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Smallville: The Ten Year Journey From Man to Superman

Aside from Doctor Who, Smallville makes a strong case for being one of my favourite television shows. For those who don’t know, Smallville was first broadcast in 2001 and ran for 10 years, eventually coming to an end in 2011. It focused on the character of Clark Kent, the alter-ego of Superman and in particular his teenage years, showing us all the things that happened to him that forged him into the Man of Steel.

Casting my mind back into the mists of time, my first memory of Smallville was a trailer for the premier of Season 9. But the first episode I can actually remember watching was Season 1 Episode 17: Reaper. Alongside E4 broadcasting the new series of the show, Sci-Fi were also broadcasting all the older episodes, which ran all the way up to the end of Season 7. I don’t remember seeing every episode back then but I certainly caught much of the early years, especially the entirety of Season 4, one my favourite seasons of the show.

I think my love for the show grew from going back and watching all the early stories alongside the broadcast of Season 9 and 10 and wondering what had happened to Pete Ross, Lana Lang, Lex Luthor, and Jonathan and Martha Kent alongside many other characters who were either guest-stars in the later seasons or not in it at all. As with Doctor Who, before I had seen every available story, I used to look at pictures in books or online about the show and speculate on what could be happening in those stills: Who had Lana Lang been kidnapped by this time? Where Lex and Clark really friends? Why did Clark not have all of his powers in his youth?

And as with Doctor Who, a story I have told many times through various blogs, Smallville aired when I was being bullied at school. It was a very difficult time for me and Smallville gave me some more heroes to believe in. Good would always win and evil would be vanquished.

NB. This article does contain some mild-ish spoilers for Smallville, but doesn’t take away the fact it’s still a series you need to check out!

Seasons 1- 3

The debut season featured a staple of this type of television series: following the monster of the week concept, with each episode, Clark and his friends would come up against a different villain, either someone from the comics, albeit in teenaged form or another kind of nasty the production crew could think of at the time.

This was the same kind of layout other shows had at the time including Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The X-Files – each one went from episode-to-episode with a different villain. Indeed, it wasn’t until Season 3 when Smallville got its first proper full-season villain in form of Lionel Luthor, Lex’s duplicitous father.

Perhaps rightly so, Smallville‘s debut season dealt with the characters and went a long way to making sure you cared about them. The show opens not only with the first proper on-screen depiction of the meteor shower which brings baby Kal-El to Earth but the first few minutes are taken up with a scene between Lionel and his son Lex, when he was a child, showing us from the off that the show wouldn’t shy away from giving us episodes and sequences from the villain’s point of view. Indeed, the meteor shower is nothing short of spectacular. For the time, it was one of the most expensive visual effects sequences ever seen on television and it does look frighteningly real. We see it kill Lana Lang’s parents, while also nearly killing Lex and making him lose his hair. Of course, we also witness the Kents discovering the baby Kal-El and his strange ship.

With Lana Lang’s parents not being in the picture, she has grown up with her Aunt Nell, and has a boyfriend in the form of Whitney Fordman. Whitney is the first in a little line of characters that the creators clearly couldn’t do much with and as a result, he comes across as overly aggressive and a complete stereotype of what people thought High-School jocks were like. It isn’t until the end of the season that he gets some much needed character development but when we discover that the character is leaving to join the marines, it comes as too little, too late.

Following battles with bug-boys, queen bees, power stealers, and invisible people as well as dealing with visions of the future and his growing abilities, Season 1 came to a close with Clark Kent running head-first into a tornado, to rescue Lana Lang, whose truck had been picked up by one of the three funnels that were laying waste to their little town. The season finales were always something that Smallville did excellently, the weakest one being the ending to Season 8.

Season 2 continued the baddie-of-the-week storylines while placing more focus on the family angle, thanks to Martha discovering she was pregnant, only to lose the baby when Clark makes his ship (carrying the voice of his father, Jor-El) self destruct. In fact, if there was a plot thread for Season 2, it would be the sins of the father. While Jor-El became a force for good later in the series, this early on, he was clearly a baddie and any Kryptonian Clark and his friends came across was distinctly unfriendly. Much of Season 2 found Jor-El whispering in Clark’s ear, trying to get him to fulfill his destiny as a conqueror.

Season 2 also saw Lana Lang getting much more of a spotlight, continuing a trend that started with the mid-way episode in Season 1, Nicodemus. The creative team made Clark and Lana an item, albeit one fraught with trust issues.

On the Luthor front, Season 2 continued to develop Lex and Lionel so that they were much more multi-dimensional villains. Lionel is especially despicable in this season as he pretends to be blind following the tornado’s destruction of the Luthor Mansion and tricks Martha into becoming his assistant, praying on her good nature. But this backfires when Lionel realises he might have feelings for her, which puts him in direct conflict with her husband, Jonathan.

Season 2 also introduces the Kiwatche Caves, and teases the idea that Clark’s arrival might have been foretold by the Native Americans of the Kansas area hundreds of years ago. It is an interesting concept but it gets a little lost in translation somewhere through the next season. And the idea that his arrival might have been predicted doesn’t come to anything despite it showing potential.

The other massive inclusion in Season 2 was that of original Superman, Christopher Reeve as the mysterious scientist, Virgil Swan. Swan had been fascinated by a series of Kryptonian transmissions meant for Clark. Before his death, Reeve appeared in two episodes, Rosetta and Legacy.

Season 3 marked a change in Smallville‘s trajectory. While the opening two seasons had made sure to keep Clark’s coming story as light, bright, and happy as his comic book counterpart, this season saw the show adopt a darker tone, one that followed the programme right up to its final episode.

Lex and Lionel featured a lot more heavily in Season 3. Lionel proved to be the ultimate season bad, and the finale is nothing sort of astonishing. Jonathan is left brain-dead, Lana leaves for Paris, Lex is poisoned, Pete Ross moves to Wichita with his mother, Martha deals with Kryptonian symbols, and Clark is missing. But it was Chloe’s seeming-fate that sealed how evil Lionel was, with him blowing up her safe house while she was inside. The effects are incredible and the actual explosion heard for miles around.

With Clark having used Red Kryptonite following the events of the Season 2 finale, he gradually fell under the influence of power and moves towards the conqueror that Jor-El wanted him to be. It takes all the might and will of Jonathan – using powers borrowed from Jor-El – to bring him to heel and then back to normality. But the whole thing puts too much of a strain on Clark’s relationship with Lana and the two end up parting, with Lana leaving Smallville and heading to Paris to join an art college. Season 3 also teased a love interest between Lex and Lana, something that the show further explored as it went on.

But for all its dream sequences, darker undertones, character cameos, undercover investigators, and new power discoveries, this was the season that definitely most belonged to the Luthors with Lex’s loss of sanity, winding him up in an asylum, kept there by his father. It also saw the end of the friendship between Lex and Clark when the latter learns that Lex has been investigating him and is close to discovering that Clark isn’t human.

Season 3 ends on a bleak note, but with Season 4 came a lot of changes: cast members came and went and the whole Superman mythology was radically changed forever.

Cast Members: Tom Welling and Michael Rosenbaum

For the first seven seasons, the show was headed by Tom Welling and Michael Rosenbaum, who played Clark Kent and Lex Luthor respectively.

At the time of his casting, Welling was relatively unheard of. Having worked as a model for most of his life, people were surprised when he was cast as Superman. Despite being obviously older than high-school age, that seemed to work as Clark Kent is supposed to be a little out-of-place. However, I doubt it took long for people to come to love Welling’s performance as Superman; he is my favourite iteration of the character that I have seen, and there is something loveable about his performance.

Since Smallville came to an end, Welling didn’t do much in the way of acting – his performance as Marcus Pierce in Lucifer, another DC property in 2017 was his first major return to the small-screen in a few years. During his time as Clark Kent, he appeared in first two Cheaper by the Dozen movies and the remake, and – nowhere near as bad as people make it out to be – the reboot of John Carpenter’s The Fog, where he played the lead, Nick Castle.

Like Welling, Michael Rosenbaum wasn’t a household name before Smallville and there can be little doubt that his performance as Lex Luthor is the definitive take on the character. Everything about him screams ‘Lex Luthor’, down to his mannerisms and appearance. He actually looks like his comic-book counterpart!

Since and during Smallville, he made a name voicing another DC character: The Flash, in a number of animated movies and video games. And in 2017 he appeared as Martinex, one of the original Guardians in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2. It seems being a comic-book character never really leaves you…

And even more excitingly, there was a photograph of both Tom Welling and Michael Rosenbaum in the offices for the Arrowverse at Warner Brothers. With the upcoming epic crossover, Crisis on Infinite Earths to hit our screens later this year, could they possibly make an appearance as their original characters? Hopefully!

Seasons 4- 6

With the show taking on a much darker tone in Season 3, the production team broke all the established rules from the comic books in Season 4, setting up a trend for the following seasons; it was cool to play around with the established continuity.

The first character we meet in Season 4 is in fact Lois Lane who is looking for her cousin Chloe following her supposed death at the hands of Lionel. But she gets caught up in an lightning strike as Clark Kent, now completely brainwashed and controlled by his Kryptonian father, arrives on Earth. Following a hilarious scene where Lois deals with the fact that Clark, or Kal-El as he is now know is stark naked, we get a clear indication that Erica Durance had decided to take the character and make her much funnier than she had been before. It should come as no surprise, then, that Durance was a hit with the viewers and fans and she remains one of the, if not the best incarnation of Lois Lane there ever has been (highly contentious though that sentence is).

Season 4 also saw the arrival of characters that hadn’t been in the DC Comics landscape before, in the form of the Teague family. This wasn’t an entirely new concept – fans knew that Harley Quinn had been introduced in the Batman Animated Series and Chloe Sullivan was invented for Smallville long before she became a character in the comics, proper.

The Teague Family meant the inclusion of Jensen Ackles, who would discover true fame a year later when he was cast as Dean Winchester in the hit television series, Supernatural. Ackles played Jason Teague, the family’s duplicitous son who understood how the worlds of Luthors and Teagues worked a lot more than he let on. He turned up as Lana Lang’s love interest and later the high school football coach which put him into conflict with Lex and Clark. By the season end, he had shown his true colours and met his end in a suitable manner!

His mother, Genevieve Teague, came into the scene about half-way through the series, played by world-famous actress, Jane Seymour. It was through Genevieve that we learned Lana was related to a middle-ages witch who was killed for practicing the dark arts. But Countess Isobelle was obsessed with collecting four elemental stones of Kryptonian origin. The thread was brought to an end with the stones brought together to form the Fortress of Solitude.

Season 4 came to a suitably apocalyptic conclusion where Clark and the gang actually fail to bring to stones together in time and can’t thwart another meteor shower, something teased in an earlier episode. I believe it was the most expensive episode in the entire series to make, with the fates of many characters left hanging in the balance. Clark and Chloe were stuck in the arctic; Lex in the Kitwatchi-Caves; and Jason, Martha, and Jonathan in the Kent home when a meteor crashes right through the roof. Lana survives a helicopter crash only to come across another Kryptionian ship and Lionel becomes the human vessel for Jor-El. It’s one of the best hours of television you’ll ever see!

Season 5 was a return to some familiarity, with the opening half following the monster-of-the-week format, while slowly introducing us to the mysterious Milton Fine, who we later discovered is actually Brainiac. Milton Fine was played with evil relish by James Masters (Torchwood‘s Captain John Hart).

On the surface, Season 5 doesn’t come across as one of the strongest entries into the Smallville mythos but if you look past all the strange episodes, Lana on drugs, vampires, and typical teenaged drama, we actually start to see the show changing tracks. The loveable girl-next-door Lana gets more of a backbone, and falls in love with Lex. Lex becomes more like his evil comic book counterpart and there was some shocking moments to be had in the 100th episode (which we’ll come back to). Plus, we had the first appearance of General Zod, who wouldn’t appear in person until Season 9 but for now, inhabited Lex’s mind and body.

Clark returned from the Phantom Zone in Season 6 but he wasn’t alone, with a number of ‘Zoners’ returning with him. One was even played by Dave Bautista, who now plays Drax in the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, as well as Avengers: Infinity War.

Season 6 also saw a shift in tone for some of the characters; while Lionel had been a baddie when he first appeared, over the course of Seasons 4- 7, he gradually became a force for good when he needed to, and Lex continued his descent into madness. Lana’s motivations changed, marrying Lex for her own means.

Season 6 came to another conclusion which left us with a lot of cliffhangers. Stuck in a dam used to hide his Kryptonian experiments, Lex is left drowning in a police car; Lana is in a car explosion; Lionel is left for dead; and Clark has to fight a strange version of himself in the form of Bizzaro…

Cast Members: Allison Mack, Kristen Kruek, Erica Durance & Annette O’Toole

Chloe Sullivan was introduced to Smallville before her integration into the comic book world proper. Over the course of the 10 years the show was on air, Chloe developed from a journalist, giving us an insight into the strange and bizarre goings on in Smallville to adopting the name Watch Tower, the name of the Justice League’s base in the source material. Alongside Tom Welling, she was also the only member of the original cast to feature in all 10 seasons.

However, not all was well with actress, Allison Mack and after Smallville came to an end she seemed to drop off the acting scene, only appearing at conventions. In recent years, it has transpired that she was a leading member of a cult, Nixum. What seemed from the outside to be a group for empowering women, turned out to be much more nefarious. She is currently facing a number of charges including kidnapping.

Kristen Kruek was a child actress, famous for her portrayal of Snow White which was released the same year as Smallville debuted. She played the part of Lana Lang and you can see her gradually developing as a formidable actress over the course of her 7-year stint on the show.

After leaving the series, Kruek went on to star as Catherine Chandler in the CW reboot of Beauty and the Beast and is currently appearing as Joanna Hanley in Burden of Truth.

Erica Durance’s performance as Lois Lane has got to be one of the best portrayals of the character there has ever been. She guest starred in a number of different television shows, before being picked up as Lois Lane.

Since departing Smallville, she lead the cast of Saving Hope, a popular hospital drama with a supernatural twist, where she starred alongside Smallville guest star, Michael Shanks who played Hawkman in the later seasons. She recently returned to the superhero scene, playing Kara’s real mother in Supergirl through the show’s third season.

Annette O’Toole has quite a long association with the Superman mythos, starring alongside Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder, playing Lana Lang in Superman 3 back in 1983.

Her portrayal of Martha Kent is certainly a strong one, and is far closer to the real age of the character in the comics compared to other portrayals. She appeared regularly in the first six seasons and then guest starring in the remaining four. She too has recently returned to the superhero scene, albeit for Marvel, playing Eliza Schultz in The Punisher.

A Death in the Family – The 100th Episode

As with any series that runs 22 episodes a year per season, their 100th episode usually happens somewhere around the fifth season and Smallville was no different. Reckoning aired on the 26th January 2006, and featured a rather timey-wimey plot. Throughout the beginning episodes of Season 5, Jonathan Kent had been running against Lex Luthor for the role of State Senator. By something of a landslide, he won and Lex gets drunk. Lana heads around to Lex’s mansion to offer her support but when Lex spots an engagement ring on her finger, he finds out that Clark proposed to her. More than that, she knows his secret. Leaving the mansion, Lana finds she is being chased by Lex, and he accidentally steers her into an oncoming bus. She dies and Clark forces Jor-El to send him back in time to change what happened. Jor-El reluctantly agrees but warns Clark that there will be consequences. Throughout the course of the episode, Clark saves Martha, Chloe, Lana, and Lois from some fatal accidents but it turns out to be Jonathan’s weak heart that gives out and he dies in the arms of his wife and child.

Reckoning is one of the most emotional episodes Smallville ever produced, and the final scenes never fail to make me cry! There is something about seeing the Kent farm covered in snow and all the newborn animals running around the fields that tugs at the heartstrings. Reckoning also featured a stellar performance from John Schneider as Jonathan Kent and it was an episode whose repercussions would be felt right up to the closing moments of Season 10.

Seasons 7- 9

Season 7 kicked off moments after the ending of the previous season. Clark fights against Bizzaro, someone who comes back later in the season to drive a wedge between Lana and Clark. Chloe discovers she has superpowers, where she can heal the sick and injured and Lex has something of a redemption arc before falling even further than ever before. With Annette O’Toole having left at the end of the previous season, John Glover was set to leave, dying at the hands of Lex.

Once again, Brainiac was back as the villain, tricking newcomer, Kara, AKA Supergirl into leaving Earth with him. Season 7 saw a lot of the original cast leaving including Michael Rosenbaum, Kristen Kruek, and John Glover.

Season 8 was almost a fresh start for Smallville. With much of the original cast having left in the previous two seasons, Season 8 introduced Tess Mercer, played by Cassidy Freeman and Davis Bloome, played by Sam Whitwer. Tess was the sister of Lex Luthor and for Season 8, she proved to be just as ill-intentioned. Kristen Kruek came back to guest star in four episodes and it brought the Lex Luthor storyline to an explosive conclusion. This time, Brainiac used Chloe as his vessel and the big-bad turned out to be Davis who was actually Doomsday. He gets one of the most graphic and shocking moments in the show, wrecking Chloe’s wedding to Jimmy Olsen – leaving Lois, Oliver, Clark, Jimmy and Lana all wounded.

Season 8 also introduced the Legion of Superheroes, a long-established group in the comics, who are currently enjoying a resurgence in Supergirl at the moment. Zatanna also featured in a couple of episodes, becoming a recurring character for the remaining three seasons. Season 8 concluded with Jimmy and Davis killing each other, Doomsday sent away to the Phantom Zone, Oliver and Clark leaving Metropolis, Lois sent into the future by the Legion ring, and Tess at the mercy of the newly resurrected General Zod.

With Zod established as the villain for Season 9, one of Superman’s biggest villains had made his appearance on the small screen. Lois returned from the future in Season 9 and faced Tess who was determined to find out where she had been. Clark became ‘The Blur’, the mysterious savour of Metropolis though he wanted nothing to do with his old group of friends. It also saw the beginning of the Lois and Clark love story and introduced many other characters from DC Comics including Silver Banshee, The Justice Society of America, The Wonder Twins, Roulette, Metallo, The Dark Archer, and Checkmate.

Tess also gets a redemption arc in Season 9, becoming an uneasy ally to the upcoming Justice League.

The Birth of the League

Smallville was, and still is, different to any other superhero television show and as the parent of what we fans now know as the Arrowverse, Smallville had a big sandbox to play in. Seasons 4- 6 slowly introduced members of the Justice League, including Bart Allen AKA Impulse, Green Arrow, Cyborg, and Aquaman. In the Season 6 episode, Justice, it’s revealed that Oliver Queen had recruited Chloe to help him and his allies take down Lex’s different companies who were conducting inhuman experiments on people with superpowers.

Black Canary was introduced in Season 7, alongside future members including Martian Manhunter, Zatanna, and Hawkman, while Chloe performed the role of Watchtower. Though they were never formally named as the Justice League, it was apparent to fans that this was who they were and there was plenty of episodes, especially as the series went on, where the group fought together against a multitude of threats including Doomsday, Zod, Icicle, Checkmate, Slade Wilson, and Darkseid.

Cast Members: Justin Hartley, John Schneider, John Glover, Cassidy Freeman and Laura Vandervoort

Justin Hartley was a relative newcomer to the acting scene when he was cast as Oliver Queen. His portrayal and the depiction of the character was completely different from that of his comic book counterpart. He was also cast as Aquaman in a series of the same name but it never went past a pilot episode. Since leaving Smallville, he has found fame as a main character in Revenge and This is Us.

John Schneider (Jonathan Kent) found fame in The Dukes of Hazzard. He stayed in the role of Jonathan for five seasons, making guest appearances in it from then on. Since Smallville, he has made lots of guest appearances in many television shows and remains a much in-demand actor.

Like John Schneider, John Glover was a household name and had voiced the character of the Riddler in many Batman animated series. His portrayal of Lionel was stellar, going from evil to good and back again at the drop of a hat. Since leaving the show, Glover has made something of a career out of guest appearances and his latest comic book role is in the new film Shazam!.

Cassidy Freeman first came onto the scene with a number of shorts including Clock and Razor Sharp. Until her casting 2 years later in 2008 as Tess, she made a number of cameos and since Smallville was seen in shows like Once Upon A Time, The Vampire Diaries, and NCIS: New Orleans alongside her main role on Longmire.

Laura Vandervoort had been acting since 1997 but Supergirl was her first massive breakthrough. Since then, she has headlined shows like Bitten and the reboot of V. In recent years, she appeared as Indigo, a future version of Brainiac in Supergirl.

Season 10

Smallville‘s final episode aired 13th May 2011. Darkseid was the main villain for this season and it would take the might of Superman and his friends to stop him. The finale was building up to the marriage between Clark and Lois, and Clark finally becoming Superman. Indeed, the final scenes sees him don the famous suit and take flight, much to the delight of viewers everywhere. The suit was the same one from the movie, Superman Returns and, if the show continued, the production team would have made the adjustments needed so it fit Tom Welling properly.

Much like Season 7, Season 10 saw the production team play with the established mythology. Old stars returned for one more rightly-earned appearance. Season 10 wraps up the series perfectly and celebrates what came before it as well as promising a bright future.

Had the series continued the production team said that they would have included DC staples like Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern.

The Lasting Legacy of Smallville

People sometimes find it a little too easy to criticise Smallville, but on the whole, Smallville helped establish an audience for superhero television shows and movies. Without it, we certainly wouldn’t have the Arrowverse, made up of Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow (starring Arthur Darvill), and Supergirl. Smallville demonstrated that a team could make a cohesive universe out of otherwise largely unknown entities. So people who criticise this show actually have a lot to thank it for.

Some of the locations have been used again recently, most notably the Kent farm which has now appeared in a number of Supergirl episodes and turned up in an episode of Riverdale which proved to be a real surprise.

But, for me, Smallville, for all its perfect hits and imperfections, will always be the true Superman story. It shows us Clark Kent growing up and while later seasons moved the action to Metropolis, this is the story of the boy from Smallville. Tom Welling will always be my Superman and Erica Durance my Lois Lane. All these characters are who I imagine when I read a Superman comic book.

But most importantly, this show takes me back to a time when things weren’t easy for me. School life was hard but I have a safe home in Smallville, meteor-freaks be damned.

Jordan Shortman

Smallville: The Ten Year Journey From Man to Superman

by Jordan Shortman time to read: 19 min
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