“Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”
A deeper look into Clark Kent’s return to Smallville in “Crisis on Infinite Earths”.
By Michael J. Petty
As I’m sure all of you know, seeing as how you’re reading this at the moment, this week began the five-part crossover between the DC/CW shows “Arrow,” “The Flash,” “Supergirl,” Batwoman,” and “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” (along with appearances from characters from various other DC series) entitled “Crisis on Infinite Earths”. There are a lot of cool aspects to this crossover that every fan, even one like me who hasn’t watched the Arrowverse shows for a few years, will be able to sit back and enjoy, such as Brandon Routh’s return as a Kingdom Come-inspired version of Superman from “Superman Returns,” Kevin Conroy’s (who has been the voice of Batman in most animated projects since “Batman: The Animated Series” in 1992) first live-action appearance as Bruce Wayne, as well as the long-anticipated return of Tom Welling’s Clark Kent and Erica Durance’s Lois Lane from “Smallville”.
“Smallville” was, and still is, my all-time favorite television show. Watching Clark Kent grow from unsure teenager to heroic “savior” over the course of ten years was not only what helped me relate to the Man of Steel as a character and a person, but also helped me grow up at a time in my life when I needed a “Superman” to look up to. I’ve watched the series through multiple times, read all the “Season 11” continuation comics, and have not only listened to podcasts on “Smallville” but also hosted my own. “Smallville” is a huge part of my life, and always will be.
So when I heard that Tom Welling and Erica Durance were reprising the roles that touched my life so deeply, I decided that regardless of how much of the Arrowverse I am caught up on, I had to watch “Crisis” to see my Clark and Lois once more. My buddy Dan would’ve loved this…
And that’s why I’m writing this! Because I have some thoughts that I need to process and I would love to help others process along with me.
First of all, SPOILER ALERT for both “Smallville” as-a-whole and the “Crisis” crossover. I don’t want anyone reading this who doesn’t want to be spoiled on (to quote “Smallville”‘s Earth-2 Lionel Luthor) “how it all turns out”…
Right off the bat, I loved the whole conversation between Clark and Earth-38’s Lex Luthor. That was wonderful and felt like it was right out of an episode of “Smallville,” which makes sense given that “Batwoman” writers Don Whitehead & Holly Henderson wrote for Smallville” back-in-the-day. Clark and Lex’s conversation was very reminiscent of Clark’s conversation with the aging clone Lex from Season 10’s premiere “Lazarus,” which I really appreciated. Not only was Clark completely unphased by Lex, which makes sense given that he’s been through this with “his” Lex many times before, but he also stood his ground. Clark had been Superman for the past (give-or-take) seven years at this point since he became the Man of Steel in “Finale” (2011) and now it’s 2019, proving that he’s not only confident in who he is/was as a hero, but also as Clark Kent.
If you’ve seen this episode, you of course know that Clark reveals to Lex that he’s given up his powers in order to settle down with Lois on the Kent Farm to raise their (two?) daughters. More on this later…
One of the interesting things about Earth-38’s Lex Luthor’s reaction to Clark giving up his abilities is that, like “Smallville”‘s Lex (and most iterations of the character), if Clark Kent isn’t Superman, if there isn’t some mystery to solve or power to envy, he couldn’t care less about him, let alone killing him. Lex leaves soon after and Clark returns to Lois and his girls.
When Earth-38’s Clark Kent and Lois Lane, along with Iris West-Allen, first appear to recruit Clark to face the Crisis and warn him of Earth-38 Lex’s plans, he refers to his own Lex Luthor as being the President of the United States. It seems as if Lex’s destiny (foreshadowed in “Hourglass,” “Apocalypse,” and “Salvation” before coming to pass in “Finale”) was ultimately fulfilled. We can only hope that, with Tess’ memory wipe and Lex’s “clean slate” that he became the better man that Clark knew he would be.
Tom Welling and Erica Durance stepped back into their roles seamlessly, not even skipping a beat. The “Clois” dynamic is healthy-as-ever and felt like we ripped the two right out of Season 10 where we left off. Lois pokes fun at “Smallville” and Clark utters a spin on the classic, “this looks like a job for” line, reminding us that without Lois, Clark wouldn’t have ever become the hero he was destined to be. Ironically, he would have never left the hero life without Lois either…
Also, the fact that Lois and Clark have daughters and not a son like Jon Kent from the comics (and “Supergirl”) or Jason from “Superman Returns” is an interesting, and refreshing, take on Superman’s kids. And for “Smallville” it makes sense! Chloe Sullivan, Kara Zor-El, Lana Lang, Lois Lane, Martha Kent, and Tess Mercer are all major players in the series. Clark’s biggest support system, besides his father, has always been the women around him. So bringing daughters into Clark and Lois’ lives, little women that they can pour into, is both adorable and fitting. I wonder about their names… Martha? Elle? Lara? Kara? Tess? Chloe? Endless possibilities.
This brings me to the main topic at hand: how I feel about Clark turning his back on his destiny to settle down in Smallville with Lois and the girls…
To be honest, I’m not completely sure!
On one hand, Clark never wanted the hero life. Though he often ran towards danger due to his “good values” upbringing by Jonathan and Martha Kent, he hid from Jor-El and his heritage from the moment he learned of it. The powers were cool until he recognized the responsibility that came with them; but it wasn’t just the responsibility that Clark didn’t want, he was always responsible and generally managed his abilities well, it was the fact that he couldn’t live the “normal life” that he desperately wanted. It was because his powers made him feel like a freak.
In the “Pilot,” he tells his father that he would “give anything” to be normal before putting his hand in a woodchipper to make his point. He couldn’t play sports because of his powers (until, of course, he did in Season 4, but even then he didn’t pursue it long), he couldn’t get close to anyone (especially Lana), and he had to constantly be on-guard to protect his secret from the likes of Sam Phelan, Roger Nixon, Lionel Luthor, Tess Mercer, General Sam Lane, Checkmate, and even his closest friends. This secret is what ultimately drove a wedge between Clark and Lex, ending their friendship. “You didn’t trust me” Lex utters to Clark in the seventh season finale “Arctic,” and he was right.
Every time Clark gave up his abilities, he embraced it whole-heartedly. In “Leech,” he’s happy Eric Summers stole his powers and only regains them to stop Eric from hurting people. In “Arrival,” he is punished by Jor-El and his powers are stripped from him, but Clark isn’t upset, he embraces normalcy and for the next two episodes (“Mortal” & “Hidden”) thrives with Lana by his side. That is until he’s shot and Jor-El has to restore his powers in order to save him. In fact, the only time Clark seems at-all distraught at the loss of his powers is following “Arctic” when Lex destroys the Fortress, though this may be because he was stuck in Russia for months without them and had no way of returning home (“Odyssey”). Getting them back by the end of the episode didn’t hurt either…
More-than-not, it seemed that Clark Kent always wanted to live up to his father’s example (Jonathan, not Jor-El) and be a man rather than a Superman.
On the other hand, however, as “Smallville” progressed, Clark eventually embraced all of his abilities, understanding that when dealing with threats like Brainiac, General Zod, Bizarro, Doomsday, and Darkseid, he was truly the only person capable of defeating them. We see this again-and-again throughout the series and by the time Season 8 rolls around, Clark is well-on his way to becoming the hero he was destined to be since he landed on Earth in the “Pilot”.
Cassandra Carver saw Clark’s destiny in “Hourglass,” as did Jordan Cross in “Hereafter,” the Legion (“Legion”), Booster Gold (“Booster”), and Doctor Fate (“Society/Legends”). Brainiac 5 even showed Clark his future where he met his future-self as Superman in “Homecoming”. By the time Clark saw it for himself in “Salvation,” he was ready to fully embrace the hero he was meant to become. After all his trials in Smallville, Clark finally became Superman. Not because Jor-El forced him to, not because Jonathan Kent asked him to, and not because Lois was counting on him to, but because he recognized the call on his life and the responsibility he was entrusted with to protect Earth, and he embraced it as his own. Because ultimately, deep-down, Clark cares about everybody, and all he wants to do is save people.
So this is where my problem lies… Clark had fully embraced his destiny. He had become Superman and when we see him rip open his shirt to reveal the House of El shield on his chest in “Finale,” he had been living out that destiny for seven years. So how is it that, seemingly one year later, he’s given it all up?
How could Clark become the greatest hero the Earth has ever known in only seven years? I suppose it’s not that far of a stretch. After-all, Jesus Christ’s ministry only lasted three years before the crucifiction and there are still plenty of people (myself being one of them) who continue to follow Him and talk about Him daily. So I guess Clark being Superman for only seven years, when put into that perspective, isn’t really that bad. Especially when you consider his time as the [Red-Blue] Blur (three years) and the seven years we spent with him prior to that.
But I suppose that, after processing this through, Clark is leaving Earth-167 (though to me it’s still Earth-1…) in good hands. Green Arrow, Watchtower, Black Canary, Aquaman, Mera, Cyborg, Stargirl, Martian Manhunter, Zatanna, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and so many others are all out there to keep the planet safe… And after-all, maybe Clark’s powers aren’t gone for good?
Maybe he is using Blue Kryptonite to keep his powers locked down. Maybe it’s a “Superman II” situation and he’s given them up for Lois but, if he were to return to the Fortress, could he restore them if necessary? The Superman in “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” gave up his powers (for the same reasons) through Gold Kryptonite, and we already know from Ultraman in “Luthor” that Gold K scars are permanent… Maybe in “Smallville it can take away Clark’s abilities too…
But whatever the situation, I’m happy for Clark. I’m happy he has the farm. I’m happy he works an honest living. I’m happy he has Lois and their girls. I’m happy that he’s still the same-old Clark Kent that we fell in love with on “Smallville”. But ultimately I’m happy because Clark is happy. He did what he was called to do. He saved the world. Again and again. What more can we ask of him?
Who knows? Maybe he’ll recognize how big a threat this Crisis truly is and, to protect his family, may return by “Part 5” to help his fellow Supermen save the universe.
We can only hope. And that’s what the “S” means, isn’t it? Hope.
Michael John Petty