The Coming of Smallville: Superman/Superboy in the Media
“This is a story of an amazing boy who grew up in the fields of Kansas in a little town called Smallville”
This is also an affectionate overview of the various incarnations of Superman and Superboy, the characters I grew up with. I thought it would be fun to show the different continuities the media have given us. You see, Superman was always with us. But Superboy was not.
Superman, by Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster was an American creation. He was the ultimate alien: undocumented, he came to this country and turned out to be its greatest hero. Secretly, Superman’s powers often changed and they were linked to what America thought of itself.
Before WWII Superman was vulnerable (nothing less than a bursting shell could piece his skin), fast, but not super-fast. H was very strong, not super strong. After WWII America saw itself as the most powerful, and so did Superman. During the Viet Nam era, as America lost a lot of its influnce, Superman lost a lot of his powers., and they have diminished until today.
There is a secret about Lois and Clark that has been there since their first screen appearance. They are not reporters and they don’t act like ones. They are detectives. In their two serials and all three TV shows, they don’t write about crimes, they solve them.
“See you in the funny pages”
Superman came to earth as a baby in Action Comics #1, June 1938, and quickly grew up to be Superman in the first few pages. There was no mention of a Superboy and the name Kent was never used in the few panels we saw his adoptive parents. In 1939, the new daily comic strip of Superman elaborated on his origin, showing us his Kryptonian parents, “Jor-L” and “Lora” (not Lara) but, even here, he quickly became Superman, with no mention of the Kents. The Sunday strip released later the same year, showed only two panels with the baby from Krypton and still no name for the Kents. In fact, Ma and Pa Kent would not get the name “Jonathan and Martha” until 1948.
On the Superman radio show, which premiered in 1940, had Superman came to earth as an adult, landing on a farm in Iowa, near Centerville. There was no reference to Superboy or the Kents. He spoke English and knew his way around. It’s almost funny to listen to these shows now. Bud Collyer was the voice of Superman and Kryptonite was invented so he that he could take a vacation. That is, Superman would be exposed to Kryptonite, unable to speak as Batman and Robin looked for him as Collyer vacationed!
The show also gave us, “Up in the sky! Look! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!
“Yes, it’s Superman–strange visitor from the planet Krypton who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman, who can leap tall buildings in a single bound, race a speeding bullet to its target, bend steel in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great Metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth and justice.” The American way would be added in the 1950’s TV show.
On July 4, 1940 the New York World’s Fair hosted “Superman Day.” There was a ceremony crowning of the “Superboy and Supergirl” of the day, and a public appearance by Superman, played by actor Ray Middleton.
The Fleischer brothers, whose Animation studio gave us Betty Boop and Popeye cartoons, brought Superman to the movie screen in 17 shorts, from 1941-1943. (Technically they did ten; Paramount took over their studio and did the rest.) There is nothing shown of the planet Krypton (which had a green sun). In fact, the animators seemed to have borrowed the scene from Action Comics. The cartoon opens with a quick explanation of Superman’s journey to Earth and gets to the adult Clark Kent at the Daily Planet awfully quick. The cartoons, (who also used Collyer as the voice of Superman), were the first to say, “Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!”
The Kents had their breakthrough in an enjoyable novel published in 1942 entitled, “The Adventures of Superman.” It was written by George Lowther, with illustrations by Joe Shuster. The novel is written for youngsters, on the same reading level as the Hardy Boys. The book begins with the scene of Jor El telling the council about upcoming doom! This scene and the one following it, where Krypton explodes have been brought to the screen, as of this writing, three times. For the first time, much of the details that fill in the early life of Superman are presented. The novel finally names Superman’s parents, called “Jor-El and Lara” and their baby “Kal-El.” After he arrives on Earth, Ma and Pa Kent, here called Eben and Sarah, are more fleshed out as they raise young Clark on their farm; in many ways it is close to the early years of the Smallville TV show, where Clark is gaining his powers, not having them when he arrived on earth. It’s mentioned here, for the first time, that Clark got his last name from his mother’s maiden name, Sarah Clark. There is no Superboy here. When Pa Kent is on his deathbed, he tells young Clark that he is a Superman and should use his powers for good. It would still take Clark years to become Superman. The first time the name Lang is used in Superman lore is a “Miss Lang,” one of Clark’s teachers. The book also originated that will later be played out in the serial, Superman TV show, Lois and Clark and the 1978 movie: Clark shows up at the Daily Planet to apply for a job and he meets Lois Lane for the first time.
Superboy (at last) appears in 1945’s “More Fun Comics” for 7 issues and then this series travels over to Adventure Comics. The comics were done by the Siegel and Shuster studios with the additional writing of Don Cameron and Bill Finger and artists John Sikela, George Roussos and Win Mortimer.
These stories were a bit simpler than the then current Superman stories, and were obviously directed to a younger audience. Here we see Jor-El and Lara sent their child to an unnamed town on Earth (Smallville is not mentioned). And, although the Kents are featured, they are never named, just called Mother and Father. From the beginning of the series, the world knows of Superboy, who is about 12 years old. He saves people and fights bad guys. There is no Lana Lang here.
These stories turn out to be one of the biggest focal points in the legal history of Siegel, Shuster and DC comics. Although Siegel and Shuster did not own Superman, their studio provided all the Superman artwork for DC. This included the newspaper strip. On NBC Weekend in the late 1970’s, they showed that Siegel and Shuster got about $850,000 from 1939-1948 to produce Superman. This is at a time when teachers made $3,000 dollars a year and you could buy a house for $4,000. In 1948, DC decided to continue Superboy, but with a different editorial approach, using their own in house artists, who were less expensive. This prompted Siegel and Shuster to launch a lawsuit against DC to get their copyright back. It failed and DC fired them, although they would eventually rehire Jerry Siegel as a writer. The lawsuit would come back to haunt DC and the use of the character, term and trademark “Superboy.”, as we shall see.
When DC published Superboy comics, in 1949, its second issue used the name Smallville for the first time. They often used the same artists Siegel and Shuster did at their studio.
The first of two Superman serials premiered in 1948 and 1950, and both starred Kirk Allyn and Noel Neil. These serials were really late comers to the serial scene Borrowed from the Lowther book the serial shows us on the screen, for the first time, Krypton. Krypton is a mountainous, volcanic planet orbiting a Blue Sun. Jor-El trying to convince a Kryptonian Council that their end is near… These scenes would be repeated in the 1950’s Superman TV show and enlarged for the Superman movie of 1976. Jor-El prepares his wife and sends Kal-El to Earth. The Kents are given longer screen time, but there is still no Superboy, although the comics books now had one. The name Smallville is not mentioned. After the Kents adopt Kal-El, he has all of his powers and we see him use them as a child. As with the TV show and 1978 movie, there are scenes with a young Clark with his family, but no Superboy. Each production would also have a big scene of Superman revealing himself to the world, something that could not be done if there was a Superboy. Ethan (Pa) Kent sends his son to Metropolis because his powers give him great responsibility (really). The Kents die soon after Clark leaves. At the time special effects were limited and Superman’s flying and some other feats were animated instead. These serials also have another important feature. We see that Clark Kent is wearing “baggy” clothes of that era, “fat” glasses and a big hat that really does disguise him.
The pacing of the serial, which were about 250 minutes in total, broken down to fifteen episodes, called “chapters” is very, very slow. When Lois and Jimmy say they are going somewhere, they are shown walking out of an office, taking the elevator, getting into the car, traveling, getting out of the car and so on. Today that scene would take one second. Until DVD’s these serials were lost. In fact, in Gary Grossman’s book, “Superman from Serial to Cereal” (1977) he thought that they may be lost to the public.
First Movie! And Pilot for TV Show!
Superman’s next big screen adventure would be in a movie, “Superman and The Mole Men” starring George Reeves and Phyllis Coates in 1951. The 58 minute movie, filmed in less than two weeks, showed none of Superman’s history, but served as the pilot for the famous TV show.
At the time, serials were being replaced by TV which was the step child of Hollywood. The pay, the stories, the special effects were not great. It would take two decades for TV to become a strong force and a place where actors wanted to be, not where they wound up.
The TV show, premiering in September 1952, opens with scenes on Krypton similar to the Superman Serial. In fact, the entire look of the black and white years of the Superman TV show, (52 of 104 episodes), were very much like the serial, perhaps using the same production company. The first episode also includes Kal-El’s arrival on Earth.. There is no mention of Smallville, and no Superboy. As in the comics and the serial, he meets Lois after he gets to Metropolis and reveals to the world that there is a Superman. Here and in the serial are the only places Clark does not really learn about his Kryptonian past and why he was sent to Earth. In all other live action features, Clark does.
The live action Superman had a very low budget, with two episodes filmed in a week. Phyllis Coates only appeared during the first season as Lois Lane. She didn’t exactly quit. It took some time for the producers to decide to do a second season, so she joined the cast of another show. Noel Neil was then brought in as a replacement.
Miss Neil had often spoken that the censors warned them that there could be no relationship between her and Superman and they had to play it that way. Many fans thought they saw a spark, but really there wasn’t any. Times have changed and they were so innocent then. The end of each show had a commercial from Kellogg’s where Clark was seen eating the cereal. They were told that Lois could not appear in any of those scenes because it would imply that she stayed over for breakfast. So it was often Jimmy Olsen who had breakfast with Clark, never realizing what THAT was implying.
In June, 1959, George Reeves committed suicide, ending his life and the Superman series. I honestly remember that day. You can’t imagine how every kid in America mourned.
But still seeing a market for this kind of show, and still having the sets, the producers of the series created a pilot, in 1961, of “Superboy” giving young Kal-el his first on screen appearance. Johnny Rockwell starred as Superboy and Bunny Henning was Lana Lang. Finally, Smallville was finally mentioned on film. It was not bad, but not good enough for the network or syndicators to produce. The worst pilot I have ever seen however remains the 1958 pilot of “Superpup.” This had actors dressed like dogs portraying a canine version Superman and Bark Bent.
There is an interesting flashback in an early 1960s Superman comic, where the principle of Clark’s school notes that even Superboy has to go to school and is attending his school under a secret identity. Well, that would have been hard to figure out! In modern day, both versions have Lana as Clark’s first girlfriend.
The Neon Lights are Bright, on Broadway
The Comics Code hysteria put an end to any original screen production based on comics for over a decade, until the Batman TV Show. The next big production for Superman would be on Broadway in 1966, in “It’s A Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman.” It lasted 129 performances and actually had a few nice songs. The show was produced for ABC TV in 1975 and critics and fans hated the abridged production. But I loved Leslie Ann Warren as Lois Lane. Loretta Swit (MASH) played a villain.
Also in 1966:
Superman has appeared in cartoons on TV since 1966 when Filmation Studios produced The New Adventures Superman, Superman-Aquaman Hour (1967), a short run of the Justice League and the Superman Batman Hour (1968). Starting in 1973, Hanna Barbera created 7 versions of the Justice League (Super Friends; The All-New Super Friends Hour; Challenge Of The Super Friends; The World’s Greatest Super Friends; Super Friends; Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians). These cartoons produced nothing that adds to our explanation of Smallville and Superboy.
From Reeves to Reeve
The 1978 Superman movie, with Chris Reeve, put onto the screen a lot of plot and character points that would stay with Superman. Here, Smallville is placed in Kanas for the first time.
For the first time Ma and Pa Kent are named, on screen as Jonathan and Martha Kent. They are an older couple as portrayed in the comics and serials. We get a good sense of Clark’s life in Smallville, as well as a glimpse of Lana Lang. Clark is played by Jeff East, who had his voice later dubbed by Reeve. But there is no Superboy. This is interesting because the producers of the movie were to produce a live action TV show entitled “Superboy” in 1989.
As always, Clark meets Lois after he gets to Metropolis and reveals to the world that there is a Superman. Metropolis, however, is moved around a lot. Sometimes it’s near Smallville, sometimes it’s the capital of the same state and sometimes as in the Superman movie, it’s in New York.
Both in the comics and on the screen, TV or movies, there was no real serious romance, or sex between Lois Lane and Superman. That changes here, and it changes forever, when Clark and Lois spend a night in the Fortress of Solitude.
All of Superman and much of Superman II were filmed concurrently by the great director Richard Donner. The producers, however, wanted a lighter touch to the movie, more like the Batman TV show, and fired Donner before he could complete Superman II. They hired Richard Lester to finish the second movie, and he added all the parts I don’t like. Marlon Brando doesn’t appear in the second movie (They substitute Samantha Eggar) because he sued for part of the profits of Superman I and won his case. They would have had to give him money for Superman II if he was in it, so they cut him out. So an “A” movie turns into a “B.” All the scenes with Luthor (Gene Hackman) and the three super-villains were filmed by Donner. Many of the scenes with Lois and Clark, especially in Niagara Falls, were filmed by Lester, who has Lois forgetting her night with Clark.
As close as Lois and Clark got, the next two movies are not directed by Richard Donner and the relationship between Lois and Clark gets distant and a bit strange, considering we know they love each other.
The nest two Superman movies add nothing new to his history, with one interesting exception. In the third movie, Lana Lang is played by the beautiful Annette O’Toole, who will play his mother in the TV series, “Smallville.” Here, she plays Clark’s first girlfriend. In fact, the TV show Smallville will borrow a lot of people who appeared in these movies.
25 years later, using outtakes and Christopher Reeve film test, Warner Brothers lets Richard Donner reedit the second movie. The estate of Marlon Brando lets him use footage of Brando. So there is a great “new” Superman movie, showing a greater connection between Lois and Clark, called Superman II the Donner Edition. Get it. It takes a B movie and makes it A+. The Donner edition clears a few things up at the end, but the original Superman II ends on an inconsistent and silly note.
Back to Books
Writer Elliot S. Maggin would write two novels on Superman, and he too would put Smallville in Kansas. Maggin would ignore the Superman movie continuity. In his first book, “The Last Son of Krypton” we are introduced to farmers, Jonathan and Martha Kent. Smallville is a small rural town, with one general store and one bank, and everyone seems to know each other. When Kal-El’s rocket lands on Earth, the story immediately jumps years into the future, to the city of Metropolis, where Superman is already known. Reminiscing, there is a brief mention of Superboy.
In his second book, Miracle Monday” Maggin jumps back in time and shows us Thanksgiving in Smallville. The Kents have sold their farm and now run the town’s general store. Superboy is featured, complete with his super costume. He stops a bank robbery and kills the robbers, he saves a forest ranger from a threatening wolf, and he “saves” a blind girl from a bumbling doctor and Superboy helps restore her sight. There was no comic book “code” of honor here, Superboy, “dropped tyrants, heinous criminals and chronic speeders into volcanoes.” We see young Clark discovering his super-powers, such as his microscopic vision and we meet his friends, Lana Lang and Pete Ross.
When the Superman Comic book series “rebooted” in 1986, and Superman’s origin was retold, Kansas remained home to Smallville.
Supergirl didn’t exist in the DC Universe until Action Comics #252 (May 1959). So the history of Krypton had to be altered to show her family surviving the explosion of their planet, and coming to Earth as a teenager. It always puzzled me, even as a kid, why Superman put his 15 year old cousin, his only surviving relative, in an orphanage. Why didn’t he adopt her? How many 15 year olds get adopted?
Supergirl came to the theatre screens in 1984 in a rather disappointing movie. While the movie showed a weird interpretation of the Kryptonian survivors, another dimension of Kryptonians, it added nothing to the history of Superman. Helen Slater, who really did a wonderful job with a terrible script, was wasted here. But she too will return to Krypton, but not in the way you’d think. In the series Smallville, she was cast as Kal-El’s mother.
Let’s Do the Time Warp Again!
In 1988, DC Comics rebooted their universe and pressed the delete button on Superboy. But that didn’t stop the Producers of the first three Chris Reeve’s movie from producing a syndicated show, “Superboy.” The irony, of course, is that their Superman movie didn’t have a Superboy, DC comics did. Now that is reversed. The show lasted four seasons.
Smallville was not a player in the Superboy series. The first year, John Haymes Newton played Superboy and Stacy Haiduk played Lana Lang. They attended Siegel School of Journalism at Shuster University in Shusterville, Florida, giving tribute to Superman’s creators. Ma and Pa Kent were both still alive and in many episodes. The first season was not very good, although I became a fan of Ms. Haiduk. Many familiar villains showed up in the 13 uneven episodes.
In the second season a better Superboy, Gerald (Gerard?) Christopher took over the role and the stories were better produced. The even changed their Lex Luthor. Both actors, however, saw Clark Kent not as a bumbling nerd, but a three dimensional character, developing himself and his powers. In actuality only the Chris Reeve Clark Kent was a bungler on screen. And both Christopher and Haymes were really young Supermen, too old to be called Superboy.
There was a technical change in the third season with the show now called “The Adventures of Superboy” Lana and Clark also changed venues, working for “The Bureau for Extra-Normal Matters” The last three seasons were more fun and interesting.
The producers, Viacom, Warner Bros. and the Salkinds fought over the rights, so the series has never seen reruns. Once they settled, Superboy, Season I was released on DVD several years ago, but no more. I understand that this is because of the legal issues facing the copyright fight of the Siegel and Shuster Estates.
But legal battles persisted. When the original producers of the Superman movies could not make licensing payments to Warner brothers, they sold Superman IV’s rights to Golan Globus, while retaining the rights to Superboy, Supergirl and Superpup. However, Warner put a lien on these properties, wanting the rights to be returned. This is speculation, but many have written it was because they wanted to take the next step and return Superman to prime time, without a competing product in syndication.
Back To Animation
In 1988 Ruby/Spears produced Superman cartoons that did add to the history of Superman. They shows began with an updated version of famous Superman TV show beginning, which was adapted from both the original radio show and the Fletcher cartons of the early 1940s. It also used the John Williams music from the 1978 movie. In a reoccurring feature, “Superman’s Family Album.” the series showed young Clark’s life in Smallville. Here Kal-El arrives on Earth with all his super-powers and is found by Jonathan and Martha Kent on their farm in Smallville. The Kents bring him to an orphanage, where they are rejected as candidates for parenthood because they are too old. However, as was often shown in the comics, Kal-El’s powers make him unmanageable and they finally allow the Kents to adopt him. In the 13 episodes (about 4 minutes each) that followed, they showed the Kent’s problems with is super behavior as a toddler, Clark going on his first date, his first and last day of school (when he graduated), his first date and so on. There is no Superboy here. In its last episode, we see the familiar scene of the Kents sending their son off to the big city, along with the costume that Mas Kent made. Then we see Clark get his job and meets Lois at the Daily Planet just as he reveals himself to the world.
Lois and Clark
In 1993, Lois and Clark, The New Adventures of Superman, began a four year run on ABC. Personally, I felt there was at times great writing and a great sense of fun. And Teri Hatcher made a spectacular Lois Lane. On screen Clark Kent usually is not the nerd, or boob, he was often portrayed in the comics. With the exception of the Chris Reeve’s Clark he has stronger presence. Dean Cain strongly portrayed Clark Kent as a real person and Superman as the put on, not the other way around. In fact, Cain’s performance centered around Clark much more strongly than he had ever been portrayed before. The show was not called Lois and Superman, and, in a funny way, Superman became the supporting character and Clark was the star.
Clark is now close to his foster parents, both are still alive, and he sees them often in Smallville, which is still in Kansas. This is the first time that Ma and Pa Kent will be a very strong part of the adult Clark’s life. Metropolis is still near New York, however. Here we see Ma Kent design and construct his uniform. In the serial, Ma Kent gives Clark his uniform, saying that she made it from his Kryptonian blankets.
In Lois and Clark, and later in Smallville, there is no rush to tell Superman’s Kryptonian origins. In the 16th episode entitled “foundling”, Clark learns how his parents put him into a rocket and sent him to Earth. Clark now feels his natural parents didn’t abandon him, but saved him.
Phyllis Coates plays Lois’s mother in one episode, but Beverly Garland is brought in thereafter.
Once again, Superman meets Lois as an adult. She discovers his identity in the second season, and at its end he proposes to her. While there were many false starts, Lois and Clark finally tie the knot in the fourth season in an episode called, “Swear To God, This Time We’re Not Kidding” For the first time, DC coordinated a TV episode with their comics, which also had the wedding of Superman and Lois. In the final episode of the year, Lois and Clark find a baby on their doorstep and, -apparently – a cancellation notice.
The Superman Animated Series, (1996-2000) produced by Warner Brothers, begins with a 90 minute episode that shows the destruction of Krypton. This time, Jor-Ell cannot reach the council because of the influnce and power of a large central computer, Brainiac, who is, in this incarnation, a self-actualized and wants save itself. Kal-El is sent to Earth in a rocket meant to have a pilot, but a GPS is used here.. This rocket is recycled for other episodes. The Kents, in Smallville, find and adopt Clark. Then the episode quickly jumps ten years into the future. Now in high school Clark is learning about his powers and his Kryptonian parents, who left recordings. Then series then jumps again, and picks up with him established as Superman in Metropolis.
Back to the Future
After his animated show was concluded Superman appeared occasionally in several cartoon series, including Batman, Krypto the Superdog and the Justice League. None of these series added to this history. Of interest to us is, is the two year run of The Legion of Super-Heroes beginning in 2006 for the CW network. Here, we see a young Clark Kent, with his full abilities planning to move to Metropolis from Smallville. He is not yet revealed to the world as Superman (or Superboy). The Legion, super power beings from the 31st century, travel back in time to recruit Clark for their adventures in the future. He develops his persona there, calling himself Superman in the very first episode. The original press releases for the show referred to Clark as Superboy. Once again, I suspect that the Siegel/Shuster lawsuit was a factor in changing the name to Superman.
And then came Smallville
“Your abilities may be of my (Jor-El) blood, but it is your time in Smallville with Jonathan and Martha Kent and all the people there that makes you a hero.”
All versions of Superman borrow from previous versions and in the Smallville TV show as no exception. In fact, it borrowed more than the others. What we have seen is that, often concurrently, the Superman myth takes two separate routes:
The first, seen in the original comics and Lowhter’s novel, is that there was no Superboy, Clark Kent grew to manhood, slowly gaining his powers as he matured. The leaves the farmland of a small town in the Midwest, often called Smallville, and “premieres” as Superman in the great Metropolis. And about this time he meets Lois Lane, Luthor and a host of villains.
The second version is that Clark gains his powers upon arrival on Earth and becomes a Superboy at age 12-15. He meets all his villains for the first time at that young age, not when he gets older. Clarks grows to manhood and moves to Metropolis, where he meets Lois Lane.
There is no Superboy in Smallville, lawsuit or not. Tom Welling the star, born in 1977, was 24 years old when the series premiered in 2001. Kristin Laura Kreuk, who played Lana Lang, was 19. So although we are told they are in High School, and are 15 years old, our senses tell us that they are really older than that. And that’s important because these characters all seem to be orphans they are basically independent adults. Lana will run a business, a coffee shop, Chloe, Allison Mack, will be a reporter. They are all doing adult, grown up things. However, to me, Allison Mack, was the only one who looked young enough to still be in high school. In fact, even as the series ends, she still does!
The town of Smallville and Smallville High School become major players as most events happen here. In fact, if you are watching the shows for the first time, count the fatalities that occur at that one small high school! And no one investigates!!!
The first year was rather bumpy and the show became the “kryptonite of the week” program. Well, we knew what is was, they called it “meteor rock.” They had a lot of characters to introduce and they wanted to show you that they were NOT the ones you were familiar with. Jonathan and Martha Kent were much younger than we had ever seen and very much involved in their son’s life and developing powers. The center of the show, and what it did best, was the developing relationship between Clark and Luthor. Lionel Luthor (John Glover) is introduced in the very first episode and becomes a regular in the second season. He is so distant from his son we think Luthor too is an orphan. Clark and Lex start out as friends, but we know what is going to happen. We also knew that any relationship with Lana would eventually fail. Chloe was the wild card; she was never in any Superman chronology, as pointed out by the Legion of Super Heroes when they came to visit.
They tease us with Superman’s continuity, starting in the first episode. Kryptonite is introduces, the “S” logo is used for Smallville and Lana, seeing that Clark reading Nietzsche “Are you man or superman?” Lana goes to her parent’s gravesite and say her parents were killed when she was three years old, during the meteor shower that occurred when Kal-El’s rocket landed. This makes her a year or so older than the infant Kal-El. Also, the gravesite gives the date of her parent’s deaths as 1989 Lana states she was three years old when they died. This means that in 2001, Lana is 15, still in high school but looking older. Clark would be 13-14. Luthor , by the way, stats he was 9 years old when he lost his hair in 1989, so he is 7 years older than then Clark.
The first season also established the ground rules, not unlike the comic, that would run throughout the series. Clark, of course, would never kill anyone. There would be no Superman costume and Clark wouldn’t fly. But even in the pilot episode he is able to float. By the 7th season, this got annoying. In the Superman movie, Kal-El works with Jor-El for 12 years to discover his origin and powers that was 20 minutes of screen time. Here, it takes Clark 10 years, and 200 hours of screen time to do the same.
The second season continues mostly from the first, with Clark finding out more about Krypton and his family. This season also begins to introduce guest stars from other Superman projects (mostly the Chris Reeve movies) including Reeve, Terrance Stamp, Margo Kidder, Jeff East, Marc McClure, Teri Hatcher, Dean Cain, and so many others. We also get the first appearance of Red Kryptonite. In terms of the story, John Glover is introduced as Lionel Luthor and substitutes, actually for the evil Luthor we know his son will grow up to be. There is a strong statement that Lex might have grown up to be a nice guy if he was raised by a decent family.
I was totally touched by what I considered Smallville’s greatest episode, Rosetta, featuring Christopher Reeve. It was a wonderful, moving and important episode that passed the torch from one generation to another. Until the last few episodes of season 10, Smallville had not used any of the John Williams movie music. Except here, they use it for Christopher Reeve. And they end it with a personal plea from both Supermen to help find a cure for the spinal injury that paralyzed Chris Reeve.
I suspect this has to do with the economics of the show, but there was a yearly exit of established characters. The first to go was Lana’s boyfriend banished after the first season. The next season saw the exit of Pete Ross, Clark’s best friend and keeper of his secret. But rather than just deleting his character, he was kind of merged in Chloe, who became is best friend and also one of the first of many of his secret keepers. On the 100th show, Jonathan Kent was killed off, as he often was. Often but not always. Then Lionel Luthor was killed a few seasons later. A couple of seasons later, Martha Kent, who completely doted on her son, suddenly packs up, leaves and almost never calls him!
Another major formula of the series was to have a two or three part story arc at the end of a season that looks like everything is changing! Then the first two episodes of the next season will return everything back to normal. So it was a four or five episode story arc.
The most important part of the fourth and fifth season was the introduction of Lois Lane. Very different from any other major Superman continuity, Lois comes to Smallville and meets Clark before he becomes Superman. We know that they will get close, not only because of the characters history, but because they dislike each other when they meet on screen. This is movie formula, when you know a couple will eventually find each other. Previously, she had always met him at the Daily Planet in Metropolis. In fact, while we always got a scene where Clark applies for his job, Smallville will eventually give us a scene, for the first time, of Lois applying for hers. She starts off as a supporting character, and develops into a regular by the fifth season. Following the lead set by Teri Hatcher and Leslie Ann Warren, Erica Durance is easy on the eyes! While often not spelled out in many stories, Lois always seemed to be a few years older than Clark. This is true here too. And Miss Durance also does a spot asking for donations to the Christopher Reeve Charity.
Clark would finish high school but would NOT finish college, another break from most Superman continuities. Neither would Lois. How Clark and Lois, without college degrees in journalism, are considered qualified for their jobs at the Daily Planet, I’ll never know. On the show, Lois did “dabble” in journalism, but not Clark. They must have known the editor! The editor, Perry White, was played by O’Toole’s real life husband, Michael McKean. On the show, after Jonathan dies Martha starts dating him!
The sixth season has another exit for a main character, as Jonathan Kent bites the dust in the 100th epdisode. But, don’t worry. In modern times, death is not fatal to comic book characters and Jonathan will be back. Slowly though, we can see Superman’s future. Versions of the members of the Justice League, the Flash, Green Arrow, Aquaman and later the Martian Manhunter and Black Canary, are slowly being brought in. In fact, Aquaman (Arthur Curry) asks Clark if he’d like to start a Junior Lifeguard Association. Clark responds, “I’m not ready for a JLA.” But he would be ready, in January 2009, for a visit by the Legion of Super-Heroes.
At this point it was nothing but fun to watch they play with the Superman continuities and I really enjoyed the show. Often, they would make you feel they were going a familiar way with a character or event, but then change it. While Smallville got half the viewers of 60 minutes, it got TWICE the revenue because the amount of young men watching the show.
We interrupt Smallville for the next Superman Movie: Superman Returns
This was not just a bad movie, it was a conflicting one. This article discusses the different continuities of Superman. This movie comes out at the same time as Smallville’ 5th season in 2006. It featured different actors, in the leads, Brandon Rout as Superman, Kate Bosworth ad Lois and Kevin Spacey as Luthor. It wanted to really be Superman III from the 1978 series, erasing the terrible Superman III and IV movies. The movie doesn’t just conflict with the Smallville continuity; it destroys the relationship between Lois and Clark. We are asked to believe that Superman left the Earth for five years without discussing it with Lois. She was pregnant so they must have been intimate. When Superman returns to Earth, Lois never tells Superman that the child is his son. At the end of the picture, Lois is married to someone else (an X-Men, James Marsden, no less) and they are raising Clark’s child. How unsatisfying is that? Nothing in this picture works for me, mainly because Rout and Bosworth have absolutely no chemistry together. Reeve and Kidder did, Hatcher and Cain did, but there was nothing here. So I never, in my heart, believed they were Superman and Lois. I now believe that you cannot have two screen continuities going on, successfully, at the same time.
The seventh season of Smallville was the last special season of the show. By now Clark (and Tom Welling) were adults, and to a great extent, the Smallville part of his life, High School and the beginning of college, were over. Metropolis is calling and Clark spends more and more time there. Annett O’Toole was also gone. While I am sure this was for budgetary reasons, Clark is shown no longer needing his doting mother. It was time to finally have Clark fly and become Superman. They did something very interesting to delay this and keep it in Smallville: They introduce the gorgeous Laura Vandervoort as Supergirl, Kal-El’s Kryptonian cousin. Miss Vandervoort was not miscast, but mislabeled. At age 22, she was a Superwoman. While the story around Clark/Luthor and Clark/Lois was developing, Supergirl actually replaced the role of young “Clark” and Clark took over the role of “Jonathan Kent,” supervising his cousins growth and wanting to stay in Smallville. Helen Slater, who played Supergirl in the movie, appears here as Lara, Clark’s natural mother. With Lois Lane now a regular, Aaron Ashmore was added as Jimmy Olsen. He becomes the love interest for Chloe, eliminating a love triangle that existed from the beginning (Clark/Lana/Chloe).
Do you know why Supergirl will always have blond hair? Mort Weisinger, the Superman comic’s editor, told his daughter one day when they were driving that there was green kryptonite, red kryptonite, blue kryptonite, but Supergirl will always have blonde hair because you do!
Although Lana and Clark get close in the seventh season, we know that all roads will lead to their breaking up and Lois becoming the girlfriend. Since Smallville has developing a pattern of eliminating salaries and the stars that get them, I wondered how they would make Lana depart. In season, seven Lana feels her staying in Smallville only inhibits Clark from reaching his full potential, so she leaves. The next season she gains super-powers and Kryptonite blood (you think I am making this up) and discovers that she can’t go near Clark Kent or keep her name in the main titles. The final season of Smallville had a lot of previous stars come back, but not Ms. Kreuk, who wouldn’t appear in a flashback episode basically written for her return. So the writers also eliminated her from the final episode.
Season eight began to lose me. First, Supergirl was written out, I suspect, because the show focused on her too much. Not just that Supergirl was pretty enough to steal a scene, but, as I mentioned Clark was now adult and the focus on the show could easily become her maturation not his. Here reason for leaving was lame; she was going into outer space to look for her parents. (Didn’t she see Superman Returns? That never works out well). Supergirl would guest star three more times and even show up in her Linda Lee Danvers disguise, right out the comic book.
I also realize we were being set up for the loss of Lana Lang on the show as Lois became more prominent. I did not enjoy the convoluted plot lines involving Lana, her pregnancy, her almost marriage to Luthor and all that went with it over two seasons. Lana was in love with the strongest person on earth and marries a villain to protect him, without telling him? And Lex is now totally the evil person we’d know he’d be. The budget, though, is affecting these shows. It is rare that all the major stars show up in one episode. In fact, in the scene for the marriage of Lex and Lana, they have a brief scene of a woman who looks like Erica Durance, but it’s not. So Lois was not at the wedding of her close friend.
At the end of the season of 2008, the producers, Gough and Millar, who had the original vision of the show, left and the series began to meander. Seasons eight, nine and most of ten, often became a version of Lois and Clark as the two developed their relation. So I was ready for Superman. Usually producers leave when they are burned out or when they can’t get enough money and control over the series. After seven years of good TV shows, the growth of Clark Kent into Superman was complete. They obviously couldn’t do it, but the show needed to grow up now too. It needed Superman. The ratings show this. It started off as the WB’s top rated show, with roughly 7-8,000,000 views. By the end of season 7 it was drawing 4 to 4,500,000 million. The final seasons drew about 2,500,000 with the last shows doing a million better. So the audience was also kind of done with the show. This would be the time to bring in so many guest villains and other characters, since the strongest regulars were leaving.
Also leaving were some very important actors as their characters, Laura Vandervoort and John Glover departed the series alongside Kreuk and Rosenbaum. Although EVERYONE who leaves Smallville comes back for a guest appearance, the loss of so many people destroyed its unique continuity and my interest in the show. The relationship between Clark and Lana, and Clark and Lex had been the shows center for seven years. New characters just can’t walk in and replace old ones. Supergirl, Laura Vandervoort, is a great example. She was a new character that didn’t replace anyone, she added to the show. We knew Lois was going to replace Lana and they gave her time to develop. Cassidy Freeman, as Tess Mercer came out of nowhere to replace Rosenbaum. Her name was taken from the Valerie Perrine’s character, Miss Tessmocker, from the 1978 movie. She turns out to be Luthor’s lost sister, also raised as an orphan. At first the character was a weak addition to the show. Welling and Rosenbaum spent years developing their characters and she was not up to that level. Her character changed into the final season and she handled that very well. I guess you can say she made a better good guy than a stereotypical bad girl.
Many characters from the DC Universe were brought in, in one form or another. We see Clark develop his “phony” Kent exterior after he visits the future, and with the Legion of Super Heroes, the future visits him. Season ten also had so many of the previous costars come back for individual or several episodes. But, I just found myself waiting for the debut of Superman in Metropolis. And for a couple of year I figured they were saving that for the final episode.
Instead, for a few episodes, I got Superboy. But not the one you’d think. In a story arc that borrowed from the Superboy comics, Luthor had created a clone named Alexander. Now, get this, it was a clone of him and Clark. So Alexander (later called Conner) has Clark’s powers and Luthor’s intellect. That Clark and Lex could have a child together is disturbing and the lack of a woman here is also troubling. Tess takes over the mother role and along with Clark, sees that Conner, who grows to his teen age years in weeks, can grow past his evil side and become a good person. Clark takes Connor back to Smallville and enrolls him in Smallville High as “Conner Kent.” Now, Connor is the closest thing to Superboy that this series ever had! But did anyone notice that the school does not have parents listed for him or a next of kin or anything. They don’t have a birth certificate for gosh sakes. And after he enrolls, the series takes leave of him and we never know what happens.
We all knew that season ten will be the last. The ads tell us and they use the music from the Superman movie. My favorite scene from this season was from the episode entitled “Luthor.” Clark goes to an alternate universe where Lionel Luthor and Jonathan Kent are still alive. After his adventure there, he returns to his world not knowing that he brought Lionel with him. When someone recognizes Lionel he says, “Mr Luthor what are you doing here? And Lionel replies, “I just wanted to see how everything works out.” Well so did I!
When things end, in the two hour final episode, it seems that everyone in Smallville, by now, knows that Clark is Superman! Lex Luthor returns (See! Comic Book people don’t die) and shows Clark what evil he will inspire and create. This causes Clark to realize he needs flights and tights and a big “S” on his chest. Tess Mercer meets her end, at the hands of Luthor, so she does not have to appear in any Superman continuity. Young Jimmy Olsen was killed in season eight, eliminating another developed co-star, but the found a way to bring him back in the last episode. And, of all people Chloe opens and ends the show, having figured it all out. There was the only appearance from Superman Returns, the last movie here. Welling used the Superman costume from that movie! They thought the Reeve costume looked to old fashioned. Oh, and Lois and Clark try to tie the knot but are interrupted. The story takes us seven years into the future and they still haven’t gotten married. Why show seven years in the future? Well, Luthor becomes 35 and eligible to run for president!
Most important: The final scene takes place in the future, and DC comics still cost $2.99.