/ 3 November 2006

I was a teenage superhero

How do superheroes cope with the trials and tribulations of coming of age? The new drama series Smallville, starting on M-Net this week, takes the tale of Superman, adds a good dose of Dawson’s Creek and presents a wonderfully refreshing look at growing up with super speed and an invulnerable body. It’s also stylish and not cheesy at all — no flappy red cape or underpants on the outside for our teen hero. Even the soundtrack boasts the likes of Moby, Linkin Park, Train and U2, instead of the trumpet fanfares of the movies.

It spruces up the arrival of the toddler Superman on Earth by making his craft crash into a field outside the farming town of Smallville amid a massive and destructive meteor shower in 1989, presented in a big-budget way that puts Armageddon to shame. After the smoke clears he is found by the childless Kents (or, as they prefer to see it, he found them) and raised as a normal boy called Clark, without him knowing anything about his extraterrestrial origins.

But, of course, he’s not normal.

The series then jumps ahead in time to the present day, when his strange abilities bring the young alien (played the hunky Tom Welling) much unhappiness. Other parents ban their sons from football to protect them from injury. His parents fear for the other players’ safety. One would think that having super powers would be amazing, but in the first episode it’s already obvious that the young Clark wants nothing more than to be like the other kids at his school. He can’t even get close to love interest Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk) — unknown to him, she wears an amulet made of kryptonite from one of the meteors. Lana’s parents died in the meteor shower, and when Clark’s parents eventually tell him about his true origin, he blames himself for her family’s deaths, adding to his teenage angst.

Already in the first episode there are clever references to the conventional Superman universe. Clark walks away from an accident scene with a red blanket draped around his shoulders; the young Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum) asks Clark, ‘Do you believe a man can fly?”, when referring to his own experience as a child during the meteor shower, when he almost died.

It also hints at other famous teen movies. An emotionally scarred young man with electrical powers threatens to kill everyone at the homecoming dance, because he had been bullied by his peers and Clark has to stop him — it’s Carrie all over, a perfect match as both stories feature teenagers with strange abilities who don’t fit in.

So, it’s not a bird, it’s not a plane, it’s just an unusual young man trying to live his life like everyone else. And this makes for fascinating viewing.

Smallville can be seen on M-Net on Wednesdays at 7.30pm