By Paul Simpson

Titan Books

ISBN: 1-84023-795-3

Fans of Smallville, Warner Brothers’ clever series about Superman’s formative teenage years, should find Paul Simpson’s book Smallville Season 1 – The Official Companion (which has recently been published in the UK by Titan Books) a worthwhile investment.

The series has just started airing its fourth season in the US, so fans would be forgiven for expecting something that covered at least the first three seasons, but this season-by-season format has apparently been very successful for Titan - and no doubt lucrative - with their excellent series of Stargate SG-1 guides, so this relatively slim (160-page) book will have to do for the time being. Hopefully, fans won’t have so long to wait for the next volume: an advert at the back of the book promises it’s “coming soon”. Amazon says it's due in March 2005, so the omens aren't good. If Titan had any sense, they’d aim to have the third book out to coincide with the release of the third series on DVD, since there are obvious benefits in marketing them side-by-side.

The book’s brief Foreword, by series creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, should have been brief and pithy, but instead almost half of it is given over to a list of acknowledgments. Was this really the best place to do this? Not a good start.

The book quickly gets down to business with Genesis, a brief summary of how the series was conceived and developed. There is some interesting background information here. The premise for the show is quite simple, but it has some brilliant ideas at the core, which cleverly underpin the series, while staying relatively faithful to the overall Superman universe.

The next chunk of the book is an episode-by-episode guide to the season. Each of the twenty-one episodes gets four pages devoted to it. One of these is given over to a full-page photo, and another has a half-page photo, which doesn't leave a lot of space to cover the episode in any real depth. Sidebar notations, offering trivia and lists of the music tracks used in the episode, are useful additions, but other key pieces of basic information are missing: there's no information about production order, transmission date, for example. Thankfully, Simpson keeps his capsule synopsis of each episode short, leaving the bulk of the available space for notes on the episode, backed up by comments from cast and crew members.

Each episode's entry also features a section designed to look like a clipping from the (series’ fictional Smallville High School newspaper) Smallville Torch or the (fictional Smallville town newspaper) Smallville Ledger, which summarises the episode from the point of view of one of the Torch’s contributors, or a local Ledger reporter. Unless these are faithful transcriptions of articles seen on-screen (and they don’t appear to be – they’re apparently culled from two of the show’s fan websites), these are a complete waste of space.

The episode breakdown is followed by an extended look at the season finale, Tempest, which offers more detail. It’s a shame that only one episode was covered in this depth (and a bit of a shame Tempest was chosen over a more interesting episode, like Hourglass, with its memorable, apocalyptic dream sequence).

The book’s next section features profiles each of the main characters, including Lionel Luthor, who, I was surprised to discover, was a creation of the TV series (presumably he’s out of the picture by the time the adult Lex Luthor battles with the grown-up Clark Kent). There are a few scant details about the actors’ backgrounds: most of the text is about how they were cast in the role; about their characters’ motivations; or about their interpretation of how their character fits into the Smallville story. Sadly there’s nothing about Sarah Jane Redmond’s character, Nell Potter (Lana Lang’s aunt). Some of you may remember Redmond’s chilling performance as Lucy Butler in three episodes of Millennium. Some recognition here would have helped make up for a relatively thankless role in Smallville.

The next chapter, Meet The Crew, devotes eight pages to an examination of some of the key crew members, devoting about a page to each. These include composer Mark Snow (formerly of The X-Files and Millennium) and stunt coordinator Lauro Chartrand.

The Phenomenon, a two-page look at how the show was received would have been a good way to close the book, but instead another couple of pages are given over to What I Learned This School Year by Chloe Sullivan, the sort of inane twaddle you expect to find in cash-in books with pages to fill, and no budget for anything substantial. I suppose we can be very thankful that the rest of the book isn’t like this, otherwise we’d have had the Smallville equivalent of The Sunnydale Yearbook, instead of the Smallville equivalent of The Watcher’s Guide.

The book is packed with photographs, many of them posed, nondescript, group shots which someone who wasn’t very familiar with the series would have difficulty in matching to a particular episode. No doubt these will suffice for fans who think Tom Welling is “dreamy”, but the lack of variety makes the book quite boring visually (a shame, because otherwise the layout is quite appealing).

Reproduction of the black and white images is stymied by the quality of paper used. You get a lot of pictures for your ten quid (especially considering that photo’s are a very expensive element in the production of a book like this), but they’re all slightly grotty. Many of the pictures will be familiar to readers of magazines like SFX, Cinefantastique and Starlog. You’d hope that the book would have access to the sort of materials that aren’t generally accessible to unlicensed publications: costume designs, prop blueprints, production sketches, etc.

Fans of the lead actors are extremely well served by a generous sixteen-page section of colour photo’s, of unusually good quality. There are full-page portraits of the main cast members, as well as a reproduction of a painting by renowned comic book artist Alex Ross, which was created for TV Guide magazine, in December 2001. This was originally presented split across four collector’s covers. Here it’s unfortunately split across two pages, but at least you don’t have any problems with tonal variations caused by different printings.

Although far from the definitive work on the subject, Paul Simpson’s book will do as a handy reference to be browsed while watching the episodes on DVD. It’s generally quite superficial, and about as critical as you might expect any officially-sanctioned book might be. The coverage in Cinefantastique and SFX magazines has been more comprehensive. With a couple of extra pages per episodes, a better variety of illustrations, a few key details like production and transmission dates, and more pages like the Meet The Crew section, the next volume would be significantly more useful.












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