From the time I was 8 until about 14, I wasn’t really into primetime television. Animated TV shows like Batman: The Animated series and Dexter’s Laboratory were pretty much the only TV format I liked. However, while watching Yu-Gi-Oh! on Saturday mornings during the Kids WB’s ‘Fresh and New Saturday’ block I would see advertisements for this show called Smallville. At that time, I barely understood that it was a live-action superhero show. It wasn’t until it came on to ABC Family that I started following the series.
From then on, I was swept away by the characters, the mythology, and the drama. Who would find out Clark’s secret this week? What was Lex going to do? How hard would I laugh at some of Chloe’s lines?
I know this is cliché, but for me, Smallville was magical in a myriad of ways. It taught me how several writers would impose the freak of the week formula on a tv show. Clark deals with the growing pains of being a teenager with powers. A classmate would get infected by the meteor, then Clark would stop him while trying to keep his secret from his friends. As an added bonus, we would often get to meet various heroes and villains from DC Pantheon: Lee Thompson as Cyborg, Sam Witwer as Doomsday, and of course Justin Hartley’s Green Arrow.
The show’s relationships kept me invested. I particularly loved the relationship between Clark and Lex. Their friendship is doomed to fail yet seeing these iconic characters get along makes you wonder about the amazing things Superman and Lex Luthor would’ve been able to accomplish if only they would put their differences aside. “Trust me, Clark,” Lex tells him once as they’re standing in his loft, “Our friendship is going to be the stuff of legend.”
Every time Clark thought he’d be able to trust Lex it would be revealed that he was behind whatever plot Clark had thwarted that week whether it be the latest meteor freak or investigating Clark behind his back. What made this relationship even better was the fact that Lex never descended into the campy Gene Hackman’s portrayal of Luthor, but as a real three-dimensional character who viewers could relate to.
For example, In the episode ‘Lexmas’, Lex gets into an accident and discovers what his life would be like if he walked away from his father. He’s married to Clark’s girlfriend Lana, is still friends with Clark, and has the father figure he’s always wanted in Pa Kent. However, towards the end of the episode, Lana hemorrhages while giving birth to their daughter. There’s a way to save her, but it requires a specialist that costs a lot of money, something that his father refuses to give him.
Lex is forced to watch as Lana dies and is left to raise their child alone. While this may have been a fantasy, we see that deep down, this Lex only wants what we all want: Not to take over the world, but to be loved and surrounded by friends and family, even though the friends and family are people that, in Lex’s mind, belong to Clark in the real world. This only serves to further distort this fantasy into a manifestation of the jealousy he feels towards Clark. It is this incessant jealousy of Clark that ultimately led to the end of their relationship, thus giving birth to one of the most iconic rivalries in history.
Then there was Clark’s relationship with Lana, Chloe, and later Lois. I never understood what shipping was until “Clana.” I was always hoping Clark would be honest with Lana about his powers, even though I knew “Clois” was end game. As for Chloe, it became clear that they would arguably have the far more important relationship, considering the number of years she kept his secret. When Chloe finally found out in season 4, Clark had somebody else to confide in through his journey other than only Ma and Pa Kent.
The scenes featuring Clark and the Kents gave me so much joy. Despite the fear that Clark would be discovered, they remained stoic and were always there to give him a boost when he needed it. For example, when Clark has a substitute teacher, he can’t but notice how pretty she is. It is here that his heat vision activates and the fire department must be called.
Later, his parents have to have an awkward conversation about what set it off and how he can control it better. One of the greatest examples of this is when Clark tells his parents that he’s giving up the football scholarship. “This decision shows integrity beyond your years’ son.” His father tells him. “Then why don’t I feel good about it?” Clark asks. His parents help him through his ambivalence about this decision and assure him he’s going to find his place in the world and they’ll be by his side the whole way.
Through Smallville, I learned so much not only about writing and comics, but also what it means to be a hero. Since this series was the first one I’ve followed on a regular basis, following Clark’s journey was a transformative experience for me.
I always had a new adventure to look forward to every week and would constantly go on to Craig Bryne’s official fansite, kryptonsite to see the latest news. This opened the gateway for me to discover online fandom and my interest in what various Smallville alumni were doing regardless of whether they were behind or in front of the camera. All these strangers loved the same thing I did and a million different ideas about it. Whether it was about a performance, a deviation from the comics or just talking about the previous week’s episode.
Every time a new superhero show is announced I hope that it’ll be as good as Smallville. They’re not, at least not to me. They’re not bad by any means, but they aren’t Smallville and that’s ok. A new generation of superhero shows have taken over and I’m sure they will be somebody’s Smallville, the superhero show a fan will look back on in ten years and say, ‘that was the show that made me love superheroes on tv, I hope the next one is just as good.’
In essence, it was through the relationships on Smallville, I became invested and introduced me to online fandom. The dichotomy of the relationships on the show from the Kents to Lex and the myriad of romances in between pulled me into the show and made me a fan. My interactions with the fan base are experiences that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I suppose that’s why Pa Kent’s final words will always stick with me: “Always hold on to Smallville.”