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Saturday, November 16, 2013

EDITORIAL: Why Smallville is a Great Addition to the DC Universe

"Clark, do you believe a man can fly?" - Lex Luthor, "Pilot"

With Man of Steel recently being released on Blu-Ray/DVD and the Smallville Season 11 comic book series coming to an evolution, what better time for me to write this article?

For those who don't know, I am a huge Smallville fan! Smallville was my "gateway" show so-to-speak that not only really boosted my interest in Superman (before then all I had were a few Superman comics, Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League Unlimited, and the Christopher Reeve films), but also in television dramas such as Supernatural, Chuck, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Heroes, and much more. Smallville still holds as my favorite TV series (actually tying itself with Supernatural and Chuck if we're going to be honest) and still remains relevant in the wake of Man of Steel.

There are a lot of comic book, superhero, and Superman fans out there that despise Smallville for various reasons. Either the show doesn't stick right with the DC Universe & Superman mythos or the characters suck or this or that. The problem with anything is that you'll never please everyone. There will be people who read this who loved Smallville, there will be people that read this that hate the show. There will also be those who only see the headline and comment on it anyway! Smallville really tends to strike a nerve for some people.

I on the other hand love it, as I explained above, and actually believe that the show is a great addition to the over-all DC Universe, much like many say Arrow is now (of which I also agree). Here's why...

1. The Mythology/Story - The mythos behind Smallville have always been pretty extensive. Outside of Clark's backstory on Krypton and his biological parents lives there, other characters have been seen to have connections to his life without even his knowledge, which ties the universe together. Oliver Queen, for example, went to the same boarding school as Lex Luthor and later in life, Lionel Luthor had Oliver's parents killed. While Oliver was marooned on an island for 5 years, near the end of that journey, he met Tess Mercer, who is actually a Luthor herself (by birth).

We also find out that Virgil Swann, played by the late Christopher Reeve, started a group called Veritas whose sole mission was to find the Traveler (Kal-El) and help him save the planet. Lionel Luthor, the Queens, the Teagues, and Bridget Crosby were all members of this group. According to the Season 11 comic, Lionel Luthor also intended to bring Thomas Wayne (father of Bruce Wayne aka Batman) into the group, but he declined his invitation. This mythology has helped explain elements of the series, and universe, that might have otherwise not made sense. 

Brainiac himself is probably one of the biggest examples of Smallville's extensive history/mythos from his creation to his corruption to his battles with Clark and then his reprogramming, Brainiac has been there (whether he was on-screen or not) from beginning to end.

Other heroes also exist in the Smallville Universe that have no connection to Clark whatsoever, including the Justice Society of America! They were a group of heroes who fought for what was right but eventually were silenced by Checkmate, another organization that had nothing to do with Clark, so that people would forget about metahumans and go back to the "way things were". Other heroes like Batman and Wonder Woman, who don't appear until the Season 11 comic series, have nothing to do with Clark's journey. Batman however has studied Superman from his time as "the Blur" and even before to learn all he can in case he would have to fight him in battle.

There's so much more in terms of mythology that this series has to offer through characters like Bart Allen, Arthur "AC" Curry, Carter Hall, Chloe Sullivan, Henry James Olsen, Zod, Darkseid, and many more, but I have a feeling that explaining it all and even just listing it all would take up most of this article, so I will move on, but you you can check out the Smallville Wiki for more information!

2. The Characters - Another reason I think Smallville is a great addition to the DC Universe is the characters. Sure, the series started out as a teen drama, but it was the characters and the connections that people felt with them that turned it into a sci-fi drama and then into a full-on comic book/superhero epic. There is a reason why Smallville lasted 10 whole seasons and why it's the longest running North American science-fiction series out there, and I believe that reason is the characters.

I was not the biggest fan of Superman before Smallville because I never thought I could relate to him, I thought he was this "Big Blue Boy-Scout" who flew around saving people from burning buildings and would then sometimes fight Brainiac or Lex Luthor. Smallville's interpretation of Clark Kent changed all that. Maybe it was Tom Welling's portrayal of the character or maybe it was how he was written (most likely both), but whenever I watched Clark's struggles through high school and the tough choices he had to make as "the Blur", I felt like I understood Superman. Without Smallville's Clark Kent, I probably would have never got who Superman is as a character, and even more-so as a person.

Other characters like Smallville's Lex Luthor and Oliver Queen are also inspiring in their own ways. For about seven seasons Lex fought against the destiny his father planned for him and fought against becoming a darker version of himself. Unfortunately, Lex did end up embracing his dark side in "Decent" and once the series finale came around he was ready to be the Sageeth to Clark's Naman. Oddly enough, the entire time Michael Rosenbaum was on the show, I was rooting for Lex to overcome his father and his dark side. I didn't WANT him to become evil, and that's part of what makes his story so interesting. Oliver Queen also was a character I rooted for on the show mainly because Smallville (and Justice League Unlimited) introduced me to Green Arrow for the first time and made me excited about the character. Oliver actually starts off as a bad person (as seen through flashbacks in the episode "Reunion") and to the opposite effect as Lex, turned out to be a hero instead of the villain. 

Another thing about the characters is that the creators of the series were not afraid to mess around with the Superman mythos one bit. Smallville's Lois is a prime example as the only thing I can compare her to is the Lois Lane from Superman: The Animated Series, and even that is not completely accurate. Lois on Smallville is very "tomboy"-ish at the beginning but slowly slides into her identity as a reporter and later partner to Clark Kent. Chloe Sullivan was a character created solely for the show, but turned out to be a hit as many fans liked her (while others, unfortunately, despised) even to the point where she actually appeared in the comics as a reporter girlfriend of Jimmy Olsen's who is also an expert computer hacker. 

Again, there are many more characters I could mention including Henry James Olsen, who was much different than any other Jimmy Olsen we've known but still made an impact on the series, Pete Ross, who was also much different but was Clark's best friend and sidekick for years, Lana Lang, Clark's love for years until they finally can no longer be together, the Kents, who are Clark's (and the audience's) moral compass and center, and Tess Mercer, who was the breakout character that many hated at the beginning but loved by the end. 

Other honorable mentions include Lionel Luthor, Whitney Fordman, Jason Teague, Kara Zor-El, Brainiac, Davis Bloome, and even General Zod.

3. The Connections to the DC Universe - As hard as it is for me to pick which one of these points is my favorite, this one probably ranks high up on the list. Smallville has given references to countless versions of the DC Universe through characters, storylines, actors, scores, and more.

Throughout the series, Clark faces villains like Brainiac, General Zod (two versions that merge into one mind you, there have been many versions of Zod throughout the comics), Bizarro, Morgan Edge, Amanda Waller, Icicle, Doomsday, Maxima, Darkseid, Ultraman, Deadshot, Plastique, Parasite, Faora, Toyman, Slade Wilson, and many more. These are all characters that not only exist within the Superman comics, but also have made a huge impact on the DC Universe as a whole. For a lot of these characters, Smallville will be the only time they will ever be able to appear in live-action format.

Teams like the Justice League, the Justice Society of America, and even the Legion of Super-Heroes were given their official live-action debut on Smallville, which opened up the series to be the home of a much large universe. You think Marvel came up with the idea of putting multiple heroes (Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Captain America) in their own live-action features to build up to a team event? Heck no, even if they didn't do it intentionally, Smallville did it first! Bart Allen's appearance in "Run", Arthur Curry's appearance in "Aqua", Victor Stone's appearance in "Cyborg", and Oliver Queen's appearance in "Sneeze" and then as the Green Arrow in "Arrow" all lead to them becoming a team in "Justice" (my favorite episode of the series I might add)! Impulse, Aquaman, Cyborg, Green Arrow, and Superman all together in live-action for the first time. I mean, how DC Universe can you get?!?!?!?!

Not to mention, when Virgil Swann, again, played by former Superman actor Christopher Reeve (a reference in-and-of itself) appears on the show, John Williams' Superman March can be heard in the background. This is again used in "Finale" when Clark finally becomes Superman at the end of the episode. Danny Elfman's Batman Theme is also heard in the episode "Vengeance" when Andrea Rojas (another DC character who is known as Acrata in the comics) aka the Angel of Vengeance appears. These are subtle, but still exciting nods to the greater DC Universe, part of which made fans continue to watch the series.

In Season 9 of Smallville, we were given a story arc that was semi-similar to the current Superman arc at the time entitled "New Krypton". This featured hundreds of Kryptonians on Earth and later on their own planet called New Krypton, where they were lead by General Zod. With Zod being a main character in Season 9 and with many Kandorians living on Earth, there were many parallels that year between what was going on within the Post-Crisis DC Universe continuity and Smallville. Story arcs like "The Death & Return of Superman", "New Krypton", "Legends", "Final Crisis" and more have found their way to fit into Smallville's story. Even now in the Season 11 comics, it seems as though Smallville's version of "Crisis on Infinite Earths" and "Infinite Crisis" may be happening (hopefully sooner than later). In any event, Smallville has adapted it's fair-share from the source material, which makes it just as rich.

There's so much more I could mention with this point I don't even know where to start! Aquaman finding out his birthright to being King of Atlantis (birth-name is Orin) and then marrying Mera off-screen! Impulse changing his uniform to be less-Flash and more comics' Impulse for Season 11. Martian Manhunter going green on screen. And Dr. Fate seeing Clark's destiny! There's so much in this show I can hardly contain myself!

Not to mention that this series has inspired changes to to DC Universe itself, like Superman's origin in "Superman: Birthright" (a lot taken from Smallville there) and "Superman: Secret Origin"! Chloe Sullivan and Lionel Luthor making their way into the comic books. The whole concept of Clark talking with his dad in the Loft of their barn came from Smallville for goodness sakes. Even the New 52 Green Arrow series (before Jeff Lemire took over) was inspired by Smallville's Oliver. That last one probably wasn't the best example, but even now the character takes some inspiration from Justin Hartley's portrayal as well as Stephen Amell's on Arrow. 

Ultimately, there are always going to be people who hate Smallville. They will claim that they have "seen it all-the-way through and hated it", they will claim that "it's an abomination to the Superman and DC Comics mythos", they will claim that they "hate the characters", and they will claim on and on that "it sucks". I was actually going to go on with this article and continue for a few more main points (in fact there's a lot more I could say) on why I believe Smallville to be a great addition to the DC Universe as a whole, but I decided that, for now, this is enough. I've been working on this article all day after all and I can always do a "Part 2" if the audience demands it.

If you're at all a Superman fan or a DC Comics/Universe fan, I highly encourage you to give Smallville a shot. There may not be any Batman or Wonder Woman, but there's Superman, a Superman you can really resonate with and relate to. A Superman who makes mistakes and learns from them. A Superman that struggles to find love and keep his friends. But ultimately, this Superman does save the world, time and time again.

Sure, there may be some drama in the show and sure you won't always love or even like the characters, but that's what happens with EVERY show! Smallville is the longest running DC Comics television series, the longest running comic book television series, and the longest running Superman television series. Clearly the show lasted as long as it did, and currently is as a comic series, for a reason. At the end of the day, Smallville made me want to become a better person, and unfortunately that is something that most shows are missing nowadays.

My final thought here is this: in the "Pilot", Lex Luthor asks a question that Superman: The Movie answered decades prior, "Do you believe a man can fly?" At the time, Clark says, "Only in a plane, Lex". But I propose to you that if you can fully embrace Smallville as a part of the Superman mythos, as a part of the DC Universe like I have, that you WILL believe a man can fly. Just like we did when Christopher Reeve took off, when George Reeves and Dean Cain took off, when Brand Routh took off, and when Henry Cavill took flight in Man of Steel this past summer. With Smallville, "You'll believe a man can fly."

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Senior Editorial Editor on SMN, I also work as an Administrator on Across the Airwaves Productions and as a Staff Writer on the Superman Homepage. I enjoy movies, comics, television, music, and long walks on the beach. Just because he's on the side of the angels, don't think for one second that he's one of them.