We have a lot of love for Smallville, the Superman prequel series that ran for 10 seasons starting in 2001. And we appreciate its optimism and sense of hope even more now that the DC Extended Universe has brought us a version of the Man of Steel who is, somehow, even mopier and more violent than Batman.
But our relationship with the TV show is a complicated one. We love, for example, that it contains arguably the best versions of both Lex Luthor and Lois Lane that have ever appeared on a screen. But we’re less fans of its teen-angst-dripping theme song, overly complicated narrative decisions, and that one episode that was just a bloodless, even dumber version of the Saw movies.
We can forgive most of that, however, because it’s still a decent show that crams in more comic book characters, nods, and references than the main hall of Comic Con. But that’s not to say we understand all of it.
Smallville has some elements — and some entire episodes — that we don’t understand even after the series wrapped up six years ago. And we’re not just talking about that part in the epilogue when Lex becomes President in 2018, which is not an election year. Sure, that seems weird, but it’s hardly on the level of beings from distant worlds who, coincidentally, look exactly like humans.
Here are 15 things that still have us puzzled about Smallville, even after all these years. Note that we’re sticking to the show and not the Season 11 comics that take place afterward; while those may well contain answers to some of these issues — and introduce new ones — we’re trying to keep it simple here.
15. Prequel or reboot?
Our main issue with Smallville is that we’re not sure if it’s a prequel to the movies from directors Richard Donner and Bryan Singer or if it’s a reboot of the entire Superman mythology.
The best argument for the latter case is simply that it takes place in modern day instead of the ‘60s and ‘70s, which wouldn’t be the case if it took place before Donner’s original Superman film. A reboot reading also explains why Clark meets most of his most iconic villains before he’s even become Superman. But it also draws heavily from what we’ve already seen.
Clark’s polar Fortress of Solitude, for example, looks identical to the ones we see in both the ‘70s movies and in Superman Returns. And John Williams’ iconic theme plays in the final scene of Smallville when Clark goes off to take care of a bomb. We were happy to hear it; don’t get us wrong. But it does confuse things a bit.
14. Kryptonite powers
Obviously, young Superman is going to need some people to fight, or the whole show would be about his relationship with Lana Lang. And we’re pretty sure it wouldn’t have lasted 10 years if that were the case. We’re just not sure how this part of Smallville works.
Rather than going immediately to the decades’ worth of established Superman villains, Smallville fills its first few seasons with original baddies who all have one thing in common: exposure to Kryptonite (which everyone annoyingly calls “meteor rock” until they learn what Krypton was).
These “meteor freaks” only have the source of their powers in common, however, because it affects them all in completely different ways. Ian Randall up there can make a copy of himself. Amy Adams’ character loses weight but gains an insatiable hunger. Clark’s friend Chloe can bring people back from the dead.
13. The vampire sorority
While we’re on the subject of weird Kryptonite powers …
The fifth season episode “Thirst” is one of the worst of the series, not the least reason being that it has Clark going up against a sorority full of vampires. They’re the result of a virus that comes from Kryptonite-infused bats and which grants its host speed and strength along with pointy teeth, sensitivity to light, and the eponymous thirst, which is a response to the super-rabies ravaging their red blood cells. (Fingers crossed that that’s the dumbest sentence you’ll have to read today.)
The leader of the college bloodsuckers is Buffy Sanders, who is a clear reference to writer-director Joss Whedon’s famous vampire slayer. And that’s obvious and stupid, but it’s still smarter than the rest of the episode or the disease at the center of it. Clearly, the writers worked backwards from “Let’s make Clark fight vampires,” and this is what happened.
12. Clark’s custom House of El jacket
OK, let’s talk fashion.
Clark wears a variety of costumes when he’s out secretly fighting crime before he dons his familiar uniform. He starts out in just whatever he’s wearing before he graduates to a Matrix-style getup including a black leather trench coat and a custom T-shirt with the familiar S shield of the House of El painted on it. It was … “edgy.”
In later seasons, he graduates to our favorite non-Superman costume, a red leather jacket with the shield in relief on the chest. It looks really cool. Unfortunately, we have no idea where it came from.
The two obvious options are that Clark made it himself, or his mother made it for him (she makes the iconic suit, in fact). We never find out for sure, though, because he just starts wearing it in Season 10. By that point, Martha Kent is a Senator and barely appears on the show anymore, and we honestly don’t know if Clark is talented enough for that level of leather working.
11. A tale of two Zods
Our confusion over Kryptonian villain Zod stems from our general befuddlement over the reboot-vs-prequel question, and that’s even before we get to the part where Smallville contains two versions of the character.
Zod appears in various forms throughout Smallville. The original, General Zod, is the one that the Kryptonians imprisoned in the Phantom Zone for treason. He first appears in a spirit form that possesses Lex Luthor and tries to take over the world. But Clark banishes him again.
Then his younger clone, Major Zod, shows up with many of the same aspirations. He, too, ends up in the Zone where he fuses with the wraith of his older original and becomes a combination of both. This one remains in the Phantom Zone, neatly setting up the events of Superman II, but that may just be a coincidence.
10. Selective Kryptonite shielding
Kryptonite is the radioactive remnants of Clark’s home planet, and the green variety weakens and will eventually kill him. Also, the red version removes his inhibitions and teaches young viewers about the dangers of drug abuse in the most heavy-handed way possible.
Exposure to the green stuff makes Clark immediately ill. One of Smallville’s nicest touches is that his awkwardness around high-school crush Lana Lang comes from his unwitting reaction to the chunk of the stuff she always wears around her neck. But throughout the series, the stuff behaves unpredictably.
Ostensibly, the Clark-killing rays should be able to hurt him whether he can see it or not, unless it’s behind lead. But sometimes he finds some in a drawer, or someone pulls a chunk out from behind their back, or Kryptonite sneaks up on him some other way that makes no sense. It never affects him until he actually sees it, which suggests that he could make himself immune just by closing his eyes or turning around.
9. What happened to Doomsday?
Smallville’s (slightly lame) version of Superman-killer Doomsday is a genetic hodgepodge containing elements of Zod, his wife Faora, and all of Krypton’s most dangerous monsters. He’s also a shapeshifter who spends most of his time as humble, handsome paramedic Davis Bloome.
Chloe eventually separates the two halves using Black Kryptonite, and Clark fights the monster-y part. He slams Doomsday into a geothermal plant — which simultaneously explodes for maximum awesomeness. The idea is to trap the monster so far underground that he won’t be able to dig his way out, and it seems to have worked, because nobody ever mentions him again.
Like that Zod situation above, having Doomsday underground sets up later events. In this case, we mean The Death of Superman, which starts with him punching his way out of a subterranean box. But the whole Smallville fight is over so quickly that we aren’t entirely sure if everything went according to plan, or if Doomsday is dead, or what.
8. The return of ‘Bugboy’
One of Smallville’s first season villains is Greg Arkin, who undergoes a David Cronenberg-style metamorphosis when Kryptonite-exposed members of his insect collection attack him. It actually works out better for him than it did for poor Seth Brundle in The Fly, because while he has the same murderous tendencies, he still looks alright. But he does have to go through a disgusting molt in his shower, and we don’t even want to know how long it took him to unclog that drain.
Clark fights “Bugboy,” eventually crushing him under some machinery like the cyborg at the end of The Terminator. Rather than looking like last month’s strawberry pancakes, however, Greg explodes into a bunch of insects, which scurry away.
Somehow, those crawlers turn back into a human version of Greg, who attends the Smallville High class reunion nine years later, and he seems perfectly fine and balanced. And he’s somehow not in prison for murdering his mom.
7. Clark’s nickname
“Smallville” is what Lois Lane calls Clark when she wants to remind him that he’s not in Kansas anymore. She also does it when she feels like it. It signifies their opposing natures: he being more wholesome and farmboyish, and she being frenetic and (literally) metropolitan. It’s especially significant in their early days working together at the Daily Planet, the implication being that she won’t even bother learning his name because no way will the two of them fall in love.
But the nickname doesn’t work on this series for a few reasons, not the least being that during her early appearances, Lois also lives in Smallville. That nickname applies to literally everyone she sees daily.
6. Dukes of Hazzard references
This one’s a little meta, but it still had us shrugging.
John Schneider, who plays Clark’s Earth dad Jonathan Kent, is equally known for playing Bo Duke on the classic TV series The Dukes of Hazzard. And Smallville plays tribute to his earlier work with a couple nods, including a guest appearance by Schneider’s Dukes co-star Tom Wopat as a Kansas Senator. The two of them even take a spin in a Dodge Charger. That’s the same model as their TV car, but luckily, this one doesn’t have Confederate flags painted all over it.
We appreciate the references because we’re old, but we aren’t sure why they’d go all-in on this stuff in a show conceived, created, and marketed to the same audience they were selling Supernatural and One Tree Hill.
5. Jimmy Olsen(s)
Like Zod, Smallville contains two characters named Jimmy Olsen. And they both end up as photographers for the Daily Planet.
The first one, whose real first name is Henry, is a major character throughout the series who ends up marrying Chloe, developing a drug problem, and earning a death as tragic as it is anticlimactic. Davis Bloome, despite being free of Doomsday, still loses his battle with the inner demon called jealousy, and he murders the photographer because Chloe likes him more.
We see Olsen’s younger brother, James, at his funeral, and in the 2018 scene during the finale, he’s working at the Planet and getting endless sass from Lois. The younger one is, presumably, the “Superman’s Pal” of the comics, but his brother and Clark got along fine, too.
Adding to the mud is the fact that actor Aaron Ashmore plays both brothers, and his twin, Shawn (who plays Iceman in the X-Men films), appears as a wholly unrelated villain in the first season.
4. The Lex clone
One thing you learn after 10 seasons of Smallville is that it never wastes an opportunity to have it both ways. That’s why we get multiple versions of Zod and Jimmy Olsen who have vastly different backstories and adventures before the show finds a way to reset them and maintain established Superman continuity.
The same holds for Lex Luthor, whose friendship with Clark is central to early seasons. That’s a cool angle, and we love this version of the bald supervillain. But the longer it goes on, the harder it gets to believe that the adult Lex would have no idea that Superman is the guy who used to hang out at his mansion all the time.
Smallville’s solution is to kill Lex off in season eight and then replace him with a clone just in time for the finale. The clone still has all of the original’s memories, but he gets convenient amnesia before it can become an issue. The show explains this with its fallback position that LexCorp’s science division can make whatever the plot requires.
3. The Justice Society of America’s reaction to aliens
The issue here is chronology. In the comics, the Justice League precursor formed during World War II to go punch all of the Nazis (although they wouldn’t let Wonder Woman tag along). Superman was already around at that point, so it made sense for them to meet.
Smallville, however, keeps the ‘40s origins for the JSA, but moves Superman’s appearance 70 years into the future. And when Clark meets the old superheroes, which include a woman with a magical staff, a guy with an all-knowing helmet, and an archeologist who is the latest reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian, they take a minute to buy that his powers are for real.
2. Who made that comic book?
A framing device in the Smallville series finale has Chloe reading a bedtime story to her son (whose father, presumably, is Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow). But she isn’t reciting Mother Goose.
The book is a comic called, appropriately, Smallville, which is about an “amazing boy” who grows up to become Superman. It shows his hometown, what he looks like, and, we assume, the major events of the series to explain the Man of Steel’s origins. And that’s all great, but where did that comic come from?
Judging from the logo on the cover, it’s an official DC book, which we get because Warners obviously knows some people there. But in-universe, how much sense does it make for there to be a comic that basically tells you exactly who Superman is? Isn’t protecting his identity the entire reason for those glasses?
1. Metropolis is in Kansas
We can handle most changes various writers, producers, and directors have made to the story of Superman. Once we just decided that Smallville takes place in a universe in which everything just happens to Clark slightly sooner than usual, we could get on board with most of the tweaks. But this one really stretched our mental budgets.
Our nerd brains have always placed Metropolis in place of New York; we’re pretty sure that’s what the original creators had in mind, and it’s worked for almost 80 years now. But Smallville takes the big city and moves it a little closer, making it not only a reasonable drive from the titular town, but actually visible from the surrounding farmland.
The actual distance between Smallville and Metropolis varies depending on the season, but they’re way closer than they should be. And of all the crazy stuff we saw over 218 episodes, Kansas producing a city that size was by far the hardest to process.
Which bits of Smallville gave you a brain cramp? Be sure to let us know in the comments.
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