Well into the run of TV's Smallville, rumor had it that a surprisingly large percentage of its audience had absolutely no idea that the character played by Tom Welling, a boy named Clark Kent who was actually an alien named Kal-El from the planet Krypton, was supposed to be the young Superman.
One would think that these viewers had never seen a comic book before. Or it could be that they had and were confused by the many ways in which this incarnation of the Man of Steel differed from his four-color incarnation.
Below, commemorating the finale of the long-running series, just a few of the differences between DC Superman and WB/CW Clark Kent.
What meteor shower?
In the comics, Kryptonite meteors fell to Earth from time to time but had little to no measurable effect on human beings. On the TV show, the "meteor rock" littering Smallville mutated almost everybody it came in contact with, some acquiring superpowers and others—the unlucky Lex Luthor—acquiring the Charles Xavier haircut from childhood on. The series spent so much time being about the "meteor freak of the week" that it's a wonder the town of Smallville was never walled off by the feds.
The metamorphosis of Lex Luthor
The comics have featured several incarnations of Lex Luthor, among them a couple who did know Clark Kent in childhood—but he was rarely portrayed as a fundamentally decent kid who was only gradually seduced by evil. The classic Luthor was driven insane with hatred for Superman by the very lab fire that robbed him of his mane of luxurious red hair.
The more recent comics incarnation of Luthor was a sociopathic, almost degenerate businessman who bitterly resented being replaced as the most prominent citizen of Metropolis and set about destroying the alien who had delivered such a kick to his fragile ego. His schemes to destroy his archenemy actually included getting elected president and forcing Superman to kowtow to him for months on end as commander-In-chief—a plan so nefarious that it took Batman, as well as Superman, to foil him.
There was never any scheming Lionel Luthor in the comics. Nor was there, until very recently, any Chloe Sullivan. Both are inventions of the TV show. This doesn't render them illegitimate elements of the mythos; after all, mainstay Jimmy Olsen didn't originally come from the comics either, but was introduced in the 1940s radio serial.
And then there are the villains ...
Many of the TV show's villains are much different—and considerably more formidable—in the comics. For instance, the TV show's Darkseid is just a smoky, shadowy demon who possesses people. The comic book's Darkseid is an immortal intergalactic demigod who has transformed his homeworld Apokolips into a hellish planet-sized engine of war.
The fight with the TV show's Doomsday was over in about two minutes of screen time. The first fight with the comics Doomsday stretched across a continent, took up months of continuity and ended with Metropolis in ruins and Superman literally dead (though he eventually got better).
Don't even get us started on the TV Mxyzptlk and his counterpart on the page. We don't want to cry.
The comic-book Jor-El is content with being dead. The TV Jor-El is dead, but also a disembodied computer presence that rants at length about Kal-El's destiny while telling Clark, again and again, that he's not ready but will be, any year now. He is not just a nagging parent, but a nagging parent who has left a simulation of himself behind to keep nagging long after he's in the ground.
Seriously, Bruce Wayne never knew how lucky he was.
The Clark Kent of the comic books started work at the Daily Planet with his glasses-wearing, mild-mannered disguise already in place. Granted, the definition of "mild-mannered" has changed tremendously throughout the years, ranging from outright cowardice and total social cluelessness of some versions, to the self-effacing competence of others ... but he was always such a clearly different person than Superman that one could almost believe trained reporters being fooled by a pair of glasses and a blue suit.
The Clark Kent of the TV show didn't decide to don the glasses and the mild manners until late in the final season ... at which point, on-screen, some people who had known him for years suddenly forgot the personality he had displayed until then and accepted his sudden stammering, clumsy behavior as the kind of man he had always been. Yes, the show figured out a way to handle the secret identity that makes even LESS sense than people being fooled by the glasses!
Finally, the Superman of the comics was one of the first heroes of his generation, not one of the last. It is established in DC comics continuity, as on the show, that there was entire raft of World War II-era heroes who gradually became inactive, until the age of superpowered crime fighters began again in recent times. But in the comics, Superman was one of the first in the new age of heroes to declare himself, and almost everybody who followed him had reason to look up to him as a role model and a leader.
On the TV show, it takes years and years for Clark to make up his mind ... and by the time the series will end, presumably with his decision to stop being the unseen "Red-Blue Blur" and start protecting Earth as Superman, he has been beaten into the vigilante biz by Green Arrow, Aquaman, Cyborg, Black Canary, Zatanna, Booster Gold and even Supergirl. Far from being a leader and the greatest hero of his time, this Kal-El is a Kryptonian-come-lately.