Superman on Television

"How I'd End Smallville", or "They Stole Al Gough's Brain"

by Barry Freiman (

Date: November 10, 2003

If I were the king of the Fooooooooorest.... Well, that's what the lion in the Wizard of Oz sings when he considers being the big cheese. So let's say that tomorrow, Al Gough and I switched bodies and I had to finish plotting out Smallville.

Easy as Ma Kent's apple pie.

But, before I start, this article is laced with theories - I have no "in" nor do I have any clue on how many of my guesses will turn out to be "fact" once the show runs another two years and how many will be just way off. Conceivably, therefore, there are potential future spoilers in here or just the ramblings of a psychotic Superman fan - you pick and decide whether to read on.

We know that only three things are set in stone once Smallville comes to a close. Clark is Superman and hates Lex. Lex is evil and dedicates himself to the destruction of Superman. And Lana is the girl Superman leaves behind the stereotype of the girl next door, the Midwestern girl who never leaves home though she dreams of stars and life outside Smallville. Yes, comic book Lana is now the wife of Vice President Pete Ross in the comic books, but that never felt right. There is no better cliche to describe Lana Lang the character as an icon than as the seminal "Always a bridesmaid, never a bride."

We also know that it is possible that, by the time the show ends, Lana will know Clark's secret as she was the first girl he told in the comic books as far back as Man of Steel back in 1987 when John Byrne re-booted Superman continuity.

The show tends to have a very strong Silver Age influence. From the most recent episode, "Relic", where Jor-El comes to earth and takes the name "Joe to Lana's aunt also being an "LL" to Pete Ross being the one to discover that Clark is a super guy, the Silver Age of comics and all the silly ideas of those old Superboy stories are somehow gussied up by the Smallville team, who, in my opinion make those things work by spinning them on their ear. Yes, we have corny Silver Age style stories and subject matter, but it's twisted with Martha Kent miscarrying, adding the very logical meteor shower to the mix, and no flights, no tights. The show takes the best of the Silver Age, the best of the post-Byrne era, and adds their own slant, and shakes it all together and, most of the time, what shakes out is logical, consistent, and actually expands the mythology of Superman. What began as an homage to the second act of Superman: The Movie has turned into its own separate beast already influencing the comic book Superman (for instance, it s recently been revealed Lex did indeed spend time in Smallville as a youngster in the comics).

So where do they go from here? If Season One was about introductions, and Season Two was about exploration of origins, then so far Season Three has been about growth and exploration generally, whether it's Clark incorporating and accepting the darker side of himself after the Red Kryptonite incident, Chloe in a pickle with Lionel Luthor, or Lex taking tangible steps toward his devolution into bad guy.

While I was Al Gough -- remember our minds have been switched -- I would change two things he has already said about the show and its characters. First, I would run only four years and fight tooth and nail to get Smallville and its cast as the core of the next Superman film. I would take a tip from Star Trek: TNG, and turn a successful TV show into a successful film franchise. As exciting as it may be to see Vin Diesel in three years as Lex Luthor, it will be anticlimactic to see a film that takes the Smallville series and relegates it to the same limbo that both Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and the syndicated Adventures of Superboy both have now. In fact, the biggest legacy of Lois and Clark was the rushed wedding of the characters both on television and unfortunately in the comic books to match what was happening on TV. Otherwise, the last episode of Smallville will be both incredibly exciting in that we'll see the final pieces of history begin to fall into place, and overwhelmingly anticlimactic in that we won't see these characters take the next step.

This is important because the show is much like the Star Wars franchise. The continuing first trilogy of Star Wars is exciting because we know the end, because we've seen the end. But we'll never get to see the end for these Superman characters because after the show ends, and a new movie comes out unrelated to the show, we have new background stories for Clark, for Lex and maybe even Lana. And Smallville, generally, is so good at playing fast and loose with the legend, I think it's a natural for the entire team to move to film, and add in the Metropolis supporting cast at that point. I mean, who doesn't want to see Michael McKean as Daily Planet editor? Or why this Perry will hire Clark? Or what the "battles" between this Lex and this Superman will be like?

Superman is constantly changing. In 1978, when I saw the first Superman movie, my Clark Kent worked at WGBS anchoring the 6:00 news with his teenage sweetheart turned co-anchor, Lana Lang. But, in the film, when Superman worked at the Daily Planet, when Krypton was portrayed as cold and unfeeling as a die-hard fan even then I was disappointed to a degree. But the films obviously resonated so deeply that, when Byrne reinvented Superman, in came a cold planet Krypton, Lana as the girl left behind like in Superman III, and Clark with a job in newspapers, not TV, with boss Perry White at the Daily Planet.

Therefore, even if a Superman movie follows Smallville, it won't be the Superman we just spent four or five years watching grow up. It's like George Lucas making only the first trilogy and not doing Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. Worse yet, it's like the Brady Bunch without The Brady Girls Get Married!

So, as Mr. Gough, here's what I do. Lex is going to kill Lionel in my opinion, that is a given. But John Glover is so brilliant on the show, it'd be hard to get Lex to do that before the show is close to its end .... Unless, Lex gets to spend the remainder of the time after he kills Lionel haunted by Lionel's spirit, who, like the Bizarro Alfred, shows up at just the wrong time to offer just the wrong words -- like he does now when he's alive. Sure, it didn't work for Sir John Gielgud in Arthur 2: On the Rocks, but Lex should be haunted and this Lex already appears headed in that direction.

It's easy to see how Lex will hate Clark. He'll blame him for the meteor shower, for not trusting him, just as he did in the fantasy episode of a few weeks back with REM's music and the hot skinny-dipping scene.

But why will Clark hate Lex? Lex killing Lionel won't do the trick. Lex could easily convince Clark it was self-defense. Clark knows Lionel's scum anyway. But Chloe is another matter entirely.

That brings up the second statement of Mr. Gough's I would retract if I were in his body. That's the Chloe being Lois's cousin thing. It doesn't feel natural -- sure the show is full of contrivances like that, but I think now that he's met Perry White, throwing Lois into the Smallville mix just starts to make things too contrived. Especially since, while Michael McKean was great as Perry White, the show had a little too much of a wink-wink mentality to it -- then again, that episode was directed by Jeannot Szwarc, and his contribution to the Superman myth prior to that was directing camp classic "Supergirl".

Chloe is a strong woman. Martha Kent is a strong woman. Lois Lane is a strong woman. Clark Kent is a strong man. There's a reason things won't work with Lana. She is the only woman in Clark's life who isn't a strong, assertive, aggressive woman. She represents everything about why he would want to stay behind in Smallville instead of being Superman in Metropolis.

To those who don't read the comic books, Chloe and Lionel Luthor are the only two characters created specially for the show. Therefore, Chloe's place in history, in my opinion, should be as the catalyst for Clark hating Lex. She'll get way too close to the truth about Lex's murdering Lionel and Lex will kill her as well. It's a move that'll push Clark over the edge in so many different ways, that I see it as the most logical conclusion.

First, it's the one thing Lex can do to the core cast that would make Clark hate him. And if Clark didn't have anything but circumstantial evidence to prove it, and Lex did find out that Clark is a super guy, Clark may have to keep quiet to ensure Lex keeps quiet about Superman, which introduces a notion of greater good to the myth.

Second, it gives Clark dual motivation for being a reporter. The only way that Clark Kent can expose Lex Luthor is to find the facts to expose him in the Daily Planet. And Lex would know Clark was trying to find evidence -- and Lex of course wouldn't have any evidence that Clark was Superman even if he did know the truth. Suddenly you have real adversaries. And the second motivation for being a journalist? To honor his deceased friend, of course, and carry on her cause.

Lana's life can go in any number of directions by the time the show ends, so long as one thing is clear: they will never be together and Lana will feel a greater sense of loss over it than Clark will.

But, to me, that's why I want to see what happens next when Lana sees Clark falling for Lois Lane and sharing things with her he didn't share with Lana as fast. What if Lana discovers the truth, as I believe she should, and it pushes her into the arms of Lex Luthor? Lex and Lana dated on the animated series. This gives Lana a new story arc as she discovers the truth about Lex and learns to forgive Clark and accept him as just her good friend.

Beyond that, I'm clueless where to take Pete Ross. I'd spend the next two years exploring more of what makes Pete tick beyond being Clark's "Boy Wonder". What are Pete's long term goals? Is it part of his character that he not have any? If so, does Pete go onto become a hanger on of Clark's or his own person? My Superman movie, based on Smallville, would have Clark and Pete initially sharing an apartment in Metropolis, which would immediately put them at odds.

In the comics, pre-Crisis, Pete Ross lost his mind when Superman had to take Pete's son to another planet where he was destined to save their people. Pete goes mad with anger at Clark, and kidnaps Lana, Lois, Perry, Jimmy, and Morgan Edge and threatens to kill them. And, as I said, post-Crisis Pete is married to Lana and is VP under Lex Luthor.

Smallville's Pete Ross plays a different role than the comic book Pete. In the early Superboy stories, Clark never knew Pete knew his secret identity. On Smallville, Clark affirmatively decides to tell him. I think there is a trust and a bond between them that even still hasn't been fully explored on the show and further exploration of that would make Pete a viable character in "my" film franchise.

And finally, Clark's parents? Who wouldn't want to see Annette O'Toole in another Superman movie? While John Schneider has said he wouldn't like to see Tom Welling take the role to the big screen, he is the strongest Pa Kent since Glenn Ford, and one that I as a 39 year old Superman fan can relate to and understand. I would want to see more of that, John, rather than see you fade back into Dukes of Hazard limbo.

That the WB and Warner Brothers films, sister companies, find it so difficult to work together to take this Smallville franchise and propel it to the big screen, is unfortunate and not surprising. DC Comics also owned by Warner Brothers owns Bruce Wayne and Batman. Warner Brothers films owns Batman. And the WB owns Batman. Yet getting Bruce Wayne on Smallville is almost as difficult as getting Clark to keep his shirt on through an entire episode. The reason is simple -- Warner Brothers, Time Warner, AOL Time Warner, Time Warner again, whatever they are this week, has the most decentralized management structure for a corporate entity that I've ever seen and I practiced tax and business law for 10 years including a stint at the IRS where I saw things that would make Lex Luthor's skin crawl. As an accountant, the surest sign of an internal control problem is a decentralized management structure. One of the points of the corporate form as a legal entity in the United States is to centralize management. Yet even a monkey can see that no one is able to pull together what is probably the most valuable intellectual property owned by Warner Brothers: Superman.

So, I'm not Al Gough. Nor am I on the Board of Directors of Time Warner. I'm just a regular shmoe who watches Smallville excitedly every week just like you. So where do YOU see Smallville going? The Superman Homepage wants to hear from YOU.