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Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Television

Why "Smallville's" Clark Kent is way cooler than "Superman"

Special To The Seattle Times

With the "Superman Returns" movie just out, the Superman hype of the '80s has been kick-started all over again. But while watching the movie, you can't help but wonder, how did Clark Kent get to be Superman? What was his childhood like? He couldn't have been a journalist at the Daily Planet forever.

That, my friends, is where "Smallville" comes in. In my opinion, it's TV's coolest show, and way cooler than the "Superman" film.

When you think about it, it's a great premise. Superman fans know all about the villains Superman's fought, his powers and adventures, and some bare-bones information about his background. But how did a Super-man get that way? We knew some things about his childhood, but not in fleshed-out detail — not, that is, until the 2001 debut on The WB of "Smallville."

Here's why we tune in week after week, after more than 100 episodes:

1. The story lines. The plots are really complex; in one recent episode Clark goes to Jor-El to try to save someone he loved who recently died, but in doing this, he sacrifices his previous happiness and his father ends up dying instead. But at the same time, the overall story is simple, because we know how it's going to end. But this doesn't make it any less exciting. Far from it, it makes the show almost even more exciting because there are certain characters that you just can't imagine how they turn out the way they do, or how they wouldn't be a part of Clark's life as a grown man.

2. The girls. If the grown-up Clark Kent's lover is Lois Lane, what on earth will happen to Lana? And the Lois of "Smallville" is so hard-headed and stubborn that Clark finds her downright obnoxious — so how and when, exactly, do they turn into lovers? Plus, although Clark and Lex Luthor aren't exactly getting along, they don't hate each other. What's going to happen that's so drastic it would turn them into arch-enemies?

3. Clark's inner turmoil. Clark has this HUGE secret that he is trying to hide from the world (having superpowers and all), and it's absolutely agonizing watching him hide it from the ones he loves — just because he's trying to protect them. But we can all relate to Clark. Each and every one of us has a secret that we don't want others to know, that we're afraid if someone found out it might change how they see us. Seeing this played out in "Smallville" absolutely makes your heart go out to Clark.

On TV

"Smallville," 8 p.m. Thursday on KTWB-TV.

4. Jor-El. Jor-El — nothing but a disembodied voice, really — is unique to "Smallville." He's a complete mystery to everyone, including Clark, and you can never tell whether his intentions are good or bad. Is he trying to help Clark save humanity — or destroy it?

5. What can I say? Tom Welling is absolutely gorgeous. Would "Smallville" be the same with a different actor playing Clark? Why are you even asking?

6. Clark Kent is so ... good. There is no other word for it, and that — not his superpowers — is what makes him un-human. He always does what is right, and although people strive to be that virtuous, nobody is truly capable of it.

But Clark remains pure and good, despite his list of problems. He struggles to fit in at high school just like everybody else. He has girl problems, goes through hormone swings, gets teased and bullied. ("I want you to remember this day, Clark," Lex says ominously one day. "I want you to remember that despite all your amazing powers, there was one man that beat you.")

In short, someone so good has a life that's so hard; a life in which very few people actually know who you are. A life in which you struggle every day to protect your family and friends, feel the weight of the world every time somebody gets hurt. Where you put everybody else first — despite a friend like Martha saying, "Clark, it's not your responsibility to save everybody!" — and never think once about what is best for you.

"Smallville," unlike the big-screen "Superman," manages to touch the viewer intimately, and makes you want to reach out to Clark and make his life OK — because he deserves it more than anybody else.

Julia Waterhous is a high-school student in Oregon: jsw_618@yahoo.com or vwaterhous@msn.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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