Up, Up, and Away: The End of SMALLVILLE, The Beginning of SUPERMAN
- Tuesday, May 17, 2011
His story is an old one. When he first appeared more than seventy years ago, he was dynamic, galvanic. Nobody had seen his like before. His first adventures therefore paid less attention to plot than to super-feats. They evoked a magnificent sense of wonder.
With the passing of time, however, and the appearance of a garden of imitators garbed in colorful costumes, mere super-doing became passé. Our hero's strength had to take a back seat to his story—his origins, his growing up, his friends. In the late fifties, editor Mort Weisinger began to develop the mythos along these lines, giving him a super-family to love (e.g., Supergirl, Krypto) and a birth world to mourn.
Under Weisinger's reign, Kal-El of Krypton became less an archetype and more a character. Yet he remained the strange visitor from another planet who chooses to fight for truth, justice, and the American way. This is the most popular version of the character. From his earliest comics through his first teleplays through the big budget movies, the colorful, muscular figure in red-and-blue was what we've always paid--and pined--for—Superman!
In the 1980s, Superman's handlers tried to downplay the otherworldly elements and make the hero more human, less alien, more at home on earth, less nostalgic for Krypton. They tried to tell us that Superman was but a mask, Clark Kent was the reality. It didn't work. Gradually, in the comics at least, the super-earthman has faded, the super-alien resurged. That alienation was as obvious in 2006's Superman Returns as it was in the Chris Reeve movies. It seems evident, then, that Superman works best as Superman. Tights and flights are our glorious dream, Clark Kent our hateful wake-up call.
This, I think, has been the biggest problem with Smallville, which, after ten seasons and 217 episodes, has finally ended its run. The original vision of the series' creators, Al Gough and Miles Millar, was "no flights, no tights." For the first four years or so, that strategy seemed to work.
In fact, the show was at its best when the adolescent Clark struggled, as all teen-agers do, to find his place in the world. As Jonathan Kent shepherded his foster son toward the light, Lionel Luthor pushed his offspring Lex into the darkness. During this time, Smallville functioned as an intriguing meditation on fathers and sons.
After the death of Jonathan, however, Clark never got off the ground physically or emotionally. Not only was he not flying, he seemed to be running in place. The producers shoveled in elements and characters from the DC Comics mythos, introducing heroes and villains prematurely. A growing gang of super-heroes, invariably costumed, some even flying, all but pushed Clark out of the picture. Superman fans were frustrated: "Come on, already!" Even Gough and Millar, who left the series after seven seasons, felt that frustration (http://collider.com/al-gough-miles-millar-interview-smallville/74668). By Year Nine, everything about the series shouted Superman!—except its hero.
If ever there was a story in need of an ending, it was Clark Kent's. The final season was therefore welcomed with a mixture of joy and relief. Now, at last, the fans thought, they'd get to see the Real Steel Deal. Yet Season Ten offered little that was new, relying largely on reappearances of dead or departed characters. There were some humorous moments (something the angst-ridden series has run too short on), a couple interesting scenes.
Erica Durance did a great job of answering the question why Superman needs Lois Lane. (Elsewhere, I've written about the continuity conundrum of Lois knowing only a mild-mannered, bespectacled Kent. The writers deserve credit for making this Lois the mastermind behind Superman's "disguise.") Yet, though Darkseid was touted as the Grand Menace of the year, he seemed little more an afterthought. The producers seemed to be banking on the prospect of the two-hour finale to sustain interest.
Well, the finale has come and gone. It was disappointing in some respects, but, overall, it worked. There were a couple wonderful scenes. In one, Clark and Lois talk to each other through a closed door. Simply yet stylishly directed, I don't remember seeing anything quite like it in the entire run. Michael Rosenbaum, the resurrected Lex Luthor, did a superb job with a small amount of screen time, offering Clark a chillingly logical explanation for his ongoing villainy.
The final scenes wherein Clark, blessed by two fathers, seizes his costume and his destiny were thrilling. I'm probably not too far from the mark when I say that the last five minutes of the last episode were worth the last five seasons of the series. That's because those minutes not only delivered Superman, but they spoke to our desire for the power and glory he represents.
As Yosemite Sam declared to Bugs Bunny, "I paid mah four bits ta see thuh high-divin' act, and I'm'a gonna see thuh high-divin' act!" For a decade, fans hung in with Smallville--not because they fell in love with Clark Kent and Chloe Sullivan, but because they wanted to see the high-flyin' act—Superman.
Clark Kent isn't enough for us. He never was; he never will be. We tolerate him because we know that beneath the business suit and glasses Superman lies in wait. Kent is the groaning creation, anxious for the revealing of the sons of God. Kent anchors us to humiliation, weakness. Kent is us as we are. Superman is what we would become. He's the thirst for immortality, for godhood. He's the dream of glory coupled with righteousness, the dream of joy that lifts us off the earth and sends us soaring into our ultimate destiny.
"Your trials are over," Jor-El tells his son in the Fortress of Solitude. "It is time for you to seize your destiny." I can't help but think of what Jesus will say to the righteous as they end one series and start another: ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world" (Matthew 25:34).
All that's left for the redeemed to say is, "Up, up, and away!"
Gary D. Robinson is a preacher, author, and Superman fan in Xenia, OH. He blogs at www.garydrobinson.com.
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