When it comes to comic books and superheroes, it’s an understatement to say that the market is a little bit saturated in this day and age. Whether it’s in the form of Films, Television, video games or online webisodes, the media is incredibly prevalent with caped crusaders and spandex-clad saviors.
However, if you were to cast your mind back a mere ten years, it would take you to a time when there were actually precious few superhero projects being released. But, throughout all of these dark times was a ray of light. A symbiotic salvation. A beacon of bright, beautiful superhero entertainment that helped ease the pain of countless of chick flicks and endless Rom-Coms. This hero was the television series, Smallville.
For those of you that don’t know, Smallville was a Superman origin series starring the fantastic Tom Welling that ran from 2001 to 2011. The show was a precursor to the current crop of DC Comics adaptations that are now enjoying huge success on the CW.
Superman is arguably the hardest comic book character to effectively translate to the big screen. As one of the most powerful superheroes ever created, it can be incredibly difficult to make Superman a relatable character. This is unfortunately a problem that film makers have struggled with for many years. In fact, it’s one of the most frequent criticisms of the current big screen franchise starring Henry Cavill.
After both Christopher Reeve and Dean Cain’s adventures in the red and blue tights came to equally bitter conclusions, countless Superman screenplays were produced and subsequently shelved. This of course includes the infamous Superman Lives, which would have been directed by Tim Burton and starred Nicholas Cage as the last son of krypton. Needless to say, Warner Bros really had no idea what to do with Superman.
So, while Warner Bros continued its attempts to bring the character back to the silver screen (something that eventually resulted in Superman Returns), an alternative method was devised. This was of course, an origin story bringing Clark Kent back to his farmboy roots in the years before he donned the cape and tights.
Originally conceived as a Bruce Wayne origin story, producers believed that the show would function better as a Superman series. In its early years Smallville retained the fun, light-hearted tone of Richard Donner’s 1978 classic, while also injecting it with some obligatory teen drama. The combination was remarkably effective and it succeeded in creating foundations from which to build on for years to come.
Although Clark Kent was still an embarrassingly awkward nerd, the character was considerably more angst-ridden this time around. Fortunately, beginning the series in high school allowed audiences to relate, understand and grow with Clark in a way that was not previously achievable with prior incarnations.
In order to cater to the fact that audiences would be growing up with a younger Clark, writers then altered elements of the characters traditional origin for narrative purposes. As a result, Alfred Gough and Miles Miller (two of the brilliant minds behind Spider-Man 2) decided to make Lex Luthor a best friend and mentor to Clark during his early years. As anyone with even a vague awareness of Superman will know, Lex Luthor is of course the arch-nemesis of the last son of krypton.
Although this was initially a controversial decision, the doomed friendship between Clark and Lex quickly formed the emotional spine of the entire series. The polar opposition between the two characters created a heart-breaking dynamic that also added new layers to the chrome-domed future villain. Clark may have been the sole focus of Smallville, but fans and critics alike both applauded the shows portrayal of Lex.
At the time Michael Rosenbaum was more well known for his vocal work in various DC animated projects, but the talented star was quickly embraced as the definitive Lex Luthor after his performance throughout the first seven years of Smallville. Rosenbaum’s powerful and intense portrayal of the character explored aspects of both his upbringing and his childhood, which subsequently resulted in paranoia, trust issues and obsession. This also attributed to the moral and philosophical debate in regards to just how responsible Clark was for the monster that he became. This resulted in the most grounded, emotionally layered and unhinged version of Lex Luthor we have seen to this day.
As the series went on Clark began to get wiser and more aware of his extraordinary abilities. To reflect this, the writers began introducing members of the Justice League, shortly before bringing them together for a phenomenal team-up episode.
In fact, Smallville introduced quite a few fan-favourite DC characters before the end of its run. However, this is often something that the show is not given credit for, despite the fact that it was the first live action superhero medium to bring multiple heroes together. Over the course of ten seasons audiences were introduced to Green Arrow, Kid Flash, Cyborg, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Hawkman, Doctor Fate and Stargirl (among many, many others). On top of that, it also introduced a variety of interesting antagonists such as Brainiac, General Zod and Bizarro.
Overall, Smallville is not only an incredible series with a long list of achievements under its belt, but also a very important series for the superhero world. With some truly wonderful guest stars such as Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder and Terrence Stamp, it’s clear that the show truly did have something special. Tom Welling and Michael Rosenbaum will forever be remembered for the marks that they have left on their iconic roles. The characters and mythology may move on with time, but the series will always be remembered as a treasured piece of the Superman legacy.
As a great man once said, always hold onto Smallville.