2001: The world is introduced to Clark Kent.
By that, I mean for the first time we see a focus being shifted from the Man of Steel to the mild mannered geek that is Clark Kent. I don’t remember much superhero media before the first time that I saw the TV show, Smallville, in a hospital waiting room. That’s because the first episode I ever saw was season 2’s “Rush” and I was probably 6 or 7 years old. While I do not remember exactly how old I was when I was introduced to Tom Welling’s portrayal of the teenaged Man of Tomorrow, I do know that the show that my dad called the “Superman Soap Opera” was essential in my growth.
I watched reruns of Smallville almost every night at 8PM on what used to be ABC Family. When my family became caught up with what was currently on the air, we swapped over to watch the weekly episodes on the WB, which later became the CW, at either 9 or 10 at night (depending on the season). It took special approval from my parents to let me stay up past my bedtime, once a week, to watch the latest Smallville so one time when my dad was deployed, my mom was at night school, and my brother was watching me till she got back… I threw a terrible tantrum until my mother came home, at which point, my punishment was bedtime and no Smallville.
My introduction to Superman was with the Max Fleischer Superman animated serials, as shown to me by my mother’s father. I don’t remember much about the serials except that in one, Superman fights a literal dinosaur. The takeaway here is that Clark was jack shit compared to the small “g,” god that is Superman. What kind of being CHOOSES to be Clark Kent? Even if it was only part time. Why wouldn’t you want to be Superman full time? I know, it’s a silly outlook. And there’s a whole canon dedicated to explaining why Kal chooses to maintain the disguise of Clark. But these questions persisted because we never got to see Superman from the beginning. We never got to see Ma and Pa Kent raise the child who would become the Superman.
The 1938 debut of Superman in Action Comics #1, only tells us that the baby alien comes to Earth as a result of his homeworld being destroyed. He is discovered by a passing motorist and given to a nearby orphanage. The following panels display his amazing feats of strength, speed, and other super powers. Not the world’s first superhero, but definitely the first modern superhero. And yes, there was media depicting Clark Kent before Smallville. But not to the degree, the detail, of this essential show in the canon of Superman.
Of all the Superman media that existed back in 2001, the personal life of Clark Kent BEFORE becoming Superman, was virtually untouched. We had gotten plenty of origin stories, but like the first Superman film with Christopher Reeve, there was a time jump in pretty much all of these. Christopher Reeve brought the gift of flight into our homes, immortalizing Superman. Giving us iconic portrayals of both the last son of Krypton and the unassuming reporter of the Daily Planet newspaper.
But what about the high school years? This is what Smallville delivered to us. The most awkward stage of any human’s development, it turns out is the same for that of a Kryptonian masquerading as a human on Earth. There was no reimagining here. It was just unexplored territory that Miles Miller and Alfred Gough trailblazed into the present. I mean, it’s really genius. With what started as a project to do the same for Batman, WB/The CW taught me non specific rules for what it meant to be a good man. A good man does what is right, when no one is watching.
Hard work. That’s what it takes to make something of yourself. Whether that means you want to be a simple farmer like Pa Kent, or you want to literally be one with the heavens like Kal-El of Krypton. Smallville proved that anything was possible with hard work. Kal worked hard to develop the identity of Clark Kent, so that he could give and sacrifice for the people of Earth. Mr. Kent worked hard to keep his farm and his family, and barked at anyone who stepped in the way of that.
What’s the purpose of Clark Kent? To serve as a shield between Kal’s loved ones and the enemies that he fights. To serve as a reprieve from the bullets and fire. And to show that being human isn’t a weakness.
Clayton Grant is an up and coming writer based in Georgia in the good old US of A. He loves anything nerdy, his dog, reading, and writing (duh). He can easily be reached through his Twitter @ClaytonGrant19.