(Spoilers ahead, obviously)
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…the first DC superhero I have ever really liked. I’m not joking. Batman and Superman both bug me because they are both so popular. And Superman is just so perfect. But, ICYMI, Supergirl just wrapped up its first season on CBS and it was spectacular. Supergirl is my new favorite superhero because she’s 1) not dark and brooding and 2) a modern (slightly clueless) twenty-something just like me. I didn’t have terribly high expectations for the TV show but it delivered. It’s not the best-written but it’s still very high-quality storytelling and family friendly to boot. After Star Wars Rebels, this is my second time watching a television series all the way through, but allow me to break it down for you.
Writing and Story Arcs
Supergirl kind of assumes that the audience is already familiar with the basic tropes of the Superman story, in fact the premise is that Supergirl is Superman’s cousin and that she has to build a legacy separate from his. While it takes place in an alternate timeline from Man of Steel, it also borrows a similar storyline, a.k.a. other Kryptonians on Earth trying to take over the world and get rid of the survivor from the house of El who stands in their way.
As I mentioned before, the writing in some episodes of the show could have used some improvement. Each episode has a vaguely-worded theme or moral-of-the-day but they don’t hit you over the head with it. There was a little bit of a feminist agenda with the pilot but the other episodes moved away from it quickly. However, the show does a good job keeping the female characters, Kara as well as Cat Grant, Lucy Lane, Astra, and others, front and center. The flashbacks to Krypton made the backstory more relatable. The story is for the most part believable, in fact the kind of challenges that Kara faces tend to be predictably relevant to her character development. The exposition does have to be quick to get to the action scenes but it’s not jarring. I personally find it a little odd that Kryptonite is so prolific and that the DEO has so much of it. Also, in nearly every Superman movie Superman has what a friend of mine once called an “invincible curl.” When Kara puts on the cape her hair is automatically in “invincible waves.” Is Kryptonian hair magic?
Some fans might find the love plots a little superfluous, and to a point they are, but it’s normal for a girl my age to be testing the waters for different possible romantic relationships so we shouldn’t beat up the writers too much for including that. Personally I’m disappointed that Kara rejected Winn and I don’t really like her with James. Romance doesn’t have to be a bad thing, as long as it’s clean and the show doesn’t turn into a soap opera.
My favorite episodes were ‘Livewire,’ ‘Bizarro,’ ‘Childish Things,’ ‘Fallen’, and ‘Human for a Day’ (not necessarily ranked in that order). The Flash crossover, ‘World’s Finest,’ wasn’t my favorite but it was still fun to watch. I did not like the premise that DC’s CW shows are set in an alternate universe—I guess it’s something to get used to coming from Marvel but it still felt like a bit of a stretch.
The characters in this show are amazing and well-written, and the acting is top-notch. Let me break down some of the lead players, with a few thoughts on my favorites.
Kara Zor-el/Kara Danvers/Supergirl
Well, to start with, Kara is extremely nice and sensitive. She’s perceived as a pushover that powerful people, her own boss included, think they can take advantage of. However, Kara’s greatest strength, superpowers aside, is her loyalty to her family and friends and her determination to do the right thing. As a woman, Kara is comfortable with her femininity and doesn’t mind falling in love, and she’s expected to balance multiple roles in her life and hits the mark enough to get by—she’s not perfect at what she does but she excels. During the course of the show Kara has a little bit of character development as she occasionally faces frustration in her relationships with family and friends. By the end of the season, she hasn’t changed much, but she’s learned to be more confident about what she’s doing with her life. That in itself is a pretty big achievement.
Being a special-needs person, I also had certain ways of relating to Kara. Unlike Superman, she remembers Krypton and her biological family. Every day she has to struggle with living in a different world, and on top of that live with an enormous amount of grief. And also unlike her cousin, Kara is not 100% comfortable with her powers. Over the course of the series, she learns unsettling truths about the last days of Krypton, and it hurts her to have to fight her biological aunt. In ‘Human for a Day,’ when Kara’s powers are temporarily depleted, she faces the setback of not being as strong as she normally is right after a natural disaster, and I felt for her very much in that episode because there are days when I’m not as strong as I’m supposed to be. Then in ‘Fallen,’ exposure to Red Kryptonite brings out Kara’s ugly side and she unwittingly hurts the people closest to her, not unlike experiences I’ve had under the full thrall of OCD/Depression. In ‘Manhunter,’ some of the flashback scenes illustrate how Kara had difficulty adjusting to life on earth and how she had to learn to pretend she was normal. Sensory overload isn’t one of my big issues but it does affect other people on the spectrum. But being autistic, you’re automatically wired differently and want to do things differently—for instance, when to go out and rescue people and when not to. Kara’s from a different planet—they did things differently on Krypton. She had to learn how to hide it in order to get as far as she could in Earthling society. But in order to be Supergirl, she had to be herself.
Alex is Kara’s adopted sister and a secret agent, and as far as being an action heroine she is pretty hardcore. She’s kind of a mentor for Kara because she’s already fighting aliens and crime for a living and her fight scenes are satisfying to watch. As for her softer side, Alex just wins you over because she would do anything for Kara and she does everything to support her sister’s heroic activities. She’s also extremely loyal to her boss, J’onn J’onzz.
It was an interesting twist that Hank Henshaw, the unbending head of the DEO, turned out to be an alien, much less a nice alien who wants to look after Kara and Alex both. J’onzz has suffered loss of his own and he’s been able to rebuild a new life, but while protective of his identity at the same time he wants to help the people he cares about.
The younger sister of Superman’s girlfriend Lois, Lucy Lane starts out as kind of a jerk and I disliked her. Then in ‘Red-faced,’ we met her father, a paranoid military general, and we realized that Lucy is actually a much smarter and more sensitive person in comparison. She is definitely a character I hope to see more of in Season 2, more as an action heroine on Supergirl’s team and less as a quasi-antagonist.
A friend of Superman, James moved out to National City to work for CatCo. He’s definitely a good person and I like how he motivates Kara, but he’s just not that interesting a character to me.
Winn has been Kara’s friend and Supergirl’s number-one supporter from day one. He’s really hard not to like. He’s cute in looks and personality and he’s a nerd (he and Barry Allen are automatically best friends and that’s why it stinks that Barry’s from an alternate earth). Deeper down, as we learn in ‘Childish Things’, Winn has his own personal struggles, but they don’t keep him from being a caring and sympathetic person. I didn’t like him dating Siobhan for obvious reasons but he was still a good boyfriend to her. Winn definitely has room for some interesting character development and story arcs in Season 2. It would be interesting to see what would happen, for instance, if Siobhan/Silver Banshee comes back, how he’d deal with her having made poor life choices and if she wanted revenge. Also if the Toyman got out of prison at the same time things could get nasty for Winn.
Cat, the CEO of CatCo Worldwide Media, is obviously easy to dislike because she’s so arrogant and spiteful. However, she goes from being an antagonist to Kara and a critical patron of Supergirl to a mom figure for Kara. She learns to recognize some of her personal shortcomings and to take responsibility for problems she may have caused, notably making her own employees Livewire and Silver Banshee want to kill her. J’onn Jonzz’s stunts notwithstanding I think Cat still knows that Kara is Supergirl. I mean, she saw right through Barry Allen. I think the fact that Cat hasn’t said anything means that she understands that Kara wants to keep her job so she can have an anchor on a normal life.
The villains are some of the best parts of this show. Too many of the villains that Kara faced were one-episode wonders, but there were a few that stood out. The best villains are doing terrible things but at the same time their backgrounds and motives are not only realistic but relatable. The female villains especially were KILLER.
Indigo is a little bit of a femme fatale the way she acts around Non, but her sensuality doesn’t dominate her character too much—her main thing is enjoying being able to hurt people. I really liked how Winn used his wits to beat her. Also, what happened to the normal/human face we saw her with in ‘Solitude’? Why doesn’t she take that shape more?
Aunt Astra dominated! She was an interesting foil for Kara’s birth mother Alura. Astra wanted to save the Earth and prevent a repeat of Krypton’s destruction (also known as avoiding a repeat of her own personal losses). She genuinely loves Kara, and Kara loves her back, but Kara knows where to draw the line, even with family. And although Astra has the unwavering support of her husband Non, she is genuinely conflicted by Kara’s pleas to not destroy the world.
Non represents the more radical sde of Astra’s campaign to ‘save’ the world. He kind of looks down on Kara even though she’s a relative by marriage—I guess being in-laws never counted for much on Krypton. But he’s kind of a flat character.
There’s not much to say about the Toyman, except I hope he’s back in Season 2. He’s criminally insane, which sets him apart from most of the other villains in the series, but he’s genuinely scary to watch, mostly because of how Winn is afraid of seeing him in himself.
Livewire is a cool villain to watch. She’s got electricity powers but also swagger and an attitude problem. I’m really glad they brought her back for ‘World’s Finest.’ Also she’s the first villain I’ve ever wanted to cosplay.
Siobhan Smythe starts out as kind of a sympathetic character but then she turns out to be a massive jerk. As for the makeover: really, Livewire? Whatever. Maybe in prison they get to be supervillain girl friends. Her Irish roots suggest that she’s not the first of her kind, and also her powers are damaging to Kryptonians—maybe there’s more of a story behind that.
Oh my gosh. Maxwell Lord is the best villain in Supergirl. No super powers. Just money and brains and a prejudice towards aliens…and a willingness to excuse his behavior no matter how inhumane. He makes you sick and you hate him. All the other great villains in this show are women. Maxwell Lord is manly without being sexualized. He’s not threatened by Kara’s femininity so much as her potential to create chaos. He does have potential to be a good person but he just keeps doing the wrong things. As Peter Facinelli told me at FanX, he’s definitely happy to stay in the gray zone and only help out Kara if it suits his needs. I definitely look forward to seeing more of him in season 2, especially (season finale spoiler) if he’s made an unholy alliance with General Lane.
So this was my first real foray into DC fandom. I’m not sure I’m ready for more at this point but Supergirl is a good start. I have seen parts of Man of Steel but I didn’t like it—Supergirl is a lot more to my taste. I have high expectations for season 2, of course. I don’t anticipate that the writing will be improved or that there’ll be a better explanation for how Kara fits her suit under whatever she happens to wear to work. I do, however, hope that Supergirl remains (mostly) clean as far as keeping the violence moderate and the sex offscreen, and that Kara will continue to be a heroine that I will want to emulate. Supergirl‘s first season has been amazing and truly inspirational. Yes, let’s keep flying!