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How Smallville’s Legacy Strengthens Supergirl’s Man of Steel

by  in CBR Exclusives, TV News Comment
How Smallville’s Legacy Strengthens Supergirl’s Man of Steel

The year is 2001. In a small Canadian town, then-24-year-old Tom Welling pulled on a red flannel button up and beige jacket before embarking on the journey that would define his career: “Smallville.”

The show — which followed the story of a pre-caped Clark Kent — managed to survive the network’s rebranding from The WB to The CW, lasting a strong ten consecutive seasons. However, the series operated under a strict rule for all its ten years: “No tights, no flights.” As much as “Smallville” followed Clark’s journey to becoming the Big Blue Boy Scout, he didn’t actually don his iconic “S” shield until the last scene of the series finale — and that legacy is something “Supergirl” builds off to great effect in its Season 2 premiere.

In “The Adventures of Supergirl,” “Supergirl” spiritually picks up where “Smallville” ended, with Clark running down an alleyway as he pulls his shirt open to reveal his iconic costume underneath. While this is where “Smallville” concluded, the scene is not only our introduction to Tyler Hoechlin’s Superman, but a bridge between the character’s origin and his legacy. While this seems like a natural transition into the world of “Supergirl,” it serves an even larger purpose than that by creating a unique space for a legacy character.

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Here’s the thing about Superman: we know his story. We all know his story. Since his debut in 1938, the Man of Steel has had a full 78 years of history. He’s been the star of a film serial, seven major movies, his own animated series as well as the “Justice League” cartoon, two live action TV shows and much more. The character is, simply, a household name; you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in American culture who doesn’t know a thing or two about the the hero — and that’s important, because “Supergirl” embraces this. The show wastes no time explaining who he is, or why he’s a hero, trusting instead that the audience recognizes him and what he stands for. In this, he becomes a successful supporting character; while he takes up some of the focus, he doesn’t take over it.

When the character is an alien with laser vision, the lead needs to be humanized in order to be relatable, and that’s something “Lois & Clark” and “Smallville” (as well as “Supergirl” so far) did so well. All of these shows have found their protagonists struggling with isolation, morality, work-life balance and more, but “Supergirl” has the potential to take this a step forward. Sure, Kara showed up in “Smallville,” but neither she nor Clark ever became their established hero selves before the series drew to a close; they were early drafts of a finished project, struggling to learn what it means to be a public figure and a symbol. As such, “Supergirl” provides an opportunity to explore a new dynamic between the Super-cousins, at least on the small screen.

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Superman and Supergirl teamed up for the very first time on television in “The Adventures of Supergirl,” and their first missions were relatively harmonious. However, as they grow as characters, that could change — and it would provide an interesting perspective not only on Superman, but of Supergirl as well. While it’s hard to imagine the two truly falling out, they could prove to be foils for one another in some regards with differing approaches to heroism; after all, there is no single “right” way to being a hero, as proved by DC Comics’ plethora of characters. In addition to providing some conflict and tension, this would better flesh Supergirl out as her own character, seeing as it would further cement her as much more than a female knockoff of Superman (something she never was, but could certainly be perceived as from an outsider’s point of view). In their disagreements, Supergirl and Superman would also become more human and thereby more relatable — something that follows the “Smallville”/Superman tradition.

Furthermore, this could humanize Clark in Kara’s eyes. Throughout Season 1, Kara’s view of Clark bordered on hero worship; he was there when she most needed him, and he represents all that she lost when Krypton exploded. In a sense, it’s though she’s put him on a pedestal. According to executive producer Andrew Kriesberg, Kara’s sister Alex certainly feels this way; “Kara is so excited to see Clark and so excited to be with him,” he revealed, which makes Alex feel a little taken for granted. In spending more time with him, Supergirl could come to the realization that he’s just as flawed as everyone else, no matter how much she loves him.

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What’s more, Superman’s involvement could drive home the idea of Kara as the Last True Child of Krypton. Kara’s time on Krypton is the fundamental different between her and her cousin; she was 12 when she left the planet and — as such — has memories of a life on Krypton, where Clark only has what’s left of it in the Fortress of Solitude. In this, there’s a fundamental sadness and anger in Supergirl that Superman lacks because he was socialized solely as a human; we got a tease of this in Season 1, but it could easily be expanded upon this year.

Thanks to Superman’s TV legacy — and his long journey to becoming a hero on “Smallville” — the world was ready for “Supergirl’s” Man of Steel. In fact, one could say the DC Universe needed him; while a dark and brooding version of the character currently exists in Warner Bros.’ “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” he’s far from the version fans have grown to known and love. “Supergirl’s” traditional take on the Man of Steel was just what the doctor ordered, and his presence provides a world of possibility — not just for Superman’s legacy, but for Supergirl’s characterization.

Starring Melissa Benoist as the Girl of Steel, “Supergirl” airs Mondays at 8 pm ET/PT on The CW. The series also stars David Harewood as Martian Manhunter, Mehcad Brooks as Jimmy Olsen, Chyler Leigh as Alex Danvers and Jeremy Jordan as Winn Schott and features appearances by Calista Flockhart’s Cat Grant as well as Tyler Hoechlin’s Superman.

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