Smallville Retrospective: What Makes the Series A Successful Superman Adaptation

I became aware of Smallville thanks to Teen TitansTeen Titans had just ended its legendary run after five seasons on Cartoon Network. Not soon after, there was a tv promo for a Smallville episode featuring the debut of Cyborg. I was so excited to see him in live-action for the first time. Part of me hoped he sounded the same as in the TV show. I was sad to find out the voices were different, but I was so into the show that it didn’t matter. I later found out Khary Payton provided the voice for Cyborg in all DC’s animated properties and the late and forever great Lee Thompson Young did the live-action portrayal. I was in awe of how Smallville handled this iteration. He was fearless, broken, and wanted to start a new life. It was nice Clark was in his corner.

I remember the Smallville commercials and clips over the years, but the Cyborg episode kickstarted my Smallville journey. I became hooked and stuck around for the last half of Season 5 and was on the edge of my seat for a riveting season finale.

SMALLVILLE: Tom Welling as Clark Kent.

I started to catch up on previous seasons with help from my local library and bought the complete seasons in the years ahead. I sold most of them, but it wasn’t long until I got my hands on the entire series box set with a collectible newspaper and hours of great behind-the-scenes content. I fell in love with this show because it follows the early journey of Clark Kent, a being from another planet who lands on Earth as a toddler. However, his landing coincides with a meteor shower that turns out to be fragments from his doomed world Krypton. 

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We see the effects of the meteor shower in the first couple of seasons. Smallville was never the same again the day Clark landed in the lives of Jonathan and Martha Kent. They are loving parents who show Clark how to be himself while at the same time helping and guiding him to control his gifts. He learns to use this power with great responsibility.

Alfred Gough and Miles Millar created Smallville. Their initial vision of the still-untitled series followed the adventures and life of a young Bruce Wayne. It didn’t generate enough interest. I think the Batman train had run its course with Keaton, Kilmer, and Clooney. Gough and Millar pitched their “no tights, no flights” rule. Clark would not fly or wear the Superman suit during the series.

Gough and Millar wanted to strip Superman down to his “bare essence”, exploring why Clark Kent became the Man of Steel. They felt that because they were not comic-book fans or familiar with the universe, they wanted an unbiased approach. This makes sense so that people who were unaware of the Superman mythology can go in completely fresh without being lost. Tom Welling, who portrayed Clark in all ten seasons, felt the same sentiment.

Kristin Kreuk plays Lana Lang. She lost her parents in the meteor shower, and she is cared for by her Aunt Nell. She is a kind and caring cheerleader with whom Clark is smitten. I sure was. She learns throughout the first season to shed the cheerleader identity and be her own woman and not just arm candy to Whitney Fordman.

Smallville: Kristin Kreuk as Lana Lang.

Eric Johnson did a great job playing football star Whitney Fordman. He is protective of Lana and doesn’t like Clark Kent. He knows something is off about Clark and does not trust him. Clark tries to get in his good graces, but Whitney pulls a harsh prank on him. However, the prank inadvertently creates an iconic image for the marketing of the show and reflects the biblical iconography Superman is popular for. Fordman does have a heart of gold and it takes time for that to show.

Sam Jones III nails it as Pete Ross. I was impressed Gough and Millar decided to cast a non-white actor for the role since Pete Ross in the comics was white. I love Pete Ross. He just radiates cool. He is best friends with Clark and he always has his back. Their friendship evolves in new and exciting ways. The same can be said for Allison Mack and her counterpart Chloe Sullivan. She is the Lois Lane of the show. She is a computer and journalism nerd who conjures up the Wall of Wierd. The wall is a summary of all the Goosebumps-like events that have happened since the fateful meteor shower. It plays a major role in the show.

Michael Rosenbaum is the definitive Lex Luthor in my opinion. He is the son of billionaire Lionel Luthor played by John Glover. He is trying to keep the family business alive to please his father. But a chance encounter with Clark Kent alters his destiny. Lex becomes fascinated with Clark and the two become friends. Lex has a lot of heart and is caring but evokes the direct, strict, and harsh nature of his father. Lex is torn between his father’s shadow, and Clark saving his life. Rosenbaum delivers a performance you will think there is no way Lex will turn to the dark side.

Smallville: Michael Rosenbaum as Lex Luthor. Lex holds a gun.

Superman film alum Annette O Toole and Dukes of Hazzard legend John Schneider were cast perfectly as Martha and Jonathan Kent. They are blessed with a newborn child on the worst day of Smallville’s history. They care and love the child but they must navigate the fact that this child is not from Earth and he has abilities he must harness but keep hidden. Schneider mentioned in an interview he compared it to having a special needs child. You treasure them and want them to grow, but also how they navigate society must be tread ever so slightly.

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Clark is a good guy at heart. He is smart, driven, and caring but he has to keep a low profile and that can be lonely. But he has friends like Chloe Sullivan and Pete Ross that make Clark’s high school years memorable. He learns how to handle the complexities of human nature, love, puberty, morality, courage and so much more. He tries to find the best in people and is tireless in keeping the town of Smallville safe. He must learn to keep who he is a secret from those who might want to exploit him. He finds a friend in Lex Luthor but such a bond proves perilous at times. He then learns the origins of his heritage and how it will impact him.

Smallville demonstrates how the Man of Steel grew into the ultimate hero by showing his roots. Friendships and heartbreak and new allies from the DC Canon shape Kal-El into the hero we will come to know and love. I like how relatable Clark is. He may have powers he struggles with his social life and talking to girls and has insecurities. As the show progresses, he learns to overcome adversity in each episode.

Smallville: Clark Kent and Lois Lane.

Each season raises the bar in cultivating the Superman mythos. It paved the way for any DC tv show that has come after the decade-long run. We see many characters from the DC comics come to life and show Clark there is a whole world outside of Smallville, like Supergirl, Aquaman, and Green Arrow. This shows he is not alone. It also shows that there are greater threats that will test him.

The show also loses some characters we come to know and love. Some move on to better things outside of Smallville while others have tragically killed that shape Clark’s destiny. Smallville was an example of how you can make great television while showing the characters compellingly without alienating the audience.

How poetic that this show was released a month after 9/11. After such horror in American history, to have a show that showed a light on what it means to be an American hero by highlighting values was something the world needed and it exceeded all expectations. I am glad I enjoy the ride until its triumphant final scene.

What did you think of Smallville? Let us know in the comments. For all things Superman and pop culture, check out our website. Stay nerdy!

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