There will be a town hall of sorts Saturday when the cast of “Smallville” reunites to take part in a panel at Wizard Word Comic Con at the Huntington Convention Center in Cleveland.
“Smallville” was a little series that began with a premise of looking at Superman before he matured into the Man of Steel. The rule for the series: no flights, no tights. It, however, made people wonder if the CW series would fly with fans. Considering its 10-season run, the answer proved to be a resounding “yes.”
However, the influence of “Smallville" extended beyond its own illustrious run.
It broke ground in the realm of comic-book-based TV series, especially for shows based on DC Comics properties. It also paved the way for another Superman prequel (“Krypton”), a Batman prequel series (“Gotham”) with yet another — “Pennyworth,” based on the adventures of Bruce Wayne's butler Alfred — reportedly in development, and four other CW series: “Arrow,” “The Flash,” “Supergirl” and “Legends of Tomorrow.”
That’s quite a legacy, and it’s one that John Glover, who portrayed Lionel Luthor, Lex Luthor’s equally malevolent father, was unaware of until it was mentioned to him in a recent interview. Glover will appear with his on-screen son, who was portrayed by Michael Rosenbaum, and Clark Kent himself, Tom Welling.
Add Welling to that list of those not understanding the show’s influence. He knew some had tried to crack Clark Kent’s backstory before Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, the show’s executive producers, did so successfully. Beyond that? It wasn’t until the dawn of social media when he understood, he said.
“We knew the show was good, though,” Welling said during a telephone interview Tuesday. “We enjoyed doing it, but we just focused on the heart of the show. It was a show with a lot of heart with characters trying to figure themselves out, and I think people really responded to that.”
Others, however, are aware, though surprised by its legacy.
“If you would have told me back then it would literally build its own network, I would have been completely flabbergasted," said Brad Ricca, a Case Western Reserve University SAGES fellow and author of “Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster — The Creators of Superman.” “What they did that was so good, they realized that if you separated from the tights, you get a better story.”
What “Smallville” pulled off on the small screen, which no previous iteration of the Man of Steel had, was to truly humanize the character, said Richard Graham, who has studied and written about comic books in his role as an associate professor at the University of Nebraska.
“He's usually portrayed as an iconic, classic do-gooder alien, but the TV show, by doing the no-flying, no-tights business fully explored his family, and the teenage melodrama aspect, I think, really resonated with people,” Graham said.
Welling agreed, giving the show’s creators credit for combining the teen angst and the underpinnings of adolescence along with the feeling of being an outsider to make the show relatable.
“Smallville” proved to be more complex than the routine good vs. evil dynamic often portrayed in comics. It explored the path the man who would ultimately be Superman’s nemesis, Lex Luthor, traveled to evolve into who he was, a person greatly influenced by his father, Lionel, a master in doling out lessons of social Darwinism.
Glover said building that relationship on-screen with Rosenbaum, which ultimately became a friendship, is something they both take pride in.
“I've got to tell you, because several times people would stop me on the street, when it was on and just say, you know, thanks and everything,” Glover said during a recent interview. “They kind of said it the same way, 'I can't figure out, are you supposed to be a good guy or a bad guy?' "
“And I knew then, after people said that, that I was doing a good job. It was making sense, that I was human, you know? As opposed to just, yeah, twirling my mustache.”
That’s something Welling appreciated about Glover and Rosenbaum.
“That's one of my very favorite relationships on the show because it was always fascinating to watch those two work together," Welling said. "John brought something that wasn't on the page. He's that good of an actor, and Michael always had sort of an angle.”
George M. Thomas dabbles in movies and television for the Beacon Journal. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ByGeorgeThomas.