Waiting for Superman, week two: The best comic book character guest stars

With only five more weeks of Smallville, there are mixed emotions in the TVS headquarters. To work out those conflicting feelings, I’ll be writing a pre-episode piece every week from here on out until the final episode on May 13. You can see last week’s piece here if you missed it.

Last week, I promised that I would write a new piece each Friday before every one of Smallville’s final episodes. I tend to keep that promise, but this week’s piece is not necessarily column, but more of a list. But if you’re reading TVS to begin with, you know that I love lists.

In any event, with tonight’s airing of “Booster,” I thought it would be fun to take a look back the series’ use of guest characters from the comic books. And because I am not a comic reader and lack a general knowledge of how these characters are constructed in that medium, my analysis will be only focused on how they worked within the framework of the television series only. I know the series has taken liberties, altered origins and more, but I am ultimately ignorant and indifferent to those changes. We are talking Smallville only. There’s no real good way to rank them, so I’m just going to list them chronologically, based on first appearance. Here we go, the eleven best comic-oriented guest stars.

Morgan Edge (First appearance: “Exile”): This character wasn’t super-integral to the series’ long-term story, but I think he served a great purpose in that he showed Clark and the audience that there would be major, major consequences to his actions at the beginning of season three. That is the season where the series went really dark, but also dramatically expanded Clark’s role in Metropolis, so it was only fitting that the season kicked off with a few appearances by one of the comics middle-of-the-road villains. I really enjoyed Rutger Hauer’s performance in “Exile” and “Phoenix,” but certainly did not care for the second actor’s interpretation of the role.

Perry White (First appearance: “Perry”): When it comes to the Superman canon, it’s important to nail the execution of the Perry White character. I’ve basically on seen the theatrical films, most of Lois and Clark and Smallville and I still know the importance of the future-Daily Planet editor. Because Smallville is a series all about the origins of this story’s most crucial characters, it only made sense to have Perry be something of a terrible mess in his introduction. Luckily, the series was able to pull in Michael McKean, who pulls off the perfect combination of grime and respect in his season three episode “Perry.” The character was redeemable enough that there was no question that he could grow into the EIC of the best paper on the planet, but he was also messed up enough that the progression to greatness could be interesting to watch. Unfortunately, Perry didn’t return until season nine’s “Hostage,” but even then, the actor nice did a job of embodying that progression we missed in the intermediate six years.

Bart Allen (First appearance: “Run”): Introducing the future members of the Justice League became one of the series’ biggest assets over the course of Smallville‘s run, but there’s a possibility that series-defining approach wouldn’t have happened at all had Bart Allen’s initial season four appearance not worked. Introducing a the terribly young version of the character was something of a risk and the casting is just so important with roles like these. But much fortunately, Kyle Gallner was tremendous from the very beginning, bringing a touch of humanity and charm to the outwardly boisterous role. He and Tom Welling had great chemistry and honestly, no other future first-time JL’er episodes worked as well as “Run” does. Not even Justin Hartley’s Oliver.

Brainiac (First appearance: “Arrival”): Because of the series’ budget limitations, oftentimes massively unique comic book characters come on Smallville to look like pretty WB/CW-friendly faces. It is really easy to make light of that unfortunate truth, but there’s not really any point to it. Instead, I tend to look at those limitations as beneficial, especially if it means that great actors like James Marsters get to come on the series and do some scenery chewing. Marster’s portrayal of the character has been so good over the years that the writers keep coming up with fun, creative ways to bring back other versions of Brainiac just because. Outside of the Luthors, Brainiac is the series’ most-used villain, as he’s appeared in S5, S7, S8 and S10 episodes. That’s pretty good for a series that often disposes of its villains after the following season premiere/finale period.

John Jones (First appearance: “Labyrinth,” officially): Of the guest characters the series has introduced over the years, there are none I’ve wanted to see more of than Phil Morris’ John Jones (aka the Martian Manhunter). This is another one of those characters that is ultimately restricted because of the budget (I have to imagine showing him in full Martian form for an extended period of time would be costly), but the scattered use of the character in his human still makes little sense to me. I don’t think Clark needed another father figure in his life over the past three or four seasons, but there’s really no excuse for the lack of John Jones. The two of them worked really well together when things became more of an even playing field and it’s really disappointing that we are going to go the entire final season without seeing him again.

Bizarro (First appearance: “Phantom”): It’s a well-known fact that this series works very well when Tom Welling is able to let go of the good-ole farmboy version of Clark and play some sort of new shade or separate character. Thus, Bizarro makes this list primarily for Welling’s subtle, but different performance in the role as Clark’s opposite doppleganger. The fight between the two of them in the season seven premiere, “Bizarro,” is one of the series’ best-looking and well-executed sequences. We could argue all day about the stupidity of having Bizarro fall in love with Lana as Clark was stuck in the Phantom Zone, but I appreciated the fact that the series wanted to keep using the character, at least.

Curtis Knox (First appearance: “Cure”): Okay, this one is a bit of a cheat. Curtis Knox isn’t officially a character taken directly from the comic books, but he’s more or less the series’ version of the immortal and invunerable  Vandal Savage. “Cure” is one of the sneakiest “good” episodes in Smallville history and it is solely because Dean Cain and the Knox character. Immortality is an interesting and appealing topic for Clark, Lex and Chloe, which provides a number of complicated avenues to pursue within the episode. This is yet another character that I wished would have returned sometime in the last three seasons.

Doomsday (First appearance: “Bride,” officially): This might be something of a controversial choice, but I don’t really care. Although I think we can all agree that the final appearance of this character was more than terrible, season eight’s portrayal of the ultimate destroyer Doomsday was really great. Sure, Smallville basically turned the mindless beast into a deadlier version of the Hulk with its human character Davis Bloome, but you know what? It pretty much worked. Again, budget limitations meant that there was absolutely no way we could see a massive Clark-Doomsday fight, let alone a couple of them. Therefore, making the character more human and more sypathetic was really the only way to go, and in the hands of Sam Witwer, Davis Bloome a compelling and complicated antagonist. And let’s be honest, the first appearance of actual Doomsday in “Bride” was fantastic.

The Legion of Superheroes (First appearance: “Legion”): I was a bit skeptical about the inclusion of a group of unknown (to me) characters from the future, but that’s before I really knew how good a writer Geoff Johns was. His first script for the series brought us the Legion of Superheroes in season eight and unlike his two-parter about the Justice Society in season nine, “Legion” feels entirely part of the season that happens in. The Legion are a part of an ongoing storyline instead of insular to their own, brand-new one and even the appearance of Lana in the episode can’t ruin a well-executed story about Chloe’s Brainaic struggles and Clark’s internal fears.

Zatanna (First appearance: “Hex”): Setting aside the fact that Serinda Swan is shockingly attractive, her work as Zatanna is actually pretty great. The character is completely goofy and wild, even for the Smallville universe, but Swan makes it work with pure charisma. She has fantastic chemistry with Tom Welling and Justin Hartley and the character’s backstory doesn’t sound as dumb as it probably would have been in the hands of a writer not named Bryan Q. Miller. Sometimes characters don’t have to add to the mythology or Clark’s development to be integral and awesome, Zatanna is one of those characters.

Metallo (First appearance: “Savior”): Full disclosure: I am a big Brian Austin Green fan, so I might be biased in this opinion. Nevertheless, I thought BAG’s work in the first two episodes of season nine was above and beyond the kind of thing Smallville usually gets out of its guest stars (no offense to anyone). The writers were smart enough to present John Corbett first without his powers for an entire episode so that we could completely get to know him and his motivations before he turned into half-man, half-machine. Clearly one episode didn’t allow for a massive amount of character development, but it was substantial enough, especially for this series. Of the guest characters that have been on the series, I think I wanted Metallo and BAG to stick around the most. Sigh.

And there  you have it folks, my list of the best comic book character guest stars. Who’d I leave out? Sound off below.

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4 thoughts on “Waiting for Superman, week two: The best comic book character guest stars

  1. One of my favorites was the casting and portrayal of Pam Grier as Amanda Waller during Season 9’s Checkmate storyline. I wish they’d brought her back this season to be behind the Suicide Squad or even working on the Cadmus Labs/Lex cloning plot

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