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Note: This is not a comparison piece between Lana Lang and Lois Lane, or any of the other potential love interests in 'Smallville'. I don't believe in bringing down one character to bring up another. Additionally, watch out for spoilers.
I was never particularly wild about the Superman franchise, despite its impact on modern morality, and the hero's journey template in contemporary storytelling. Growing up, I was definitely more of a Batman girl as far as the DC universe was concerned, because I was always impressed by how often creators push boundaries with presenting complex villains, and addressing vigilantism issues.
While shows like Justice League and Superman: The Animated Series did help to sway my opinion a bit, it took Smallville to fully convince me that Clark Kent (Tom Welling) can be humanized. Being the first of its kind on The CW, it taught me that superhero stories can go beyond the usual good versus evil format, and open up themes that we as viewers would undoubtedly be familiar with: family dynamics, trauma, struggling with "perfection," and finding oneself, abuse, defining responsibility, what it means to be a friend or romantic partner—the list naturally goes on.
For a male-led series, I'm also happy to note that Smallville consists of many well-written female characters, such as Martha Kent (Annette O'Toole) and Tess Mercer (Cassidy Freeman). The one I'd like to focus on today, however, is Lana Lang, who captivated me the moment I saw her as a middle-schooler all those years ago.
Due to brilliant conceptualisation and Kristin Kreuk's unforgettable performance, Lana went from being just a brief fling in the old comics to cementing her place as arguably one of the three most important characters on the show along with Clark and Lex Luthor (the latter being my other favourite—Michael Rosenbaum is nothing short of awesome).
To this day, Lana remains a major topic in Smallville-related conversations online. Even if she's disliked, it's interesting for me to read all these different interpretations of her character, and be able to understand where the criticisms are coming from. With that said, I'll be attempting to shed some light on her flaws—and expressing my love for her all the while.
From the moment she lost her parents at three years old, Lana's younger years were struck by incessant psychological damage and heartbreak. Beautiful and kind she may be, but these attributes didn't guard her from horrifying events that would later force her to take unprincipled measures against injustice for her own survival, and the things she believes in.
Here is a woman who, in her own words, tries to "find (her) place in the world," and help other people in need, for she knows what it's like to have to depend on somebody else for a time, whether it is through a blood drive, or by saving the day in a power suit at Clark's side. She had suffered from an inferiority complex, feeling as though she needed superpowers that paralleled Clark's to no longer be seen as a burden, and genuinely possess any worth.
Needless to say, this was never true: whether she provides emotional support or valuable strengths to the team, her lessons learned from her struggles, and the hope she has for the future are always an inspiration. Not to mention, she fosters children in the Congo come season 11 in the companion comic on her own without her powers—simply her instincts and fortitude.
Lana stands for honesty, safety, and compassion, but has had to face loss, betrayal, manipulation, kidnappings, threats, violence, and even instances of rape practically her entire life up until her season eight exit. At some point, naivety and submission were no longer options. She can be gentle and motherly, but she can also hit you with the cold truth, especially when it came to dealing with the Luthors.
Though that was certainly the case in her relationship with Clark as well. In spite of her experience, I have no problem believing that he was her one true love. She did her damndest to stay loyal—even when she found out he wasn't (those Bizarro/"Clark" episodes will always haunt me)—as well as open-minded, and over time tried to accommodate his secretive tendencies, and occasional isolation from her.
True, her fury was merciless at times, driving her to speak and act irrationally, but considering all she's been through, she was going to snap at some point, especially when she felt she should be supporting her beloved, and not bopping on the sidelines, as a mere cheerleader (literally and figuratively speaking).
Lana always knew there was something different—special, even—about Clark, but loved him no matter what from the very start. Once she learned of his true origins, she wasn't cross; rather, she felt guilty, but also sympathised in hindsight with his election to secrecy, because of how much it affects his normal life. The powers were a temporary high; she would soon realise their consequences when sacrifice became her greatest obstacle.
She wasn't just smitten with a potential saviour; she wanted so much to bond with someone who wished to live honestly as another human being. She fell victim to emotional infidelity during her first relationship, though after the breakup she nevertheless refrained from rushing immediately into Clark's arms, one of the early signs of her budding maturity.
Alas, it wasn't meant to be, and not only did she have to come to terms with it, he had to as well. She wanted him to accept her for what she was, and not what he saw her as.
Engaging with different people, and pursuing other goals helped shape her perspective, and every time she came back to Clark in this regard, she never ceased to bring compelling insight to the table, regardless of how bittersweet it was. By the time she was infected by kryptonite—his one weakness—and made the painful decision to leave him, it signified a mature, consistently growing character.
Yes, it's poetic too: Lana's kryptonite necklace she kept as a reminder of her parents' death during the meteor shower in the beginning, meant Clark couldn't get too comfortable in her presence. Still, in a way it was a reality check for him. His heart will forever have a place for her, but there's nothing wrong with moving on if he so chooses.
She essentially transformed Clark Kent into the man Lois Lane would later fall in love with.
Lana's reaction to their engagement alone proves how far she's come since her days managing the Talon. Back then, she would've been silently envious regardless of how selfish it might've made her feel. Upon hearing the news, she was nothing but supportive, and willingly teamed up with Lois against Metallo.
Unusual for love interests, Lana demonstrates that you can still care about someone for the rest of your life, even if you're not physically with them, but ultimately decide to carve your own path, and let them do the same for your own sake.
To go from romancing many men to forfeiting romance altogether in the end is a huge change for Lana, because she had displayed high levels of emotional attachment throughout most of the series. She was missing parental affection—her seemingly distant relationship with aunt and former legal guardian, Nell Potter surely didn't ease things—and found it in her romantic pursuits instead. No doubt the habit added to her trust issues. She can absolutely find someone else as she ages, but from what we can tell in canon, she realized she doesn't necessarily need a love life to be happy with herself.
I actually know someone who behaves similarly to Lana in earlier seasons; her parents have largely ignored her all her life in favour of her disabled brother, so while she doesn't blame them, she still can't help that she's constantly needed some form of intimacy to make up for that negligence, and allowed multiple partners to take advantage of her. It's unfortunate, but it's a very real occurrence as that's just one example. I wouldn't be surprised if Lana's backstory was inspired by cases like hers.
Coming back to the point, for me, Lana represents the crucial idea that we can't depend on this one guy to take responsibility for an entire country, let alone planet. We must allow others to do their part, and trust each other more if we're to see a brighter tomorrow. Of course, deadlines don't exist, and we should strive to inspire younger generations to keep the torch aflame.
I will review the entirety of Smallville at a later time, but for now I'll conclude like so: this adaptation of Lana was very much ahead of its time, especially when we think about people (in this instance, women) of colour in significant North American-based roles. With that context in mind, the road to earning others' trust and respect, whether to run a coffee shop or sustain relief efforts-turned baddie surveillance measures, most likely takes on a different meaning for a lot of people. I find Lana empowering, even as an Illyrian-Slavic woman with a simple appreciation for life and good writing, and I'm confident that anyone else can too.