The CW continues to dominate superhero television with its four interconnected DC series: Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl. These shows are prime examples of superhero TV done right – bringing together big name characters as well as expanding on the mythology of lesser-known villains, spending time on the heroes’ relationships as well as their powers, using CGI to full effect, and not forgetting to add a little humor in along the way. The shows aren’t always perfect, by any means. Fans have been disappointed with certain characters, costumes, or episodes of each show, but overall? These guys know what they are doing.
Of course, there’s a reason for that. This isn’t the network’s first time making a hugely popular superhero series. Back in 2001, when the current superhero renaissance was just getting started, The CW launched another super-series: Smallville. The story of Clark Kent’s teenage years (and early adulthood), Smallville was a huge success, and it ran for a whopping ten seasons before wrapping up in 2011. Arrow took its place in 2012, and The CW started a whole new chapter in their superhero storytelling.
That said, they aren’t above borrowing a little bit from their young Superman series. Fans of Smallville will often find some strikingly familiar elements in the Arrowverse – but hey, if it ain’t broke! Here are 15 Ways That The Arrowverse Steals From Smallville.
15. Everyone Is Young And Attractive
In some ways, this is true for most TV shows. Young and gorgeous stars are very appealing, and this is far from the first time that someone has pointed out how unrealistically attractive all the people are in TV-land. However, this is particularly noticeable in both Smallville and the Arrowverse, where characters are significantly younger than they are in the comics that inspire the series.
In DC comics, Superman has almost always been depicted as a full-grown adult, working at the paper, usually around his early thirties. The Tom Welling version, however, starts off as a teenager and ends up in his early twenties. Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) goes through a similar age reversal in The Flash. In the comics, Barry is a similar age to Superman, whereas in the series, he is in his mid-twenties.
Many other characters are significantly younger than they are in the comics, and everyone is stunningly attractive. Of course, we know why this is – it’s simply more appealing, especially to a younger target demographic, who relate more to characters who haven’t got it all figured out yet.
14. Martian Mentor
With less established, younger characters comes the need for a mentor – and in both Smallville and Supergirl, it’s Martian Manhunter who steps in to fill that gap. In Smallville, Manhunter (Phil Morris) makes his first appearance in season six, where he reveals that he has always been watching over Clark Kent. He saved Clark’s life several times over (and left him Oreos, because he’s just that kind of mentor), helped him beat Bizarro, gave up his own powers (briefly) to save Clark, and was instrumental in connecting Clark with the Justice League. He also had some conflict with the Smallville Supergirl, who he saw as a traitor to the house of El.
In the new Supergirl, Martian Manhunter (David Harewood) has a much better relationship with Kara Zor-El (Melissa Benoist), becoming a mentor to her instead of Superman. In this universe, he connects Kara with the DEO, where he serves as director, and helps her to hone her superpowers, even taking her for flying lessons. This mentor role is markedly absent from the comics.
13. Justice Society Of America
The core super-team of the DC universe will always be the Justice League of America, but The CW seems to have a soft spot for their earlier counterpart, the Justice Society of America. This team actually pre-dates the JLA, and has appeared in both Smallville and Legends of Tomorrow, unlike the JLA, which has only appeared in Smallville so far.
Both shows brought the JSA together to deal with a particularly tricky foe. In Smallville, the JSA appeared in season nine to help Clark fight the Kandorians, whereas in Legends of Tomorrow, the JSA showed up in the second season, and a member has even joined the team on an ongoing basis as they fight the Legion of Doom. There are a few differences between the JSA on these shows, though. The Smallville JSA started in the ‘70s, and came out of retirement to help the JLA. The Legends JSA were formed in the ‘40s, and the Legends traveled back in time to meet them.
12. Main Characters Own Popular Hangouts
Every show needs a central hangout spot, somewhere that the characters seem to spend an inordinate amount of time. It’s not particularly realistic, but it does save on set costs – and The CW seems to love to connect their hangouts with a show’s characters.
In Smallville, everyone hangs out at the Talon, a movie theater turned coffee shop. It makes some sense for this to be the local hub, as this is a very small town and the kids are too young to hang out in a bar, but it makes a little less sense that it is co-owned by Clark’s high school sweetheart, Lana (Kristin Kreuk) and his future nemesis, Lex (Michael Rosenbaum).
In Arrow, Oliver Queen’s sister, Thea (Willow Holland) turned a Queen Consolidated factory into Verdant, a nightclub with the Arrowcave in the basement. In The Flash, everyone hangs out at a coffee shop, Jitters, and while none of the main characters actually own this one (yet!), several of them have worked there. Both Iris West (Candice Patton) and Kendra Saunders/Hawkgirl (Ciara Renee) have been baristas, suggesting that no one in The CW goes to a venue where they don’t know a single owner or employee!
11. Cat Grant’s Single Season
Cat Grant, despite not being a particularly huge character in the comics, has appeared in both Smallville and Supergirl, but only lasted a single season on each show. On Smallville, Cat (Keri Lynn Pratt) was an annoyingly bubbly reporter who briefly replaced Lois Lane (Erica Durance) at the Daily Planet in season ten. The ultra-conservative Cat is a rival to Lois, but a surprisingly driven reporter who ends the season still at the Planet, taking Lois’s desk after she is promoted.
Supergirl has a very different take on Cat (Calista Flockhart), who appears as a hugely successful media mogul rather than the junior reporter iteration seen in Smallville. Cat Grant is the owner of CatCo media, and Kara works for her as an assistant throughout season one of the show. This Cat is powerful, sometimes intimidating, but turns out to be quite a complex and thoughtful character, with many fans feeling that she was the bright spot in a lackluster first season. Sadly, Flockhart left the show after season one, when Supergirl was shifted to The CW and the production moved to Vancouver to join the rest of the Arrowverse shows, leaving both universes with only a single season of Cat Grant. We’re guessing that this is one similarity that The CW would rather not have on their superhero resume.
10. Magical Tattoos
Both shows seem to believe that tattoos aren’t just body art – they can be literally magical. In season four of Smallville, Lana wakes up with a mysterious tattoo after visiting the tomb of Isobel Thoreaux. The symbol appeared on the small of her back, and was discovered to be a Mark of Transference, a magical way for the spirit of Isobel to possess her body. In Arrow, Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) has a collection of tattoos, including one that marks him as Bratva, and one that also has magical powers. This second piece is a line of symbols running down Queen’s torso, and was put there by John Constantine (Matt Ryan) as a way for Queen to protect himself.
These aren’t the only CW shows featuring magic tattoos, either. Supernatural, a currently unrelated show (although there is plenty of speculation about a future crossover), follows two brothers who hunt demons and all things superhuman or otherworldly. They also have magic tattoos that prevent them from being able to be possessed.
9. Suicide Squad Makes An Appearance
In addition to the JSA, both Smallville and the Arrowverse include an incarnation of another DC comics team: the Suicide Squad. The team appeared in the final season of Smallville, comprised of Rick Flag (Ted Whittal), Deadshot (Bradley Stryker), Plastique (Jessica Parker Kennedy), Warp (Elias Toufexis), and Icicle (Wesley Macinnes). The team initially worked against Clark and the JLA, kidnapping Oliver Queen (Justin Hartley) and tagging Oliver, Clark, and Hawkman in order to track them. However, later in the season, the Squad helped Chloe rescue the JLA from the VRA.
In the Arrowverse, a slightly different Suicide Squad has been used, and was called Task Force X. Run by ARGUS director Amanda Waller (Cynthia Addai-Robertson), this portrayal included several episodes centered around Deadshot (Michael Rowe), Captain Boomerang (Nick E Tarabay), Bronze Tiger (Michael Jai White), and Shrapnel (Sean Maher). There was even a Harley Quinn tease in one episode, but most of the team ended up being killed off ahead of the DCEU Suicide Squad movie, and the team never really lived up to their full potential on the show.
8. Lena Luthor Takes Over LuthorCorp
Lex Luthor was a major character throughout Smallville, starting out as a friend to Clark before the two finally became foes. However, at the start of season eight of the show, Lex went missing and was presumed dead (seeing as the Fortress of Solitude collapsed on him…). This eventually turned out not to be true, but when the world thought that he was dead, Luthorcorp passed on to his illegitimate half-sister, Lena. In Smallville, however, the character was named Tess Mercer (Cassidy Freeman) and was a major character in the final season of the show.
In Supergirl, meanwhile, Lex Luthor has yet to make an appearance, but Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath) is becoming a regular for the series. She also runs LuthorCorp in this universe, and claims to want to make up for her brother’s failings. After Lex was imprisoned for thirty years, she re-branded LuthorCorp as L-Corp, and has done a decent job of convincing Kara that her intentions truly are pure. Many fans have even commented that her relationship with Kara mirrors that of Lex and Clark in the early seasons of Smallville.
7. Multiple Secondary Characters (With Powers)
The CW is very good at creating shows that have a huge variety of important characters – Smallville, although a Superman series, puts supporting characters like Chloe, Lana, Lois, and Jimmy on almost the same narrative level as Supes himself. Similarly, in the Arrowverse, every primary superhero has a team of supporting characters who have their own story arcs and are just as vital to the series as the titular characters.
In addition, in all five shows, it’s a safe bet that almost every main character is going to get some kind of superpower at some point. From characters like Cisco (Carlos Valdez) and Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker), to Thea Queen and the Lance sisters, to Jimmy Olsen (Mechad Brooks) and Winn (Jeremy Jordan), proximity to a superhero on The CW tends to mean developing superpowers yourself. This follows a pattern set by Smallville, and although not every character in the series becomes powered, the vast majority end up as superheroes (or magically/otherwise altered in some way), however human they were at the start.
6. So. Much. Drama.
Given that these CW series are aimed at a younger audience, it’s not too surprising that they put the interpersonal relationships of the characters on the same level as their superhero antics, but it definitely makes them stand out from the crowd. Much of both Smallville and the Arrowverse shows revolve around the love lives of the main characters, with love triangles often thrown in for good measure (Lex, Lana, and Clark; or Oliver, Ray, and Felicity, for example). Several of the episodes also focus entirely on the character’s personal lives, without any superheroics at all.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however. Supergirl has garnered significant praise for its recent Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh) story arc, where the character came out as a lesbian. Smallville spent more time on high school relationships, especially in the early seasons, but a similar ‘young adult’ feel permeates the Arrowverse shows. Some hate it, but others love it, and it certainly makes these shows stand out among other superhero series.
5. Dean Cain
The Superman of the ‘90s, Dean Cain first appeared in a super-series in 1993’s Lois and Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman. Since then, however, he has also had a part in both Smallville and Supergirl. In the former, Cain played Curtis Knox, an immortal villain who slaughtered people with high concentrations of kryptonite in their bodies in order to harvest their organs and gain immortality for his wife. In season seven, he targeted Chloe Sullivan (Allison Mack) for her heart, but she was (obviously) saved by Clark at the end of the episode.
Cain has a much bigger role in Supergirl, where he plays Kara’s adoptive father Jerimiah Danvers, who was originally assumed dead after a mission for the DEO went wrong. However, we still managed to see plenty of Jerimiah in flashbacks and photos, and have since learned that he is alive and being held by Project Cadmus, leaving plenty of opportunities to see more of Dean Cain again in future.
4. Non-Comic Love Interests
For most of the heroes in these shows, comic book lore grants them one true love, a partner who is with them throughout it all, even if there are occasional storylines featuring other intimate relationships. For Superman/Clark Kent, this is Lois Lane. For Oliver Queen/Green Arrow, it’s Dinah Lance/Black Canary, and for Barry Allen/The Flash, the world revolved around Iris West. These superheroes have occasionally been with other people, but these are the relationships that they are known for – except on The CW, where a surprising amount of time is spent in relationships with someone else.
For Clark in Smallville, it was Lana Lang who was presented as his ‘one true love’ for most of the show (although Chloe Sullivan got some attention too), and Clark and Lois didn’t get together until very near the end of the series. In The Flash, Barry Allen dates a few different women, including Linda Park (Malese Jow) and Patty Spivot (Shantel Van Santen), although he is currently in a relationship with Iris. Arrow, meanwhile, makes Felicity Smoak the primary love interest for Oliver Queen, with the two even getting engaged at one point (although that has since been ended).
3. Black Canary Gets Sidelined
While we’re on the subject of Oliver Queen and Black Canary, we’re starting to think that someone at The CW really doesn’t like Dinah Lance! In both Smallville and Arrow, this iconic character has been seriously sidelined, and other women have been partnered with Oliver Queen. In Smallville, Dinah Lance appeared occasionally from season seven through ten, but never became a major character. Although she spent some time with Oliver, his two main relationships in the show were with Lois Lane and Chloe Sullivan, who he ends up marrying in season ten, comic continuity be damned.
The treatment of Black Canary in Arrow, meanwhile, has been a serious bone of contention for fans of the character. Initially, it was Sarah Lance (Caity Lotz) who became the Canary (and dated Oliver), before she turned into the White Canary and left to become a Legend. Laurel Lance, who was intended to become the true Black Canary, ended up being severely sidelined – although she has been a primary character for several seasons, she was recently killed off, and never really reached her full potential as Black Canary, nor developed a real romantic relationship with Oliver. After a brief stint as Black Canary, Evelyn (Madison McLaughlin) turned into the traitorous Artemis, and recent episodes have now brought in yet another new Black Canary – Dinah Drake (Juliana Harkavy).
2. Cute Blonde Hackers
Both Smallville and Arrow introduced a new main character, who is best friend, helper, and occasionally romantic interest for the titular superhero. But the similarities between the characters don’t end there. The remarkable resemblance between these two characters covers their appearance (tiny and adorable blondes), their computer skills (both are incredibly talented hackers, and use their skills to help the heroes), and even their charmingly awkward personalities. In addition, both characters begin life on the shows with specific career goals – Chloe wants to be a reporter, Felicity wants to use her tech skills – but slowly give these up in order to exist solely as part of the superhero team.
Both also contribute almost entirely from behind a computer screen, and are one of the only team members who don’t regularly get their hands dirty in the field. As if all this wasn’t enough, even their codenames are nearly identical. Chloe eventually became known as Watchtower, while Felicity took up the codename Overwatch.
1. One Actual Connection
All of these other similarities can be written off as simply being part of The CW’s winning formula – and clearly, it’s a formula that works! But there is also one direct connection between the series, although it’s definitely a tiny nod that some fans may have missed. The primary villain in season one of Legends of Tomorrow was Vandal Savage (Casper Crump), an immortal tyrant who was chased through history by the Legends before they eventually managed to beat him. In one episode, it was revealed that this immortal villain had already appeared in Smallville – as Dr. Curtis Knox!
A framed photo showed Savage with the Knox nameplate, confirming that these two immortal baddies are one and the same. Of course, this is just an Easter Egg, and doesn’t actually mean that the Smallville and Arrowverse shows exist in the same universe (which would be impossible at this point), but perhaps Savage spent some time on whichever Earth Smallville exists on… or perhaps The CW is aware of just how much they ‘borrow’ from their earlier super-show, and wanted to show that to fans with a little wink and a nod.
How else has the Arrowverse borrowed from its superhero predecessor, Smallville? Let us know in the comments.