Smallville Is Still The Perfect Superman Origin Story (Why It Beats The Movies)

Smallville Is Still The Perfect Superman Origin Story (Why It Beats The Movies)

Despite ending its run over 10 years ago, Smallville remains the perfect Superman origin story – even better than the movies. First airing in 2001, Smallville follows a teenage Clark Kent as he navigates his awkward adolescent years with the added complication of his superpowers. A great deal of kryptonite-related issues and villains arise for Clark over Smallville’s 10 seasons, with a number of Superman’s comic book allies (and members of his rogues’ gallery) also appearing.

With Superman being perhaps the most iconic pop culture figure of all time, getting his origins right can be a tricky feat. It’s been done a number of times both in films and on TV, but Smallville’s approach to Superman’s origin story was the perfect one. In the years since, both Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel and the Arrowverse have covered Superman’s origin, too, although neither they – nor any of the cinematic versions that came before – quite approached the story as perfectly as Smallville did.

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Related: Smallville: When Each Main Character Discovered Clark Was Superman

Superman’s origins are fairly well-established: he was sent to Earth as a young child to escape the destruction of Krypton and raised on a farm by Jonathan and Martha Kent. However, the devil is in the details, and Smallville took a few small liberties with the story – most notably, the show’s “no tights, no flights” rule. While Smallville itself may not be a perfect show, its approach to Superman’s origin story was the perfect one for a number of reasons.

Smallville Gave Clark Kent Years To Mature

Clark Kent graduating in Smallville.

Fitting a superhero’s origin story into the runtime of a single film can be a challenge for filmmakers. In the case of Superman movies, it’s usually done within a handful of scenes, much like Snyder’s Man of Steel origin. However, Smallville dedicated its entire show to specifically exploring Clark Kent’s younger years, giving the character much more depth and a much more gradual arc.

This works particularly well for Superman as a character, because between his alien origin and his squeaky-clean reputation, he can sometimes come across as a little one-note. By not only addressing Clark’s difficult path to becoming a hero, but also directly chronicling it over a period of years, Smallville makes his transformation into the Man of Tomorrow more engaging and more realistic than many other incarnations of the character. This works so well because Superman’s movie incarnations have yet to give Clark’s younger years a closer look.

Smallville Introduced New Characters (And Developed Existing Ones)

Cast of Smallville

Being the quintessential hero, Superman has a lot of friends (and enemies). Smallville used a lot of existing DC characters, but it also introduced a number of original ones – most notably, Chloe Sullivan, one of Clark’s best friends growing up and one of his biggest allies when he goes into the hero business. As well as one of its main characters being entirely original for the show, Smallville went to great lengths to develop minor and existing Superman characters like Pete Ross, Lana Lang, and Lionel Luthor.

Related: How Smallville Predicted Arrowverse’s Evil Superman Story Ending

These efforts ultimately enriched the experience of Smallville for Superman fans. Using new characters (and using existing ones in new ways) kept even the biggest Superman fans guessing as to exactly what the next part of Clark’s journey would be, keeping Superman’s origin story fresh over Smallville’s 10-season run. In fact, some of the show’s characters were so good, that there’s even talk of the Arrowverse bringing Smallville characters into Superman & Lois, indicating the positive impact Smallville has had on Superman’s wider canon.

Smallville Introduced A Wider DC Universe

The Justice League walking away from an explosion in Smallville.

As well as adapting Superman’s story, Smallville also made use of a staggering number of DC characters over the course of its 10 seasons. Long before the Arrowverse began creating an expanded DC narrative for television, Smallville had begun incorporating characters from outside of Superman’s personal story in order to set up a wider DC universe. While further plans for this (including an Aquaman spin-off show) didn’t come to fruition, the characters’ inclusion in Smallville made Superman’s origin story all the better.

By detailing Clark’s role as a burgeoning hero in Smallville, it followed quite naturally that others with superpowers would be drawn to him, and this saw the show form its own Justice League. While Smallville didn’t have the rights to use Batman, Clark working with other heroes made perfect sense, and it also helped define the character as a leader even among his fellow heroes. This added another interesting facet to Superman’s origin, as it shows his need to overcome his own insecurities in order to lead other heroes in the group that would later become the Justice League. It also inspired the interconnected Arrowverse shows, making Smallville’s use of other DC properties truly ahead of its time.

Smallville’s Format Allowed For Better Villains

Smallville superman villains Brainiac Matellow Darkseid lex luthor

Originally, Smallville had a distinct villain-of-the-week format, regularly pitting Clark against kryptonite-powered residents of the town, but as the show went on and grew in popularity, Smallville also used many Superman villains over the course of its run. Most of Superman’s most iconic villains were represented in some way on Smallville, all of which were done in a way that allowed for Clark’s interactions with them to work mostly within Superman’s established canon. While Smallville did take some creative liberties with Superman’s villains, its format allowed for its antagonists to undergo as much development as Clark himself.

Related: Superman: Every Live-Action Version Of DC’s Phantom Zone

Early on, Smallville’s “meteor freak” villains made for some interesting storylines, but once it came time for the show to begin using more of Superman’s rouges’ gallery, Smallville did an excellent job of representing Superman’s villains. Nowhere is this more evident than with Smallville’s Lex Luthor, considered by many to be one of the best live-action iterations of the character. By having Clark and Lex maintain a delicate friendship wrought with tension, it made Lex a far more interesting villain when it came time for him to turn against Clark.

Smallville’s “No Tights, No Flights” Rule Made Clark More Interesting

Smallville Clark Tom Welling Superman Suit

Perhaps Smallville’s biggest quirk is its use of a self-imposed “no tights, no flights” rule: a promise that Clark will neither don his iconic Superman outfit nor take to the sky during the show’s run. However, while it may seem an arbitrary way to distance Clark from his future heroic alter-ego, the rule actually made him a far more interesting character. By leaving out one of Superman’s most iconic powers, Smallville steers clear of Superman clichés, meaning it had to develop Clark’s personality all the more to make the show work.

In season 7, Clark meets his cousin Kara, and she’s able to fly. As Smallville’s Supergirl could fly but Clark couldn’t this actually put him at a disadvantage to some of his hero friends – particularly as it was clear he should be able to, and something was holding him back. It added a little extra weight to Smallville’s idea of Clark: a young man unsure of exactly how he could live up to his own destiny. In exploring the nature of this inner struggle, Smallville made Clark a far more interesting figure than he might otherwise have been.

Part of what makes Smallville’s Superman origin so perfect is the depth and care it takes while handling the source material while remaining unafraid of making minor changes to the established canon. By giving more attention to Clark’s younger years and focusing more on Jonathan Kent’s importance to Superman in Smallville, the show was able to explore Superman’s origins in a way that was far more satisfying than the character’s somewhat rushed origin scenes in Man of Steel and Richard Donner’s Superman movies. While other incarnations have been far more iconic in depicting the Man of Steel himself, Smallville remains Superman’s perfect origin story for its depth and exploration of Clark’s character.

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About The Author

Niall Gray
(122 Articles Published)

Niall Gray is a features writer for Screen Rant covering just about every film- or TV-related topic he’s loosed upon. When he’s not busy putting words together in various places for various reasons, Niall can usually be found filling his brain with an endless stream of pop culture trivia, teaching children to box, or simply hiding with his nose in a book.

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