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Smallville: Season Two

There are a lot of superheroes. But the king of all superheroes — the superhero "It Boy" for all time — is Superman. Created in 1933 by a pair of Cleveland teenagers, Superman began his career battling the forces of oppression as Hitler rose to power. Sent to Earth by his dying parents as his home planet of Krypton was destroyed, he was raised as an American by a pair of childless Kansas farmers. Superman was invulnerable to everything but Kryptonian ore and obsessively dedicated to saving the good from the wicked — throughout World War II he crushed Nazi tanks and sunk Japanese submarines. More than just the star of a crackerjack line of adventure tales, Superman represented hope to European immigrants who felt, in many ways, as alien as Clark Kent but lacked any power of their own to help their families and friends back home. In the decades since, Superman's fights have moved from the political to the intergalactic and back again as his story's lived on through daily comic strips, a radio show, live-action serials, a wildly successful 1950s TV series (and a semi-successful 1990s reworking), plus live-action motion pictures and animated cartoons — ultimately becoming a worldwide icon as recognizable as a bottle of Coca-Cola. Our fascination with the Superman mythos is seemingly endless, as evidenced by the continuing sales of comics, a new big-budget movie franchise, and the runaway success of WB's TV series Smallville, a reinvention of the Superman tale that examines the young Clark Kent coming to terms with his powers while struggling through teen angst in his small Kansas town. In Smallville, Clark Kent (Tom Welling) is a strapping young farmboy struggling with the pressure of keeping his mysterious strength and speed a secret while even bigger, better powers — none-to-subtly coming to him at the peak of adolescence — start to emerge. Clark gets plenty of opportunities to try out his new abilities — it seems that his plummet to Earth as a baby salted the land with shards of Kryptonite, and exposure to the glowing green stuff causes any number of bizarre reactions in the local citizens, like pyrokinesis, telepathy, superhuman strength, and grotesque physical mutation — usually accompanied by some form of psychosis. Almost always put in peril by these manifestations is the girl Clark loves, Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk), although everyone else in Clark's small world sees their share of life-threatening jeopardy too. His parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent (John Schneider and Annette O'Toole) are tirelessly supportive, despite the constant threats to their lives, home, and cattle not only by Clark's awkward use of his powers but by the crazy, Kryptonite-induced violence that erupts around them on a weekly basis. One person who notices the unusual amount of strange activity in this seemingly quiet farming community is Clark's friend Chloe (Allison Mack), editor of the high school newspaper and curator of the "Wall of Weird," an ever-growing collection of clippings on local strangeness. Another is Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum), the wayward son of a billionaire industrialist who's been banished to his father's enormous mansion on the outskirts of Smallville. When Clark saves Lex's life by saving his sportscar from plunging off a bridge, Lex isn't quite sure what happened — but his determination to understand that incident and discover his new friend's secrets begins the chain of events that we know will, eventually, lead to their one day becoming arch-enemies.

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Given how well-versed even the least comic-savvy American is in the lore of Superman, it's common for questions to arise about what it must be like to grow up able to fly, see through walls, and run faster than a locomotive. Back in 1971, science fiction author Larry Niven wrote a definitive, tongue-in-cheek essay entitled "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex," in which he discussed the physiological difficulties that the unhumanly strong Kal-El would have mating with a human female. However, Smallville doesn't delve into Niven's humorous details, focusing more on Clark's psychological journey into adulthood and intertwining monster-of-the-week adventures with a larger arcs about fathers, sons, and destiny. Complementing Clark's quest to discover his true identity while still honoring his Earth-bound family is the equally compelling dynamic between Lex and his wealthy father, Lionel Luthor (John Glover). Having survived a supremely screwed-up adolescence of his own, Lex is determined to become a good man and to gain his emotionally distant father's respect. Powerful and ruthless, Lionel will do anything to get what he wants, and when he starts to sniff out that there's a nigh-invulnerable, immortal humanoid living in Smallville, he immediately figures what his army of scientists could do with such a find. Torn between his father's machinations and his genuine love for Clark, determined to be an ethical man as he tries to live up to the demands of his immoral father, Lex is both user and used, supremely vulnerable and yet hard as nails. Knowing as we do that Lex's destiny is to become Superman's nemesis, watching his character growth is, at times, heart-breaking. And this is where the true strength of Smallville lies — beginning as a sort of "Superman, 90210" focusing on Clark's crush on Lana and the origins of his heroic persona, the show quickly, but subtly, introduced deeper and more complicated ideas with each episode. Soon it wasn't just a story of a teenager with a zany secret saving his school friends from Kryptonite-enhanced freaks — it became the story of two young men coming to terms with their family legacies. Warner's DVD release of Smallville: The Complete Second Season offers 23 episodes, all in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1). The video transfer is very clean and bright, with rich, warm colors and great contrast. The Dolby 2.0 audio is impressive — complex with good separation, presenting music, sound effects, and dialogue to great effect. Extras include commentary by producers Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, and Greg Beeman, plus cast members Welling, Rosenbaum, and Kreuk on two episodes ("Red" and "Rosetta"), the featurette "Christopher Reeve: Man of Steel," detailing the actor's involvement with the show (10 min.), an excellent featurette on the creation of the special effects (11 min.), "The Chloe Chronicles," a lengthy video diary/investigative journal showing the character's view of Smallville's weirdness (15 min.), a handful of mostly unexceptional deleted scenes (although one sweaty, mostly nekkid 49-second sequence with Lex and his gal-pal making love on a wine cellar floor is pretty hot), and a gag reel with the usual bloopers and outtakes — a couple of them, like Welling breaking a prop "pipe" then continuing to use it to beat on his opponent, and Rosenbaum entering his private jet like Austin Powers, are genuinely funny. Six-disc folding digipak with slipcase.
—Dawn Taylor

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