interesting twist was the intermediary step Clark takes before becoming Superman. As Clark moves to Metropolis and begins helping people on a larger scale, he earns the nickname The Blur. As you can imagine, the nickname is earned due to the fact that Clark speeds in, saves the day, and then zooms out before anyone can see him clearly. Like most good nicknames, it starts small and then sticks. It is a great way for Clark to try his hand at being a hero, without going into the spotlight. This allows Clark’s actions to build a repertoire with the people of Metropolis, and for Clark to not have the constant pressure of heroism weighing upon him. Ultimately, however, he realizes that his actions are not enough. That the world is looking for some inspiration and that they cannot get that from an unseen hero. It takes awhile for Clark to realize this, and appreciate it, but by the end of the show, he steps into the spotlight as Superman, embracing his destiny.
Another exciting thing about Smallville is the opportunity to learn the origins of certain things. Clark's powers, for example, provide an interesting, and often humorous, basis for episodes. In the beginning of the show, Clark has super-speed and super-strength. As mentioned earlier, Clark getting hit by a car demonstrates that his strength extends to his body's toughness. While in gym class, Clark becomes distracted and suddenly discovers he can see through walls, a bit humorous and creepy as the first thing he sees is the inside of the girl's locker room. In a later episode, his heat vision arises from his becoming sexually attracted to a hot teacher, which sounds odd, but was handled well in the show. His frost breath (I know, too many powers, too many silly names) arises from a Kryptonian virus weakening him and giving him a cold, and his sneeze blows the barn door off. It's not only an interesting and somewhat exciting element of the show to follow his path and discover his powers with him, it's nice when his powers seem to have some kind of explanation, or at least a reason as to how Clark knows he has said abilities.
            Flight, as usual, is saved for last, and it took me awhile to find out why, but I was pleasantly surprised by how the show handled it. In the regular story, Clark discovers he can fly either through guidance by Jor-El, or just by accident after his turns 18. In this show, his inability to fly is a major problem for him and is mentioned quite often as the show progresses. When several cloned Kryptonians appear, they can all fly, and it bothers Clark as to why he cannot. As it turns out, and is mentioned toward the end of the series, Clark’s inability to fly is psychological and a result of his close relationship with humans. He has always seen himself as one of us, or at least tried to, and so something in his mind was blocking his ability to fly, to go to that one extreme beyond mere homo sapiens sapiens. It might seem a little silly, I mean, Clark can stop bullets, run faster than them, shoot heat from his eyes, etc., so why should he struggle with one more amazing power, but on the other hand, it kind of makes sense, and provides an interesting character development later in the show. Not to mention some sort of explanation which had been lacking in the past.
In the final episode of the show, Clark finally realizes who he is, and accepts both sides of his heritage. In a typical final-episode-montage, Clark realizes all the struggles, all the trials, everything was building to this moment, guiding Clark to become the man he needed and truly wanted to be. It was quite cathartic and somewhat epic, to finally get there, and really makes the effort of watching the entire series worth it.
I said somewhat earlier because that’s what it was: somewhat epic. There is a problem with this show which I will go into now. The show builds the tension and the drama and raises expectations to such a point that when it finally tackles the big issues, it’s not as epic as it should be, for all that time and interest invested. Two good examples of this are the fights Clark has with Doomsday and with Darkseid.
            Doomsday, in the comics, is basically an alien epitome of survival of the fittest. He cannot be truly killed as he regenerates, and every time he is killed, his body regenerates to be stronger than before. In 1993, Superman’s fight with Doomsday brings about both their deaths, in one of the most amazing and emotional moments in Superman comics.
            So, Doomsday, kind of a big deal. In season 8, the threat of Doomsday looms over everything. We, the audience, are basically told that Clark is going to have to fight Doomsday, and the characters struggle over Clark’s intention of not killing him. This was going to be it, I said, this was going to be a live-action super-fight of epic proportions. Nope. The fight between Clark and Doomsday lasted for 30 seconds, and the only cool thing about it was that Clark tackled him into an explosion.
            All that lead up, all that emotional build-up, waiting and needing to be released through an epic last stand, never happened. I’m not saying violence is needed, or necessarily cool. But, when you spend an entire season painting someone as a threat, you really have to follow through with showing this threat, and with having a fight between the villain and the hero which shows how dangerous the villain is and how tough the success is for the hero. Without doing so, not only do you bore your audience, but you make it seem as if you lied to us by exaggerating the threat in the first place. Additionally, we fail to see the hero rise and display just how powerful they are, instead we see their victory as too easy, as less than meaningful.
            Now, I might be over-analyzing this, might be over-analyzing the entire show, hence the 8000 word critique, but I think this is an important element that most Superman renditions are missing. Without showcasing the difficulty in overcoming hardship, we fail to see the hero as heroic.
            Plus, it didn’t just happen once. Like I said before, the Darkseid fight was lame. The entire last season of Smallville heralded an inevitable fight between Darkseid and Clark. Darkseid, in the comics, is the ruler of another planet, who treats his subject like less than dirt, and honestly wants to kill everything to restart the universe, thinking it would be better that way. He is a tough foe, and Superman barely stands toe-to-toe with him. In Smallville, Darkseid is more like an evil spirit, one who threatens to overshadow the Earth making everyone his slave. Okay, threat seems real enough. Everyone warning or praising Darkseid’s impending arrival makes it seem like he’s nigh-unstoppable. Clark worries and plans for this encounter.
            In the end, one punch from Darkseid literally sends Clark flying, as he is hurtled through the air, that’s when Clark has the sudden “I can fly” montage mentioned earlier. He then flies right through Darkseid, again showing himself more as a spirit, and then Clark pushes Apokolips, Darkseid’s invading world, into space. Not only was this not amazing at all to me, I had seen it before, the whole pushing the large object thing is not only commonplace for Superman, it was done in Superman Returns. Not to mention that one brisk flyby should not be enough to destroy Darkseid and end his threat. I guess his newly discovered flight confused Darkseid and that plus his ability to inspire led to people shedding the darkness that was in their hearts thus saving the day.
            Balderdash! (Sorry, just watched A Christmas Carol) But seriously, really? I wanted something more, I wanted a struggle which would finally show Clark to have matured and be ready to don the cape and be the Man of Steel. I wanted an enemy so tough that even I would doubt Clark’s ability to come through. Nope. Didn’t get it. I have a lot of concerns over the upcoming Man of Steel movie, but I will give them extra points if they can create a villain and feature a fight awesome enough for me to care.
            Just for a quick recap and iteration, consider these two fights. Superman vs. Darkseid from the Justice League and Superman vs. Doomsday in Smallville The first is the last part of the Justice League cartoon, and features a fight between Superman and Darkseid. The second is the entirety of Clark fighting Doomsday in Smallville. Please watch, and note the epic difference. Sure, one’s animated which makes some things easier, but honestly, what Superman says is more epic to me than how he acts in that scene, it’s not the special effects, but the special effect that the hero has which makes the first scene great, and the second one lame, in my opinion.

...and that’s it. That’s all of my ranting and raving over Smallville. Thanks for reading. I’m sorry that this got out of hand, but I think I was able to provide you with some interesting things to think about. If you did happen to read all of this, I am extremely proud of you and would appreciate if you told me you did so, so I may congratulate you more and ask your opinion.

Thanks for reading!


  1. TLDR

    ...but seriously, I did read the whole thing. Seems pretty comprehensive, except that I'd like to hear what you thought of the various Justice League characters that made their appearances.

    Your complaint about the fight scenes seems to happen a lot in certain kinds of TV shows. Heroes had the same problem at the end of season 1: two guys who basically had every superpower, one good and one bad, finally meet for the big showdown... and it's over in a minute and we move on. They just built it up so far that they couldn't realize it with the relatively low budget.

  2. Yes, I recall hearing that about Heroes. I will include a review of my Justice League characters.