Long before superhero TV shows and movies saturated the entertainment market (I’m not complaining!), “Smallville” stood out on The CW’s roster. The soapy series that told Superman’s origin story was immensely popular when it premiered, thanks to its eye-catching promotion of actor Tom Welling tied to a post and bearing a red “S” painted on his chest.
Lasting 10 seasons (longer if you include the comic book sequel), “Smallville” gradually introduced more and more familiar characters from the DC Universe, who became invaluable to the series. The most important characters had evolving story arcs that gave the series opportunities to explore familiar storylines, while also introducing some new twists. Some characters proved to be more important than others.
Here’s our ranking of the 16 most important “Smallville” characters.
16. John Jones (Martian Manhunter)
John Jones (Phil Morris), a.k.a. Martian Manhunter, was an integral part of “Smallville” who’s often overlooked. He didn’t appear on the show until the sixth season, but he came at a time when the show was transforming itself from just being Superman’s humble origin story to a more ambitious series that featured more of the DC Universe, namely a version of the Justice League. John Jones was important both to the show and to Clark Kent.
Clark would not have survived past the sixth season if John Jones hadn’t helped him escape the Phantom Zone that was created by Dr. Hudson. He later saved Clark’s life again by sacrificing his own powers and abilities. After his powers were returned by Dr. Fate, Jones joined Clark and his team of fellow superheroes. Not only did he protect Clark, he also provided a link to Clark’s past, because he knew Clark’s biological father, Jor-El.
15. Pete Ross
Pete Ross (Sam Jones III) was an important member of Team Clark during the first three seasons of “Smallville.” He not only assisted Clark in a variety of ways, but also gave “Smallville” a complicated character who wasn’t easy to pigeonhole. Pete may have seemed like an unimportant character, especially because he was written out of the show, but in reality the character was an important building block for “Smallville.”
Pete was Clark Kent’s best friend, which was an important role while Clark was in high school, especially because he was a bit of an outcast. More importantly, Pete was the first person who wasn’t a member of the Kent family to find out about Clark’s powers. Clark had someone his own age to talk to about his fledgling powers, as well as his feelings for Lana Lang. But Pete wasn’t just important to Clark as a sounding board. He also spoke for the audience when he expressed his distaste for Clark’s friendship with Lex Luthor. Pete may have been loyal to Clark, but that didn’t keep him from being a complex character who wasn’t always on his best friend’s side.
14. Milton Fine
Milton Fine, a.k.a. Brainiac, was the secret weapon that co-creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar wanted to deploy at the perfect time in the series, especially because they knew they wanted actor James Marsters for the role. Brainiac was introduced in the middle of the show’s run when they wanted Clark to meet a new villain to fight instead of going head to head with Lex all the time. He provided a link to Krypton for Clark, and a link to the DC Universe for Superman fans. Brainiac wasn’t easy to beat, which meant “Smallville” could craft an entire season out of Clark’s attempts to stop his evil plans from happening.
Although Brainiac was a formidable foe in his own right, his higher purpose — to release General Zod from the Phantom Zone — gave the series even more story to tell. Plus, he wanted to take over the Earth, which upped the stakes when “Smallville” needed to do more than show Clark and Chloe outwitting Lex over and over again.
13. Jimmy Olsen
“Smallville’s” version of Jimmy Olsen (Aaron Ashmore) wasn’t a carbon copy of the Jimmy Olsen in the comic books. Instead, he was much more than a sidekick and newspaper photographer. Jimmy Olsen came on the “Smallville” scene in the middle of its run, when the show started bringing in more comic book elements as a way to keep the audience’s interest. He was invaluable to Lois Lane and the “Daily Planet,” as well as a romantic interest for Chloe Sullivan.
While Jimmy Olsen didn’t have powers, or even know Clark’s secret, he played a pivotal role on “Smallville.” He and Chloe fell in love, but he became part of a love triangle with Davis Bloome, a.k.a. Doomsday. Their stormy relationship formed a solid storyline, and Jimmy’s violent death was tragic not only for the audience, but also for Chloe, which gave her character another layer to work with. Chloe had to deal with the fallout of her feelings for both Bloome and Jimmy for many episodes.
Superman’s famous Kryptonian nemesis was at the center of a couple of different storylines on “Smallville.” The first time Zod (played by Callum Blue) was encountered, his spirit has escaped from the Phantom Zone, thanks to the work of Brainiac, and has taken over Lex Luthor. The Zod version of Lex was entertaining in an exhilarating way, because although Lex wasn’t a nice guy, as Zod, he was straight up vengeful. The storyline brought Krypton a little closer to Smallville and successfully introduced Zod, who would go on to have a bigger role to play later in the series.
That later role was Major Zod, a younger version of the same Zod who wasn’t necessarily so vengeful. The relationship between Major Zod and Clark was another atypical one, built with a lot of conflict. Clark’s good nature pushes him to make friends, even with his enemies, while their bitterness allows them to feel betrayed over the smallest infractions. Like Lex before him, eventually Major Zod turns on Clark, but watching the progression of their relationship made for great TV.
11. Jonathan Kent
On “Smallville,” Jonathan Kent (John Schneider) wasn’t the stereotypical TV dad; an oaf who stumbling through life with the help of his teenage son and his gorgeous wife. Instead, Jonathan Kent was believable as a loving, albeit overly protective, father, as well as a farmer who got elected to the Kansas Senate in order to protect his community’s interests. His realistic portrayal was important to “Smallville,” because it kept the show grounded in reality, when it could have easily become too fantastical.
In previous incarnations of Clark’s father, like in comic books and in 1978’s “Superman,” Jonathan died of a heart attack fairly early in the story. Keeping him alive on “Smallville” gave the series some suspense, at least for Superman fans in the audience. Co-creators Gough and Millar waited for the right time to kill Jonathan, when his death would be the catalyst for bigger things from Clark. They also tied his death to a deal he made with Jor-El, creating an intriguing and satisfying storyline.
10. Kara Zor-El (Supergirl)
Although Kara (Laura Vandervoort) didn’t appear on “Smallville” until the seventh season, she played a key role in the evolution of Lex’s friendship with Clark. When she finally landed on Earth, she arrived just in time to save Lex from drowning. She flew away while he was still groggy, but his glimpse of her was enough to spur him into searching for an “angel” who could fly. His chase lead him to suspect Clark, again, and use her in his quest for the truth about Clark’s powers.
Kara, a.k.a. Supergirl, also played a pivotal role in Brainiac’s story. He used her as bait a couple of times in his attempts to kill Kal-El. In her one season on “Smallville,” Kara landed on Earth, developed her powers, saved Lana, got tortured, got amnesia, and wound up the victim of both Lex and Brainiac. It’s no wonder that at the end of the season, she left Earth to find Kandor, where Kryptonians were allegedly living. Kara provided plenty of episode fodder for Smallville, as well as a strong link to the DC Universe.
9. Martha Kent
In “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” Lex told Superman that “every boy’s special lady is his mother.” Martha Kent (Annette O’Toole) on “Smallville” was certainly a special lady, not only to Clark, but to the entire show. Like Jonathan, Martha was a realistic character and helped keep the series grounded in reality. She was incredibly important to Clark, helping him navigate the shark-infested waters of high school and teenage romance, as well as being a mediator between him and his father.
On “Smallville,” Martha Kent played a much bigger role than just being a mom. She was depicted as a smart, brave and compassionate woman. While she worked for Lionel, as his assistant, and then for Lex, at the Talon, she was able to glean important information about them and their obsession for Clark. Lionel’s attraction to her also gave the character another dimension, as a good-looking, but married, woman. She was an atypical TV mom, eventually even heading to the U.S. Senate.
8. Lionel Luthor
No other character on “Smallville” had as much of a roller coaster story arc as Lionel Luther (John Glover). He ended his run on the show as kind of a good guy, nearly the opposite of his original personality. He started out as only a recurring character who was portrayed as the villain of the show, while Lex was still friendly toward Clark. He became a series regular and, eventually, through Martha Kent’s influence, became an ally to Clark. He even died to protect Clark’s secret from his own son.
Lionel provided not only an interesting storyline, but also a counterpoint to Jonathan Kent. Lionel had a fractured relationship with his son, even though he tried to repair it in later seasons. In comparison to Jonathan Kent, Lionel was a failure as a father. On the other hand, seeing how Lionel treated Lex made Clark appreciate his father, even when the two of them were at odds.
7. Tess Mercer
When Lex Luthor disappeared from “Smallville,” LuthorCorp needed a new CEO, and the town of Smallville needed a new villain. Enter Tess Mercer (Cassidy Freeman). She filled both roles marvellously well. While “Smallville” had plenty of strong women, having Tess at the head of a global corporation went further in fighting stereotypical female characters. She was not only cunning in corporate ways, but also inquisitive when it came to Clark Kent, effectively continuing Lex’s quest to discover Clark’s secret. Tess became very important to “Smallville.” She carried the Kryptonian orb that brought down the Fortress of Solitude, and she called forth General Zod, a classic Superman villain.
Tess didn’t appear on “Smallville” until the eighth season. By then, most of the show’s storylines were already wrapping up and there were few big reveals left. Tess gave the writers an opportunity for a way to keep Lex in the picture, as well as provide yet one more plot twist: Tess was really Lena Luthor, who Lionel gave up for adoption when she was 5 years-old. She’s also a character that morphs from evil to good, even dying to protect Clark’s secret.
6. Lana Lang
Usually, where there’s a hero, there’s a damsel in distress. Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk) played the role of the damsel in distress too many times to count. She served as the go-to victim in many, many episodes at the outset of the show. She was also the object of Clark’s affection. Gradually, the two of them grew closer, but Clark’s secret pushed her into the arms of other men, including Jason Teague and Lex Luthor. Ironically, once she discovered Clark’s secret, she realized he couldn’t be true to himself and to her at the same time.
Lana Lang wasn’t just a pretty face, however. Although she was Clark’s, then Lex’s, love interest, she had her own story to play out. She started out as the girl next door, but after suffering from the pain that Clark’s and Lex’s deceits caused, she became a darker character. Her turn from good girl to, well, not bad girl per se, so much as a not-so-good girl gave the character somewhere to go. Her final storyline was also the most bittersweet on “Smallville.” When she absorbed too much kryptonite radiation to be close to Clark, she was forced to leave Smallville. Her departure helped push Clark’s character to maturity.
5. Oliver Queen
Like Kara’s role on “Smallville,” the presence of Oliver Queen (Justin Hartley) served as an important link to the DC Universe. Long-time fans knew that once the blond billionaire was introduced to the town of Smallville in the sixth season, the Green Arrow couldn’t be far behind. Seeing the Green Arrow team up with Clark, as well as Bart Allen, Arthur Curry and Victor Stone, was the Justice League moment fans had been waiting six seasons to see.
In Season 8, Oliver Queen went from a recurring character to a regular. He was important to the show, because by then, Clark’s evolution was progressing quickly and stories about Smallville were drying up. Oliver Queen was the superhero boost the show needed. He also became a close friend to Clark, giving him a sounding board for his future plans as Superman. Oliver sealed his fate as an important part of “Smallville” when he married Chloe.
4. Lex Luthor
Even though “Smallville” creators faked out the audience in early seasons by portraying Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum) as Clark’s friend, it wasn’t long before Lex became the show’s leading villain and Clark’s nemesis. Lex, a.k.a. “Sexy Lexy” to some fans, had a complex and engrossing story arc. His motivation for turning against Clark was based in very human emotions, like heartbreak and betrayal, rather than the typical villainous reasons of greed and the need for power. Seeing Lex’s evolution from friend to enemy was one of the most entertaining aspects of “Smallville.”
In fact, “Smallville” told Lex Luthor’s story as much as it did Clark’s. Lex grew darker and darker every time he was thwarted from learning Clark’s secret, or proving he had powers. He became more evil the more his father became good, until he eventually murdered his own father, having been completely overtaken by his need to know Clark’s secret. Lex was also a key character in the conflict between Oliver and Clark, another engrossing storyline that focused on friendship.
3. Lois Lane
Just like there can’t be Superman without Lex Luthor, there can’t be Clark Kent without Lois Lane (Erica Durance). Lois Lane, Superman’s true love in many comic books, didn’t arrive in Smallville until the fourth season. Even then, she wasn’t the Lois Lane most fans are familiar with. She wasn’t yet a journalist, and she wasn’t yet in love with Clark Kent. Leaving those destinies for future episodes gave her character a long, satisfying arc, even though the audience knew where it was headed.
Lois and Clark’s relationship began more like brother and sister, with a lot of bickering and good-natured teasing. They even watched each other pair off with other people. However, Lois Lane became increasingly more important to Clark. By the time they realized they had feelings for each other, she had long been his much-needed ally against Lex and other foes. She was a different love interest than Lana, more independent and more of an equal, frequently pushing Clark to be a better hero. Revealing his secret to Lois brought Clark closer to her, not further apart. (It helped their relationship that she had never fallen for Lex.)
2. Clark Kent
At the beginning of “Smallville,” Clark Kent (Tom Welling) was the only hero in town with a big secret. He didn’t have control of his powers, and he spent more time fretting over his non-existent love life and getting bullied by the football team than he did worrying about how to save the planet. In only a few seasons, however, his role as the planet’s savior became cemented. His path wasn’t a straight one, however, which meant watching him go from farm boy to Superman was a fun, and sometimes heartbreaking, ride. The Clark Kent of “Smallville” was probably the most tortured live-action Superman we had ever seen, going through dark periods as well as heroic ones.
The show’s creators started “Smallville” with a “no tights, no flights” policy, but as Clark mastered his powers, their resolve lightened a little. In the last few season, Clark began to fulfill his destiny as the Superman from the comic books, with an S on his chest and even marrying Lois Lane by the end. His journey from the Kent farm to Metropolis, from farm hand to investigative reporter, from Clark to Superman, was so enjoyable that, even after ten seasons, the end of “Smallville” came too soon.
1. Chloe Sullivan
Yes, “Smallville” was a TV series about the origin of Superman, but that doesn’t mean that Clark Kent was the most important, or the most popular, character on the show. The character of Chloe Sullivan (Allison Mack) was created specifically for “Smallville,” and she quickly became a fan favorite. Chloe was so popular that she starred in a spin-off web series called “Smallville: Chloe Chronicles” and even got adapted as Jimmy’s blogger girlfriend in the mainstream comics right before “The New 52” began (she hasn’t been seen since the reboot, though). Allison Mack was a big part of why Chloe was so likable. She had a talent for injecting humor into even the most boring exposition. Her rapid-fire dialog always kept the pace brisk.
Like Felicity to Oliver Queen on “Arrow,” Chloe Sullivan was an invaluable team member, without whom the hero would be lost. Time and time again, she was the brains of the operation, piecing together important clues or figuring out how to defeat people who had been infected by meteor rocks. She was also dogged in her investigation into LuthorCorp, which unearthed plenty of plots explored in numerous episodes. No matter who she was dealing with, even Oliver Queen, she could always see through their shenanigans.
Who was your favorite character on “Smallville?” Let us know in the comments!
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