‘Smallville’s Phantom Zone Turned Clark Kent Into Superman


The big picture

  • Smallville
    pushed the boundaries of what a superhero series could do on television, starting out as a genre show
    Buffy the Vampire Slayer
    but it eventually became its identity as a Superman series.
  • Clark Kent's time in the Phantom Zone taught him personal responsibility and how to be proactive in his superhero journey.
  • Clark's time in the Phantom Zone was formative and helped him understand the importance of being a superhero and saving the world.

Smallville really pushed the boundaries of what a superhero series could do on television. in many ways, Smallville It wasn't a superhero show when it started and it became more like other genre shows like today Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But over time, Smallville he felt more comfortable with his source material and the identity he could draw from the original Superman mythos. About halfway through the series, this manifested itself in the trip to the ghost zone of another world, where our hero was forced to face the dark threats that his father had locked away. But, as it turns out, it is precisely because of his passage to the Zone that SmallvilleClark Kent (Tom Welling) finds himself embarking on the journey that would shape him into the Man of Steel.


A young Clark Kent struggles to find his place in the world as he learns to harness his alien powers for good and faces the typical problems of teenage life in Smallville, Kansas.

Publication date
October 16, 2001


The CW

“Smallville” Season 6 threw Clark Kent into the ghost zone

In the season 5 “Vessel” finale, Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum), who has already chosen his dark path in life, becomes possessed by the ghostly spirit of one of Krypton's most dangerous criminals: General Zod. When facing Zod, Clark is quickly overpowered and sent to the Phantom Zone, which is where we find him in the Season 6 premiere “Zod.” While in the Zone, Clark discovers that his father, Jor-El (voiced by Terence Stamp), created the alternate dimension as a means to retain the vilest criminals imaginable, one of them being the aforementioned General. Although this seemed cruel to Clark at first, he soon understood why the Kryptonian Council felt this was their only option, and even came to agree with the concept over time.

But while there, Clark came to understand his biological father better. The man who thought, based solely on his interactions with the AI ​​Jor-El, was cold, heartless and wanted him to rule the Earth, he was actually kind and compassionate and created the Phantom Zone as a place where even and all the most dangerous criminals in the galaxy. could take on a life of its own (something Clark echoes Smallville Season 10 “Dominion”). Seeing this different side of his father, brought to light in large part by his former assistant Raya (Pascale Hutton) who had been stuck in the Zone since the destruction of Krypton, Clark acknowledges while Jor-El could not save Krypton, he could use his abilities to protect Earth.

“Grief is part of anyone's journey, Kal-El,” Raya explains in the episode “Fallout.” “You can't escape it. You have to accept your fate.” At this point in the series, Clark isn't sure exactly what his destiny entails and has, for the most part, shown little interest in it. Jor-El tells him that he must rule the people of Earth in Season 2, while the people of Kawatche believe that Clark is Naman, a savior from above destined to usher them into a new era. At first, it's anyone's guess what exactly Clark is supposed to do with his life (the audience knows he's going to become Superman) and, like his adoptive parents Jonathan (John Schneider) and Martha Kent (Annette O'Toole) always makes it clear, it always comes down to your own choice. After his time in the Ghost Zone, Clark starts making different ones.

The Phantom Zone prisoners taught Clark how to be proactive

Dave Bautista grabbing Tom Welling by the neck in Smallville
Image via The CW

Escaping the Phantom Zone, Clark defeats General Zod, expels his ghost from Lex's body, and returns him to his interdimensional prison, but not before allowing several prisoners (called “Zoners”) to escape with him. Of course, one of them was Raya, who wasn't exactly a prisoner herself, but others included Gloria who controlled the plant (Amber McDonald), the mass murderer Baern (Bow Wow), the video-on-demand killer Titan (Kane), even Dave Bautistait's Aldar, nearly ripping Clark's spine out from under him. Most notably, the ghost eventually known as Bizarro (Tom Welling) also escapes and causes Clark a lot of pain in Season 7. But the most important lesson that Clark learned from the escaped Zoners it was that of personal responsibility.

You might think that sounds too much Sam Raimi's spider man spiderman (which is kind of “on the mark”, considering that Smallville creators Al Gough i Thousands of thousands he wrote Spider-Man 2), but it's true. Clark's own actions let the Zoners out in the first place, and it's because of the way he was raised that he takes that responsibility seriously. Unlike previous seasons where villains like Brainiac (James Marsters), the Disciples of Zod, or any weather phenomenon of the week Smallville is causing trouble this week that intersects with Clark's life and thus prompts a response, our small-town hero is forced to actively seek out these Zoners. It is this proactive attitude that Clark develops as a result of his time in the Zone that manifests itself throughout the show's sixth season and into the later half of the series.

For example, when his old friends and allies come to town to put an end to Lex's 33.1 program at LuthorCorp, even though Clark first thinks he can handle it all alone, he soon recognizes the strength of numbers and really wants to be part of Oliver Queen's (Justin Hartley) League of Super Heroes. “I want to be a part of these guys, I really do,” Clark tells the proto-Justice League in the season 6 episode aptly titled “Justice.” “[But] this problem I told you about, the one I caused, I have to take care of that first.” And he does. Clark spends the rest of Season 6 chasing Zoners, who bleeds into Season 7, before take to the streets of Metropolis as the illusive “Red-Blue Blur”, protecting people from the shadows. From there, he spends the last three seasons Smallville preparing to become Superman.

Clark finally outgrows the ghost zone in 'Smallville'

Clark Kent (Tom Welling) holds his Kryptonian fortress crystal that sends him into the Phantom Zone in
Image via The CW

The most complicated thing about the Ghost Zone is that it is a lawless place full of violence and uncertainty. On three different occasions, Clark finds himself in the Zone, and each time he learns to better deal with the prison and its inhabitants. He goes from barely surviving the Zone in Season 6 to helping Lois Lane (Erica Durance) and his cousin Kara (Laura Vandervoort) escape it in Season 8's “Bloodlines.” By the time Season 10 rolls around, Clark completely changes his tune and jumps headfirst into the Phantom Zone (with Oliver tagging along) to deal with a problem there and better manage the prison world.


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in many ways, Clark's latest adventure in the Ghost Zone perfectly reflects his initial stage in the prison world. In Season 5, General Zod sends Clark to the Phantom Zone because he refuses to join and rule Earth, turning it into a New Krypton. As a result, Clark's time in the Zone is a punishment rather than a mission, and is entirely focused on his own survival there without his powers. But in Season 10's “Dominion,” Clark willingly enters the interdimensional prison in order to bring justice and secure order, bringing him face-to-face with General Zod once again so he can take down the Kryptonian warlord. of his power This reveals that even without his abilities to help him, Clark is still willing to sacrifice himself to keep the world safe.

What was first a terrifying effort that Clark thought he might not escape in the middle of the show becomes a final appeal to his enemy's better angels at the end of the series, all before closing the door and closing this chapter of his life. It's only by leaving the Phantom Zone behind once and for all (though possibly not forever) that Clark can take his next step toward both Lois and his destiny as the Man of Tomorrow.

“Smallville's Clark Kent might not have become Superman without the Phantom Zone

There is no doubt that the Clark Kent we see Smallville he would always become Superman. In fact, as early as the show's third season, we see a glimpse of his signature cape and shield along with the knowledge that Clark will apparently “live forever” (see “From Now On”). No, Clark isn't exactly immortal (at least, we don't think he is), though his legacy as Superman far exceeds his mortal life on Earth. The character has already been in the real world for 85 years, and if a fictional character like Superman could last that long without slowing down, there's no telling how long the real deal might remain in the world's collective consciousness. Or, at least in the world of Smallville.

In the Season 10 two-parter “Finale,” Jor-El reveals to Clark that his time in Smallville, Kansas, was part of the trials he went through to grow up and become Superman. This also includes Clark's initial time in the Phantom Zone and the resulting years of proactive superheroing that followed. Of course, most of those ten years weren't easy, and everything from that fateful moment between Clark and Lex on the bridge to our hero's battle with Lionel Luthor's possessed Darkseid (John Glover) just before everything brought the young hero to that powerful moment in the Fortress of Solitude where Jor-El and the spirit of Jonathan Kent handed him the uniform that Martha made for him.

But Clark's time in the Phantom Zone was a formative period. After losing his earthly father, Clark was still learning to be the man he knew he was meant to be, and being sent to the Zone helped him figure that out. Yes, Clark was always a responsible guy, and he often took on other people's problems as his own, but when it came to being a superhero, when it came to saving the whole world, well, he didn't get into that kind of thing until after he broke out of the alien prison her father. built. Without this perspective, showing him what could happen to Earth if the likes of General Zod, Brainiac, Bizarro and Doomsday had their way, it would have taken a long time for Clark to put on the red cape and take flight . Luckily, SmallvilleClark Kent took on the responsibility of a superhero, saving the world many times.

Smallville is available to stream on Hulu in the US

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