– A Hero Corner Commentary by David 2
A long, long time ago in a website far, far away, I did a series of reviews concerning the TV series “Smallville”.
Actually, it was three reviews, mostly focused on the final season and how abysmal it was for fans of Superman.
With the inclusion of Tom Welling and Erica Durance in the epic crossover miniseries “Crisis on Infinite Earths”, spanning DC heroes past and present – which includes Richard Donner’s and Bryan Singer’s “Superman” movies, Tim Burton’s “Batman” movie, the 1966 “Batman” TV series, the 2002 “Birds of Prey” TV series, the Fox/Netflix series “Lucifer”, and the DC Universe series “Titans” – I thought it was right to revisit the series and show just why it failed Superman fans, and also why their brief inclusion into “Crisis” reflected the failure of their “superhero”.
“Smallville” was a 10-season TV series that originally aired on the WB Network in 2001 and transitioned to the CW Network in 2007 until its conclusion in 2011. The series focused on young Clark Kent, played by Tom Welling, growing up on the family farm with his adopted parents, Jonathan (John Schneider) and Martha (Annette O’Toole). The series includes his best friend and original character Chloe Sullivan (Allison Mack) and the teenaged girl of his dreams, Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk), along with new friend Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum) and his father, corporate mogul Lionel (John Glover).
From the beginning, the series had two simple commandments: “No Flights, No Tights”. That meant that we could not see Clark Kent fly or wear the Superman outfit or anything resembling it. At first, those were appropriate restrictions. They didn’t want this to be a “Superboy” series. There were legal reasons behind it (namely a protracted lawsuit from the families of the creators of Superman), but, ultimately, they just wanted this to be a drama about a growing teenager with super-powers in a small rural community.
But, as the seasons progressed, and as Clark Kent got older, we saw the friendship between Clark and Lex evolve and sour. We saw the infatuation with Lana become young love. Both changes mirrored how they evolved in the comics. We also started to see more and more of Clark’s alien heritage, and this is where the executive producers would slam on the brakes hard and twist the legacy of Krypton into many distorted ways. There would be a puzzle chase for artifacts that would involve witches, Native American ancestral caves, and a super-secret cabal. Kal-El wouldn’t be seen as a refugee from a doomed planet. Instead, he would be seen as a conqueror; sent to Earth by his father to rule the planet for the glory of Krypton. Instead of welcoming his heritage, Clark would hate it and reject it at every opportunity. He would hate the trappings of heroism, going so far as to throw away capes sent to him, and even, at one point, going bad. Anything to keep the story going and to prevent the introduction of either Superboy or Superman.
At the end of Season Four, we come to the pivotal point of the series. By that season’s finale, during Clark’s high school graduation, we have Lois Lane (Erica Durance) watching in shock as new meteors bring in Kryptonian invaders. We have Clark finishing his puzzle chase to create a crystal that would take him to the Arctic and create the Fortress of Solitude. We have what should be the eventual transformation of Clark into Superman as according to the original “Superman” movie.
But then, once again, the executive producers slam on the brakes hard at the start of Season Five. There will be no “Superman” at this point or at any other point in the future.
This would be the start of the agonizing six-season tease, where Superman would always be hinted, but would never appear. There would be situations that would call for Superman, even demand for Superman to appear to save the day, only to be saved by “The Blur”. Not Superman. “The Blur”. “The Blur” wearing Superman’s family crest and pasting it like gangland graffiti, but not Superman. Excuse me, but when did “S” mean “Blur”? There would be friends, allies, and even enemies that would appear that were all part of the Superman mythos, and even be inspired by Superman, but would just be there without a Superman. General Zod would appear not once but twice. Even Doomsday, the creature that is destined to kill Superman, makes his appearance for a few episodes. But, still, no Superman.
On two separate occasions, super-teams from the past and the future would scold Clark for not being Superman. The far-future group known as the Legion of Super-Heroes would ask Clark why he isn’t flying and where his cape was. The past group known as the Justice Society of America scolded Clark for his failure to rise up and be a hero. “You haven’t started,” scoffed Hawkman when Clark tried to lecture the veteran heroes about being heroes.
And he was right. We all knew it. But not, apparently, the lead actor and executive producers.
For six seasons after the Fortress of Solitude was created, Clark Kent refused to be the Superman that he was meant to be. The iconic hero that everyone – past, present, and future – said that he was destined to be. The one that would supposedly herald a “golden age” for humanity. Instead, we were shown a super-powered slacker who only wanted to spend his time on the Kent Farm and only acted when his friends or family were in danger.
Not a “Superman” by any stretch of the imagination, but a “Slackerman”.
It was only during the tenth and final season, during the final episode, were we told that Clark Kent would “be” Superman. Years of patience, we were told, would be finally paid off by the finale.
Only we didn’t get it.
We got a CGI image and a headshot of Tom Welling. Not once would we ever actually see Tom Welling wear the Superman outfit. A shirt with the family crest, yes. The full outfit from spit-curl and cape to boots, never. Tom Welling was always Clark Kent. Sometimes he was “The Blur”. Never was he Superman.
Tom Welling was never Superman. He was always Clark Kent.
And the season finale itself was so horrendous that it warranted a special review from yours truly. A finale that defied logic, science, even good story-writing. A three-or-four-hour story compressed into two hours, plus commercials, plus needless montages, trying to tie up every major loose thread possible just so they could get to that scene at the end where Clark is strutting on top of the Daily Planet building and pops open his dress shirt to reveal the Superman shield and a blue shirt with the John Williams theme and a “Superman” movie logo as they fade to black.
For fans of Superman, like yours truly, this was the biggest letdown of them all. Worse than how Superman fared in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”. Worse than “Justice League”. Worse than “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace”. When Kirk Alyn’s Superman in the 1940’s movie serials had to be done with animation, there was a simple and acceptable reason for it. The technology wasn’t there to make Alyn appear to fly. But there was no reason other than the actor himself and the executive producers as to why we could never see Tom Welling be Superman.
Hell, even the producers of “Gotham” ended their series with their lead actor actually wearing the Batman outfit!
But we moved on. There were “okay” live-action movies. There were much better animated movies. There was even a digital comic series that claimed to be the “11th Season”, even though we knew that really wasn’t the truth. And we eventually got our TV Superman in the form of Tyler Hoechlin. We even got to see him on the Kent Farm from “Smallville” during the 2018 “Elseworlds” crossover, complete with the original “Smallville” theme song.
That brings us to “Crisis on Infinite Earths” and Welling’s return to the Kent Farm. And, if you haven’t seen it yet, there are some spoilers.
When it was announced that Welling and Durance would return to represent the “Smallville” series in the epic multi-generational multi-platform crossover, there was some hope that we would finally see Welling as Superman. The heroes were looking for a “Paragon”, and it was believed that this Paragon was a Superman. But when Hoechlin’s Clark arrived in the “Smallville” universe, and with the latest Lex Luthor following, we quickly discover that Welling’s Clark was once again not Superman.
Yes, true to form, Welling was not Superman. Tom Welling was Slackerman once again. A Slackerman who gave up his powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men so he could live his dream of being on the family farm as a mortal man with his wife and kids. No, we would not have the “seasoned” Superman from “Smallville” around to fight to save the multiverse. That would have to go to Brandon Routh’s “Superman Returns” version of Superman.
There are those who think that this scene in “Crisis” was the best way to represent “Smallville”. Welling’s Clark Kent gets his “happy ending”, much like the classic 1986 comic story “Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow?” They love the fact that Clark and Lois end where it all began, with the Kent Farm.
However, as a longtime fan of Superman, this was yet another disappointment. We were cheated out of seeing Welling as Superman after spending six seasons being eternally teased of his appearance. And here, once again, we have an opportunity to correct that, to show how Welling’s Clark Kent would respond to the Crisis as the “destined” superhero the whole series had built him up to be, only to find he is still and will always be “Slackerman”. Never Superman.
At the time of this posting “Crisis” is still only halfway through its airing on the CW Network. The second half airs on January 14th, 2020. Things could change by then. We could still see a “Smallville” Superman instead of the retired Slackerman for just one time. And, if so, this article will reflect that.
Tom Welling could have been a great Superman. He had the look, the tone, the voice, and the temperament that people could see in someone playing Superman. Even today, amateur video editors and photoshop artists put a Superman outfit on his images and try to include him with Brandon Routh and Henry Cavill and even Dean Cain as Superman. They should probably stop doing that. They hope for something that has become clear will never be.
“Smallville” was a 10-season waste of DC Comics material. It had the potential to be one of the greatest live-action superhero shows of all time. It had a full range of characters that they were able to adapt to the small screen, more than any show before it. But all of it was tied into the main character becoming Superman. Thankfully, the multiple TV series that would follow after the end of “Smallville” learned the lessons of that failure and were much better for it.