By Steven O’Connor
We should all know by now the legend of Superman, heard the stories and seen the movies. Sent to earth as a baby from the doomed planet Krypton by his parents Jor-El and Lara, he became earth’s hope and inspiration, using his extraordinary powers to help those in need while masquerading as Clark Kent, a mild-mannered reporter working for The Daily Planet. What we don’t know much about is the life Clark Kent led as a youngster, before he donned the famous red cape.
In 2001, Alfred Gough and Miles Millar developed a TV series which began a journey of discovery for Clark Kent in his hometown of Smallville. The concept of ‘Smallville’ would be ‘no tights, no flight’, focusing more on Clark’s humanity and not so much his invincibility. How does a teenager lead a normal life while developing and trying to control superhuman powers? There is also the matter of trying to make friends and to fit in at high school, which is hard enough for any teenager.
The show first aired in October 2001 for the WB network (now the CW network) and would give us a whole new look at a character that has been part of our culture since 1932. This was a gamble, no doubt. Would people watch this character without the suit, without the glasses, without the flight? With over 8.4 million viewers tuning in to the pilot episode, the signs were promising.
So who would play the young Clark Kent? After a nationwide search, the role was offered to a young model turned actor named Tom Welling. Surely a role like this would be a dream come true for any young actor? Welling would actually turn down the role twice, feeling that the role was bigger than him and wasn’t sure that he would do justice to the part. The producer’s were adamant they had found the right man and eventually Tom realized that he would be a fool to turn down this offer.
Smallville was a huge success right from the get-go. Season 1 started as somewhat of a ‘monster of the week’ series with a new ‘freak’ (usually a Smallville High student) being infected with meteor-rock (they don’t know its Kryptonite yet) and terrorizing the locals before Clark came to the rescue. With Clark and his friends in high school and hanging out at their local coffee shop ‘The Talon’, the show was described as ‘Dawson’s Creek meets The X-Files’. I thought this was a great direction to take this story and it also confirmed that people were interested in seeing Clark before he became the Man of Steel.
Having such close friends as Chloe Sullivan and Pete Ross helped Clark feel like a normal everyday kid, whose biggest problem was catching the bus to school every day and finding the courage to speak to the girl of his dreams Lana Lang, played beautifully by Canadian actress Kristin Kreuk. Growing up on a farm, Clark is raised by his adoptive and loving parents Jonathan and Martha Kent, played by John Schneider and Annette O’Toole. They would go to great lengths to keep their sons secret, while teaching him the morals and values he would need to always do the right thing in any given situation. The gave him the tools to be the great man they knew he was destined to become.
Perhaps the best move by producers was the introduction of the young and cocky Lex Luthor (played superbly by Michael Rosenbaum) who arrives to take charge of the Luthorcorp plant located in Smallville. Clark would save Lex’s life in the pilot episode and the two would form a strong friendship. The love and the warmth of family that the Kent’s had was something that Lex would envy, despite Jonathan Kent’s objections due to his distrust of the Luthor family. As the series progressed, the relationship between the two would be severely tested as both men would travel different paths to embrace their own destiny.
An Epic Journey begins
With the first season having proved a success, the sky was the limit for Smallville. In Season 2 Clark would begin to learn and embrace his Kryptonian heritage and with the help of Jor-El he would begin the journey to fulfill his destiny. The highlight of season 2 and perhaps of any season, was the guest appearance by Christopher Reeve in the episode titled ‘Rosetta’ and his portrayal of Dr. Virgil Swann. Reeve would play an astronomer who lived in isolation since the meteor shower which brought the baby Kal-El to earth, it is he who gives Clark the answers he was looking for. Christopher Reeve had already voiced his approval of the show and we were fortunate to see two appearances from the late actor.
“You won’t find the answers by looking at the stars. It’s a journey you’ll have to take by looking inside yourself. You must write your own destiny, Kal-El.” – Virgil Swann, to Clark Kent
As the show rolled on, so did the characters and storylines. Characters would come and go but we would be introduced to new regulars along the way, like in season 4 when Lois Lane came to town. Played to perfection by Erica Durance, Lois Lane was introduced as the bold and unspoken cousin of Chloe Sullivan.
Season 5 would see a critical turning point in Clark’s life with the death of his father Jonathan. With his father gone his path would now take a different course, with the trials set by Jor-El at the Fortress of Solitude in what series co-creator Al Gough described as ‘Superman in training’. The show had progressed a lot further than the days when Clark and his friends would meet at The Talon to talk about their homework. Chloe was working at the Daily Planet, Clark was all set to become a football star and Lex and Lana were married. My interest was waning slightly by this point as there was a lack of excitement around this time. Viewing figures were declining slightly and the show was in need of something that would bring a touch of excitement to it. I certainly hoped that it would happen soon.
My hopes were realized quickly as in season 6 a new character was introduced and immediately grabbed my attention, a character I had never even heard of. Oliver Queen, the billionaire playboy by day and hooded vigilante Green Arrow by night arrived in Smallville hell-bent on revenge against Lionel Luthor for the murder of his parents. Played by Justin Hartley, Queen would find a home in Metropolis as owner of Queen Industries and was my new favourite character all the way until the show ended.
A New Direction
After seven years with the show, co-creaters Al Gough and Miles Millar announced that they would be leaving Smallville and were replaced by Todd Slavkin, Darren Swimmer, Kelly Souders and Brian Peterson. Tom Welling would also become a co-producer. The show would make big changes as the focus would shift from Smallville to Clark’s life in Metropolis, working at the Daily Planet and his developing attraction with Lois Lane. There would be more of a comic book influence to the show as characters such as Kara aka Supergirl, Bizzaro, Braniac, Metallo and even Krypto the Superdog (not as bad as it sounds) were introduced. There was even a very decent attempt at the Doomsday character in season 8, with Sam Witwer’s brilliant performance as Davis Bloome aka Doomsday. Clark was now not the only superhero in town either. In season 6 Victor Stone (Cyborg), Arthur Curry (Aquaman) and Bart Allen (Impulse) join forces with Clark and Green Arrow in our first glimpse of the Justice League.
Season 9 would see Clark finally embrace his calling as a superhero, albeit as a mysterious vigilante simply named ‘The Blur’. Watching from the rooftop’s of Metropolis, ‘The Blur’ looked more like Neo from the Matrix, dressed all in black and wearing a long black trench coat with his Kryptonian family symbol on his chest. He would face his toughest challenge yet as General Zod, a Kryptonian who was banished to the ‘Phantom Zone’ by Jor-El, was accidentally released and formed an army to extract revenge on the son of Jor-El. Season 9 also saw the rise of the vigilante superheroes as Clark along with Oliver Queen and Chloe Sullivan would assemble at Watchtower, their high-tech headquarters. The show had definitely progressed away from Smallville and could have been renamed ‘Metropolis’ by this point.
The Journey is Complete
Season 10 was announced as the final season of Smallville as Clark reaches the final stages of his trials and becomes the hero he was destined to be. Executive producer Kelly Souders describes the final season as Clark, having to wrestle with the internal things that are preventing him from being an inspirational hope. The darkness still residing within Clark and his friends is exploited by the season’s main villain and comic book favourite Darkseid, aided by his minions Granny Goodness, Desaad and Glorious Godfrey.
Smallville would also celebrate its landmark 200th episode titled ‘Homecoming’ during season 10, a great and very popular episode which looks back at the shows past and paves the way for the future.
Several actors would return to reprise their roles throughout the final season and were vital pieces in Clark’s journey. John Schneider, Annette O’Toole, John Glover (Lionel Luthor), James Marsters (Braniac) and Laura Vandervoort (Kara) would all return along with Michael Rosenbaum who would reprise his role as Lex Luthor. Lex had not been seen since season 7 and would play a crucial role in Clark’s destiny –
“You cannot have Superman without Lex Luthor” – Tom Welling
The Smallville finale was aired on the CW network on May 3rd 2011 and was seen by over 3 million viewers. After the 10th season had ended, Smallville became the longest running science-fiction television show in the United States, breaking the Guinness World Record held previously by Stargate SG-1. The finale wrapped up Clark Kent’s journey perfectly as the farm boy we all knew for so long had finally embraced his destiny as Superman, the world’s greatest superhero.
In April 2012 fans of Smallville would rejoice as season 11 was announced in comic book form. Taking place six months after the events of the season 10 finale, we would follow the continued adventures of Clark Kent along with our favourite characters from the TV series, also with an appearance from a certain Caped Crusader who finds his way to Metropolis.
Every year when various TV networks announce their programming schedule’s there is always one name that I miss. Smallville had become an important part of my life throughout its 10 year run and I still miss it. Fans had always hoped for a movie spin-off but it seems that Warner Bros. executives are not as enthusiastic about that idea, focusing instead on Superman Returns in 2006 and Man of Steel which is set to be released in 2013. Who know? Maybe some time in the future we may see our wish come true. What we are left with though is an epic 10 year journey that I, along with many others, can re-live time and time again.
Want to discuss anything with Steven? Want to chat about Smallville or Superman? Follow him on Twitter at @St3ven91 and feel free to talk anytime.