I recently asked a close friend of mine if she preferred the classic Christopher Reeve Superman films or Smallville. I sensed that it wasn’t an easy decision, but ultimately, she went with the series, saying “it’s just more my generation”. Putting aside for a moment the implications that a statement like that has for an aging Superman disciple like myself, it did get me thinking of something. Smallville truly has become more than a prequel to the Superman mythology that we’re all familiar with. As recently as the opening of Season 5 (with the discovery and construction of The Fortress Of Solitude), I was still watching Smallville through the prism of the films. Part of me was still mentally connecting the dots on the show to somehow eventually lead directly into the events of the film series that I grew up with in the 1980’s. But in recent years, this has changed, both for me and, I suspect, for many reading this column right now. I am positively ecstatic that Smallville has been renewed for one last season. But not for the reasons you may suspect.
Blame it on my anal retentive nature, but precedent and numbers mean a great deal in my world. And so it was with an acute interest that I discovered that the time period between the premiere dates of “Superman: The Movie” and “Superman IV: The Quest For Peace” was eight years, seven months and 14 days. Why dig up this piece of information? Because Christopher Reeve’s Superman defined the iconic superhero for an entire generation. And the time span between the first and final films is really the only gauge we have to go on as far as how long that version of The Man Of Steel was considered definitive. To this day, no single live-action incarnation of Superman has remained a constant thread within our cultural consciousness for as long as those films. Not, that is, until now. May 30th, 2010 will mark what I believe to be an historic milestone for Smallville. On that day, the show will have aired continuously for eight years, seven months and 14 days. As hard as it may be for some of us to imagine, Smallville is about to eclipse a 23-year-old record as the longest running single version of Superman, well, ever. As such, Smallville really can’t be seen as just a prequel to Superman anymore. Smallville is Superman, both for an entirely new generation of young adults and even the thirty-something big kids like me. What may have once started as something that many perceived as a “Dawson’s Creek with superpowers” WB melodrama has evolved and changed with the times in ways that prior attempts have simply been either unwilling or unable to accomplish.
As I mentioned a few reviews ago, I am finally simply proud to say I love this show. And whatever the naysayers will spout on various online forums, the one thing they can’t snub their noses at is the longevity that this series has demonstrated. For better (has the show ever been better?) or worse (cough Season 4 cough), this show has endured. It’s earned its place in the pantheon, as more than an “elseworlds” program as some have labeled it. Superman has always been an evolving mythology. That’s part of the reason why the character has managed to endure against all odds. The fan-base is more energized than I’ve seen it in years…and it’s easy to understand why. Smallville is no longer a guilty pleasure, but a legitimate and vital piece of an intricate tapestry that’s made Superman the world’s greatest superhero for over 70 years.
As May 31st, 2010 will mark Smallville’s first day as the new record-holder, I officially declare that Smallville Day. Mark your calendars.