Smallville made some big changes to Superman’s origin story, and made it even better, despite the fact that the Man of Steel has what is perhaps the most iconic and well-known origin story in the history of superheroes. The Superman prequel series starred Tom Welling as a young Clark Kent and took the character on a 10-year journey as he went from being a high school freshman to the world’s greatest superhero.
Smallville made quite a few changes to Superman’s story, among the biggest being his relationships with the characters from the comics. Smallville added a friendship dynamic between Clark Kent and his soon-to-be greatest enemy, Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum), that lasted for four seasons until it all fell apart. It also allowed Clark to befriend Lois Lane (Erica Durance) when he was still in high school, and several years before becoming Superman. Furthermore, Smallville established a relationship between Clark and Oliver Queen (Justin Hartley), who helped him understand the responsibilities that his powers gave him.
However, in addition to crafting its own story, Smallville relied a great deal on the comics by pitting Clark against notable threats like Zod, Doomsday, Brainiac, and more. Also, Smallville made quite a few major additions to the Superman lore which actually improved the character’s origin story.
Smallville notably added new characters to Superman’s origin story, such as Chloe Sullivan (Allison Mack) and Lionel Luthor (John Glover). Chloe, who ran the high school newspaper, was one of Clark’s best friends and one of the first people he was able to trust with his secret. The character was so popular that she was eventually added to the comics. Lionel Luthor was Lex Luthor’s deviously clever father, who took a turn from villain to ally over the course of his seven seasons on the show.
After becoming linked to Jor-El, Lionel tried to put an end to his old ways and become a mentor figure to Clark. While Smallville leaned heavily on the comic book characters, these new characters played important roles in Clark’s journey as well, with Chloe in particular becoming his most trusted ally. Chloe, who was billed as a series regular for all 10 seasons, discovered the truth about Clark’s alien origins in season 5 and assisted him in nearly all of his biggest challenges. She even played a part in the introduction of Smallville‘s Justice League.
In the Superman comics, Clark’s Kryptonian parents – Jor-El and Lara-El – send him to Earth on a spaceship that crash-lands in Smallville, Kansas, where it’s found by married couple Jonathan and Martha Kent. Smallville expands on this idea by having the spaceship arrive in a tragic meteor shower that changes the town of Smallville forever. First of all, this provided a practical explanation for the abundance of Kryptonite found on Earth. In the show, the Kryptonite infected people and gave them abilities. Dealing with these people in his teenage years served as trials for Clark, as his encounters with these meteor-infected villains gave him plenty of opportunities to master his abilities.
There’s also the impact it had on Clark’s character development as well as his relationships, especially the one he shared with his first love, Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk). The meteor shower killed Lana’s parents, which in turn caused Clark to be haunted with guilt throughout his high school years. For a long time, Clark blamed himself for how the meteor shower changed the lives of so many people around him, some of which were his own friends.
Beyond the meteor shower affecting the town as a whole, Smallville changed the circumstances of how Clark was discovered by the Kents. It’s always been understood that Clark was fortunate that he was found by people like Jonathan and Martha; they gave him a good life and helped shape him into a superhero. Alternate timelines, like the one depicted in Superman: Red Son, have shown fans what would have happened if Clark was discovered by the wrong people.
Interestingly, Smallville season 3 revealed that Clark being found by the Kents wasn’t actually a coincidence. In one episode, Clark experienced visions that allowed him to discover that Jor-El had secretly visited Earth long ago while on a trial of his own. While there, Jor-El was wrongly accused of murder. In his moment of need, he was aided by Jonathan’s father, Hiram Kent. Jor-El developed respect for Hiram, and it was this very moment that led to everything that happened in Smallville.
After seeing this memory, Clark realized that Jor-El wanted the Kents to take Clark in. Jor-El liked Hiram, and believed that any son of Hiram’s would be a suitable guardian for his own child. This suspicion was confirmed in Smallville season 7 when a flashback showed Lara (Helen Slater) and Supergirl (Laura Vandervoort) visiting the Kents’ home prior to the meteor shower. According to Lara, this was the home of the family she and Jor-El had picked for their son. This made for an interesting change to the story of how Clark was found, because it meant that Clark being found by the Kents was planned.
In Smallville season 2, Clark uncovered the Kawatche Caves, a place once occupied by a Native American tribe. The paintings on the walls told a prophecy about Clark, and they were covered in Kryptonian symbols. It was through Clark’s research into the Kawatche Caves that he began to learn about his purpose, his real parents, and his Kryptonian heritage. The symbols gave Clark clues about what he was sent to Earth to do, and for a while, they served as a way for Clark to communicate directly with Jor-El’s artificial intelligence. The caves acted as a key plot point for several seasons, as they factored heavily into the mystery surrounding Clark’s origin and the ambitions of the Luthors, who believed it would help solve their own problems.
But how did a language from a distant planet become etched on the walls of a Native American cave? Apparently, one or more Kryptonians traveled to Earth centuries ago and became associated with the Kawatche tribe. They allowed their symbols to be transcribed on the walls because they somehow knew that the Last Son of Krypton would one day make a voyage to Earth. Presumably, they knew that their future depended on Clark. That’s why they went to great lengths that their knowledge fell into his hands. The concept of Kryptonians coming to Earth long ago to ensure the survival of the last member of their species is easily one of the best ideas Smallville added to the Superman mythos.
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