In many ways, the Supergirl pilot, leaked recently, hit the beats of Superman: The Movie: plane crash, work problems, hypersonic messages. And, yes, it seemed like Saturday Night Live’s Black Widow parody at times. That tone needs to change if the show is going to be successful. Audiences have been clamoring for a female superhero; it’s doubtful they want a RomCom superheroine. The geek world and the ever-growing fanbase desperately wants a woman to stand on her own as a hero…
The very nature of Supergirl makes it difficult to achieve.
When Kara Zor-El first popped out of that rocket in Action Comics #252 clad in a blue blouse emblazoned with a scarlet and gold pentagonal “S” she existed as nothing more than a female version of Superman.
The character was only ever able to distiguish herself with her death. Her sacrifice saved all of reality during the Crisis of Infinite Earths. It was only in death that she was able to supercede her cousin.
Her sacrifice was so important to DC Comics that it was meant to be permanent. The post-Crisis mandate at DC was that there would be no other Kryptonians. That directive helped to eliminate super-monkeys, but it eliminated the Bottle City of Kandor, General Zod, and Kara. Kara’s sacrifice was supposed to mean something through the new reality.
How can you take a character who wears that iconic shield and not have them be in the shadow of “Him”? That question is one that the writers, actors and show runners of the Supergirl pilot haven’t been able to answer. Superman looms large over National City. He is such a big figure that so few people can even bare to say his name.
Taken as a whole, Supergirl doesn’t swing and miss, but it wasn’t swinging for the fences either. The pilot was a solid base hit.
The problem with the story is not how cutesy Glee‘s Melissa Benoist played Kara Danvers, or the Devil-Wears-Prada parallels at CatCo (though both are gag inducing, at times). The problem is with the supporting cast and Kara’s incredibly rapid assimilation to Earth.
Do you have a favorite food? Do you have a best friend? Did you have an after-school routine? Do you remember the boy or girl who made you sick to your stomach with uncontrollable feels? Can you imagine having all of that destroyed? Can you imagine after watching all of that evaporate you are sent back in time to live with Neanderthals?
That is what happened to Kara, and there is very little trace of it in Benoist’s portrayal of her. Unlike Kal-El, Kara grew-up on Krypton. She had friends. She went to school. She was living with technology far beyond our limited imaginations. She can’t eat her favorite food. Her friends are dead. She’s stuck living among cave dwellers.
The one hint that living on Earth for 12 years has been really rough for Kara is when she is presented with a relic from her past. She breaks down at the sight of the object.
Since Kara Zor-El has been reintroduced into the realm of DC Comics, the writers who handle her have tried to solve this problem. She doesn’t know English. She loses control of her powers. No one, her cousin included, knows what to do with her. She’s angry. All of that is absent from the Supergirl pilot.
I enjoyed that this version of Supergirl suppressed her powers for years. They can’t be anything more than a burden to her. Kal-El had time to grow into them. He had people to teach him how to use them and when to use them. That suppression was the one aspect of the character that made sense.
When she decides to reveal herself to save her adopted sister from a crashing plane — revealed in the extended trailer — the suppression played a key role.
She’s hasn’t tried to fly in a long time. She manages it, and acts confident as she zooms toward the jet. But we see that she really doesn’t know what to do.
As jet drags her toward the suspension bridge she screams “Oh, come on!” She barely clears the span while avoiding casualties. She climbs on the wing of the floating plane, panting and worn out.
The eleation on her face when she realizes how invunerable she is, and the surprise and fear she expresses when she meets her match are fantastic touches that Benoist brought to her version of the character.
But the characters around her will likely make her a dupe, and no one wants to see that.
Hank Henshaw (Homeland‘s David Harewood), the director of the Department of Extra-normal Operations, should be a familiar name. This is the character who blamed Superman for his wife’s death, was bestowed with the ability to communicate and merge with machines, built a cybernetic clone of Superman’s body, transferred his consciousness into that body and destroyed Coast City in Superman’s name.
Hank Hensaw should be on this show. He should not be the director of the DEO. Say what you will about Brian Azzarello’s For Tomorrow arc in the pre-Flashpoint Superman; that story introduced the perfect character for the DEO: Mr. Orr. Introduce Henshaw later. Don’t make Kara a dupe for allying herself with a clear villain.
And that sets-up her “team.” It’s going to be villain-of-the-week style with escaped Phantom Zone prisoners. Team Arrow coalesced throughout Season 1 of Arrow. Team Flash was assembled long before Barry Allen received his powers. Kara doesn’t need a team. She’s Supergirl. And she sure as hell wouldn’t join a team who has shot her with Kryptonite darts and chained her to a table. That’s too damsel in distress, and that is what this show is supposed to be avoiding, right?
By far the most grating part of the show was Winn Schott, or the Toyman (Smash‘s Jeremy Jordan). The character here is just superfluous. Kara doesn’t need to have someone make her a suit. She doesn’t need someone to tell her where the police are. She can hear a heart beat but she can’t hear sirens? Come on!
What’s more is that the story that is jumping out at any long-time Superman fan is that Schott kidnaps and kills Cat Grant’s son. The Toyman can be gimmicky, but he’s a genius and he’s insane. Imagine a villain with Lex Luthor smarts and Batman villain crazy who kidnaps and murders children. That’s someone who could offer a challenge to Supergirl. Instead, he’s an emasculated whiner.
I don’t necessarily hate that an emasculated whiner should be in the show following Kara around like a lost puppy. In fact, it is good to see how the guy who pines for the girl in an unrequited affection situation is perceived from the woman’s perspective. I just don’t think that it should be Toyman. Richard (Dick in the comics) Malverne is a character that can be ripped from the Silver-Age pages of Supergirl (Who was also rebooted for Peter David’s Linda Danvers/Earth Angel Supergirl in the 90s). He grew-up with Kara pined after her for years, discovered who she was and was the third point of a Jimmy Olsen/Kara/Richard love triangle. It doesn’t make sense that the showrunners would pull out an obscure character like Felicity Smoak for Arrow, but they didn’t do the same for Supergirl.
As for James “Don’t call me Jimmy” Olsen, played by Glory Road‘s Mechad Brooks… perfect. There is no way Olsen should be a bumbling idiot. Photojournalists are tough, confident, and cool. They aren’t fumbling around like morons. They certainly aren’t fumbling around like morons working for the Daily Planet. Lois Lane is the best reporter ever-ever, but Perry White can’t find someone who can do little more than point and shoot? It never made sense to me.
Brooks played him cool. And its good to see that Olsen has an arc. From staff photographer to art director. He’s had a career and he’s grown as a person. His move to National City from Metropolis seems to be as much about getting out from his pal’s shadow as Supergirl’s should be.
And now for the miscellany:
- Dean Cain and Helen Slater, they were wasted in this show. Are they going to return?
- The big bad for season one is a Kryptonian General. Nope, not that one. Another one.
- And, why doesn’t Kara have an orange cat named Streaky in her apartment? That would have been a great Easter egg for the long time fans.
- I have HOPE for the series, but there are a lot of bugs that need to be worked out before the rest of Season One starts to shoot.
This review originally was published on GodHatesGeeks. Thanks to our friends on that site for allowing us to rerun it.