”No tights, no flights” is the much-repeated quote from the creators of Smallville, a retelling of the youthful Superman story that’s been given the full-court WB press: a chiseled star (super-cheekboned Tom Welling) who feels alienated in two senses (he’s from another planet, like the hero of ”Roswell,” and he feels like ”a total loser” in his hick-town high school) yet who attracts a fabulous-looking girl (sparkly Kristin Kreuk as Lana Lang). Although he demonstrates superstrength and superspeed, Welling’s Clark Kent won’t don the famous cape and body-sock to do the it’s-a-bird-it’s-a-plane thing, either because it’s a worn-out gesture after all those Superman movies and TV shows, or because it’d superinflate the show’s budget.
The creator-producers behind ”Smallville,” Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (”Shanghai Noon”), had to, if anything, considerably scale back their hero’s complex mythology. Over the years, DC Comics has told and retold the Superboy tale in a number of different ”origin stories,” and comic-book aficionados will have their quibbles about this new version. For the general viewer, though, ”Smallville” is smart, tart, and tidy: Jonathan and Martha Kent (”The Dukes of Hazzard”’s John Schneider and ”Superman III”’s Annette O’Toole) find a toddler in the rubble of a meteor shower; he grows into a strapping teen who flirts with cheerleader Lana while nursing guilt over the fact that the crash debris caused by his flight from planet Krypton killed her parents.
”Smallville” plays up adolescent loneliness and cruelty. In the premiere, that resulted in an eerie sight: Each year, we’re told, the high school football team, the Crows, chooses an unlucky freshman ”scarecrow” – a stripped figure with a Smallville ”S” painted on his chest, tied to a wooden cross. The imagery was multi-allusive: the ”S” like the one on Superman’s suit; the pose from the Crucifixion. But the scene – used in print ads to promote the show – also evoked the memory of Matthew Shepard, trussed up and left to die in Wyoming because he was gay. The episode even included a line questioning Clark’s sexuality; his straightness was quickly reaffirmed. (A previous ”scarecrow,” played by Adrian McMorran, became the pilot’s vengeful villain.)
That troubling echo aside, ”Smallville” seems capable of becoming an intriguing mix of teen angst and bright adventure.