I have changed my mind a lot about the character Superman over the years. I used to think he was boring. After all, who wants to read stories about a character who’s basically stronger and more invulnerable than everything in the universe, who always plays by the book, when there are characters like Batman, who sneaks in the shadows and has to use his mind to overcome physically more powerful foes? Or when there are characters like Spiderman, who is funny, and yet have very real, very grounded problems, like money and a sickly aunt.
As I’ve grown up and matured, however, that sentiment has changed- much like my quantity of Sloto Cash. I think my perspective on the world has changed since I was a kid (as it does, or at least should, for everyone), and alongside it, my perspective on Superhero has changed too. Rather than finding it boring, I find it admirable for characters that don’t wear masks to stand up for what’s right.
Characters like Superman, Luke Skywalker, Captain America, and Dalinar Kholin have grown on me. In a world where corruption hides behind politics, gaslighting, and doublethink, heroes who definitively say, “This is right, that is wrong, here is where I stand,” have become very appealing to me.
This revelation made me realize that I should take a look at Smallville. Technically, I’ve already seen it, or at least bits and pieces of it, but I was very young at the time and hardly remember it. Before there was Arrow, Jessica Jones, Daredevil, Agents of Shield, Flash, or Wandavision, there was Smallville.
An origin show for Superman, as he grows from a high schooler into the role of the Man of Steel, who stands for truth, justice, and the American way. I remembered it being fairly good. However, tiny me also remembers Attack of the Clones as being the best Star Wars movie. So, I decided, “why not”, and began rewatching the show from the first season.
The Premise / Summary
If you’re not familiar with the longest-running Superhero in existence (he was literally the first), here’s the premise of Smallville: Jonathan and Martha Kent were just two ordinary farmers living out in the little farming community of Smallville when a meteor crashes into their field. Among the debris of rocks that scatters across the entire region, the Kents find a strange spacecraft, which contains a small child. Not knowing what else to do, they take the child in as their own and name him “Clark”.
Fast forward ten or so years, and Clark is now in high school. He’s revealed himself to have super strength, super speed, and invulnerability. He’s friends with Chloe Sullivan, who runs the school newspaper “The Torch”, and Pete Ross, his best friend. Clark’s life changes forever when a speeding Lex Luther crashes his car off a bridge at 65 miles per hour. Clark dives into the river and saves a drowning Lex, who begins to turn his life around and feels indebted the Clark. Yet, despite Clark’s protestations otherwise, Lex is sure that he HIT Clark on that bridge…
However, as we all know, Clark didn’t come to Earth alone. Fragments of a meteor crashed into the Earth alongside his spacecraft, which spread a layer of strange green “meteor fragments” that, for some reason, cause Clark to grow weak when they’re nearby.
These “fragments” also serve another purpose in the show. Which namely is giving superpowers to basically anyone who has a conveniently tragic accident while these rocks are nearby. Got stung by bugs which have digested these rocks- you, know what, I’m just gonna call them Kryptonite from now on. It’s not exactly a spoiler. Got stung by kryptonite bugs, well now you’re bug-man.
Fell out a window while wearing a kryptonite bracelet? Not only do you come back from the dead, but you also gain disintegration powers. Sit in a sauna heated by hot kryptonite rocks, and bam, fire powers. It’s stupid. It’s hilarious. It works perfectly for a superhero show. I mean, is it any more unbelievably than Peter Parker getting Spider-Powers because he was bit by a radioactive spider instead of, you know, cancer?
Clark Kent – Paragon hero
Since this entire show is an origin story for Superman, Clark Kent himself is obviously going to be a vital character to get right. From what I’ve seen so far of season one, at least, they’ve nailed it. Smallville is from the era of TV where thirty-year-olds were hired to play teenagers in high school, but honestly, it kind of works. Tom Welling has got the height, bulk, and mass to look like Superman, and him towering over the other actors really gives the impression that a high-school Superman is going to class with normal kids.
Smallville is very much an early 2000s TV show, from the music to the choice of actors to the cliches. What Smallville does is take that formula of classic coming-of-age tropes and throws a god-amongst-men morality dilemma into the works. Unlike a lot of the characters typical of these kinds of stories, Clark is not a selfish person. Most of us were probably pretty self-centered as teenagers, but Superman can’t be by necessity. Otherwise, he’d bring entire buildings down- by accident. Plus, he was raised with the humility of Christian farmers.
You see, the problem with writing a character like Superman is that he’s stronger, faster, and more invulnerable than any of the villains he comes up against. How can you give the story any stakes when your hero is indestructible? The answer is to present Superman with problems that can’t be solved by punching.
Smallville does this by taking the problems of a typical teenager and giving them to Superman. Most of the season deals with Clark’s obsession with his crush, Lana Lang. The problem is that Lana is already dating a guy named Whitney, who’s a football-playing jock. Pretty cliché stuff, right?
The problem is that while Lana and Clark clearly like one another, Whitney is NOT a bad guy. The show goes out of its way to present Whitney in a pretty good light after the pilot and gives him some depth that gets revealed over the course of the season.
While Clark could have Lana, doing so would require hurting Whitney and Lana both, and because of who Clark is, he just won’t do that. It’s a surprisingly compelling conflict, where our hero is rival to another good guy, who has even shown himself to have heroic qualities himself- at least when it comes to Lana.
Throughout the season, Smallville throws such conflicts one after another at Superman. One minute, Clark is confronting a girl who can control bees, and the next, he’s confronted with running for school president and realizing that he doesn’t have any actual platform or position on any of the school’s issues.
A Show of its Era
As I said before, Smallville is very much an early 2000s tv series. The clothes, the music, and writing just SCREAMS late 90s, early 2000s. Personally, I love it. For me, it’s nostalgic and reflects a simpler era of life, where things were pretty good. Maybe I’m looking back on that era with the rose-tinted glasses of childhood, but I dunno. I find it appealing.
Every episode begins with a sample of Smashmouth-style music before fading away, and the episode’s cold open begins. All the jocks wear letterman jackets, the internet is dial-up, and who-likes-who gossip is more important than life.
The villains of every episode come in the “Monster of the week” variety. Somehow, a random person (usually with issues) are gifted motif-appropriate superpowers and immediately starts to go haywire, and it’s up to Clark, Chloe, Pete, and sometimes Lex Luther to put together what the heck is going on and then put a stop to it.
Classic Scooby-Doo gang stuff. It’s hilarious the leaps of logic that these characters go through in order to figure out what’s happening. Bees start randomly attacking specific people? It must be because an overly stressed class president-candidate fell into a crater full of bees with Kryptonite in it! There’s no other possible explanation!
But whatever. It has its charm and works.
Lex Luthor is another enigma that the show plays off in a fascinating manner. After getting into trouble back in Metropolis, Lex’s father sends him to Smallville to manage the LuthorCorp plant. Indebted to Clark and looking at life differently than his father, he decides to become a moral person by gaining the respect and appreciation of Clark and the Kents.
There’s one moment that sticks out to me, where Lex and his father are hugging in a very awkward, forced show of affection for the camera, while Lex looks longingly where Clark is hugging his parents. It creates this interesting foil character, where Lex is both trying to be different than his father while being a moral person, yet a ruthless businessman who isn’t afraid to play under the table- because that’s how he was raised. While trying to defy his heritage, etcetera etcetera.
In short: Smallville good!