In an article in today's Los Angeles Times, staff writer Geoff Boucher asks whether Superman is 'Undressed for Success?' in Smallville, the new WB television series that chronicles the Man of Steel's teenage years.  The familiar blue tights, red cape and 'S' symbol are nowhere to be found on the set of the WB's Smallville.  Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, the 31-year-old writers who created Smallville (and Shanghai Noon), have laid down a new set of laws.  Clark Kent won't be called 'Superman,' he won't fly, and he definitely won't be caught dead in a pair of blue tights.  In a move to make the Superman legend work for today's young television viewers, Smallville will incorporate the more 'reality-based' mythos of the X-Files with its UFOs ('Smallville, the Meteor Capital of the World'), rather than the standard superhero formula of tights-clad superheroes battling it out with similarly attired supervillains.  If Smallville is a success, will it spell the end of heroes in tights on the screen?

While it's true that a number of superhero projects heading for the silver screen including The Incredible Hulk, Iron Fist, and Ghost Rider don't involve costumed heroes, it is too early to write the obituary for spandex.  The most important new superhero film for 2002, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man, does sport a dynamic new version of his classic costume, while the X-Men managed to do quite well at the box office with costumes which, while not exactly the same as they wear in the comics, would never be mistaken for anything but stretchy superhero togs.  It would be ironic if, at the very moment that computer-enhanced special effects can finally render superhero deeds in a realistic fashion, the distinguishing costumes of these four-color heroes would be drained of their primary hues and muscle-delineating tightness.

It's way too early to make any such predictions, but if Smallville is successful, it could definitely have an impact on the way superheroes are portrayed on both the big and the small screen.  But Smallville, with its mix of teen angst, pop music and alien super powers, first has to find an audience.  The series, which debuts on October 16, is aimed clearly at the teen demographic that the WB has been pandering to for the past few years.  Dubbed 'Krypton Creek' by industry wags that recognize the show's similarities to Dawson's Creek, Smallville has an attractive cast and one of the enduring legends of the 20th Century.  The question is how well it will succeed without the phone booth, the cape, the tights, and the other trappings of the formula devised by Siegel and Schuster over 60 years ago.

The good news for retailers is that there will be some Smallville merchandise ready for sale during the show's first season. DC Direct will have a series of Smallville PVCs  (see 'DC Direct Will Do Smallville PVCS'), so there will be some 3-D merchandise in addition to whatever printed matter that the show manages to spawn.