As The CW’s already massive Arrowverse continues to expand, perspective on what the network once had with Smallville demands constant reconsideration. The Clark Kent-centric series was undoubtedly something special, and remains so, as it set the stage for the live-action superhero television we now enjoy, including the various Marvel programs. In looking back on all that has preceded the here and now, it’s interesting to compare and contrast the current state of DC TV to the stories, characters and vision of the not-too-distant past.
Smallville may have concluded in 2010, but there are still remnants of the show’s 10-season run that find their way onto the Arrowverse shows. The most notable example can be seen on Supergirl’s “Midvale” episode, where Chloe Sullivan is heavily referenced. Of course, there are a vast number of other characters that appear across both universes, each of which are typically depicted in a disparate manner. In some instances, it seems the Arrowverse has greatly improved upon what Smallville built; in others, not so much. As such, the following list recalls 15 DC characters both television universes utilize, and examines the eight heroes/villains the Arrowverse does better and seven depictions that are arguably worse when compared to Smallville.
15. BETTER: MARTIAN MANHUNTER
Getting Martian Manhunter right is no easy feat, especially not in live action; he is an expensive character to bring to the screen, and, truthfully, that’s the least of anyone’s concerns. Luckily, both of the character’s live action ventures have resulted in a home run. One just happens to be more strongly characterized than the other. The victory, in this case, if it can be called that, goes to Supergirl.
In the Arrowverse, J’onn is a main character; thus, he and his heroics are on display often. Even the martian’s backstory receives in-depth exploration as it relates to both his life on Mars and his 300 years on Earth. On Smallville, perhaps for budgetary reasons, Martian Manhunter has a recurring role that sees him appear infrequently in the show’s last five seasons or so.
14. WORSE: BIZARRO
The Bizarro character seems as though it’s easy to get right; interestingly, it could be just as simple to get wrong. As far as Bizarro’s small screen, live action appearances are concerned, the backwards being hasn’t necessarily been poorly depicted. In Smallville’s case, he has a compelling role, which ultimately culminates in tragedy. Technically, the same can be said of Supergirl’s Bizarro. However, her origins aren’t half as intriguing and her story’s conclusion does not receive a fraction of the development.
Appearing in just one episode in the first season of the series, Bizarro Supergirl is scientifically engineered by Maxwell Lord. Considering Maxwell’s absence from the show, her return is evidently doubtful. Smallville’s iteration of the character hails directly from Krypton via the Phantom Zone and is developed over several episodes throughout seasons six and seven. For now, at least, it appears Supergirl Bizarro won’t be afforded the same treatment.
13. BETTER: MXYZPTLK
As a Superman villain who typically adopts the role of a nuisance, Mxyzptlk’s cross media appearances are usually fun. The fifth-dimensional being, thanks to his extraordinary powers, often behaves as the comic relief. Smallville, however, takes him in a different direction; honestly, the changes aren’t exactly for the better. Mikhail Mxyzptlk debuts in season four as a metahuman with the ability of mind-control. Garnering the interest of Lex Luthor, Mxyzptlk winds up in the billionaire’s mysterious lab. His character arc doesn’t receive further expansion outside of the show’s tie-in comics.
In Supergirl, Mxyzptlk does his job — acts as a nuisance — and, begrudgingly, leaves. He’s one of the show’s finer villain-of-the-week foes and audiences seems to have taken a liking to him. While his attraction to Supergirl is somewhat odd, it works within the context of the show’s Valentine’s Day episode.
12. WORSE: PLASTIQUE
The Flash’s version of Bette Sans Souci/Plastique is far more intriguing than what Smallville delivers. Her character lands a spot on the “worse” end of the list because of her casting as a villain-of-the-week enemy, whose arc in the series prematurely dissolves. Smallville’s Plastique is younger and over the course of a few episodes, she’s shown in an ambiguously villainous light as a member of Tess Mercer’s band of misfits, the Injustice League.
On The Flash, the character is increasingly nuanced; Plastique means well, but her power to ignite explosions on contact make her a threat that people fear and the military hopes to exploit. As a one-time character, her full potential is never explored. This is especially unfortunate considering many lesser villains in the Arrowverse undergo similar treatment.
11. BETTER: SLADE WILSON
Slade Wilson isn’t merely one of the Arrowverse’s better antagonists, he is inarguably one of its better characters in general. The newly reformed villain undergoes complex character development from his introduction in Arrow’s pilot season to the season six ventures that see Slade’s past revisited in a manner the show has previously mentioned in passing. Furthermore, this iteration of the famed DC assassin is pretty comic-accurate, whereas the character’s stint on Smallville doesn’t even see him adopt the Deathstroke moniker.
However, the lack of an alter ego isn’t what makes Smallville’s version worse by comparison; in fact, that Slade — a general who wants nothing more than to rid the world metahumans — compels on a number of levels. Arrow’s use of the character is simply more fulfilling. His vast complexities offer him a redemption narrative that still allows him to remain one of the Green Arrow’s more formidable adversaries.
10. WORSE: METALLO
As far as Superman rogues are concerned, few are as recognizable as John Corben’s Metallo. He’s a staple in the comics, and often translates well to on-screen adaptations. It’s a shame, then, that Supergirl doesn’t give him enough opportunities to raise the bar. In Smallville, Corben only appears a handful of times, debuting as a decent guy intent on enjoying life. An accident that puts him in the hands of Zod’s Kandorians culminates in his adopting the role of Metallo. He attempts to seek redemption, but is incapable of overcoming his misfortune.
Supergirl’s Metallo is villainous through and through, which isn’t bad characterization. However, he’s merely Lillian Luthor’s mindless drone. He owes her plenty, sure, but there’s never an indication that he has needs and desires of his own. The character’s Earth-X doppelgänger seemingly hints at future possibilities; hopefully, Earth-38 Metallo returns and is more fully realized.
9. BETTER: SPEEDY
Speedy/Mia Dearden’s subpar addition to Smallville, as she appears during season nine twice, is understandable. Her minimal involvement is warranted when considering a show about pre-Superman Clark Kent has little use for one archer, let alone two. The fledgling vigilante’s backstory as a young woman forced into prostitution and the underground fight scene intrigues undoubtedly. Everything beyond that, though, doesn’t garner quite as much interest.
Thea Queen in Arrow, however, has much more to work with. Arguably, Speedy still suffers from poor characterization, due to family drama and a faulty hero’s journey often diminishing the little character progression the show affords her. Despite the troubles that plague her role, there is still a chance for improvement; thus far, it appears as though season six may benefit her in this regard.
8. WORSE: HAWKMAN
The Hawks are undoubtedly some of the most ineffectually utilized characters in the Arrowverse. Their arc prior to and throughout Legends of Tomorrow’s first season is disappointing at best and poorly executed at worst. Carter Hall/Hawkman specifically gets the rough end of the deal. Curiously, the roles of the Hawks were reversed from Smallville to Legends. In the former, Carter is alive and has to continue on without his wife, Shayera; the exact opposite is true of the Legends depiction.
On the surface, both characters work relatively well. However, their connection to the Arrowverse’s Vandal Savage is convoluted and feels out of place when looking at Legends’ first season as a whole. Hawkman’s heroism appears superficial, too, when compared to Hawkgirl’s; the one silver lining is that the couple at least gets a happily ever after.
7. BETTER: LIVEWIRE
Leslie Willis/Livewire’s tenure on Smallville is limited to one episode in the long-running show’s eighth season. During her short stint on the series, Livewire is an active member of the Injustice League. The villain is killed off when she questions the authority of the team’s leader, Tess Mercer. Defiance and a few displays of her electric powers aside, Livewire isn’t given much to do. This changes, however, when the rogue returns to the small screen on Supergirl.
In the Arrowverse, Livewire is a recurring character who’s interesting enough to continuously warrant her return. She makes for a nice foil to Cat Grant, but for reasons that don’t seem readily apparent, Supergirl considers the metahuman her personal nemesis. The Girl of Steel’s last meeting with Livewire results in the hero letting her foe escape, opening the door for her to come back once more if the right narrative permits.
6. WORSE: TOYMAN
In the final three seasons of Smallville, viewers bear witness to Winslow Schott/Toyman’s criminal genius. During a single episode of Supergirl, his genius is spoken of more than its put on display. Despite his childlike personality, the Smallville version appears ruthless and fiercely pragmatic. What makes this Toyman most intriguing is that he uses his prison sentence to further his nefarious machinations, building a legion of criminals known as the Marionette Ventures.
The father of Supergirl’s Winslow Schott, Jr., Toyman is depicted on the Arrowverse show as a former toymaker whose designs are stolen by his boss. In an act of vengeance, Toyman sends an explosive toy to his previous employer, but inadvertently kills others instead. When audiences finally see him in action, he breaks out of prison to be reunited with his son. It’s a nice gesture, though not the best use of his purported brilliance.
5. BETTER: BLACK CANARY
Akin to other non-Superman characters shared between Smallville and the Arrowverse, Black Canary’s minimal involvement on the earlier show is understandable. For the most part, Smallville’s depiction of the vigilante makes her little more than a participant in whichever action is going on around her. Her combat prowess and sonic scream are shown off often enough, so the character doesn’t necessarily go to waste.
On Arrow, Black Canary’s a legacy character. First introduced with Sara Lance’s Canary, the hero is later succeeded by her sister, Laurel. Both of the Lance Canaries harbor the character’s signature sonic scream via a device worn around their necks. Not until Dinah Drake’s debut does the scream become a metahuman ability. Each of the three are special in their own right — Sara is more skilled, Laurel grounds Green Arrow, and Dinah’s a tactically smart addition to the team thanks to her law enforcement connections.
4. WORSE: ZOD
To be fair, the Arrowverse’s General Zod has only ever appeared as a Silver Kryptonite-induced hallucination of Superman’s. That said, given the ferocity with which the Man of Steel attacks Supergirl, who he believes is Zod, a bit more exposition concerning their relationship and previous history would have been welcomed. Will there ever be room for this particular villain to be explored in earnest on Supergirl? Anything is possible, but it’s hard to say this early in the show’s run.
Smallville didn’t hold back with its representation of the Kryptonian military leader. The earlier show’s Zod is technically a clone with a storyline that fascinates both in regards to his past and his time on Earth. Considering Zod’s character earned several mentions before ever being formally introduced in Smallville, it stands to reason the villain may receive similar development on Supergirl.
3. BETTER: GREEN ARROW
The last few seasons of Smallville saw Oliver Queen become a staple of the show. This version, of course, is more comic-accurate than what The CW would deliver a few years later with Arrow. Smallville’s Emerald Archer embraces what folks love most about the character. His charisma and wit are endless and he perfectly captures the Robin Hood persona that initially inspired his creation, taking from the wealthy and giving back to those in need.
Arrowverse Green Arrow can reasonably be summed up as murderous Batman with a bow. It works, though, and surprisingly well. Arrow took a chance by making such drastic changes to the beloved hero, but it’s largely succeeded. Perhaps that’s what makes Arrow’s iteration stronger compared to his live action counterpart; the character alterations add a complexity, both moral and psychological, to the archer that haven’t previously been delved into.
2. WORSE: VANDAL SAVAGE
Despite being one of the most powerful figures in DC canon, the Arrowverse’s Vandal Savage is formidable in ability alone. Little about him is actually threatening; in fact, it could be argued the thought of Savage is more paralyzing than the man himself. Stories of his reign of terror are repeatedly recounted throughout Legends season one, yet his actions on screen seldom match the hype. Maybe, like Damien Darhk in Arrow’s third run, the character doesn’t strike the right balance of mustache-twirly and evil incarnate.
Smallville’s Curtis Knox, a purported alias of Savage’s, gets it right in one episode. He’s portrayed somewhat sympathetically, but never misses an opportunity to demonstrate his dominance as an immortal being; he was Jack the Ripper, after all. This incarnation of Savage can believably go toe-to-toe with a still developing Clark Kent. Perhaps the Arrowverse’s needed to face someone of comparable power, too.
1. BETTER: SUPERGIRL
Kara’s arc in Smallville takes place most notably during the show’s seventh outing. She’s honestly about as Supergirl as you could possibly want Supergirl to be, barring the get up. That said, the Arrowverse takes her characterization several steps forward, thanks primarily to the Kryptonian having her own show. In it, all of the finer subtleties the Maiden of Might possess are extensively explored. Plus, the Arrowverse series never runs short of cleverly offering Supergirl a chance to pay homage to classic Superman moments and stories.
Of course, all of the hero’s greatest strengths, in and out of the cape, rest squarely on Melissa Benoist’s continued impeccable performances. Supergirl’s Kara is often as fascinating to watch as the Girl of Steel herself. This is one example of an instance where the heroics don’t always have to outshine the rest of the hero’s journey.
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