Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Some Thoughts on Smallville

Well, it's over. That's something.

I haven't watched every episode of the show, but I've seen a whole lot of it as part of this project.

Smallville, in the end, treated Superman less as the initial Superhero and more as the culmination of a superhero movement. The first four seasons are spent largely in Smallville, where Clark Kent is reactive, using his powers only when he absolutely has no choice, and he keeps them a secret. In season five, a lot more happens in Metropolis, and he meets a woman who has powers and dresses in a costume, who works at the Daily Planet, is clumsy in her secret identity, wears glasses as part of it, and whatnot. It begins the notion that he could be a superhero. From there, he meets a succession of other heroes and becomes the Blur all as part of the process that leads him to create a public persona called, I think, Superman. It's an interesting notion, though I don't think it was originally part of the plan for the show.

The show evolved over its ten years. In the end, it was basically nothing like it was at the beginning. The same can be said for the Superman comics. Evolution is part of the character.

I have a few criticisms, and I think that these are damning in the end.

First, the show didn't give us a good look at Welling in the suit. There have been endless discussions about the reasoning behind this. The official reason is that it essentially wasn't necessary, since the show was about Clark Kent and not about Superman. This is at once a dodge and an example of idiotic thinking. Clark Kent is Superman. The actual result of not showing him fully suited up is that people wonder why he didn't appear in the suit. And they come up with answers; namely, that he didn't look good in it. This is not something that you want people to think.

But a more profound flaw in the show is the choice to delay the choice to don the suit and become Superman. The show basically takes the first page of Action Comics #1 and stretches it out to ten years. That first page has the telling panel wherein we learn that "Early on, Clark decided he must turn his titanic strength into channels that would benefit mankind. And so was created... Superman."

The language there is telling. He decides to become Superman. We're not told of any motivating situation. Later retellings cement the choice in the morality learned from his parents, but it's still his choice. It happens early. He makes that choice in Smallville and journeys to Metropolis to carry the choice to its logical end. In the show Smallville, he seems to make the choice when he's just out of high school. Before that, he does use his powers to help people, but they're only people close to him, people in his community and especially people he loves. There's nothing wong with this. He's not Superman when he's in his hometown, not devoted to all of humanity yet. This develops with the show well enough. By the last seasons, he does devote himself to helping everybody he can. But then...He only becomes Superman because if he doesn't do something the entire world will end. They conflate his emergence in the suit with personality elements and forces outside himself. He waffles. He doesn't want to save the world, even though he's sure he can do it. His choice is removed by circumstance. He could opt to do nothing, but everybody would die. That's not much of a choice.

It's the difference between desperation and altruism. Superman is usually altruistic. He decides to do goo however he can.

The Superman of today acts because of forces outside himself. This is really desperation. This is the Superman of Smallville. It's also the Superman of Superman: Earth One, a popular comic book released last year. Again the earth is threatened, and Superman delays and delays and delays until he has virtually no choice but to become a hero. With this being so popular, and Smallville enduring for so long, it seems that this element of Superman is the one for our time.

In the end, my main critique of Smallville is that Clark Kent, even when he dons the suit, never FEELS like Superman. They did their best in the last season to make it happen. They tried to show him being inspirational and heroic. But for me, it just never came together. So I suppose I'm glad they never really called him Superman, never really showed him fighting the neverending battle in the suit. They can keep the Smallville Clark Kent, the Earth One Clark Kent. I'll stick with the real thing. The one who was always Superman, and who didn't need ten years and a planetary crisis to figure it out.

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