Over the decades, DC Comics has brought Kryptonians to the small screen a number of times. Out of all of them, however, the early ‘00s WB show Smallville is generally considered the best. Running for ten season before transitioning over into comics, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer before it, the series not only fleshed out the early years of Clark Kent, but proved an arena for DC to introduce some of its most famous heroes and villains. Shortly following its series finale, its network, now the CW, moved things in a considerably darker direction with Arrow.
Since then, the Arrowverse has grown to include a number of shows more in line with Smallville, including one unafraid to feature heroes in capes and tights. Though it originally aired on parent company CBS, Supergirl’s weekly adventures now unfold on the CW. While not quite done with its second season yet, Supergirl has already taken the torch from Smallville and run with it, providing us with another great series following the evolution of an Earthbound Kryptonian.
Here are 15 Ways Supergirl Is The Real Smallville Successor.
15 A Fully Realized Superman
Despite Superman appearing on TV in costume multiple times over the decades, Smallville seemed to suffer from a weird mandate that Clark could neither wear the iconic costume nor even use the name Superman. What’s more, but flying seemed to also be out of the question, as if it somehow screamed “Superman!” too loud. Though the show featured many nods over the years and broke the no-flying rule a few times, it wasn’t until the bitter end that Clark was finally allowed to become Superman on screen after ten years.
Luckily, Supergirl wasn’t bound by the same constraints. Within her debut episode, Kara not only got to save the day in a typically Super fashion, but also got her costume and name.While the first season brought up bad memories from Smallville by awkwardly dancing around showing Superman, the second season—and move to the CW—put fears to rest by properly reintroducing Kal-El to television. Though he hasn’t been back in a while, at least one Earth in the Arrowverse features a fully costumed Superman who’s been active in Metropolis for years.
In the meantime, Kara allows us the chance to get to know a young Kryptonian making her way on Earth, suiting up and flying around in every single episode.
14 Friend or Foe?
For much of his existence, Superman has often been pitted against Lex Luthor. While lacking in Superman’s raw power, Lex possesses a gifted intellect and plenty of resources. He also shares Superman’s desire to protect humanity, but he’s not above bettering himself and his position in the process. One of the boldest choices Smallville made was to keep Lex in the picture by bringing him to Clark’s hometown. Even more audaciously, the show made the two friends, further complicating their inevitable future rivalry. Over the seasons, their bond made it all the more heartbreaking when they were at odds, and gave Clark the truest test of his convictions.
In attempting to maintain one of Smallville’s strongest elements, Supergirl has also given its protagonist a Luthor with whom to get friendly. While their connection isn’t as strong as Clark and Lex’s yet, Kara and Lena offer much of the same dynamic. Even better, we have no idea if Lena will actually turn out to be evil, given her lack of comic book baggage. While she seems to lean towards the side of the angels, the show has certainly played with the angle quite a bit and will likely continue to do so.
And just to further connect things, a recent episode even made sure to note that in this world, Clark and Lex were once friends as well.
13 The Legacy of the Luthors
Smallville did more than just show us the good in Lex through his friendship with Clark. On many occasions, the story would focus clearly on the young Luthor and his relationship with his father Lionel. For years, the elder Luthor even served more of the typical role as a villain, though even his motives tended to shift over time. Still, the Luthors' key role in the series allowed the family to get plenty of screen time, as their past was explored and various extended members of the family were introduced.
Like with Lena, Supergirl hasn’t gone into quite as much detail, but the series is still young. Even so, we’ve still been treated to a dynamic similar to Lex and Lionel’s with Lena’s mother Lillian. Like Lionel, she’s a scheming parent who has a cold relationship with her daughter. In this case, it’s made even worse by her adoration for the imprisoned Lex. We even got a brief flashback to Lena’s past, which introduced a young Lex and a living Lionel to the Arrowverse canon.
With the series still in its early days, Supergirl has plenty of time to set up a Luthor family that’s every bit as complicated and tragic as the one we got to know on Smallville.
12 Family First
The focus on the Luthors in both Smallville and Supergirl is part of both shows' larger theme of family. Most stories involving Kara and Clark revolve around the idea of family, given their connection, along with the tragic loss of their parents and civilization. As such, both heroes are often attempting to live up to the legacy of their progenitors while also forging their own identity. What’s more, both Kryptonians were raised on Earth by other parents, allowing the stories to examine what makes a family.
Smallville regularly focused on Kal’s contentious relationship with his deceased father, while also detailing Clark’s normal struggle of a teenage coming to terms with their place in the family. Both Jonathan and Martha helped to bring out Clark’s humanity and tether him to the planet.
Kara, meanwhile, has her adoptive parents, though it’s mostly Eliza who's in the picture. Season one also allowed her to interact with the hologram of her biological mother and used her aunt and uncle as the Big Bads. Even more rich, however, has been Kara’s relationship with her adoptive sister Alex. Their bond is the core of the show and often drives the most poignant storytelling.
11 Evil Dean Cain
One member of the Danvers family who hasn’t been around much is the patriarch, Jeremiah. That’s because he’s spent years locked away by Cadmus. Still, he’s popped up in the past a few times and has been recently brought back into the show in an interesting way. Given Dean Cain’s previous role as one of TV’s Supermen, he was always high on the list of people to guest star on Supergirl. They did one better, however, by giving him a key role as Kara's dad. Even better, his seeming dance with the dark side in recent episodes acts as a sort of meta-reference to his previous turn on Smallville.
In season seven of Smallville, Cain showed up, not as someone related to a Kryptonian, but rather another DC Comics character. Though named Dr. Curtis Knox, the immortal scientist explains that he’s lived as many famous people over the years. Thanks to later confirmation by one of the show’s creators, we know that Knox was meant to be Vandal Savage. One of DC’s most notorious villains, Savage is an immortal who’s posed as some of history's greatest leaders and despots.
For some reason, the network made Vandal off-limits to the show, forcing them to use an alias for Cain’s character. Still, it allowed the former hero to go full-on villain, training him for his future role on Supergirl.
Speaking of Cadmus, the dastardly organization has long posed a threat to heroes in DC Comics. As such, it’s no surprise that it’s turned up on both Smallville and Supergirl. On the former show, Cadmus had a similar focus on cloning as it does in the comics. Rather than cloning Superman, however, the Cadmus owned by LuthorCorp regularly cloned Lex. It also had other nefarious dealings over the years, serving as a catch-all for evil scientific dealings on the series.
On Supergirl, Cadmus is also run by the Luthors. This time, it’s more of a science-terrorist organization, like Marvel’s A.I.M., and is run by Lillian. Its business seems to mostly revolve around ridding the Earth of aliens, including building weapons and enemies that can destroy Supergirl.
Considering the Arrowverse seems much more free to use characters and plots from the comics than Smallville was, we wouldn't be surprised if a future Cadmus arc focused on cloning one of Supergirl’s Kryptonians.
9 The Every(wo)man
When it comes to stories involving a Kryptonian, it can be hard to make their plight relatable, given their incredible powers. Considering they’re nearly invincible, the challenge with both Superman and Supergirl is to ground them in some way, despite their fantastical abilities. While the need for both heroes to have a secret identity doesn’t make much sense when you think about it, suspending your disbelief allows both Kal and Kara to live among everyday people and connect with their humanity. In doing so, they’re able to represent the Everyman as they struggle with the same issues as most normal people while in their civilian guises.
For both characters, that means jobs and homes and relationships. While Supergirl has been a little more free in who knows her secret, Clark was always guarded about his. Still, both Smallville and Supergirl make sure that this more humble aspect of both heroes remains a core part of them. They may be able to stop bullets and shoot lasers, but they still get yelled at by their boss when they screw up.
8 Truth and Justice
A key part of the civilian life that both Clark and Kara live is having a job. In the comics, Superman chooses the identity of a reporter in order to connect with normal people and know when various threats are emerging. The job has also allowed him to continue his work of seeking truth and justice even when he’s not wearing the cape. From the early days of Smallville, Clark worked on his high school newspaper, as a tease for his future. Once he moved to Metropolis in later seasons, he finally landed a gig as a reporter at the Daily Planet.
The Kara of the comics has held a few different jobs, but she’s also followed in her cousin’s footsteps. On Supergirl, she began as an assistant at a media company, before season two transitioned her to a reporter. While the logic wasn’t fully laid out, it’s given her a chance to pursue similar goals to Clark, helping people in ways that a superhero can’t always manage. While her lack of skills recently led her to make a bad decision and lose her job as a reporter, we have a feeling she’ll be back at it soon enough.
7 Rogues Gallery
Across ten seasons, Smallville had the chance to bring a number of characters from DC Comics to the screen. Often, this meant bringing in supervillains for Clark to face-off against. While the show invented plenty of foes for Clark over the years using the "meteor freak" concept, it brought a lot of familiar faces from the comics as well. Still, they were often drastically altered from their source material to fit into the show’s portrayal of metahumans.
Supergirl, meanwhile, has been able to hew a bit closer to the comics with its more fantastical approach. Though it's had less time to bring villains over the from the page, it’s had the chance to bring a few to life so far. Naturally, many of the more famous villains of Clark and Kara have been used on Smallville, but that hasn’t stopped Supergirl from putting its spin on them.
So far, we’ve had a number of prominent appearances on Supergirl like Metallo, Livewire, and Parasite - all villains Clark faced. Metallo has actually remained fairly similar to the comics on both shows; a man named John Corben gifted with cybernetic enhancements and a Kryptonite heart.
The Livewire and Parasite of Smallville, meanwhile, were meteor freaks, but still maintained their respective abilities to control electricity and steal people’s powers. Supergirl’s Livewire is actually pretty dead on, but though Parasite maintained its classic purple skin, it was made into more of a monster than a humanoid alien.
6 The Magic of Mxyzptlk
One of the bigger deviations from the comics on Smallville came in the form of the mischievous Mr. Mxyzptlk. On the page, he’s a fifth-dimensional imp that often plagues Superman with his reality-altering powers. On Smallville, he was turned into a high school student who got mind-control powers from the meteor rocks.
Supergirl, meanwhile, ditched his smaller stature, but kept a lot of his powers and backstory from the comics when it recently introduced him. Not only is he shown to be quite the rogue, but he’s a pest to Kara who uses his considerable power to cause all sorts of chaos across her life. And just like in the comics, the only way to get him to leave is by tricking him into spelling—or writing—his name backwards.
This is a classic conceit from the comics, and Supergirl shows how far things have come since Smallville by being able to present an almost entirely comics-accurate Mr. Mxyzptlk, with all of his quirks.
5 The Lane Family
Like the Luthor family, the Lanes are a key part of the story on both Smallville and Supergirl. Lois Lane will naturally be a big part of Superman story. Her family members, however, have had plenty of focus over the years as well. On Smallville, they’re actually related to Chloe Sullivan, one of Clark’s oldest friends. Over time, we eventually meet Lois, her sister Lucy, and their father, General Sam Lane. Thanks to Lois’ prominence in Clark’s life, she naturally grows into a key figure on the show once Lana ceases to be a love interest. Of course, things can’t work the same on Supergirl.
While Lois exists in the world, we’ve yet to meet her, but we have spent a good bit of time with Lucy and General Lane. For a moment, Lucy was a romantic rival for Kara through her relationship with James Olsen. From there, she moved to the temporary head of the DEO when J’onn became a fugitive. Her father, meanwhile, is something of an antagonist for Supergirl. Like Cadmus, he’s not fond of aliens, and he provided an early stumbling block for Kara and the DEO.
Since season one, the two have taken a backseat to the action. With Clark’s increased presence on Supergirl, though, we expect we’ll be seeing some of the Lanes again soon.
4 Wonder Women
Like The Flash, Supergirl has been great about paying tribute to actors who were in other DC shows. Smallville did this first. There’s the aforementioned appearance of Dean Cain on both shows, but they also share in common Helen Slater. Known for playing Kara herself in the 1984 Supergirl movie, Slater joined Smallville for a number of episodes as Clark’s mother, Lara-El. In a similar role, she now plays Eliza Danvers on Supergirl - Kara’s adoptive mother and the wife of Dean Cain’s Jeremiah.
Cain’s costar on Lois & Clark, Teri Hatcher, appeared in the final season of Smallville as the wife of General Lane, mother of Lois and Lucy, and aunt to Chloe. On Supergirl, she’s just recently popped up on the series as the royal mother of Mon-El. While the two actors never shared a scene on Smallville, we’re hoping Cain and Hatcher get the chance on Supergirl.
Finally, Supergirl one-upped Smallville by bringing former Wonder Woman Lynda Carter onto the series. She first popped up earlier in the season as the current President and one of Kara’s idols, and she’ll soon be making her return. Given the Arrowverse’s history, expect a lot more cameos from past superhero actors over the coming seasons.
3 Martian Manhunter
It isn’t just the supervillains from DC Comics that have been adapted on both shows, but many of the heroes as well. Though characters like Green Arrow and the Justice Society have popped up elsewhere in the Arrowverse, Supergirl has the distinction of Martian Manhunter being a main character. On Smallville, J’onn J’onzz was one of the earliest ties to the comics. Though he mostly acted in human form, he went full-on green a few times and often used his vast power set to help out Clark.
On Supergirl, J’onn is not only a main character, but furthers the show’s familial themes by acting as surrogate father to Kara and Alex. Though he spends a lot of time in his Hank Henshaw disguise for obvious budgetary reasons that don’t make sense in the show, he does shows up in all his glory pretty regularly. More than just green skin, J’onn has an alien design reminiscent of the comics and has his standard suit, complete with cape.
While we got to know the character a bit on Smallville, Supergirl has given us the most insight into the Martian outside of the comics.
2 The Helicopter Save
Like the tendency to cast actors who have previously played roles in superhero series and movies, modern adaptations of comics come packed with lots of allusions. While many of these references point to moments from the comics, contemporary superhero media has the benefit of so many past films and shows to which they can allude. On Smallville, one of the more famous callbacks came in the form of the helicopter rescue, and Supergirl has done it as well.
In 1978’s Superman the Movie, a bunch of comic references were included. It only makes sense then that years later, it too would be homaged. The scene in question comes when Superman saves Lois from a crashing helicopter, catching her and it during its descent. Both Smallville and Supergirl have put their spin on this season, referencing the famous movie moment.
Supergirl nodded to it further when Lena tells Kara that flying is the safest way to travel before boarding her helicopter; a reference to Superman’s words to Lois after he rescues her in the movie.
1 A Fully Realized Supergirl
Just as Superman is a small part of the larger world on Supergirl, so too was Kara a player in Smallville. During season seven of Smallville, Laura Vandervoort joined the series as Kara Zor-El. Taking the name Kara Kent and posing as Clark’s family member, she goes on many adventures with Clark. She also has to deal with her villainous father, Zor-El, who also survived the destruction of Krypton and ends up on Earth. Unlike Clark, Kara's powers are more fully realized, and she’s more connected to her Kryptonian heritage.
While Smallville spent a lot of time on Kara, it can’t compare to the focus she gets on her current show. Though Kara has appeared outside of the comics a number of times, Supergirl gives us our most intimate portrayal of the Girl of Steel. Each week, we get to see her navigate her life and fight for the good of the world. She’s fully costumed, has all of her powers, and even gets to team up with her cousin sometimes. But she’s never in his shadow.
On Supergirl, Kara is the star, and putting the Kryptonian front and center in her truest form is what really makes the show a valid successor to Smallville.
In what ways do you think Supergirl carries the torch of Smallville? Let us know in the comments.