The Smallville Kents, Just Another Small-Town Family

Five panelists smile at the camera, as they sit in front of a variety of comic universe media posters
Photo by Nancy Northcott

On Saturday afternoon at 1PM in Marriott M302–303, the American Sci-Fi and Fantasy Media track presented a panel on “Superman and Lois: Heroes, Inspiration, and Hope.” In addition to moderator Jon-Paul Estes, the panel included Jessica Combs, Kristin Jackson, Rebecca Johnson, and Alison Sky Richards.

Estes opened the panel by asking everyone who was their favorite Superman and why it was Tyler Hoechlin. Henry Cavill, Christopher Reeve, and George Reeves all got nods from the panel, but everyone agreed that Hoechlin does a great job balancing the character development of Clark Kent and Superman. The treatment of Clark Kent as a character was a factor for both Estes, in choosing George Reeves, and for Jackson in choosing Hoechlin.

The discussion turned to everyone’s overall feel for the season and whether they agreed that cancer was the real villain. Everyone did agree on that, at least regarding the first 11 of the 13 episodes. Johnson, a cancer survivor, noted that cancer as the villain was embodied by the character of Pia, Bruno Mannheim’s wife. She added that the cancer treatment process was very well done, with attention to detail in Lois’s feelings and insecurities too. She liked the show’s approach in explaining why Kryptonian tech could not save Lois. Later, at the end of the panel, Richards pointed out the effects of using Kryptonian blood to “cure” Pia showed what would’ve happened if Clark had tried that with Lois.

Combs echoed that, noting that the writers resisted using “comic book science” to save Lois, which Combs felt was important because so many women go through cancer. She found the handling of that story to be “grounded and respectful.”

Estes noted that Clark’s helplessness to stop the cancer was a callback to Jonathan Kent’s death from a heart attack and Clark’s frustration that, despite all his powers, he couldn’t save his father.  Jackson particularly liked the way Lois’s struggle rippled through her family, who had their own struggles with her illness.

The discussion turned to the panelists’ least favorite moments. None of them liked the Lex Luthor storyline though all of them thought actor Michael Cudlitz did a great job with the role. With all that was going on, they felt, Lex wasn’t necessary. Johnson would’ve preferred to have Lex show up in the finale. For her, it felt as though he came out of nowhere and was an effort to shift the focus to Clark before the season’s end. As the discussion progressed, though, the panelists agreed that the Luthor storyline was really also a Lois storyline because she’s Luthor’s primary target, not Clark.

Talking about Clark’s role segued into a discussion of the Doomsday storyline that ended the season. No one liked the way that story used Bizarro, though everyone gave Hoechlin kudos for his portrayal of the character. Richards noted that the character had been redeemed, then turned into a monster. She lamented that the character had a great deal of potential, yet had been sacrificed for Doomsday. Johnson observed that creating Doomsday might require a dead Kryptonian, as it did in the movies, but they could’ve used some other version of Superman.

Estes asked what everyone thought of Michael Bishop’s portrayal of Jonathan Kent [Ed. Note – Bishop replaced actor Jordan Elsass, who originated the role.] The panelists agreed that Bishop had done a great job. He kept some of Elsass’ mannerisms and, as the season went on, did little things to make the role his own. He also had a complete storyline and wasn’t just an extra guy or his brother’s sidekick. He had girlfriend problems, and joined the Smallville Fire Department, fleshing out the character.

Jackson felt the family dynamics were better than any other show she could name. Everyone agreed that the Kent boys’ reluctance to hang out with their parents all the time was realistic.

Estes said that he thought Erik Valdez, who pays Kyle Cushing did a great job in the role although the character was Estes’ least favorite. He cited Kyle’s reaction and that of newspaper editor Chrissy Beppo to learning the Clark was Superman, in particular.

Combs said the special effects for Pia’s power and the actors’ physicality when using it were “phenomenally well done.” Johnson cited the dinner scene with Clark, Lois, Lana, and John Henry together. She liked the dynamic among the characters, the slow burn of John Henry’s and Lana’s romance, and Lois and Lana’s developing friendship.

For Richards, Jordan Kent’s panic attack was an effective callback to his issues with anxiety in the first season.  He wanted superhero attention, but his anxiety roared back when his mom was in trouble. She liked the fact it was his brother who grounded him.

Jackson cited the episode centered on Lois’s dress. Lois was purging things that made her self-conscious. Then, at the end, she was wearing the dress. Johnson added that it was Lana who talked her out of getting rid of it. Lois has a right to feel as she does. She’s the one who’s going through the cancer and dealing with it. Clark can’t understand those fears about her appearance, but Lana can.

Estes picked up on that to discuss Lois and Lana planning Lois’s party. They decided to go to Bazoomba’s. They told Clark their choice, and his reaction was “the chicken wing place,” which everyone on the panel thought was a real Clark Kent thing to say. Lois told him that wasn’t what the restaurant was known for. At that point, Lana told Lois she would be okay.

Estes then raised the topic of the cast change for the upcoming season, with all the supporting, non-Kent cast being changed from regulars to recurring appearances. He asked what the panelists expected from that change. Suggestions included a return to Metropolis, especially if Superman dies fighting Doomsday, opportunities for more guest stars to flesh out the world, and a return to the Daily Planet for Lois to deal with Lex Luthor.

Returning to the Doomsday storyline and the possible death of Superman, the panelists speculated about whether this would be an actual death or a metaphorical one like amnesia or loss of powers. They noted that the show has John Henry Irons, Steel, and, in Jordan Kent, a Superboy. They expressed hope of seeing Cyborg Superman or The Eradicator as part of that story.

Estes noted that the next season will be only ten episodes, and not having Superman in half of them would be odd. He also reminded everyone that a RedCapeMan movie is due in 2025, speculating that the DCEU’s powers that be might not want two Supermen in mass media, just as they didn’t want two versions of most major characters. Combs said she hated that there had to be a fight over having just one Superman or Flash. Estes pointed out that there are multiple versions of both in the comics, but Hollywood doesn’t seem to want different versions in movies and television.

The panel closed with everyone’s final thoughts. Jackson described Bruno Mannheim as the perfect villain, relatable, believable, and motivated by sympathetic desires. Estes pointed out that Bruno and Pia sort of parallel Clark and Lois, except Brun made bad choices. Johnson noted that Bruno trusted to Superman to help Pia in the last moments, with Estes adding that Bruno also trusted John Henry with his son.

Author of the article

Nancy Northcott is the Comics Track Director for ConTinual. She's also a lifelong fan of comics, science fiction, fantasy, and history. Her published works include the Boar King's Honor historical fantasy trilogy and the Arachnid Files romantic suspense series. Collaborating with Jeanne Adams, she also writes the Outcast Station science fiction mystery series.