It’s Not Superman! It’s Not CW! It’s Supergirl!

Margaret: Welcome to the first installment of Tales from the Krypton. We just watched the pilot episode of Supergirl.

Syd: It is clear that they are not just doing a gender-flipped Superman, but I’m not sure what they are doing.

Margaret: Just as I said at the beginning, I was afraid that they were going to emphasize the “girl” part of Supergirl way too much. They are doing that, but at the same time, at the parts where it seems like it matters, they’re not. Like the big fight, where it’s between her and… we just looked up his name and I’ve already forgotten it…

Syd: Vartox?

Margaret: The Sean Connery guy, right… it’s not about, “You can’t do this because you’re a girl,” it’s about, “You can’t do this because you’re not Superman.” That’s a very different iteration of things. They’re playing it off as a little sister / big brother sort of thing – the entire pilot seems to be a passing of the mantle, which is why it wraps up neatly at the end with him giving her his baby blanket to use as a cape. That was the clearest implication of, “Now it’s your turn to be on TV!” (because you’ll never have a movie).
Continue reading “It’s Not Superman! It’s Not CW! It’s Supergirl!”

Hopes and Fears Before the Pilot

Margaret: What we’re talking about is our expectations going into the Supergirl pilot – what we want and what we are afraid of. I feel like my fear which I talked about before the trailer is that they’re making this into “Yay! Girl Power!” which is never girl power – it is always just talking about how women are different from men – and I’m worried that is what they are going to focus on rather than having an interesting character story about Kara just being a person and trying to learn how she deals with these powers. Instead, it is going to be all about the “girl” in “Supergirl.” I want this to be more about identity and not just about being a woman/girl and I hope the people who are having the problem communicating that are the marketing people and not the showrunners.

Syd: What I kind of am fearing more than anything else is that this won’t be about Kara at all – that this will be about the world she’s living in and that the series will be more about the larger DC brand than any real characters. I’m reminded of something that drove home this problem for me when they did a storyline where Supergirl became a Red Lantern and – this is a problem with shared universes in general – I can no longer avoid stories I hate by not reading them.

Margaret: I don’t know what a Red Lantern is. I’m assuming it has something to do with the Laterns?

Syd: The Red Lanterns were something Geoff Johns introduced in his run on Green Lantern along with various other coloured Lanterns and it was dumb as hell and I don’t want to talk about it. It made me never want to read a Green Lantern comic again, but then it showed up in Supergirl and I realized that a shared universe means that you can’t just enjoy the adventures of characters you like. What I hope is that they build their own world around Kara without constantly making reference to Superman and Justice League stories.
Continue reading “Hopes and Fears Before the Pilot”

Thoughts on the Trailer: Part 2 (Margaret)

I know very little about DC comics. As a kid I was obsessed with Batman the Animated Series and in the past few years I’ve followed Arrow and The Flash with a healthy dose of mixed feelings and guilty pleasure, but that is basically the extent of my knowledge.  In all of those shows, however, there has never really been a female character I identified with that wasn’t reduced to a crappy love triangle or whose main character arc didn’t involve being left in the dark for her own protection. So, a show with a female superhero and leading lady sounds like it was made for someone like me.

The trailer makes me both hope and cringe. The last thing I care about in a TV series is a winking ‘you go get ‘em girl’ attitude about a woman who has it tough because she’s a woman. So, the beginning of the trailer had me hooked.  After the necessary serious prologue about why she is special, we cut to current day.  Stumbling into frame is our leading lady, looking like Arrow season 1 Felicity Smoak (complete with blonde ponytail and glasses), but who we know has superpowers buried down deep.  She’s sweet, geeky, terrible with guys and is supremely awkward.  Despite some truly groan worthy dialogue, I’m in.

Two minutes into the trailer we get the basic gist: she’s a gawky personal assistant who wants more out of life.  She was sent to Earth for a reason and she wants to find out what it is.  She’s a mixture of both Arrow and the Flash.  She knows she’s here for a higher purpose and she relishes in that.  She wanted to be a normal person as a teenager – when everyone wants to fit in – but now that she’s growing up, she wants to do the great things on earth her alien parents told her she would do.

Part of what sells me is the reason why Kara outs herself as a Kryptonian. Rarely do shows have constructive and healthy relationships between two female characters that are also central to the plot.  This is why the Bechdel test is a thing (which, by the way, this trailer passes). In a whirlwind introduction, I know that Kara has a sister she loves and without knowing anything else other than the fact that she’ll drop everything to help Kara with a blind date, I am completely and utterly on board with Kara’s immediate and desperate struggle to master her powers to save her sister.

I know that Kara doesn’t have a sister in the comics, but I am glad they added one here. It’s at once a trope that is recognizable and yet does not feel patronizing. Becoming a superhero to save a family member is a well established origin story and if it gives the audience another interesting female character, that’s great. All of this had me interested and enjoying the trailer, excited about where they might take the storyline of this sweet, naive Supergirl, when the “The Girl” conversation happened.

Is it really necessary to focus this ‘is it okay to call a woman a girl’ conversation as a centerpiece of marketing the series?  The whole narrative was chugging along wonderfully before it grinded to a halt in what seems to be an industry “just in case you didn’t realize the show is about a woman” act break.  This is where the cringe factor comes in. I have absolutely no problem with this conversation happening in the pilot at some point, because it is an interesting conversation and could be framed quite relevantly around the issue of how people define themselves inside a pilot dealing very heavily with identity.  However, its placement in the trailer feels like a ham-handed marketing ploy and ultimately has me worried that this show is not going to exhibit a complex female superhero, it’s going to be a series of lessons about how women superheroes are different than male ones.  

From the trailer, I simply can’t tell what this show wishes to be. Is it a show for women like me who like comics and comic shows?  Or, is it a cheap studio trick to try and pull in a different demographic?  I can’t tell.  The ‘It’s Not a Man’ part of the ‘It’s not a bird, it’s not a plane’ build up actually made me roll my eyes. But, around the cringe, there seems to be legitimate and interesting plot points Supergirl wants to deal with: identity, fitting in, what it means to be human, heroism and living up to the image of a beloved and seemingly perfect family member. It’s enough that I’ll tune in.  

Thoughts on the Supergirl Trailer: Part 1 (Syd)

I heard about CBS’ upcoming Supergirl series when a trailer was released and commenters were making derisive comparisons to The Devil Wears Prada.  I was reminded of when Superman Returns was released and the reviews panned it as a plodding, deliberate movie that was short on action and long on introspection – I was excited to see it.  In both cases, the negative reviews seemed to be describing something interesting and unusual in the field of superhero movies.  After all, we should know by now that superhero stories do not need to be confined to frivolous, mindless, violent adolescent boys’ power fantasies, right?  We’ve seen superhero movies draw from war movies, spy thrillers, space operas, and political allegory, so what’s wrong with The Devil Wears Prada?  An action-packed superhero dramedy could be a lot of fun.  On the other hand, it could – like Superman Returns – be a huge, frustrating disappointment.

On watching the trailer, the comparisons I had read on multiple websites to The Devil Wears Prada were confusing to me, not because they are inaccurate, but because I am so used to comic book fans’ only frame of reference being other comic books.  When Calista Flockhart is clearly playing the mean, overbearing J. Jonah Jameson to Melissa Benoist’s awkward, insecure Peter Parker, it’s strange to me that just because Calista doesn’t have a moustache, the reference jumps to some chick flick.  Regardless, the workplace drama and Kara’s personal life in general are where this trailer shines.  Supergirl’s greatest strengths have always been how relatable and likeable she is.  A person unsure of her place in the world struggling for respect and recognition is something we all can relate to and we all can cheer for.  Flockhart, for her part, plays the mean boss well.  Her justification of Supergirl’s nom de guerre was a clever preemptive rejoinder to the inevitable criticisms of calling a grown woman a “girl” that points out that identifying as a “girl” doesn’t diminish one’s power or standing.  The trailer doesn’t address the fact that applying a label to a person who does not self-identify with that label is a dick move, but I buy it because J. Jonah Jameson is a total dick.

Unfortunately, the trailer also highlights some problems with the show’s very premise.  The line, “I didn’t travel 2,000 light years just to be an assistant,” really stuck in my craw.  It makes her sound entitled, like her job is beneath her and the world owes her more.  To contrast, in the comics Supergirl has worked as an artist and a student counselor and an actor – things that superpowers don’t help with, but she finds fulfilling.  Why did this Supergirl take a job as an assistant if she finds fetching coffee so demeaning?  We have no sense of what she is passionate about, other than punching monsters.  If she really isn’t working toward her dreams in her day job, then couldn’t she find some way to monetize reality-bending levels of strength, speed, and endurance?  I understand that questioning one’s career path is something that an audience can relate to – and relatable problems are great – but being a super-powered alien gives you certain options that aren’t open to other people.  There’s a reason that the comics don’t also give her problems with opening jars or reaching things on high shelves.

The other major problem is with all of the references to Krypton and to Superman.  I understand that Kara’s origin has to at least be addressed, but the less said about it, the better.  The real problem is with the constant references to Superman and Superman’s adventures.  The fact is, there are people in the audience who will see Supergirl as just a cut-rate stand-in for Superman.  In order to dispel this perception, Supergirl will have to stand on her own two feet, without falling back on Superman’s mythology.  Kara’s relationship with her cousin has created some really great stories over the years, but if he’s not even going to be in the show, filling it with his supporting players like Cat Grant and Jimmy Olsen does nothing but support the idea that Supergirl’s series is just an adjunct to or substitute for Superman’s.  If this series is to stand on its own, the audience needs to have no doubt that this is Supergirl’s show and that it is everything it is meant to be.  For God’s sake, they even have Kara paraphrase Man of Steel when explaining the symbol on her chest.  I guess if Superman is wearing the Coat of Arms of the House of El, it’s too much to hope for that Supergirl just be wearing an S for “Supergirl.”

Despite what may prove to be minor flaws, I am actually mostly hopeful for this series.  It looks bright and fun and positive and human.  It could really be something special if the creators keep in mind that The Devil Wears Prada is a better movie and better inspiration for a superhero series than Man of Steel.