I’ve been sitting on this post for a while now, but with today’s news that Superman will actually appear next season on Supergirl, I figured now would be as good a time as any to explain why I think veteran TV Superman Tom Welling should don the red cape once again (for the first time?) and officially welcome Kara to The CW, the network Smallville launched a decade ago.
“But Smallville and Supergirl are two separate, incompatible continuities!” I know. I know. But hear me out: Supergirl is the perfect opportunity to get Welling back on The CW in the one role he deserves (but may or may not need right now): Superman.
A few things to disclose before we go any further. Number one, I am an unabashed Smallville head, a fact I bring up a lot #onhere. So I am a little biased on this. Secondly, I completely understand that Smallville has its share of detractors. As a veteran of various message boards during the show’s initial run, I fully understand how a lot of Superman fandom feels about Gough/Millar’s (and later Souders/Peterson’s) take on the origins of Clark Kent. Therefore, the quality of the previous show is not what this post is about. Instead, I want to dive into why Welling reprising his most iconic role will not be as “confusing” as some fans may think.
The idea of Tom Welling returning to the world of Superman via Supergirl has been percolating on the internet for some time now. Earlier this year, Welling made his return to the public eye while promoting his film The Choice. The once press shy actor made the rounds on the entertainment news gauntlet and fielded a ton of questions about the possibility of returning to his superhero roots. In a bit cut from this wide-ranging interview with Buzzfeed, Welling neither confirmed nor denied his interest in guesting on Supergirl.
No one’s asked, huh? What are the odds Berlanti, Kreisberg, and Adler will put him on the spot? (Poppin’ a squat on conventional wisdom, like it or not?). And what would he say if actually asked? That’s the $64,000 question, I suppose. So let’s unpack it.
In the past, the Berlanti-verse has not shied away from making referential nods to the television history of its universe of heroes. Kara’s adoptive parents are a former Superman (Dean Cain) and a former Supergirl (Helen Slater), after all. More than that, though, the showrunners have had no qualms about “mixing” their current continuities with those of legacy DC shows. Just look at The Flash.
In addition to casting original TV Flash John Wesley Shipp as Barry’s dad Henry, which is a nod in the vein of Dean Cain as Jerimiah Danvers on Supergirl, The Flash also brought back both Amanda Pays and Mark Hamill from the original 1990 cast. But get this, they aren’t playing new characters, but reprising their original roles of Tina McGee and the Trickster, respectively!
These two casting examples lay the groundwork for how the Berlanti-verse can successfully blend continuities by paying homage to previous shows without inheriting all of the messy continuity. (I doubt anyone watching the current Flash is that bent out of shape over the fact that characters from a different version are being played by the same actors). Hell, they even found a clever way to make Shipp “The Flash” again.
Similarly, having Tom Welling as Clark on season two of Supergirl shouldn’t send fanboys in a tizzy about continuity either. In fact, Welling’s familiarity with the role — and the public’s familiarity with him in it — can actually be a boon for Supergirl narratively. Remember, in Supergirl continuity, Superman is not only a pre-existing character, he’s been established for more than a decade. The world of National City and beyond already know about Superman and his exploits. Having a familiar face play the role only heightens that sensibility for the home-viewing audience. And not for nothing, Welling is pretty much the perfect age to play this version of Superman.
Rather than having to introduce a completely new actor in such an iconic role — and then trying to convince the audience to buy the reality via a ton of expository dialogue that this is a Superman everyone knows and loves (and we won’t even go into how he’d be the fourth Superman in less than a decade) — having Welling in the role is automatic shorthand for all of that. Seeing actors we recognize in the roles of these already established characters we love is part of the secret sauce that makes the Marvel Cinematic Universe work (and why WB should’ve found a way to merge its Man of Steel universe with its Dark Knight one to launch the DCEU, but that’s literally another story). Sure a Welling Supes cherry-picks from a pre-existing show, but that would be to Supergirl’s benefit.
If you were a fan of Smallville, you have access to 200-plus episodes of backstory. If you’re not familiar with Smallville, you still recognize Welling as Clark Kent and bring that prior knowledge with you. Whether or not the specific story details of Smallville the series is canon is irrelevant. The major beats are all the same: Kal-El’s ship lands in Smallville, Kansas where he is raised by Jonathan and Martha (WHY DID I SAY THAT NAME?!!), and grows up to be the world’s greatest superhero. None of that is contradicted if Welling shows up in National City for an ep or two.
Also, from a narrative standpoint, they have already established that Supergirl exists in a universe apart from the Arrowverse, and bringing Kara into the CW fold will likely require some sort of universe melding pseudo-science. Who’s to say whatever
crisis incident that brings their universes together won’t also subsume that other super CW universe? That’s kind of what the Crisis in the comics did anyway: choose the best bits from various continuities in order to streamline its own universe. Point is, there are lots of ways to reconcile these seemingly disparate canons, not that it really matters. Especially since the most continuity between the shows exists behind the cameras.
During many of our show recaps, we love to point out all of the similarities between Flash, Supergirl, and Smallville. Part of that is because the current crop of CW’s DC shows share a lot of the same creatives behind the scenes (director Glen Winter, for example, comes to mind). Supergirl moving production to Vancouver means a lot of the Smallville crew will be working on its cousin’s show, anyway. Plus, nods to Smallville also permeate the universe’s other shows. To wit, I feel like Olicity owes a lot to the Chlollie that came before and using “Curtis Knox” as a Vandal Savage alias has probably been the biggest Smallville Easter Egg in all of the Berlanti-verse. And honestly, I’ve been wanting Welling in the universe just so he can share a scene with Brandon Routh as the Atom.
I’m also cognizant that the folks in Berlanti-World might want to put their own stamp on the Superman character — and honestly, there’s a high probability that Welling wouldn’t want the role anyway. (Though, the fact that he’d only have to do it for a couple episodes — instead of ten seasons — could be a point in his favor).
If either is true, and we won’t be getting Welling on Supergirl, it’ll be disappointing… to this fan at least. After all, Smallville promised us that we’d see a full blown Welling Superman by 2018, after all.
(It also goes without saying that I’m gonna need Erica Durance’s Lois and Michael Rosenbaum’s Lex to join Welling in the Berlanti-verse).