Superman was way at the head of the superhero comic strip pack, outstripping the competition by mighty leaps and bounds.
For almost 70 years, each generation has claimed Superman as its own, and has seen Superman moving off the comic pages onto radio, television and film. The first cinema Superman was Kirk Alyn, who donned the cape for cliff-hanging matinee serials in the late 1940s. Around the same time Superman appeared on Australian radio, with actor Leonard Teale chanting "Up Up and Away", his voice magically deepening as he shed his Clark Kent daks and persona inside a handy phone box.
But then came the real thing. In 1951 production started on the classic Adventures of Superman television series starring George Reeves as the Man of Steel, clad in what looked like hand-knitted woolen vests and trousers, with the famous underpants on the outside. There were 104 episodes produced, the later ones in colour and, for many people, George Reeves still is the genuine article.
Then there were the terrific Steve Reeve movies of the late 1970s, Superman and Superman II, with two weaker sequels in the 1980s. And Superman hit our TV screens again in the 1990s, with Lois & Clark, starring the very young and very hot Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher - a series which got off to a great start, full of sex and wit, but which trailed away into unabashed puerility.
Now the franchise is up and running again, with Smallville, and this set of six DVDs presents 21 episodes including the initial pilot. That pilot was screened on television here as a precursor to the series - it was effective then and still stands up well, as it traces the super-baby's arrival on Earth as part of a meteor shower caused by the destruction of the planet Krypton, and introduces key characters, particularly Jonathan and Martha Kent, Lana Lang and Lex Luthor.
I find Smallville pleasing in some ways; extremely frustrating in others. Lots of the episodes are repetitive - a boy or girl is hit by Green Kryptonite/swallows mysterious drug/is affected by radiation, and turned into a swarm of bugs/green monster/energy-sucking vampire etc etc. Yes, Superman is a fantastic concept, but some of these plotlines are just a tad too fantastical.
And Tom Welling and Kristin Kreuk as Clark Kent and his unobtainable object of lust Lana Lang, are just too too perfect. They're refugees from a toothpaste commercial. They're too slickly beautiful to be real; plucked from a commercial dream-factory without the slightest imperfection. And his parents? Well, the Kents are Hicksville personified. Jonathan Kent in particular is painted as dull and stupid. Immensely, irretrievably, boringly stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
But for much of the time Smallville is unassuming fun. And there is a real find here, in Michael Rosenbaum's portrayal of the young Lex Luthor, Superman's perpetual arch foe. Here he's portrayed as a fairly decent young man with an evil character inside struggling to escape. It's a convincing, rounded portrayal, and is quite the best thing in the entire series.
Smallville is a reasonably worthy entrant to the Superman franchise. It's not up to the standard of either George Reeves' The Adventures of Superman or the early episodes of Lois & Clark, but it does serve to keep interest alive in the Man of Steel until it becomes time to re-invent the character for the next generation.
This widescreen anamorphic presentation is in astonishingly good quality for a TV presentation. Colours are rich but not over-saturated, and definition is crisp. Outdoor scenes, though filmed in cold Vancouver, really do suggest the heat and golden textures of Kansas. Indoor scenes present very strong contrasts and detail even in the most dimly lit situations.
Considering that the series was shot on video, not film, the quality is everything we could hope for. The upcoming second series promises much more; it was shot on high-definition video.