During its 10-season run, Smallville saw a host of characters from DC Comics make appearances. Familiar allies and enemies alike became increasingly common, creating some of the most memorable moments in the series. Remember when the Justice League assembled for the first time in “Justice”? How about when the Legion of Super Heroes’ Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl arrived from the future in “Legion”? Incredible as those moments were, it was Smallville’s interpretations of the characters in them that could make or break them or any scene in the series. Take for example when Darkseid appeared -- the pivotal character reveal was underwhelming due to the shoddy CGI approach and an over-reliance on dark lighting to hide his details. What we did see didn’t look great.
Adapting comic book superhero characters for the live action world is no small task. You not only have to try to stay true to their comic book counterparts, but you have to present them in a physically believable way, a challenge that television series and movies struggle to do even today. All it takes is a few bad creative choices and you have a Batman & Robin situation on your hands which is a proven franchise killer. Looking back on Smallville, it is impressive the extent to which the characters honored their comic book roots in both story and appearance. However, not every character translated well to the small screen. Here are 10 DC characters that looked great on Smallville, and 10 that looked worse.
20 GREAT: GREEN ARROW
Smallville’s take on the Emerald Archer raised the bar for comic book heroes transitioning to television. During his five seasons on the show, Green Arrow sported a few different looks, but his first costume brought us right back to the comics. The hooded green and black leather outfit worn by the well-cast Justin Hartley came complete with black sunglasses in lieu of a traditional mask.
While this version of Oliver Queen is one of the best adaptations of a comic book character in terms of looks, there are still come iconic elements missing, specifically Green Arrow’s goatee. Still, the costume is practical and believable. Some aspects of the new look even began appearing in the comic book versions of the hero.
19 WORSE: LIVEWIRE
Shock-jock turned supervillain Leslie Willis first appeared as Livewire in 1997’s Superman: The Animated Series. She was then adapted for the comics, making her print debut in 2006. In print and animation, Livewire’s look is as loud and electrifying as she is, but Smallville’s version of her was several watts short of what fans were expecting.
After being struck by lightning, the original Willis’ skin turned chalk white and her short hair became as blue at the electricity she controlled. In her season eight Smallville debut, though, she sported long black hair, no unique outfit, and her powers manifested in greenish balls of energy -- she was more like a Livewire easter egg. Fortunately, Supergirl learned from this and presented a version of Livewire worthy of her roots.
18 GREAT: SUPERGIRL
Introduced in the seventh season, Laura Vandervoort’s Kara Zor-El truly fit the Supergirl bill. Like her cousin Clark, Kara did not immediately don her iconic comic book costume. In lieu of her traditional red, yellow and blue mini-skirt outfit, Smallville’s Supergirl took a subtler approach, incorporating those colors into her daily outfits.
During the series, Kara wore varying Supergirl-esque outfits, including a blue leather jacket with yellow stripes on the wrists, a yellow shirt and red jeans. In the season ten episode "Prophecy," she wore a blue tank top with a red skirt and knee-high red and yellow boots, leaving her one House of El symbol away from her traditional costume. It felt like Vandervoort’s Kara jumped out of the comics themselves.
17 WORSE: BRAINIAC
The creative minds behind Smallville get credit for making some of DC’s most out of this world characters appear realistic, but their interpretation of Brainiac left something to be desired. Rather than a large, threatening, green, humanoid alien, we get James Marsters as the human-looking Milton Fine. This underwhelming reincarnation was hardly reminiscent of Brainiac's look or feel in the comics.
Over the years Brainiac has taken different forms, so there is certainly room for interpretation. However, as with Smallville’s Livewire, there are few trace elements of his true appearance like his iconic set of linked electrode-like orbs. While the need to be subtle is understandable, characters like Doomsday were successfully recreated, proving it can be done with respect for the source material.
16 GREAT: METALLO
Metallo is a mainstay in Superman’s rogues gallery, and Smallville’s take on him exemplified why. Here, Metallo began as John Corben, a human who was experimented on by Zod after a horrific accident. Post-experiment John had bionic appendages and was powered by a Kryptonite heart. Housed in a device in his chest, the always visible heart was held in place by robotic-like tentacles.
This adaptation of Metallo blended into the world of Smallville well. Brian Austin Green’s version also had an edgier human-side, complete with tattoos and a five-o'clock shadow. Though this Metallo is not a cyborg with a human brain like his comic book counterpart, he maintains the essential look and feel of the character, filling the role well.
15 WORSE: CYBORG
Speaking of cybernetics, Smallville’s Cyborg proved underwhelming for comic readers. In his original incarnation, Victor Stone, the man who becomes Cyborg, is visibly cybernetic after having had most of his body replaced by mechanical parts. Smallville’s toned-down version just looks outwardly human. With a color palette aimed to provide a metallic feel, he simply wears a silver hooded vest with a gray shirt, black pants and a silver belt and shoes.
When Clark briefly X-rays Stone’s body, he appears mostly comprised of cybernetic parts, but it feels like a cop out. Accomplishing Cyborg's authentic look in a believable way would undoubtedly have been a creative and financial challenge. Whether it was for that reason or personal taste, Smallville gave us the least cybernetic Cyborg possible.
14 GREAT: DOOMSDAY
While it is up for debate by some, Smallville’s Doomsday was well executed and honored his comic book form. There was certainly pressure to get Doomsday’s look right -- after all, he is the only character to have killed Superman. When the monster is unleashed in season eight, he is clearly derived from the comics, complete with gray skin, protruding bones and red eyes.
Stretching Doomsday’s story out for television saw some creative liberties taken. Specifically, the monstrosity reverts to human form during the day. Sure, Doomsday’s costume looked rubbery at times and he isn’t as big as you’d expect, but all in all, this was a win for Smallville. In fact, arguably a better incarnation than the one in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
13 WORSE: BLACK CANARY
Black Canary has been adapted for the screen a handful of times, but she first appeared in Smallville’s season seven. As in the comics, she wears a black leather bodice, fishnet stockings, a black and gold leather jacket, and boots. Unlike in the comics, she sports short blond hair. She also wears a painted-on feather-ridged domino mask to hide her identity. How long it takes her to paint that on is anyone’s guess.
Smallville’s Black Canary was essentially comic book accurate -- perhaps too much for her own good. While it is preferable to respect the source material, in this instance, the look just didn’t translate believably. Style and image overrode functionality and practicality, distracting from her heroics and making her look, well, silly.
12 GREAT: ZATANNA
In comparison to Black Canary, and in the context of Smallville, Zatanna really did shine. Wearing a black tuxedo jacket, a white top underneath, a white bow-tie, black fishnets and knee-high high-heeled boots all complete with a top hat, Serinda Swan was Zatanna.
Making her live action debut on Smallville, Zatanna was only in a few episodes, so the chances to do her justice were limited. The argument could be made that the comic book Zatanna was sleeker, more seductive and more risqué, but overall, she translated to television well. Given her profession as a magician, the outfit works in context while also making her network television friendly.
11 WORSE: BIZARRO
All things considered, Bizarro should have been one of the easier DC characters to recreate. As a clone of Superman, Bizarro is identical to him in many ways. However, he has a chalky white complexion, contorted face and warped linguistics. Rather than use prosthetics and makeup to turn Tom Welling’s Clark Kent into such a creature, the creative team behind Smallville opted for a more unique interpretation.
Appearing in season six, Bizarro came with a new backstory, better speech and toned down looks to match. He appeared identical to Clark until exposed to direct sunlight, in which case his skin shifts into gray, geometric fragments. While it was an interesting take on the character, he just wasn’t bizarre enough to be worthy of the name.
10 GREAT: DOCTOR FATE
Doctor Fate made his live-action debut during Smallville’s ninth season, appearing in just one two-part episode. Wearing a blue leather armored costume with a slew of gold accessories including the Cloak of Destiny and the Amulet of Anubis, the look was complete with the iconic Helmet of Nabu, radiating golden-red eyes included. This sleek version of Doctor Fate looked believable and did the comics proud.
Smallville’s Doctor Fate is certainly darker than his comic book counterpart regarding color, but he maintains the overall tone and feel from the source material. It is rare that a superhero can pull of their comic book look in film or television without noticeably adjusting it for a new medium, but in this instance, it worked, and it worked well.
9 WORSE: BLUE BEETLE
The Blue Beetle is a tough one. In Smallville, his armored costume closely resembles the one in the comic books and utilizes the same technology. The blue and black, large metallic armor included two beetle-esque horns and a helmet with glowing yellow eyes. Despite meeting all the comic book criteria for the costume, the look did not translate well at all in Smallville’s iteration.
Jamie Reyes was a great addition to the world of Smallville in season ten, but his Blue Beetle look was poorly executed. The suit was too bulky to be feasibly functional and it had a plastic-like look that cheapened it. In many ways, it was as awkward and clumsy as Reyes was when he was in search of Booster Gold.
8 GREAT: ROULETTE
Though she may be a lesser-known DC villain, Roulette is a force to be reckoned with, and this rang true in Smallville. Portrayed by Steph Song, Roulette was clearly inspired by her comic book roots. Wearing a seductive red qipao, high heels, and chopsticks in her hair, she had all the makings of Victoria Sinclair that we hoped for, complete with a dragon tattoo that flows from her left shoulder down to her leg.
While Roulette looked great, an argument could be made that her appearance was less sinister than in the comics. Smallville’s version does not wear sunglasses when indoors and her tattoo is not complete. These details hardly detract from the overall wonderful way Roulette was brought to life in Smallville.
7 WORSE: SUPERBOY
The human/Kryptonian hybrid clone named Conner Kent came up short of expectations in Smallville’s final season. As in the comics, Conner is made up of Clark Kent and Lex Luthor’s DNA. While he wears jeans and the same black T-shirt with the red House of El symbol on it as he does in print, that is about the only outward similarity the two share.
In the comics, the tall, muscular Superboy with chiseled features is a dead ringer for a young Clark. In Smallville, his Luthor genes appear to be more dominant making for a less imposing, unrecognizable Superboy. The potential was there, but the role was poorly cast and executed. Unfortunately, slapping a Superman T-shirt on any dark-haired teenager doesn’t make them Superboy.
6 GREAT: TOYMAN
When it comes to Winslow Schott, the menacing Toyman, Smallville nailed it. Portrayed by Chris Gauthier, Toyman appeared as overweight and unkempt with chops, crazy hair and round glasses. He was a true vision of the crazed toymaker comic readers know. The only exception is he is a bit younger than in the source material.
While his outfits were slightly toned-down to allow him to more easily blend into the world of Smallville, we hardly noticed. Even his darker ensembles were still reminiscent of the comics. In his first appearance in season eight he wore a striped black and green leather jacket over vest with a green polka dotted dress shirt underneath. Creepy and eccentric, this is the Toyman done right.
5 WORSE: STARGIRL
Smallville’s Stargirl is one of the few characters from the DC Universe to appear almost identical to her comic book counterpart. Appearing in seasons nine and ten, she sported a navy-blue sweatshirt adorned with stars and paired with red gloves and a red belt. Wielding the Cosmic Staff, she hit all the key points.
In an ideal world, this would have resulted in a great look, but instead it was an example of why many superhero costumes need some real-world treatment to succeed. Stargirl’s look appeared sophomoric at best. Her blue leather mask was too bulky and awkward, which was distracting. The costume as a whole looks unprofessional. Britt Irvin’s performance outshined her attire, but the Smallville treatment didn’t do her any favors.
4 GREAT: BOOSTER GOLD
Booster Gold is over the top by nature but when it came to his look, Smallville delivered an ensemble that was just right. In a blue and gold leather uniform with gold gauntlets, blue gloves and boots, and a blue star on his chest, Booster appeared to come right off the pages of a comic book. The patchwork of corporate sponsor logos à la NASCAR was a nice touch.
Perhaps the only noticeable difference was that this Booster didn’t don a mask and goggles. In lieu of these, he sports yellow sunglasses. Beyond a cocky smile, he also came with futuristic tech and items like the Legion of Super-Heroes ring, which he admittedly pilfered. It seems the 25th century knows how to do superheroes right.
3 WORSE: MAXIMA
Smallville’s take on Maxima, an alien who targets Clark as the perfect mate, was awkward to say the least. In the comics, Maxima wears a variety of outfits from full bodysuits to almost nothing. In Smallville, she dresses at best as if she were attending a toga party and at worst in an over the top revealing one-piece. Something just wasn’t working here.
While she retains her core features, the goal of making Maxima less seductive than her comic book counterpart was never going to be fully realized on a show targeting teenage viewers. The intention to tone down her prowess and wardrobe was undoubtedly a network must, but it came at the expense of making the character look ridiculous.
2 GREAT: ICICLE
Smallville’s young Icicle would make Arnold Schwarzenegger’ Mister Freeze proud. In an inspired iteration, Icicle maintains his core looks and abilities including freezing anything by touch and turning himself into ice. Some changes, likely made out of practicality, included his skin turning blue rather than translucent. He also lost his signature goatee, which is justifiable when you consider the character is intended to be younger.
This Icicle is altogether not dissimilar from how he looks in print. As in the comics, he is depicted as albino with red eyes. In Smallville he sports a stylish blond faux hawk, a minor modern adjustment. All in all, this Icicle is not only true to the source material, but with some cool updates, he looked great.
1 WORSE: MR. MXYZPTLK
During all of Smallville, no one looked less like their comic book character than Mikhail Mxyzptlk. An imp from the Fifth Dimension with incredible powers, the original Mr. Mxyzptlk is short with white hair and bright clothes. In an attempt to make him less fantastical in nature and appearance, the creative team served up a character that was nothing like the trickster we were expecting.
In the fourth season, the tall, dark and handsome foreign exchange student named Mxyzptlk arrived at Smallville High School. Beyond having his abilities and origins inexplicably revamped, Smallville’s Mxyzptlk shared absolutely no resemblance to his comic book counterpart. The famous, impish, annoying trickster had become a stylish, brooding, edgy teenage heartthrob. It was probably best that he only appeared once.