From Smallville to Asgard – A Mighty Transition

If you are one who enjoys watching comic book heroes and stories come to life onscreen, you can appreciate what a rollercoaster of emotions and thoughts that I went through this past weekend, which began with the finale of Smallville and ended with my first viewing of Thor

It's tempting to go off on a tangent about just how unbelievable that sentence would be to read even a few years ago—but these are the times we live in, where Tom Welling finally dons the Superman costume and the God of Thunder appears in a legitimate box office hit that's just about him.  In many ways, however, I think my experiences this week represent a shift, a real shift, in the kinds of stories that we'll be seeing on our screens in the years to come—but we'll get to that in a minute.

I am sure there are countless pieces on the web out there discussing the Smallville finale, so I will resist discussing it for too long, but I think it is right to take a moment, for all of us to take a moment, to consider this show. Fan or no, you have to concede that is an outright miracle that a show that everyone knew, at its core, was about Superman, about a Superman who didn't even fly, was on the air for ten years.  The number of recent television shows that have lasted that long, regardless of genre, is very low. Yes, I know that many of you would argue that it went on a few years too many, and I can see your point, but I think that, if you watched Smallville, you were able to experience a show that really changed over the course of its run,  adapting to the times it lived in and the changing expectations of its audience.

I started watching with the first episode and dropped out somewhere toward the end of the first season. I didn't like the acting, I didn't like the "freak of the week" thing that was going on, but as the years went by and I kept seeing promos for the show, I kept thinking to myself, "How is this show still on?"  It was not until 4-5 years ago, after seeing people talk about the show on this website, that I told my DVR to record it.  It has been a reliable entry in my DVR schedule ever since.

We've got a show coming up about the finale and Smallville in general, so I won't go into it too much, but I did want to make a few points:

First, Smallville was as close to a "comic book on TV" as I think we're likely to get, and I am not just talking about the chance to see people with powers saving the a few times an episode. When the show was running, it was like going to the comic book story that happened once a week. Sometimes you had a really good episode, other times not so much, but you could rely on it, you know? And if you had the DVR making a Smallville pull list for you (your saved episodes), you knew that you always had an episode waiting in the wings for your "fix".  And just like you get used to a writer/artist combination in comics, there was this real sense of community that one felt with the producers and cast of the show when you watched it, at least I did.  I mean, after awhile, we all knew just how many sets they had, we stopped pointing out when you could see the soundstage in the background, you got a sense of the budget when fabric and lights were used instead of, you know, walls, and marveled at just how many different angles they could use to shoot that street set.  It was like a community theater's weekly production–and I don't mean that to sound disparaging at all! It was a community of creators doing their best to tell a story to their audience, week after week, and you go the real sense, especially for the last few years, that they were making the show for the fans, and didn't really care what anyone else thought.

Second, it was clear that when DC allowed the writers to actually use characters from their comic book properties, there was a new energy in the writing room. Suddenly, Green Arrow was in the opening credits! Green Arrow — every week!  We had Aquaman. J'onn J'onzz. Zatanna.  Checkmate.  I mean, come on—think about it, when will this ever happen again? Can it ever happen again?  Smallville became this wonderful showcase for DC characters and themes, it became a place where a comic book fan could see his or her wishes come true, it became this wonderful playground, where we all just had fun for an hour, playing with comics. Not everything worked, and that was okay, because it made the stuff that did work that much more amazing. 


Smallville was a very creative show, both in terms of the stories that were told and in the ways they used their budgets to present the stories in the best way they could afford, and I sometimes felt a sense of happy responsibility to support it, because the writers and producers were doing something magical for comic book fans like myself. Over the decade of shows, we were able to see the actors get better and better, and take more responsibility, with Tom Welling and Justin Hartley going behind the camera and directing a few episodes.  As I think about it, watching the actors improve and seeing them take on different kinds of challenges was a big part of my enjoyment, because it's really encouraging and, well, kind of rare, to get a chance to see professionals grow over time like this. Back in the day, if you were an actor in New York, a big part of your training would be to go and see the same Broadway show over and over again, to see how the actors changed and adapted as the weeks went on—this is obviously a very expensive proposition now!

The end of Smallville is more than just the end of a television series. It's no less than the closing of a portal to the wonders of DC Universe.  Regardless of whether or not you were a regular visitor, you had to appreciate a show that gave you a Justice Society two hour movie and an episode with Booster Gold, both written by Geoff Johns. The finale was a fitting end to the show, serving as a bridge connecting the life of Clark Kent with the "reality" of Superman —  the last ten minutes were a celebration of everything that we love about Superman. Over the years, we have a seen a few "big time" finales (Lost and Battlestar Galactica come to mind, as does 24), and I admit, based on my experiences with those shows, I was bracing myself for some amount of disappointment. I can tell you, honestly, that my only disappointment is that the show is over.  And yes, I realize that there are more movies coming out, but it's not like Batman is going to show up to help Hal in Green Lantern, or that Clark is going to be covering a story in Gotham City in the next Bat-film.

One portal closes and another, apparently leading to Asgard, opens. While Smallvile served an excellent opportunity for television audiences to discover various second tier characters from DC, Marvel does something sort of similar, just to a broader audience, re-introducing the world to everyone's favorite god of thunder. 

For the record, I pretty much loved Thor. I admit, I came in with low expectations, and I left with a big smile and kind of a crush on Chris Hemsworth.  We can talk about it in the comments, but wow– that he was able to balance the humor, self-confidence, braggadocio and strength of this character that could have so easily been a caricature tells me that this is one solid actor.  I left that movie very eager for the next "episode"…and that's where our transition lies — we have left the small screen, ladies and gentleman: comic book characters live in the movies now, at least for the time being.

The only made for TV comic book adaptation that we get for the foreseeable future, is The Walking Dead. For better or worse, we know that both Wonder Woman and Locke & Key were not picked up.  Interestingly, Thor struck me as being a very well constructed TV pilot — and I mean that in the best way possible. It did an exemplary job of introducing the world, the characters and the sensibility of the series, and got viewers excited for the next episode…which, of course, we won't see for years. Yes, we know the next time we'll see Thor will be in The Avengers, but as I was driving home, I couldn't help but feel a little frustrated that it was "back to movies" as far as this kind of storytelling was concerned.  I know that it would be impossible to bring Thor to TV, but I just really enjoyed the characters tremendously!  Of course, this is what life used to be like. I remember talking with my friends as a kid, "wouldn't it be awesome if Star Wars was on TV??" We'd all agree and then go back to dissecting the plot…and then would go see The Empire Strikes Back that next weekend–again. 

I think when we look back on it a few years from now, we'll see that Smallville very much kept the flame alive for people who love the idea of watching comic book characters come to life on screen.  Smallville stuck it out, and I think helped, in its own way, keep these kinds of stories accessible.  Yes, the Spider-Man and Iron Man movies helped open this up to all kinds of audiences, but if you were a Smallville fan, you didn't have to wait for years to catch up with the characters—you got to enjoy their stories week after week.

Audiences clearly enjoy watching comic book characters come to life on the big screen. Part of me wonders if all of this success in the movie theaters comes at the expense of trying to tell these stories on television.  Too soon to tell, of course. It's probably more coincidental than anything else, but I can't help but feel that the last episode of Smallville represents an end of an era in more ways than one.


Mike Romo is going to grow a Thor beard. Which might help him be more a successful actor in LA — we'll see. If you've liked what you read, follow him on twitter or go to Facebook. Questions can be sent via his email, too.


  1. I left Smallville for a long while, and came back to it intermitently throughout the past couple seasons. It became fun again and I could sit down a watch an epsiode and leave for a few weeks and come back again and I liked that. It’s interesting, Mike, that you bring up the series finales of Lost, BSG and 24, and if you weaved in and out of those shows, more so lost and later BSG, that you would be missing a lot from the finale. I never really felt that with the Smallville finale, and that could have been for a number of reasons, chief among them that i knew clark would become superman at the end.

    Linking that thought to Thor, will people be able to weave in and out of Marvel movies much the same way? Will people go see Avengers having missed Thor or Captain America and then go watch those sequels when they are fianlly released.

    And I don’t think we’ll have to wait to long before we see live action comic books movies again. I think the interest will be thre, especially after this summer, and after Marvel gets some things up and running. 

  2. I like you Mike (and @WeaklyRoll) watched the first few episodes and then bought the first 6 on Black Friday after reading about how good it was on the site.  It then earned a top spot on my DVR.

  3. Well written, sir.

  4. Great article! Very insightful..

    I have been a Superman fan my whole life and a Smallville fan since day one! Smallville definitely became my all time favorite show and for many of the reasons you mentioned. The reliability of the show, week in and week out knowing that you were going to get to see things you never thought you would get to see! Of course not every episode was Super, but the vast majority were very satisfying!

    Also, nice observation in regards to the finale. In light of recent finales of other genre shows, this could have been an unmitigated disaster. But… The entire creative team really hit this one out of the park!

    Smallville will definitely be missed!

  5. Very well done article.  I always vehemently defended Smallville to naysayers who poo-pooed its simple sets, budget woes, and poor acting.  The great moments with Lionel, the flash forward of Lex in the Oval Office, the endearing, albeit hokey, talks between Jonathan and Clark alone made up for all of the show’s shortcomings.  It certainly did not go out at its zenith and I am one of those who said it should’ve ended several years ago, but this article is exactly right that it was always nice knowing it was there.  Now only after the show is gone will we really be able to appreciate what we had. 

    In some ways, I think a show like this can only work because it was Superman.  Most other characters need a world far more jaded and more caustic than that of Smallville.  One can look past the naïve, somewhat silly, glossy world of Smallville because that’s a reflection of how we like our Superman.  We expect him to be in a ridiculous world doing ridiculous things, all the while shrugging his shoulders to it, smiling like a school boy, and doing what’s right because, well, it’s right.  The cheesiness of Clark and his world were refreshing, but never seemed to work as well with any of the other heroes they introduced, like Green Arrow.  So I think this article is right.  It is going to be a long time before we get a show like this again, if ever. 

  6. It bears saying that this show  lasted as long as it did because it was on the CW (originally the WB).  The CW sticks with series that any other network would give up on in the same way that Image publishes series with total print runs below the minimum threshold for cancellation at Marvel or DC.  

    I will miss Smallville, but like you, I don’t feel even slightly let down by its finale or even the fact of its ending, because it went out strong and took a solid bow. 

  7. I already miss Smallville…

  8. Very well done article! I will miss Smallville too!!!! My only complaint is that we never saw Tom with the full costume on!

  9. The finale was possibly the best written finale of all time, up there with the finales of MASH, Cheers Newhart, and St Elsewhere

  10. @IroncladMerc  – I agree!