21st century Superman: Smallville and New Media mythmaking

Cary M. Jones

I am a graduate student at Northwestern University in the Media, Technology, and Society department. I received my MA from Emory University in Film Studies after writing a thesis on Superman, and my comic book fandom knows no bounds. I am currently writing about Batman Begins and technology, as well as gender in Sin City and Constantine. Other research interests include online communities and identity formation, teen girl culture and The WB, the California imaginary on TV, and fictional worlds designed for children, such as Pokemon, Harry Potter, and The Chronicles of Narnia.

As I've learned repeatedly while trying to research and record corporate and fan activities on the Internet (not just for Smallville, but for other cultural productions as well), sites are forever going up and down, switching ownership, and simply disappearing off the face of the earth. Though it might often seem that once something is placed on the public domain of the web, it stays there, the web is a constantly evolving, ephemeral, almost organic object of study. For this reason, the Web Archive is an immensely valuable tool for preserving access to texts.

WB Official Site
(http://thewb.warnerbros.com/) :
This is your basic network-run home page for a television show. The site acts as a hub for the variety of more inventive pages below, while also providing run-of-the-mill marketing ploys such as e-cards, media downloads, and character/actor bios.

Smallville.net :
(http://www.smallville.net) :
The use of OnMouseOver gives the site a treasure-hunt feel. As with http://www.jkrowling.com/ , the audience here is important—just as little kids who read Harry Potter books would find it fun and interesting to have to go hunting for information on a web page, teenagers who are interested enough in Smallville to have found this page in the first place would probably get a kick out of geographically navigating a representation of the town of Smallville and finding the valuable links. The page takes a while to load, the sidebar ads (which re-advertise links that can also be found in the map itself) are a bit annoying, and the map is pretty small, but I think this is a site that succeeds in its mission to suture users/viewers into the overall narrative of the show.

The Ledger
Smallville’s online newspaper was updated weekly between December 2001 and May 2004 according to what happened during each week’s episode. The white background makes the large number of frames and text seem less excessive—a layout that mimics an actual newspaper. Usually the top story includes a graphic that switches between two or three photos (screen captures) of the event. Links to the full text of news stories are well-marked and logical according to the newspaper-like structure of the site. There’s also an archive section, which is useful for fans of the show who need to catch up on the major events of a missed episode.
The Torch
The Torch is Smallville’s high school newspaper, and is similar to the Ledger but with a supposedly different perspective that recaps the more Dawson ’s Creek -ish storylines. The color scheme, naturally, reflects the color scheme of the high school, and the header is reasonably understated. The really interesting part of the site, however, is another hidden link—when a user clicks on the graphic of the crow’s eye, a password-protected area pops up, and when you enter “csullivan” and “wallofweird” as the user name and password, a new window pops up which loads a Mac-like desktop of one of the show’s main characters. The desktop includes “folders” which include document files that open up in MS Word, along with jpgs and a database of the show’s past villains.

) :
LuthorCorp, which “sponsors” several of the links below and can be reached by clicking on sidebars of several other WB pages, is a closer approximation of a real technology-oriented company website than LexCorp. Again, with the high-falutin, Flash-y intro, but the main site is pretty clean and navigable. For those familiar with the show, the frames (and the sound effect of the frames) seems in keeping with the overall image of LuthorCorp—futuristic, yet with a seamy underbelly.

Smallville High Yearbook
The book-page structure of this site is reasonably easy to navigate, and the layout of the page is designed to appeal to those familiar with the high school yearbook, or even those viewers harboring nostalgia for the idealized days of high school. The interactive poll “Most Likely...” gives immediate statistical returns, which is satisfying, although again, the slick design of many of these pages are not quite as appealing with slower Internet connections.

All told, one of the biggest irritations about the WB’s network of Smallville sites is the number of windows which open up while following links. Finding information on any of these sites isn’t particularly easy, but then again the complicated game-like process of discovering passwords and secret websites allows the WB to ensure that users receive quite a few advertising hits over the course of navigation.