Before the idea of an Arrowverse had spawned in the minds of CW executives, Smallville was the breakout show. In an era with few comic book shows, superhero fans everywhere were thrilled with the idea that they were finally getting a chance to see the adventures of a young Clark Kent before he became Superman. Debuting on the WB network in 2001, Smallville offered a modern update on the iconic hero.
The series ran an astonishing ten seasons; fans literally grew up side-by-side with actor Tom Welling and his Clark Kent. While cast members came and went, Smallville became bolder in its storytelling. The only superhero show out there, Smallville introduced heroes like Green Arrow, Aquaman, Black Canary, Zatanna, etc. -- the show even had its own version of the Justice League. As many heroes as there were, an even broader range of villains was seen. With such a rich history to pull from, Smallville made sure to include nearly every Superman foe they could think of. Yet, like with every show, some villains looked the part, while others were just a garbage fire of a hot mess. Today at CBR we’re looking at a bunch of Smallville villains and seeing who looked better on the small screen and who look worse.
15 BETTER: LEX LUTHOR
Lex Luthor is arguably Superman’s best-known antagonist. Batman gets the Joker and Superman gets a bald businessman. Don’t let his simple looks fool you though, because Lex Luthor is one of the deadliest people on the planet. With insane wealth, a virtually unparalleled intelligence, and an obsession to be recognized as a god amongst men, few beings actually pose a significant threat to Lex Luthor.
Smallville did a wonderful job with their version of Lex. When we first see him, Lex isn’t a supervillain; it takes a great many seasons for evil to consume him. When he finally turns to the dark side, even Clark can barely escape his wrath. Played by the excellent Michael Rosenbaum, the actor did an incredible job demonstrating the pathos that drove Luthor and how all the events in his life gradually turned him into the monster he’d later become.
14 WORSE: DARKSEID
Darkseid is one Superman’s most notorious and strongest adversaries. One of the first New Gods, Darkseid was the tyrannical ruler of the war world Apokolips, Darkseid constantly quests to enslave the sentient universe and make everyone bow before him. With an infamously hulking frame, a looming stature, and a gaze that literally radiates pure evil, there’s no one like him.
The DCEU is paving the way for Darkseid to appear in their movies as the big boss, the ultimate adversary. Smallville teased the appearance of Darkseid for several seasons, but the payoff was more disappointing than nearly anything else on the show. You had the Acolytes of Darkseid, Lionel Luthor made himself a vessel for Darkseid’s essence, and all the stars were in perfect alignment for Smallville to deliver the New God. Unfortunately, only we ever saw of Darkseid was a shadowy smoke-monster, made from terrible CGI.
13 BETTER: BIZARRO
Bizarro is easily one of Superman’s most peculiar and unique foes. To put it simply Bizarro is an imperfect duplicate, or copy, of Superman. Everything Bizarro says or does is backwards and the opposite of what is considered normal. Smallville chose to take a peculiar route with Superman’s infamous doppelganger, but it was a gamble that paid off.
The Bizarro on the show wasn’t a backwards-speaking simpleton. Rather, he was cunning and methodical in trying to destroy Clark Kent and his life. He could change his appearance at will to look either like regular Clark Kent or his Bizarro self. Another interesting tidbit was that while Clark received his powers from the Sun, but the star’s rays weakened Bizarro, giving Clark the edge he needed to defeat his evil self.
12 WORSE: BRAINIAC
A techno-organic being, Brainiac possess a twelfth-level intellect and advanced super technology that he uses for nefarious purposes. The cybernetic terror is known for scouring the multiverse for civilizations that pique his interest. Once he finds someone/something that intrigues him, Brainiac will shrinks entire cities and add them to a bottled collection made from other worlds he’s abducted.
Brainiac should be an emissary of destruction like few other entities can be; yet while it may have been for budgetary reasons or a myriad of explanations, all we got was actor James Marsters. Though an excellent actor in his own right, and he wasn’t bad with the what he was given, having Marsters play a sinister techno-organic entity, but without any of the technological tomfoolery, felt disappointing. This Brainiac didn’t care for abducting worlds; he was just unhealthily obsessed with Clark Kent and was something of a sentient computer virus.
11 BETTER: ZOD
We all know who Zod is by now. Several versions of him have appeared in the big (and small) screen. It’s not terribly difficult to pull off Zod’s character and Smallville did a pretty adept job when they cast actor Callum Blue as the tyrannical Kryptonian. Things did get a tad wacky when Smallville had Zod’s phantom possess Lex and then Zod’s clone replaced the actual Zod, but those are stories for another time.
As a whole, Zod is the darkness to Superman’s light. For every ounce of good in Superman, Zod is pure, unadulterated selfishness. He cares primarily about his own goals and sees people as chess pieces to be manipulated into fulfilling his bidding. While Smallville took some liberties with Zod and his history, it was a perfect fit for the nature of the TV show’s kooky universe.
10 WORSE: DOOMSDAY
Doomsday is a mutated creature with no understanding of remorse. In the comics, Doomsday is known for doing the impossible and killing Superman. Inexplicably, the people in charge of Smallvile opted to introduce one of Superman’s deadliest foes before Clark donned the red and blue tights. This Doomsday was a pale imitation of his comic book counterpart and his backstory was cringe-worthy. Introduced as Davis Bloome, he was the human camouflage for his Doomsday persona. Of course he was good-looking and of course he got romantically involved with Chloe, Clark’s best friend.
Turns out, Davis/Doomsday was the child of General Zod and Faora and his destiny was to kill the son of Jor-El. Whenever Davis got angry, he transformed just like the Hulk…the comparisons didn’t stop there as his torso was bare but he wore ripped pants. Smallvile’s Doomsday was awful.
9 BETTER: METALLO
When it comes to the villain Metallo, there are a couple options you can consider. The first is to have him be a super-strong Terminator-looking robot that shoots Kryptonite blasts from his chest. The second is showing him as John Corben and his path to becoming a super-strong Terminator-looking robot. Smallville took the latter path.
Some of the best villains, at least on Smallville, are the result of horrible accidents or misunderstandings. John Corben blamed the Red-Blue Blur (Clark) for the death of his sister. When he was nearly killed after getting hit by a truck, Zod’s army experimented on John and had parts of his body replaced with cybernetics and instead of his heart was a chunk of kryptonite. To no surprise, he made it his mission to hunt down Clark. Sometimes less is more, and the subtly Smallville took with Metallo was for the best.
8 WORSE: DEATHSTROKE
Slade Wilson, Deathstroke the Terminator, is a notorious assassin and known all throughout the DC Comics Universe. He’ll work for just about anybody and kill anyone for the right price. With a super soldier serum (of sorts) pumping through his veins, Deathstroke uses over 90% of his brain to strategize and defeat everyone from Batman (repeatedly) to the Justice League.
Played by the wonderful Michael Hogan, Smallville’s Deathstroke wore a metal eye-patch and enjoyed brandishing a pair of katanas. He looked nothing like his comic book self and it’s possible you didn’t even notice you were watching Deathstroke. Still, in the most metal scene probably ever put on TV, Deathstroke fought Hawkman, stabbed him, set him on fire, and then pushed him out a window, to which audiences got to see a flaming birdman soaring at them.
7 BETTER: PERSUADER
By the time Smallville was on its 8th Season, the show had become comfortable with introducing all manner of villains and heroes from Superman lore…even if it didn’t make sense in the greater scheme things. One particular inclusion that did make sense was the introduction of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Back in the comics, when Clark was Superboy, the Legion played an integral part of his life and journey towards becoming Superman.
By introducing the Legion of Super-Heroes, or at least Lightning Lad, Cosmic Boy, and Saturn Girl, Smallville needed a Legion villain. They opted to go with the Persuader. Time travelling from the 31st Century, the Persuader is known for his Atomic Axe and the metal helmet he wears. Though goofy-looking, it demonstrated that Smallville wasn’t afraid to sometimes be truthful to the source material.
6 WORSE: MXYZPTLK
One of the problems Smallville suffered from was being on the WB. This was an issue if only because it effectively demanded that everyone, including the bad guys, be obnoxiously good-looking. Such was the case with the villain Mr. Mxyzptlk. If you’re familiar with the character in the comic books, you know Mxyzptlk is one interdimensional imp that hasn’t been accurately portrayed on live-action TV. Smallville turned him into an obnoxious pretty boy with limited mind-control powers. He’s even appeared years later on Supergirl as a handsome trickster. Clearly, despite his appearance actually being an important part of his identity, the idea of an imp is too much for TV networks to wrap their head around.
Mxyzptlk only appeared on Smallville twice and they were wasted opportunities. Calling him Mikhail Mxyzptlk, he was a foreign exchange student who looked and behaved nothing like the villain from the source material.
5 BETTER: CLARK LUTHOR
Alternate realities and alternate versions of superheroes can be a real pain to deal with. As though Clark Kent didn’t have enough to deal with, his life became even more complicated with the inclusion of Clark Luthor, also known as Ultraman. In the comics, just like in Smallville, Ultraman is an alternate Clark Kent, but evil. His backstory is different than in the source material, but nobody seemed to mind the dramatic change.
Over on Ultraman’s world, he wasn’t raised by the Kents, but instead by Lionel Luthor. He became a horrifying monster with little regard for human life. The only real physical difference was a mark Lionel had branded onto Clark’s arm when he was an infant. The greatest villain on his world, Ultraman tried his hand on taking Clark’s place. It worked for a bit, until he was found out and disciplined by his Fortress of Solitude.
4 WORSE: PARASITE
Slapping a supervillain name on some random actor does not an iconic baddie make. Rudy Jones, or Parasite as he’s commonly known, is one of Superman’s most monstrous-looking villains. Originally a janitor at S.T.A.R. Labs, after he suffered a terrible overexposure to radiation, he was turned purple and given the ability to absorb an individual’s life-force and power by touching them.
Smallville’s Rudy Jones looked like a regular dude, rather than a walking-talking bodybuilder raisin with a horrific mouth. Still, when Rudy used his power on Clark, the appearance of a purple, transparent figure left his body, entered his victim's body, and then returned to his. Aside from that, there was nothing interesting about Smallville’s take on Parasite. Another oddity came when he was recruited to work for Tess Mercer’s personal vigilante team.
3 BETTER: ICICLE
Ice-themed baddies aren’t exactly an uncommon phenomenon, but the villain known as the Icicle was among the first to appear in Smallville. The Icicle in Smallville was, just like in the comics, the son of the first Icicle. After inheriting his father’s abilities, he used his powers for crime. Angry that the Justice Society of America put his dad in a coma, the young Icicle went on a rampage and killed several JSA members. Along the way, he also acquired the helmet of Doctor Fate and nearly gained infinite power. Still, that didn’t prevent him from getting defeated by the remaining JSA members and Clark.
All things considered, Icicle appeared as one might expect. With glossy, white skin that emphasized his ice-based powers, the only real issue with the character was that he was a little too powerful -- he killed the likes of Doctor Fate with little trouble.
2 WORSE: AMANDA WALLER
Amanda Waller was not so lovingly nicknamed "The Wall" on account of her refusal to budge or be lenient with those forced to work for her. Despite her lack of superpowers, there are few people on the planet with more authority. Waller is known for implementing the Suicide Squad to carry out missions otherwise deemed extremely dangerous and/or suicidal in nature. While Amanda Waller made for a cool addition in Smallville she was almost unnecessary.
See, Tess Mercer, Lex Luthor’s younger sister, got it in her head that she should also create a team of superpowered individuals to use at her discretion. With what amounted to two Suicide Squads running around, Amanda Waller’s significance was lost. Amanda and Tess would be at odds with one another as they attempted to outmaneuver the other.
1 BETTER: LIONEL LUTHOR
Superman comics tend to feature Lex Luthor as his central antagonist rather than his father. In fact, there isn’t much attention given to Lionel Luthor. Rather, his comic book version was a dysfunctional alcoholic and died of mysterious causes. Lionel, as seen on Smallville, is a completely different beast altogether. Played by actor John Glover, Smallville’s Lionel Luthor was a Machiavellian businessman who was marvelously devious.
It was difficult not to enjoy his character, as sometimes Lionel played on the side of angels, while other times he danced with the proverbial devil. Yet no matter where his allegiances lay during a given season, you could bet that Lionel had a scheme or two in the works. Lionel also boasted one of the greatest physical characteristics on Smallville or any other TV show: his lion’s mane of hair. It was legendary and deserved a spinoff.