When James Wan’s Aquaman was released into cinemas in 2018, it appeared to mark a moment when audiences finally seemed to take Arthur Curry and his alter ego seriously. For years the character had been the butt of jokes about his superpowers and potential deviant interest in fish, a joke which had gained even more exposure thanks to the Adult Swim series Robot Chicken.
Having said all that, there had been a rehabilitation in the direction of making the character more tougher and less comical in the years leading up to his first appearances in the the DC Cinematic Universe and Jason Mamoa’s very entertaining borderline rock star iteration of the character. The DC Animated Universe overseen by Bruce Time and the likes of Dwayne McDuffie and Paul Dini had laid the foundations for a visual appearance that Zack Snyder paid tribute to with his casting of Mamoa (long hair, gruff attitude and tough guy mythological background, not to mention hook for a hand), and in 2005 Smallville decided to make the character the latest iconic and famous Justice League member to appear alongside Clark Kent.
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The casting of Alan Ritchson says a lot about the intent here. The future Jack Reacher (and what a wonderful Reacher he is) has a muscular physique that is on full display from the very first time we see him saving Lois and there is a hint of the laid back and fun persona that future movie appearances would take on. Like last season’s ‘Run‘, there is a real joy in seeing Clark interact with an equally famous character from the comic books, and with Lex on a more antagonistic footing this season and crossing metaphorical swords with the newly arrived Arthur, you can sense the glee that the series has in playing with certain storytelling threads from the comics that inspired the series in the first place.
As always, the journey to eventual friendship between Arthur (who gets christened as A.C here by everyone – I guess it sounded ‘cooler’) is fraught with an inevitable distrust and antagonism that is soon put aside in favour of heroics and a future friendship going forward. A lovely joke about a future JLA is the icing on the cake, and a hint of Lois and Clark’s future romance are lovely reminders of the the journey and destinies that lie in wait for characters we have grown to love over the previous four seasons of the series.
The darker side of the coin is Lex becoming more of a threat to our characters and the emergence of Milton Fine into the narrative. After five seasons, Smallville has got to move forwards. High school is over, our characters are growing up and in being a series that is effectively set over the course of real-time (five years have passed for our characters too), we’re seeing the paths laid down for the paradigm of a world that has been explored in the pages of comics and animation.
There was even the possibility of Smallville laying foundations here for what might have become a shared universe. A good couple of years before the MCU made it a thing seemingly for all of pop culture, television was frequently where shared universes and crossovers thrived, and at one point it looked as if Curry might have gotten his own series on The CW, albeit with a different face that would end up joining this series anyways as another iconic DC hero. It says a lot about how expansive the world of Smallville has gotten that we’ve come a long way from the high school antics of season one and are now in the midst of something even grander and bigger.