Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Supergirl, a celebration, not a subversion

It’s been over twenty-five years since 1986, but with this Supergirl trailer, superheroes have finally come full circle.

1986 was the year Watchmen and the Dark Knight Returns were released, two comics that continue to be the overwhelmingly dominant influence on the conception of superheroes to this day.

They gave us heroes who were flawed, and violent and nasty, who fought crime because it gave them an excuse to hurt people. Anyone who believed in anything greater than themselves was a simp or a dupe. (I like complicated characters, but being a jerk doesn’t make you a Byronic hero. Sometimes it just makes you an asshole.)

How refreshing, then, to see this trailer for Supergirl. I like my heroes to be heroes, and that’s what we get with Supergirl, someone optimistic and compassionate and refreshingly free of angst, who acts as a hero because that’s the way she can help the most people. We’ve reached the point where it’s a subversion of the prevailing paradigm to show a superhero acting heroically.


I’ll list the three little things I didn’t like about the trailer, then I’ll return to gush some more about it.

We get a scene where Kara bursts into her boss’s office and exclaims that they can’t call this new hero “Supergirl”. Her boss, Cat Grant, played by Calista Flockhart, defends the use of the “girl” in Supergirl by self-identifying as a "girl" and listing off her own many admirable traits.

Sorry, no. I don’t buy it. I would never call my women friends “girls”. (I usually say “dudes”, “ladies”, or “lady dudes”) Context matters, but all things being equal, if the male counterpart is named SuperMAN and the distaff version is named SuperGIRL, then it’s a problem. This was largely unavoidable, as Supergirl is a marketable and recognizable name which they certainly want to retain, but still, I think they could have done this a lot better. My friend Greg had the uncharacteristically cogent observation that a better solution would have been to have Flockhart say that they’re going to reclaim the word “girl”.

Jimmy Olsen is right up there with Krypto the Superdog, Beppo the Supermonkey and the Bottle City of Kandor when it comes to iconic parts of the Superman Mythology. I’m cool with Jimmy Olsen being a black guy. That’s fine. I’m less cool with him being a black guy who happens to be confident, self-assured, seven feet tall, super ripped, and incredibly handsome. He doesn’t feel like Jimmy Olsen any more.

And Supergirl goes to work for a government organization at the end of the trailer. I’m hoping that the show subverts this too, because in modern Superhero culture, it seems like any kind of government organization is feckless at best, and actively malevolent at worst. I want an agency staffed by smart dedicated people who are good at their job, and who pit Supergirl against supervillains not because they want to reverse engineer their powers or steal their alien tech, but simply because they want to protect people from those things.

Of course, this is the DEO, which, in the DCU proper, is run by an animated skeleton who kills people with his poisonous touch, so maybe I’ve chosen the wrong hill to die on for this particular element.

Stuff I liked. Everything else. I liked Smallville and Buffy at first, but they each degenerated to a bunch of poor, poor pitiful me, “I’m a poor attractive healthy teen with superpowers, and my life is terrible” wangst at the end of their run. The Legend of Korra did it right, when in first episode, Korra comes right out and says something along the lines of “Yeah, being a bender is pretty much the best thing ever”. I promise you here, but if I get superpowers, I will not mope about it.

 I said this about the piece I got from Rags Morales at the Phillipsburg Comic Con, where Superman looks like he enjoys being Superman. I want to see a show about a superhero who likes being a superhero, and I think we’re getting that here.

The scenes went by too fast for me to see for myself, but I am told by people on the internets that Helen Slater (80s Supergirl) is Kara’s adopted mom, and Dean Cain (Superman in Lois and Clark) is her dad. On some level, I have to chuckle how incestuous the Superman community is (Annette O’toole played Lana Lang in Superman 3, and Clark’s mom in Smallville), but on the other, that’s all kinds of awesome.

I've always liked the "S" Chevron as the crest of House of El.

I like the bit at the end of the trailer where Superman gives Kara his cape by way of Jimmy Olsen. She asks Jimmy James why Clark didn’t push her to become a hero, since it’s clearly what he would have wanted, and he says that Clark wanted it to be her choice. That’s just the best, and it’s a part of what I love about Superman. It reminds me of the framing panels from Superman: Peace on Earth.

I’m fond of saying that the best Superman stories don’t ask if he can do something, but if he should, which is why I like this so much. As a parent, I feel this more and more. Of course he wants her to use her powers for the greater good, but he doesn’t want to force her into it. She’s got to be free to make her own choices and her own mistakes.

I’m feeling very good about this show.

This promises to be the second best interpretation of Supergirl ever!


  1. Just watched the trailer and I agree on all fronts. Though I think I disliked Calista Flockhart as Cat quite a bit more. Jimmy Olsen just doesn't feel like Olsen if he's competent, good looking, and muscular!

    Also, having you been watching The Flash at all? Just finished watching the season finale and was blown away. I've loved the whole season, but this last episode really summed up everything about being a hero to me.

    1. Jacob: Jimmy Olsen just doesn't feel like Olsen if he's competent, good looking, and muscular!

      Yeah, pretty much. I think they couldn't have Olsen as both the lovable younger brother and the liaison to Superman, so they made him a little more badass, and slotted Kara's costume designing friend in the role that would be normally occupied by Jimmy.

      Cat Grant: Not actually my favorite character, but I do think Flockhart does have some acting chops, so I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. It seems like they're just going to play her a woman version of Perry White.

      The Flash: I started watching it, and liked it, but we were playing a drinking game where you had to take a shot every time Tom Cavanagh got out of his wheelchair and did something needlessly sinister. Consequently, I passed out during the second episode.