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Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Smallville heroes - Justice League

Anybody who has been watching Smallville over the last few years will have seen a host of DC's characters imported from the comics world to the glossy, highly polished world of Smallville.  You may be wondering about the origins of these characters, what they were like originally and how their stories changed in the leap from comic to small screen.  And that's where we come in!  This will be the first of a series of three posts on Smallville's characters cast of heroes, villains and sidekicks, and the original characters that inspired them.

Full disclosure:  I love Smallville.  I am a huge Superman fan with a soft spot for trashy American dramas, so Smallville had me hooked from the start.  I believe it has improved a lot since it's first season and now offers more complex storylines, stronger characterisation and improved depictions of it's female characters.  Then there is of course the thrill of seeing some of my favourite characters brought to life on TV.

This post will be written from the point of view of someone who is at the end of Season 9.  If you choose to comment please don't put any Season 10 spoilers in!  Requests for characters are fine though.

All books mentioned in these posts will be reviewed, if they haven't been already.  The characters are presented and grouped according to the way they are depicted in Smallville.  You will find that the comic characters are far more complex and have a lot more backstory than that presented in Smallville.  Usually they are older.  Here we go.

Let's start with Smallville's Justice League.  Made up of Clark, Green Arrow, Aquaman, Impulse, Cyborg, Black Canary and Chloe, there's a lot of source material you can go back to.

In Smallville, Green Arrow is the leader of the Justice League.  In the DC comics universe, Oliver Queen has never, to my mind, led the Justice League of America (JLA).  He's been an on/off member for a long time, but he has also been quite prone to calling them fascists and storming out of meetings.

See, the DC Universe (DCU) version of Oliver Queen is a bleeding heart liberal who hates the right wing.  He also makes mouth burningly hot chili, is in an on/off relationship with Dinah Lance (Black Canary) and works out of Star City.  He has a beard and moustache.  I place his age at early 40s, possibly late 30s.  So far so different right?
Some things are the same though - he comes from a rich family, lost his parents at an early age, acts the playboy in his day life and is an idealist and a real hero.

Smallville and the DCU's Green Arrow have similar origin stories, as told in the Green Arrow: Year One book we reviewed back in 2010.  This book feels like an action film in comic format and I think has a lot of things that would appeal to a Smallville fan.

If you want to read on from here, I would recommend Green Arrow: Quiver.  Written by Kevin Smith of Clerks/Mallrats/Chasing Amy fame, it is the start of a new series and feels modern and fresh.  Before you read it you should know that in the 1990s Green Arrow was killed and the book assumes you already know this.  Now he's back in the land of the living and ready to take down some bad guys.

Aquaman on Smallville is a young surfer dude.  The comics version is as far away from this as you can get.  Most of the time they share the same name - Arthur Curry - but the DCU's version is an often bearded adult who is the ruler of Atlantis.  King of the Seven Seas.  Leader of an army and (mostly) revered as royalty.  His Atlantean name is Orin.

Sadly, there are very few Aquaman focused trades available.  Two that have been released are called Time and Tide and The Waterbearer.  Time and Tide is his origin story and worth getting.  The Waterbearer requires you to know that prior to this book Atlantis spent 15 or so years in the distant distant past and were enslaved by their ancestors.  The Atlanteans blame Aquaman for this and banish him.  The Waterbearer is one of my favourite incarnations of Aquaman so this is very much recommended. 

Impulse is Smallville's speedster, named Bart Allen.  There is a Bart Allen in the DCU, and he is a teenaged speedster.  However their characters are quite different and their histories remarkably so.  Bart Allen in the DCU is from the future.  Any further explanation will get far too complicated so may I simply point you towards Young Justice, which features Bart in one of his early teams - a Junior JLA.   Alternatively, you could try Impulse: Reckless Youth, showcasing his earliest adventures, before he joined Young Justice.

Smallville's Bart reminds me of a young Wally West, one of the DCU's other speedsters.  To read more about him try The Flash: Terminal Velocity.

For Cyborg, you should read Teen Titans - A Kids Game.  Teen Titans are another teenage superhero team and this incarnation includes Impulse and Superboy.  I realise that there is a prominence of arse on that cover.  That would belong to Starfire.  She's an alien princess from a culture with no nudity taboo so she doesn't wear a lot of clothes.  I know I know it sounds terrible.  But the book is really rather good, and the cheesecake isn't quite so obvious inside.

For Black Canary you want to read Green Arrow/Black Canary: For Better or For Worse (reviewed here), Green Arrow/Black Canary: the Wedding Album or for an adventure away from Oliver Queen pick up a Birds of Prey trade, such as Of Like Minds or Sensei and Student.  Sensei and Student is all about Dinah Lance and her martial arts background.

The art in these latter two is not great - It's by Ed Benes (not responsible for the really rather great picture on the right) and he's quite focused on bum shots.  But, Gail Simone writes and she is very good at character stories.  The Birds of Prey are an all women team of superheroes put together by the former Batgirl, Barbara Gordon (who has more than a few things in common with Chloe Sullivan): they are the team that the heroes go to when they need help.

You can buy digital issues of Birds of Prey here.  Of Like Minds starts at issue 60.

Lastly, if you want to read an actual JLA story, I recommend JLA: Year One.  It's the origin story of DC's premier superteam and features a lot of Smallville characters: Aquaman, Black Canary, Flash, Martian Manhunter and also Green Lantern.  It's quite a thick book but it's absorbing and well written.

More heroes coming up in the next Smallville themed post!

Thanks to Rob Kelly at The Aquaman Shrine for help with identifying Aquaman trades.


  1. Excellent! I'm not so interested in Smallville as I am the trades you mentioned- Once again, this is why I value this blog so highly :) My humble thanks, S.
    Sincerely, Colin

  2. I'm glad you found it useful :)

  3. If there will be a Justice League movie... I would prefer to have other playing the characters than the ones portrayed in smallville... I like the show but eh. Just my opinion