The definition of what it means to be a hero has received considerable attention over the years: it’s been associated with war veterans, parents, entertainment idols, and even comic book characters. So often, we struggle with whom to deem heroic as the word can lose its meaning in the darkest of times. In the comic book genre, mostly all characters possessing some form of power can use them for good and be considered a hero. However, it is their nature for morality and ability to awaken the hero in others that truly makes them super.
Smallville, for example, was a 10-season series (2001-2011, WB/CW) that followed a young Clark Kent (CK) as he embarked on his journey in life towards discovering his power, origin and place in the world. Its long run featured many elements of exceptional characterization as the audience witnessed a gradual unfolding of destiny fulfilled. Within its storytelling, Smallville revealed to its audience just how relatable CK could be as the young protagonist found himself learning about how to use his gift and by trying to understand whether it should be for the benefit (or detriment) of himself and/or others. In that regard, his journey towards understanding himself in a world diversified with other personalities, goals and intentions has established Clark Kent of Smallville as a significant figure of modern-day heroism in comic book media. And though we all do not possess the power of a Kryptonian God, the idea of finding our perfect fit in the world is applicable to all of us. So in this account, I’ll recall some of my favorite moments and reasons why Smallville’s Clark Kent is a contemporary hero that is relatable in every essence.
5) Becoming the Man of Steel – The Gradual Progression to Our Best Selves
It’s no secret that Smallville marketed itself as a Superman origin story. In fact, the series followed CK from his early years in high school in which he first discovered his alien powers and origin to the beginnings of his tenure as a reporter at the Daily Planet. However, for the average audience looking for a superhero series for entertainment purposes, some fans found that the amount of time it took for Clark to fulfill his destiny as the Man of Steel (10 Seasons) was excruciatingly and unnecessarily lengthy. In retrospect, I can still understand why people feel this way, but I am appreciative of the series’ length. Upon reflecting on what made the series so great (for me), it became apparent that Smallville’s Clark Kent was relatable because I was maturing with him. He didn’t just develop his powers then become Superman. He learned, he grew, he stumbled, he fell, he rose, he loved, he lost, and he had to work for it. Simultaneously, we were learning, growing and trying to find our place in the world just as Clark was beginning to understand what having these alien powers meant for him and the people surrounding.
But most importantly, Clark was learning and maturing at a realistic pace—because how many of us knew what we wanted to do directly out of high school (or college)? Among those confident enough, at what point did you know your exact calling in life and place in society? I’m willing to bet that understanding your gifts and skills and knowing exactly how to use them in our complicated world is a rarity among young adults. Even then, we are never perfect or the best versions of ourselves because there is simply so much to learn from life. Taking that into consideration, we can relate to Smallville’s Clark Kent because his maturation was a natural progression. We were taken on a significant, emotional journey of self-discovery and personal growth in which his many experiences molded him and helped him figure out where his piece fits into the larger puzzle that is Life. Because after all,
“Life is about change. Sometimes it’s painful, sometimes it’s beautiful. But most of the time, it’s both.”
– Lana Lang, Smallville, s1e12
And to help him figure out some things along the way, Clark had his friends to ground him:
4) Grounded by Friendships – The Support System
Growing up is certainly difficult as the variety of life stages we experience—both good and bad—play a significant role in shaping who we are. With powers, Clark certainly found himself as a loner at times who didn’t quite fit in with the average young adult. But with the aid of his circle of family and friends, he was able to overcome his trials and strive to be the hero he wanted to be. And though we all do not possess great power under the yellow sun, we try our best to make a name for ourselves in a challenging society just like Clark. To get us through, friends can play an essential role in our introspection; and in a sense, the great ones can even be our heroes.
“In every epic tale, there’s always one person who believes in the hero first… someone who helps inspire them to greatness.”
– Chloe Sullivan, Smallville s10e15
Take Clark’s friendship with Chloe Sullivan, a character created specifically for Smallville, for example. She was the golden standard of best friends, a “Wall of Weird” guru, brilliant hacker, and true inspiration, marking her as one of the best female characters of all time. Not only was she loyal to the ends of the earth, but Chloe was a hero for thee heroes. And when life knocks us down and the hardships get the best of us, who better than our friends to help us out of the darkness and into the light? That is what Clark was lucky enough to have throughout his growing experience. Though their friendship wasn’t perfect from beginning to end, it was the overflow of support that assisted in Clark’s fulfillment of his destiny. The very foundation of true friendship is a powerful tool that can significantly impact our progress in reaching our goals. And if we’re lucky, we, too, can find (and/or be) the Chloe Sullivans of the world to help us along the way.
3) Love & Loss – The Facts of Life
There’s no doubt that life has the ability to throw us all curveballs. Indeed, no one ever said that life would be easy, and that’s probably because of the various, emotional stages that are paired with love and loss.
When it came to love, Clark had his fair share of blindness and irrationality. In fact, his on-and-off-again relationship with Lana Lang led to a slower progression of him becoming the Man of Steel. Truth be told, Clark and Lana never truly trusted one another —a significant factor that led to this unhealthy relationship and its demise. Ultimately, it paved the way for more secrets and lies that impaired Clark’s success as a hero. It wasn’t until Lois Lane came along when Clark found his equal—someone he could be weak around, lean on, and one who could stand by his side to assist him in becoming the hero he needed to be on his own terms. And for me, his partnership with Lois Lane signified a union worth fighting for especially since Clark was always stronger with Lo by his side. Because in the end, love helps us grow. It helps us learn about ourselves by how we respond to, treat and love other people. To love is to live because,
“…living without love is not really living; it’s just sort of existing. The question you have to ask yourself is: what are you willing to risk for love?”
– Oliver Queen, Smallville s10e5
One of the defining moments in a person’s ability to be a hero stems from how he or she deals with loss. This can be a loss of love, a friendship, or even an object that holds some deeper meaning. For Clark Kent of Smallville, losing people was never easy. Whether it was losing his best friend, Lex Luthor (depicted by Michael Rosenbaum) for good or losing a teammate like Hawkman (played by Michael Shanks) in battle, it affected him greatly.
Perhaps the greatest loss of his life occurred on Smallville’s 100th episode (s5e12, Reckoning), in which Clark was forced to watch his father die in his arms from a heart attack. One of the worst feelings in the world is seeing your loved ones suffer and not being able to do anything about it, and for Clark, it was no different. In this moment, and the experiences thereafter, Clark was closed off, and would lose his faith in people, and even himself. He would soon struggle with trying to be the man Jonathan Kent knew he could be without having his Pa be there for him every step of the way. With the loss of a loved one, we are sometimes so blinded and engulfed by pain and grief that we fail to live our everyday lives. It is our inability to see past and learn from the pain that inhibits us from becoming the best people we can be. But with time, our wounds can heal if we allow ourselves to take the pain and turn it into positivity—a life lesson that Clark, too, struggled with tremendously.
2) Clark Made Mistakes – Being Human
Another defining moment of transitioning into adulthood and becoming the best versions of ourselves is the ability to learn from our mistakes. Smallville’s Clark Kent made a lot of mistakes throughout his evolution towards becoming the Man of Steel. He was clumsy in his early pursuits of truth and justice, he lied (though with good intention) a little too often, and at times, he was hypocritical as he desired the trust of others without reciprocating that very same level of faith. Perhaps one of his greatest mistakes, though, was his ‘holier than thou’ attitude.
There’s no denying that Clark Kent had to endure the hardships of using his Godlike powers as a force for good and for the benefit of others. Ultimately, this fact led him to believe himself to be a universal moral compass. For example, Clark was, at times, too proud to ask for help, and he didn’t trust the ideas of others when it came to “saving the day.” However, it was this same attitude that not only hindered his path towards achieving his destiny and becoming Superman, but it also tainted some of his friendships. Take his relationship with Oliver Queen (played by Justin Hartley) as an example. Ollie had suffered a great deal of turmoil and emotional pain throughout his life. With losing his parents at the hand of the Luthors, revealing himself as the Green Arrow which hindered his ability to have a life, and having trouble in the love department, came a dark path in which Oliver Queen would soon find himself walking. In fact, his complete surrender to the dark forces was manifested by the marking of the omega symbol by Darkseid in season 10. Instead of trying to understand the core of Ollie’s pain, Clark neglected to recognize and understand it. One might say that it’s not Clark’s job to babysit Ollie and “fix” him, which is completely true. However, it wasn’t his job to paint the emerald archer as someone undeserving of redemption either. For these reasons, Clark was never truly ready to complete his calling/purpose.
“You cannot be a beacon of hope when you have darkness in your heart.”
– Jor-El, Smallville, s10e1
Furthermore, throughout the 10 seasons, Clark had to learn what worked for him as a person and as a hero. In his trials, his ability to be that hero that he wanted and needed to be was often tainted by a dark force—an unwillingness to remember and use all of the hurt, pain and loss in his life as enriching life experiences.
“I know you have to put blinders on to cope with your responsibilities, but if you turn your back on all the experiences that made you strong and compassionate because they hurt, I’m afraid that one day, everything you learned in Smallville will have been for nothing.”
– Martha Kent, Smallville Finale
It wasn’t until his own brush with the darkness did Clark realize that the only way to combat it was with light. And not just any light—it required a light so bright that it could turn even the most insecure men confident and the most nefarious of minds pure. And that was:
1) Hope – The Willingness to Believe in the Greater Good
Believing in people—the belief that in the end, good nature will win—was one of the most difficult things to do for Clark Kent. After years of run-ins with meteor-infected villains who wreaked havoc on Smallville and failing to stop his best friend, Lex Luthor, from succumbing to the dark side, who could blame him? But what marks Smallville’s beautiful and defining moment of Clark’s heroism was his realization that he needed to believe in himself—something to which we all can relate. In the end, it was his confidence in himself that finally pushed him over the hurdles of self-doubt and pessimism towards a hero that people could count on not only to save them on a surface level, but by instilling in them the ideas of hope. To make people realize that heroes come in all shapes and sizes, and that we, too, can be heroes was one of Clark’s monumental moments in the show’s 10 seasons. Through his hope in himself and others, Clark made us realize that we can save the people around us, we can save each other, and we can save ourselves. And in a life in which so many things around us are negative, it’s easy to concentrate and linger on the bad such as our losses, mistakes and trials. But in the words of Pa Kent,
“…The true measure of a man is how he chooses to react in the face of those trials.”
– Jonathan Kent, Smallville, s10e1
And with hope, we can handle any trial by molding our fears into curiosity and transforming our uncertainties into bettering ourselves and our friendships. With hope, we can take the necessary steps to learn from our mistakes and realize that even the strongest of heroes such as Clark Kent, flawed in all of his glory, was able to overcome his imperfections and doubts. We, through the hope that Smallville’s Clark has reaffirmed in us, have the ability to move past our pain and treat it not as a crutch, but as an opportunity to learn and grow. With hope, we can take the necessary steps to be the forces for good that this world so desperately needs because,
“The suit doesn’t make the hero. A hero’s made in the moment by the choices that he makes and the reasons that he makes them. A hero brings out the best in people.”
– Clark Kent, Smallville, s10e18