Anybody who ever picked up a Superman comic book
probably knows the basic mythology, which was recapped in issue after issue:
How a loving couple of scientists on the doomed planet Krypton put their infant
son, Kal-El, into a bassinet-like rocket and launched him to Earth, where he
was adopted by a Midwestern farm family named Kent, manifested assorted "super"
powers and became a one- man army for truth, justice and the American way.
The masterstroke of The WB's "Smallville" series is its creators'
thoughtful re-imagining of the early mythology. They've given it a fullness and
logic that for years went undeveloped. What would it really be like to
discover you could run faster than a speeding bullet, see through walls and
kick your adoptive father's behind anytime you had a mind to? How would it feel
to know you were both orphan and alien, to be the most physically powerful
humanoid on Earth, but also the most alone?
Intelligent plumbing of these fundamental questions of identity and purpose
has given "Smallville" a deeper dramatic resonance than the DC comics or the
several "Superman" movies, and it has been more consistently entertaining than
the nemesis-of- the week shtick.
Tonight's "sweeps"-month episode would be a big deal even if it didn't
guest star Christopher Reeve, the actor who portrayed Superman and his alter
ego, mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent, in four films before a 1995 horseback
riding accident left him a quadriplegic.
"Smallville's" central character, teenage Clark (Tom Welling) is being
pulled, literally, to seek his destiny. He's having dreams about the
indecipherable hieroglyphics in a cave near the Kent family farm, and he has an
uncontrollable flare-up of his X-ray vision that sets the barn on fire and
leaves similar symbols scorched on its wall.
What every Superman fan knows about his history, this boy is only beginning
to figure out. So it's fiercely poignant when he pours out his sense of
powerlessness to his Earth dad (John Schneider): "Why'd my parents put me in
that ship? What was so bad that they had to send me away?"
Some answers await tonight, tucked deep in an episode that, frankly, feels
more than a little padded. It hits its pace when Kent is summoned to New York
City to meet with Virgil Swann (Reeve), a former Time magazine man of the year,
who is compared to Howard Hughes and J.D. Salinger. The rich, reclusive Swann
has studied the stars for nearly two decades, and he has picked up a message
from deep space that he believes Clark will understand.
Not that it's earthshaking news, but I think it's best to let "Smallville"
fans hear it for themselves. I will tell you that Reeve, in his first
Superman-related appearance in more than 15 years, is well used here as the
Stephen Hawking-like figure. And he has one line in particular that speaks
eloquently for both his character and his real self. "One thing I've learned
about science," Swann tells Clark, "is the value of patience."
A public service announcement promoting the Christopher Reeve Paralysis
Foundation, which was part of the bargain for his doing the guest shot, will
air immediately after the "Smallville" broadcast.
SMALLVILLE. Christopher Reeve, star of four "Superman" movies before a
horseback riding accident paralyzed him, guests stars in a pivotal episode of
The WB series about the young "man of steel." Airs tonight at 9 on WPIX/11.