Friday, May 13, 2011


After 10 years, the world says goodbye to Smallville, the reimagining of Superman’s early years before he became the Man of Steel. 

Created by Alfred Gough and Miles Miller, the show started out as a teen drama (which the CW, formerly the WB was most known for) with superpowers. The primary focus was the budding romance between Clark Kent (Tom Welling) and Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk), with the occasional freak of the week, an ordinary Smallville citizen transformed by Kryptonite left over from the meteor shower that ushered Clark to Earth, thrown in. Gough and Miller had one domineering stance: no tights, no flights. They felt that any Superman action would herald the end of the show. So, they gave Clark the fear of heights to keep him grounded, and it would be 10 years later that the suit would even make it onto the show (more on that later). Although, it should be noted there have been several times when Clark has flown, but usually under evil influence. And his cousin Kara (Laura Vandervoort) flew in all her subsequent appearances.

The formula obviously worked, and the show chugged along. Eventually, the freak of the week storylines were dropped in favor of introducing new interpretations of DC villains and characters, and focusing on Lex Luthor’s slow ascent to evil (until Michael Rosenbaum left the show after the 7th season). But, gradually, the show became stagnant in its direction. The storylines took a constant one step forward, three steps back approach between episodes. There was always the constant push to keep Clark as Clark, and thus any development towards Superman was always rendered meaningless.

Gough and Miller departed the show after season 7, and Todd Slavkin, Darren Swimmer, Kelly Souders and Brian Peterson took the reigns (however the two former would depart for Melrose Place after one season). With that change came a tonal shift for the show. Greater emphasis was placed on Clark’s progression into Superman. Characters such as Doomsday, Zatanna, the Justice Society of America, the Legion of Superheroes and more began making their debut. Checkmate was introduced as an antagonist, and eventually Chloe Sullivan (Alison Mack) would take them over. Although, not to completely change things, there was still the romantic back and forth between Clark and Lois Lane (Erica Durance).

And that brings us to the final episode. There are spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t seen the episode yet, you may want to come back to this when you have.

Although there were some satisfying moments, overall the episode was extremely disappointing. For starters, too much time was devoted to Clark trying to convince Lois to marry him, her having decided the episode before after having his powers for a day she would be a hindrance to his heroics. The payoff to Oliver Queen being possessed by the darkness was minimal, culminating in his being convinced to switch out Clark’s ring with a gold Kryptonite one (which would turn Clark human forever). But, a little pep talk after and Oliver breaks free of the hold. Oliver gets his payback later by easily taking out Darkseid’s minions; a feat which was never explained since Orion’s bow, the only true weapon against the darkness, was destroyed by Granny Goodness (Christine Willes) last episode.
The second-most heralded event was the return of Lex Luthor to the show, and not just the body double or child-aged clone that have been on since Rosenbaum’s departure. Unfortunately, his use was minimal (due to Rosenbaum’s availability) beyond his return and a brief conversation with Clark where he promises to make his life hell. That is, until he’s mind-wiped by the end of the episode. Souders and Peterson have claimed in interviews that if Rosenbaum’s return was guaranteed sooner they would have peppered more hints to his return throughout the season. However, I thought there was sufficient build-up for that over the last three years, with all the clones and secret projects, and eventually the rapidly-aging character of Alexander.

The overreaching Darkseid story was far less developed. The subplot seemed to only exist within half the episodes of the season, culminating seemingly out of nowhere into the final confrontation of the episode. That confrontation, though, was culminated in Darkseid possessing the resurrected Lionel Luthor (John Glover). That fight was extremely brief, dominated mostly by a 5 minute flashback sequence of Clark’s rescues from the entire series, before Clark finally gained the ability to fly and destroyed Lionel’s body effortlessly. The true Darkseid does make an equally-brief appearance before that, though, in some of the worst CGI to grace the series.

Now, finally, we come to the big enchilada: the suit. The producers procured the Superman Returns suit (why they needed to acquire the suit, especially that of all of them, instead of having one made I still don’t know) to use in the finale. It made its appearance in the Fortress of Solitude until it was finally given to Clark by the “ghost” of Jonathan Kent (John Schneider). But, fans are ultimately cheated out of the moment they were waiting for as Clark is never shown in the suit beyond far CGI-shots and his head with a CGI cape waving in the background. Even his ultimate saving of the planet isn’t shown beyond a, wait for it, red/blue blur and then suddenly all is well. The only time we see Superman at all is within a Smallville comic Chloe reads to her son in the bordering future sequences of the episode. And the only time we see Clark in at least the shirt is at the end when he does the classic shirt-rip.

And that basically sums up the finale. Forced drama (the wedding), wasted characters (did we really need Jonathan as present as he was?), non-fights, and not even the big payoff everyone has been waiting for. Not to mention the absolutely cheapest CGI in the series. While it’s understandable on a TV budget it’s hard to do a big epic, the fact is there have been times when Smallville had reached epic lengths in both action and effects, negating that kind of excuse. And then there are the Smallville-shippers who defend the moves by saying it’s a show about Clark Kent, and NOT Superman. Again, when the goal is to get TO Superman, when that moment arrives it should be brought front and center.

But, ultimately, whatever the reasons they did what they did, it’s hard not to get a bit of a chill when John Williams’ theme is used correctly, and that much they at least got right.

So, how to fix this travesty?

-Cut down the wedding drama SIGNIFICANTLY.                                                           

-Get the Justice League involved. By far the best episode of the series was when they first teamed-up, and they haven’t since (either Clark has one-on-one or there have been body doubles, like for Hawkman’s funeral).

-Make the threats actual threats. You spend so much time building up your bad guys only to have them punked out in two second fights?

-Un-convolute Lex’s return. You had Alexander already aging rapidly. Just have him become Lex, forget the whole Darkseid/Lionel/Tess angle.

-Mind-wipes are never a good idea. You completely destroy years of character development just to remove an inconvenient truth? Too easy.

-If your endgame is Superman, SHOW SUPERMAN! And above all, don’t acknowledge the travesty that was Returns. If you absolutely had to get a pre-made suit, at least get the Dean Cain one from Lois & Clark.

Thursday, May 12, 2011


This is a bit of a bittersweet week. Hot on the heels of the news of the cancellation of Human Target (based on a DC comic and starring Jackie Earle Haley from Watchmen, also a DC property) and the end of the Wonder Woman TV series, we also have the series finale of Smallville. Smallville is the longest-running comic book-based show in history, as well as the longest starring Superman. Let’s take a look back at some of what has come before:

Superman’s first live-action foray into TV, starring George Reeves as Superman and Phyllis Coates, later Noel Neill, as Lois Lane. The original two seasons were serious and violent affairs, resembling movie serials more than a standard TV show. It was also noted as having advanced special effects for its day. Production demands, however, were high and strenuous for the underpaid actors, and often shortcuts ended up being used to save money wherever possible. It was during the third season when the producers felt color would dominate, and switched production towards that. The result was campier, more light-hearted episodes with goofier villains and moderate violence. For the final season, attempts were made to restore some of the serious tones from the earlier years, particularly in episodes directed by Reeves himself, but by then the show had run its course.

SUPERBOY (1988-92)
Created by the producers of the Superman movies, John Haymes Newton put on the cape for the title role, along with Stacy Haiduk as his childhood friend/love interest Lana Lang, and roommate T.J. White, played by Jim Calvert. The series focused on Clark’s time at a fictional Florida university studying journalism. Unsure of the success of the show, the producers skimped on first season production, resulting in rougher and grittier episodes than later seasons. The second season saw a new Superboy in Gerard Christopher, a new sidekick in Andy McCalister played by Ilan Mitchell-Smith, and a new Lex Luthor with Sherman Howard replacing Scott Wells. The third season took Clark and Lana out of school to work for the Bureau of Extra-Normal Matters and the show finished its run with a darker tonality. Although additional seasons and TV movies were planned, WB reclaimed all the rights to the Superman family of characters, halting further production.

As the title suggests, this series differed from the others by choosing to focus mainly on the relationship between Lois Lane (Terri Hatcher, who goes on to play Lois’ mother on Smallville) and Clark Kent (Dean Cain, who played Dr. Curtis Knox, a knockoff of Vandal Savage, on Smallville) with Superman’s adventures taking a backseat. After the first season, cast and writing changes contributed to the differing tone of the show, but was able to hold out for three more seasons until ABC suddenly cancelled it, leaving the show to end on a cliffhanger.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Within a month of each other will come two Superman landmarks: the appearance of Superman on the series finale of Smallville, the longest running comic-based show in history, and just weeks prior the release of the landmark 900th issue of Action Comics (the highest numbering goes to UK-based 2000 AD, which is well over 1,000 weekly issues).
Action is the first super hero comic to legitimately reach 900 issues. By legitimately, I refer to Marvel’s releasing of a special 900th issue of Deadpool and Wolverine around the time Superman and Batman were due to reach their 700th issues in 2010 (and following, three 1000th issues for Deadpool, Wolverine and Spectacular Spider-Man since) with none of those titles even coming close to those numbers, even when you add together their various incarnations. But, even Action’s #900 is misleading as it’s really DC’s SECOND oldest title, behind its namesake Detective Comics, whose 876th issue was just released.

What? What is this craziness? How is the older book 14 issues behind the pace? Read on!
Action Comics’ claim to fame is being the book that introduced not only Superman, but the super hero genre as a whole. In 1938, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster pitched their creation, originally a malevolent force akin to Lex Luthor with mind-powers, to then-National Allied Publications with the alteration of him being a hero. Action, like many books in the Golden Age, was an anthology that featured other characters in their own strips. As the economy changed and the publisher was forced the reduce the size of the book rather than raise the price, the other strips were gradually phased out until Superman took dominance. It should be noted that when it was decided to launch Superman in his own solo book in 1939, that was another industry first to have a single character for a single book.

In 1986, the book was temporarily halted with #583 to allow John Byrne’s mini-series The Man of Steel, which sought to revamp and redefine Superman’s origin in the midst of conflicting continuity over the years, to run and establish the new status quo. Two years later, DC sought a return to the anthology format for Action and turned it into a weekly book with #601. The weekly format was nixed with #643, but the book was well-past Detective, coupled with Detective’s bi-monthly format back in the ‘70s when Action originally overtook it.

Action Comics #900 presented the conclusion to a Lex Luthor story that had been running in the book since #890, giving Superman a break from the title while focus was placed on J. Michael Straczynski’s “Grounded” arc in Superman’s other book. However, that distinction is misleading in that while the Lex story was brought to a close, the tie-in return of Doomsday story was left on a cliffhanger to continue on. The rest of the book featured several short Superman stories, including the most controversial one of Superman renouncing his American citizenship in order to become a hero without borders.
Over at the Marvel Comics camp, their steady climb to such landmarks slowly continues. Marvel’s progress is hampered by continual re-launches, re-numberings, and book shifting. Marvel has long run under the belief that higher issue numbers are the major factor in declining readership. As a result, in 1996 Marvel ended and re-launched Captain America, Fantastic Four, Iron Man and Avengers with new #1s, as well as experimenting by setting them apart in an all-new universe. The experiment ended with their #13s, and the books were once again re-launched with new #1s, restored to their original universes. Thor’s own second run would being two years later, Iron Man would go on to a third run, and Captain America would see two more launches.

In 1998, Daredevil’s title was ended and re-launched under the new, darker-toned Marvel Knights imprint under scribe Kevin Smith and artist Joe Quesada, which led to a resurgence of the character’s popularity. They attempted that again in 1999 with Spider-Man by reducing the number of titles he had and re-launching two of them. Despite spending the first half of the ‘70s cancelled and in reprints, Uncanny X-Men is Marvel’s longest single-run title, having never received a new number during its run (it was temporarily replaced by Astonishing X-Men for four months for the Age of Apocalypse event, as was every X-Men book).

When Joe Quesada became Editor-in-chief of Marvel, he began an initiative to restore the original numbering of the various re-launched titles. For a period, the books featured a dual number on their covers: the current number of that run, and a lighter-toned original number that the book would have reached without restarting. As titles began gradually reaching their 500th, and later 600th, issue, Marvel began to revert the numbers back to their original levels. DC did this as well with their Wonder Woman and Superman titles, Wonder Woman having received a second volume in 1986 and Superman’s original book becoming Adventures of Superman, allowing for a new Superman #1 following the conclusion of The Man of Steel. Both titles were returned to their original numbering, Superman upon reaching #650 and Wonder Woman with #600.

With Detective Comics reaching #900 in 14 months, the race is on for the next comic milestone.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


As if the steady return of the Silver Age in comics wasn’t enough, more blasts from the past are making a comeback.

Over the last few years, both Marvel and DC have been quietly ushering in the return to Silver Age storytelling in their various books. Marvel’s biggest was the controversial move of returning Spider-Man to his swinging single 1970s days by retconning away his marriage to Mary Jane Watson. Over at DC, we’ve had the return of the Silver Age Legion of Super-Heroes, Krypto the Superdog, and more.

But two recent trends interest me. The first is Marvel’s return to the Annual crossover story. Starting in 1988, Marvel would begin the tradition of featuring a crossover story between various titles’ annuals with The Evolutionary War. The stories would either be company-wide, or restricted to books within a particular character family until the mid ‘90s. In 2001, Marvel decided annuals were irrelevant to the grand scheme of things and ended them in favor of a regular 13th issue a year. In 2006, annuals slowly began making their return to the company.

In 2011, Marvel made a return to the crossover Annual epic with two stories: Identity Wars, running through Amazing Spider-Man Annual #38, Deadpool Annual #1, and an upcoming Incredible Hulk annual, and Escape from the Negative Zone, running through Uncanny X-Men Annual #3, Steve Rogers: Super Soldier Annual #1, and Namor, the First Mutant Annual #1.

On the other side of the spectrum, Archie Comics is doing a little retro renovation themselves. After spending the last few years trying to advance the Archie titles beyond the “stagnant” sameness they’ve always had by introducing Riverdale’s first gay character, the first new characters since the early 90s influx, and by creating an adult-themed alternate universe where Archie marries his sweethearts (not at the same time, don’t worry!). Now, they’ve decided to bring the titles back where they were. And I mean the ACTUAL titles.

Archie announced a return to their classic trade dress, reducing the amount of cover art in favor for a colorful background behind the book’s title. This was a practice many comics followed back in the early 70s. With this change also comes the restoration of some of the original title designs, particularly that of Betty and Veronica.

And once again.