Superman on Television

"Smallville" - Season 1

by Barry Freiman (

Date: June 1, 2002

As Smallville ends it Freshman year, Superman fans are left scratching their heads over how to view this quiet little Superman hit given that Superman's not in it. Smallville the town as portrayed on the show is quite different in some ways from both the pre-Crisis and post-Byrne presentations of slow and sleepy small-town America. Yet as iconic representations, there are common threads connecting Smallville to both the Silver Age and the post-Byrne era Smallvilles. And it even throws a little nod to the third and fourth seasons of The Adventures of Superboy which involved Clark and Lana in mysterious X-files type goings on years before X-files.

Many fans gripe about the less than slavish adherence to comic book continuity, but let's be real here. The last time an actual living breathing comic book was on the air, fans spent the next 30 years bemoaning comic book articles beginning with the word "HOLY".

In this Smallville, the sleepy small-town is having nightmares. First are the Kryponite infused bad guys that proliferate this small town and are resulting in the deaths and disfigurements of a growing segment of this small town's population. Second is the same thing destroying all of small town America: the coming of the big corporation, LuthorCorp. And then there's Lex Luthor.

Like the pre-Crisis town of the comics, the young Clark Kent and Lana Lang also live in town with Lex Luthor. In the comics, Lex was a classmate who moved to town and befriended Superboy until "one fateful day" when a fire in Lex's lab brought Superboy who blew out both the fire and poor Lex's hair. The birth of a super-villain. On the show, Lex Luthor is the son of powerful magnate Lionel Luthor. During the initial scouting trip in which Lionel purchased the Smallville facility, the meteor shower that accompanied Kal-El's rocketship into Earth's atmosphere came to town and, echoes of the Silver Age, literally blew the hair right off of little Lex who would be bald seemingly everywhere thereafter.

Smallville's Luthor is a strange amalgam of the pre and post Crisis Luthors. He's in Smallville and knows young Clark which is your Silver Age connection. But he's not the super-villain in training he was in the Silver Age. Instead, he's a corporate stooge figuring his way around his father's company and seeking ultimate power. This Luthor is a creepy sort in his own way even as he does good deeds for Clark and his friends. When Lex discovered a reporter digging into his past, he permanently enlisted the reporter's allegiance by threatening to literally erase his existence from all known records. Clearly, Lex understands how to use power in all of his incarnations.

Smallville's biggest and most lauded fault this season has been the reliance on Kryptonite-infused baddies of the week with Marvel Comics type inexplicable super powers. The best episodes of the series have veered from that concept and it certainly appears that distancing will continue into Season 2. This is a good thing beyond just the story implications because, after all the destruction and years of weirdness caused by the meteors, one has to wonder if Superman's Dad, Jor-El, thought this whole thing out before placing his son in a Kryptonian equivalent of a flying thermonuclear reactor and pointing it in the direction of Earth. Superman is going to have to be pretty super to make his life worth all the loss of life and liberty caused by the meteors. Plus unlike Spider-Man, Superman's intentions are noble. Like Chris Reeve says, he's a "friend" which means his motivations are pure.

With creators Gough and Millar focusing their attention on the script to X-Men 2, I hope they will keep in mind the important differences in DC heroes and Marvel heroes. Marvel heroes are us with powers. Their motivations are termed "real" because they're selfish (tell me please how you can not look at Spider-Man the movie and say he hasn't done all of this grandstanding for a chick). DC heroes are in the tradition of the mythic Greek heroes. They may squabble amongst themselves but they are better than we are. To this life-long Superman fan (38 years & counting), DC's heroes give readers something to aspire to, whereas Marvel heroes give readers a sense that it's all going to be OK because everyone has the same problems you do with powers or not. In my mind, that makes Marvel heroes LESS heroic than DC heroes.

It also makes Clark's moral dilemmas kind of dull though because ultimately we know Superman will do the right thing. And because he will ultimately be Superman, little fits and starts along the way won't cause any permanent harm -- except for his relationship with Lex of course which we know will be the biggest regret of Superman's life. And now that DC Comics has done the unthinkable and given Lex the knowledge of Superman's dual identity, who's to say that this Lex Luthor won't discover who Superman is at the start of his career instead? It certainly gives Clark motivation not to get close to anyone. And this Clark wouldn't, even couldn't, give up being Clark Kent just because someone knew the secret.

So certain tips of the hat are provided into next season which helps to further connect the "in-between years" to Metropolis. The promotional material implies that someone close to Clark will discover the truth. Here's my vote for Pete Ross. Clearly, Pete's been included for a reason and that reason has yet to be harvested in Season 1. They've been following the pre-Crisis model in other respects, it only makes sense that Pete should find out about Clark's powers. If he does, though, it should be done just like in the comics. Clark shouldn't know Pete knows and Pete could secretly help Clark out with excuses. It also gives Pete motivation to be wary of Lex's investigations once Pete realizes that Lex is looking into Clark's origins.

The new power next season? What doesn't he have yet? Flight? They promised us no flights, no tights, but Bush, Sr. promised no new taxes, so who the heck knows. But a better guess may be heat vision. It's prettier than super-breath and easier to computer generate than super-ventriliquism. Given the original, yet logical, way they show Clark using X ray vision, I'd like to see their take on heat beams in a way different than the Reeve movies and L&C.

Where do all these fascinating relationships go in subsequent seasons? Knowing it ends generally with Clark as Superman, Lex as his arch enemy, and Lana without Clark tells us only the end and only part of the end. Pete Ross' adulthood can go in any number of directions as it has in his various comic incarnations. Pre-Crisis Pete had some problems with his son being taken to another planet to rule by Superman, which sort of made Pete a little mad. Post-Byrne Pete became Vice-President to LEX LUTHOR. Don't see either scenario happening anytime EVER in the Smallville universe.

And the big question is about the incredible character find of 2002: Chloe the girl wonder. She's a great, multi-faceted character. Many have said she's just a Lois rip-off. I disagree. Are they similar personalities? Yes. In fact, there are moments that Chloe seems to be channeling Margot Kidder in her ditzy but focused determination to get her story. Not to mention Clark. It makes perfect sense. Clark is attracted to strong women. Ma Kent is a strong woman. Chloe is the first strong woman he will be with, perhaps.

Does our square hero secretly favor dominating women romantically because he needs to be so in control all the time having powers and it's nice to imagine giving some of that control up. It would certainly explain why Clark Kent of late in the comics seems so whipped by taskmaster Mrs. Kent. And it explains on some level the attraction to women like Chloe and Lois.

So why don't thinks work out with Chloe. We all can see why things will never work with Lana. She's destined to live a pure and simple life, not because she will have failed, but because Lana's value system will never allow her to scratch her way into a big city environment. Ultimately, Lana may actually decide that Aunt Nell's got it right. You can accomplish a lot by being the big fish in a small pond and can have a much more peaceful life in the process.

Unfortunately for Chloe, I only can envision one explanation for why Clark and Chloe don't work out. It's logical, it's dramatically compelling, and it actually makes a lot of sense. Whatever finally breaks Lex Luthor will involve the murder of Chloe. Will reporter Chloe ultimately discover Lex Luthor's secrets, maybe about him killing his baby brother Julian? It would truly be horrible in a cinematic monster movie kind of way to have Lex murder Chloe to keep his secrets.

Killing Chloe in the last episode sets the stage for Clark to mourn her loss, and fortify himself to protect others close to him from the same fate. It gives him some personal leaning toward journalism as a career to pay tribute to his friend. And it sets the stage for a mutual hatred between Clark/Superman and Lex.

And, most importantly to other Chloe fans, it gives Chloe both a significant spot in Superman pop culture lore AND accomplishes everything that needs to be done to create a Superman. And, after making us love Chloe for however long the show goes on, how could we not feel absolute loathing for Lex Luthor, her murderer. Is Chloe's importance to the Superman universe going to be determined by her absence from it? Given a choice between the character's necessary fading into obscurity when Clark goes to Metropolis and allowing her death to serve as a symbolic turning point in the creation of Superman, I vote for the latter.