Smallville, Superman, and Me

I just finished watching the series finale of Smallville. I am quite literally out of breath as I type this, so bear with me if my thoughts are a bit jumbled. Please note that there are major spoilers within, so be warned if you haven’t yet seen the series finale.

I was never a comic book guy. I discovered science fiction at the same time I discovered astronomy, somewhere around the age of seven, and I somehow managed to skip over the whole comic book thing. It’s strange when I think about it, because most of my friends in the science fiction world are comic book fans; some of them even wrote for the major superhero comics. I was never really interested for some reason. Having said that, I’d always had a kind of hero-worship for Superman.

When did Superman first enter my consciousness? It’s hard to say. I suspect it might have been one Halloween in the mid-to-late 1970s. Certainly there were costumes (not nearly as elaborate as today’s) of Superman and I must have had some idea that he was a hero. I remember dressing up as Batman one year, complete with Utility Belt, which of course was the only reason to wear the costume in the first place. Toward the end of that decade, I remember very clearly watching episodes of The Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves on TV. I knew the whole opening sequence and can remember pretending to fly around the house with a towel as a cape.

Sometime in the early 80s, I saw Superman: The Movie and later, Superman II. I watched them over and over again on HBO and John Williams music made an impression on me that lasts right down to this very moment. His music defined a hero. In the early 90s, I got hooked on the lighter side of Superman when I discovered Lois & Clark and lived for each episode of its 4 season run.

In the fall of 2001, I was living in Studio City, California and working in Santa Monica. I used to have many route home through the horrendous rush hour traffic, but all of them eventually led to Ventura Boulevard, which I would take eastbound to Tujunga Avenue, where I lived. There was a billboard up just before Tujunga, advertising a new show premiering that fall, something called Smallville. Not being a reader of the Superman comic, I had no idea that Smallville was part of the Superman lore. Nevertheless, driving past that sign every day got me curious and on October 16, 2001, I decided to look it up when I got home to see what the fuss was all about.

That’s when I discovered it was a retelling of Superman from the point of view of a young Clark Kent.

I watched it on the tiny 13-inch TV I owned that night. The series premier ran longer than an hour and I remember being totally blown away by it. And my opinion of the show barely wavered in the decade since.

Some seasons have been better than others. Some seasons have been absolutely remarkable. But they have all been good seasons. Early on there were a lot of “green monster” episodes, but by the middle of the run those were mostly in the past and the series had picked up a direction. It was clearly heading somewhere. I loved the puns they through into the series, the little bits of self-referential dialog. I loved the characters created for the show. The actors were all terrific in their roles. It was sad to see some of them go, and sometime surprising to see the direction some of the newer characters took. Christopher Reeve’s appearance in the show was a highlight. I remember in that first episode he was in, they played a snippet of John Williams’ theme from the Superman movies and that gave me chills.

There are a handful of shows that stand high on my list of what I consider to be genuinely good entertainment. I always liked Magnum, P.I.; M*A*S*H was one of the best written shows I’ve ever encountered, and for a long time, The West Wing was right up there with it. NYPD Blue had a pretty good run in my book as well. It might seem strange to include Smallville–a series about a comic book hero–among these other series as among the finest television I’ve encountered. But let me just say this:

In all the episodes of The West Wing I watched; in all the episodes of M*A*S*H or NYPD Blue or Magnum, P.I., never–not once–did I ever leap up of my seat to scream and cheer. Never did I jump off the couch, and run in circles around the room saying things like, “Oh my god! Oh my god! She’s knows it’s him!” Never did I cheer for any of those shows as much as I might cheer in a close baseball game.

But I’ve done it countless times in Smallville. Including tonight.

When I lived by myself, no one witnessed this cheering. But in the years that Kelly and I have been together, she’s seen it and I think she is rather amused by it. After all, here is a grown man–a science fiction writer, no less–cheering like a teenager over a rock star at a television show about a superhero.

The music of Smallville was also something different. It brought the same contemporary style to its soundtrack as it did to the story and for many seasons, the music helped to define key moments in the story line. Eventually, I built a “Smallville” playlist, as I’m sure countless fans have done, and from time-to-time will randomly make my way through that playlist. But I always remembered the chills I got from hear John Williams’ music in that first episode with Christopher Reeve.

Int he week or so leading up to the series finale, the CW had promo clips that included John Williams’ score and I said to Kelly that had to mean they were going to include it in the series finale. At 8pm Eastern time, I headed downstairs to watch the season finale. Kelly made it through the first hour before she was too tired and had to go to bed. I was captivated. Some of the story was a little over the top, but it was still entertaining, still made you believe in heros, still made me want to be like Superman. As we passed through the second hour things got better and better and better.

When Clark finally faced Darkside in the barn and was thrown off by him and had that series of flashbacks, I wasn’t on the edge of my seat, I was standing, almost right in front of our large TV. When he realized that his “trials” had been the things he was doing all along, I got chills. I was sure John Williams’ music would kick in at any moment. Instead, something better happened. Clark was finally flying. When he made it to the Fortress and got his suit, I thought for sure when he flew away, that famous Superman March would be playing. But it wasn’t. When he saved the world, I thought it would play. But it didn’t.

It wasn’t until the last few minutes, 7 years in the future that the real thrill of the show–the decade-long build-up of hope and tension–was finally rewarded. It started subtly enough. Small bits of the various themes from the John Williams’ score began to play as Clark pretended to be a goof and Lois told him to stop because no one was watching. They were about to leave for their wedding when someone reported a bomb in an elevator. Clark tells Lois to let the pastor know he might be a few minutes late.

And at that point–in the last 60 seconds of the series–the entire thing paid for itself in my mind. The John Williams’ March started to play. We see Clark head up to the roof of the Daily Planet. The theme continues to build. He takes of his classes and starts to run. He opens his shirt as the theme reaches its most familiar part, to reveal the Superman “S”–and the show ends on that incredibly high note.

I have to think that fans of the show will be pleased. Looking back across the decade to that first episode, and seeing how it all led up to that last 60 seconds, I’ve got to tell you, I not only had chills when that music started playing, I was giddy, I had tears in my eyes. For that one instant, I knew–we all knew–what it must feel like to be be Superman.

Thank you Smallville, for a decade of some of the finest entertainment I’ve ever experienced.