Can ‘Supergirl’ Get Right What ‘Wonder Woman’ Got Wrong?

30 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Can ‘Supergirl’ Get Right What ‘Wonder Woman’ Got Wrong?.

The buzzed-about DC Comics adaptation starring Melissa Benoist as Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El has has been ordered to series for a fall premiere, and it’s first trailer has been viewed nearly 12 million times on YouTube since its May 13 release. From life-saving superheroes to life-saving doctors, to mockumentary Muppets and screaming sorority sisters, there’s a wide variety of shows to choose from this fall.

These previews are based on early cuts of pilots that networks released to critics and may (and probably will) change by the time they officially air in the fall, so we can’t properly review them. As someone who remembers the full and frank discussions about Supergirl’s image in the mid-2000s, when the character became emblematic of the decline of superheroes, it’s very weird indeed to realize that Supergirl could be a standard-bearer for superhero television. Given that the series was getting a significant amount of negative speculation, it wouldn’t surprise me if it was leaked “on purpose.” There are several factors to consider when projecting any potential “Supergirl” success. “Supergirl” is trying to be a combination of the breeziness, humor and tone of “The Flash” and the more serious “let’s protect the world from enhanced powered people and aliens” tone of “S.H.I.E.L.D.” Other heroes who occupy the same DC Universe, “The Flash” and “Arrow,” are both successful on CW. NETWORK & TIME: Supergirl takes off Mondays at 8pm on CBS starting in November, which puts it up against fellow DC Comics’ series Gotham on Fox, the reality competition series Dancing With the Stars on ABC and The Voice on NBC, and the new hour-long comedy Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on The CW. After starting out as a Silver Age “secret weapon,” Superman’s cousin became important enough to warrant a double-sized sendoff in Crisis on Infinite Earths #7. (We’ll talk about that in detail next week.) While “Supergirl” was only gone for a few years, and returned with a complicated backstory, Kara Zor-El spent the better part of 19 years in limbo.

All three series — like Supergirl — hail from studio-based executive producer Greg Berlanti, with The Flash this past season topping Arrow to become The CW’s most-watched series ever. ABC’s “Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” gets a slightly higher rating, but if not for its tie-in to “The Avengers” movie franchise, and Disney (ABC) owning Marvel, it would probably not have been renewed. Elsewhere, DC Comics successfully launched a Batman prequel with Fox’s Gotham already renewed for a second season helmed by The Mentalist’s Bruno Heller.

STARRING: Glee’s Melissa Benoist stars as the titular girl-who-would-be super Kara Danvers; True Blood’s Mehcad Brooks takes on the role of Jimmy James Olsen, the former photographer for the Daily Planet and friend to Superman; Grey’s Anatomy’s Chyler Leigh plays Kara’s perfect but-not-annoyingly-so older foster sister Alex; Smash’s Jeremy Jordan is Winn, Kara’s coworker and friend; and Calista Flockhart is the shining image of perfection as Kara’s boss, media mogul Cat Grant. Beyond WBTV’s DC Comics hits, ABC also found critical success with Agent Carter, Marvel’s first female-driven TV series helping to set the stage for Supergirl. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, Kara matured into a seasoned crimefighter; and in the late ‘90s, Linda Danvers was already world-weary when she received her powers. After screening both Supergirl and Wonder Woman pilots, The Hollywood Reporter takes a look at what both shows have in common — and perhaps more importantly — how Supergirl might soar above the Amazonian princess.

The “Supergirl” median age should be slightly lower than “Gotham.” Both series have a mythology most familiar to baby boomers, but “Supergirl” is more kid- and teen-friendly. It will also be interesting to see if men and boys will watch a superhero show where virtually all the main characters are women, including the main villain. Unfortunately, Kara took a wrong turn and ended up in the equivalent of a traffic jam on the 405, arriving on Earth several years later not having aged a day. Similarly, while DC isn’t currently publishing a Supergirl comic, I’m betting it’ll have one ready to go by the fall, and I’m curious to see how it treats the Maid of Might. There are moments in both pilots in which the shows come to terms with the elephant in the room: Isn’t it kind of sexist to have Wonder Woman traipse around in a revealing costume or to call Kara Supergirl instead of Superwoman?

Created by Otto Binder and Al Plastino for May 1959’s Action Comics #252, the Kara Zor-El version of Supergirl followed a handful of one-off super-women. It can if it doesn’t fall into the same trap as the “Superman” movies – namely the only real threats to her are others from her home planet, Krypton, or someone with kryptonite.

Wonder Woman lingered on the topic for an uncomfortably long time — getting meta to the point that it referenced an uproar that took place when an early photo of Palicki in the costume had critics decrying the costume more fitting for a porn star than a beloved superhero. During a meeting with her business associates in the pilot, Diana complains about a scantily clad Wonder Woman doll (which her corporation sells to fund her crime fighting). “I never said to merchandise my tits!” she screams in the pilot. The rest is history: Starting with her debut issue Supergirl became a regular Action feature for most of the next 10 years, through May 1969’s Issue 376. At other times, she waxes poetic about the public image of Wonder Woman, remarking that she is supposed to have perfect everything — and then proceeding to name all of the assets one might expect.

SNAP JUDGEMENT: The Supergirl pilot is moderately better than the trailer that was released earlier this month, and although I didn’t come away from it ready to declare the series the Next Big Thing, I also didn’t want to dump it in the garbage. It seems ripe for crossovers with “The Flash” (less with “Arrow) and with continual references to her super-powered cousin in Metropolis; an occasional sweeps appearance would certainly help. The trailer painted the series as a romantic comedy (complete with fashion montage!), but in full form—an hour that gives tangible evidence of how the series will operate on a week-to-week basis and teases an overarching story involving a possible big bad—the series mostly comes off like a watered down, wannabe, CBS-ized version of The CW’s The Flash. The member of the media responsible for coining the phrase has a snappy response, dismissing the idea that a girl is somehow “less” in a world in which a “girl” can run a corporation.

Today we associate that movie’s poor performance with the comic’s cancellation and Kara’s subsequent death, but having some sort of regular exposure every month or so for 25 years is nothing to sneeze at. Superman” movie, and plans for a Justice League of America franchise, there seems to be ample opportunity for “Supergirl” to be part of that universe. In a brief montage, Kara goes through a series of increasingly less skimpy costumes, rejecting each until she lands on her final costume, which is relatively sensible.

In a real head-scratching move, CBS will schedule “Supergirl” at 8 p.m. on Monday, opposite “Gotham,” which will have a month and a half to re-establish its audience base before “Supergirl” debuts in November. The success of the show essentially rests on Benoist’s back, though, so it’s a good thing she fully embodies Kara and embraces the character’s earnest determination.

The pilot reveals she previously dumped her boyfriend of two years Steve (Justin Bruening) to move to Los Angeles and embrace her Wonder Woman persona. She bares a slight resemblance to Arrow’s Felicity Smoak in both image and her do-the-right-thing attitude, while Jordan’s character Winn really wants to be as cool as The Flash’s Cisco, but isn’t there yet. As a Superman fan I liked the idea of “Supergirl,” and I especially liked her teaming up with Superman, because that usually meant a menace big enough to challenge them both. (See DC Comics Presents #28 for a fine example.) However, the Supergirl about whom I tended to read didn’t have the supporting cast or the secret identity that her cousin did. Supergirl disguised herself as Linda Danvers, formerly known as teenaged orphan Linda Lee; but beyond that she had a number of jobs, from guidance counselor to soap-opera star.

Her work pal Winn (Jeremy Jordan) has a thing for her, while it’s implied that Kara has eyes for Jimmy Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), a Daily Planet photographer and Superman confidant who moves to National City to help guide her into the ways of the hero. Some suspension of reality is to be expected, and I bet halfway through the third episode we won’t even notice it anymore. – Kara says she’s been hiding her powers since her arrival on Earth, but her apartment is a lot nicer than someone who’s just a lowly personal assistant, even if that person is assisting someone as fabulous as Cat Grant.

Perhaps it’s more like Dick Grayson’s — speaking of “more approachable” characters — as the acrobat and heir to the Wayne fortune has also wandered from job to job (cop, gymnastics teacher, museum curator, etc.) in his young adulthood. It emphasizes that Diana was conflicted about having her ex-boyfriend back in her life, but there was no sense of what would come next other than a shot of her signing up for online dating, in which she lists her cat in the box marked “friends.” The end of Supergirl makes both the drama and the conflict clear. If you told me Kara had used her powers to maybe steal some cash from an armored truck or knocked over the nearest West Elm and Pottery Barn stores to furnish her place, I would not be surprised. It’s a fairly standard hurdle for any supporting character who graduates to her own feature, and Kara’s wasn’t as bad as the backstory issues that befell Power Girl. There is a real sense of Kara moving forward along a journey, while in Wonder Woman Diana’s goals aren’t quite clear other than to fight crime and keep her toyline afloat.

She has no secret identity, and she fights both as a superhero and as a business mogul, going toe-to-toe with another CEO Veronica Cale (Elizabeth Hurley). I mentioned Power Girl’s convoluted post-Crisis backstory, but about it I will say only this: DC had to create a new origin for her that didn’t involve either the Multiverse (because Crisis had destroyed it) or Krypton (because Superman was now its sole survivor).

While Supergirl strikes a balance between Kara’s personal journey of discovering her powers and her professional journey of attempting to keep her job, Wonder Woman emphasized Diana’s corporate side too heavily. While a CEO superhero is quite common, shows like Arrow and movies like Batman Begins and Iron Man minimize the amount of boardroom bickering that makes its way onscreen. The new-for-1988 Supergirl was really “Matrix,” a shape-shifting protoplasmic being created by the Lex Luthor of an alternate dimension — “alternate dimension” being different from “parallel universe” because DC said so — to take the place of its deceased Superboy.

An exception was 2010’s Iron Man 2, which emphasized boardroom dealings and gave Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) a corporate rival in Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell). She left Luthor when she realized he was trying to clone her, and joined the New Titans along with other young legacies like Impulse and Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner).

David and his artistic collaborators (also including Leonard Kirk and Ed Benes) spent the next six-and-a-half years blending Silver Age elements like Dick Malverne and Comet the Super-Horse with a mythology about Earth-born angels charged with fighting demonic forces. In this respect the Supergirl iconography didn’t directly represent anything Kryptonian, but rather Linda’s own responsibility to uphold the Superman family’s good name. Of course, Kara Zor-El did return, independent of that previous storyline, courtesy of writer Jeph Loeb and artist Michael Turner in a Superman/Batman arc. This time, she was found by Batman, guided by Superman, and trained in combat by Wonder Woman and the Amazons, before being abducted by Darkseid so he could dress her up like a less-inhibited Britney Spears and train her to lead the Female Furies.

Written first by Loeb and then by Joe Kelly, and drawn by Ian Churchill and others, these involved (at various times) imagining she was part of a plot to murder baby Kal-El; fighting her black-costumed duplicate; or growing spiky Kryptonian crystals out of her body. Much more, including comparison pictures, behind the above link (which is actually to a blog post at Supergirl ComicBoxCommentary about the now-lost original interview). In fact, the creative team of writer Sterling Gates and artist Jamal Igle was pretty much treated like a re-relaunch for the character, three-plus years after her Loeb/Turner reintroduction. (To be clear, it followed a decent, almost wholesome-by-comparison arc from writer Kelley Puckett and artists Drew Johnson and Ron Randall, in which Supergirl pledged to save a dying child from cancer no matter what the cost.) This time Kara adopted the civilian identity of Linda Lang, niece of Lana. Problems with her personality (i.e., from the previous few years’ worth of Supergirl comics) were explained by subtle Kryptonite poisoning during her initial trip through space. Thus, Superman and Supergirl’s rescue of the Kryptonian city of Kandor was a mixed blessing: it allowed Kryptonian scientists to fix Supergirl’s mood swings, but it launched an 18-month “New Krypton” intertitle macro-arc which split the focus of the Supergirl comic.

She came back into the life of an emotionally different Superman, one who was much more comfortable with his Earthly upbringing than his Kryptonian heritage. She too has had some iffy storylines — the romance with shirtless bad-boy H’El, making Zor-El the new Cyborg Superman, the Red Lantern arc — but mostly I think her creative teams have done well to distinguish her both from Superman and from previous incarnations. The series’ final arc didn’t visit any major changes on the character (she and Superboy go to Space Hogwarts and expose its dark secrets), so nothing really prevents DC from yet another relaunch. Nevertheless, I’m much more optimistic about the TV show — which seems to borrow at least Cat Grant’s characterization from the Gates/Igle days — than any future comics.

I am not sure that DC’s head honchos have gotten over a desire to re-create the naïve Silver Age Kara, ostensibly in the name of pleasing longtime fans. Thankfully, the New 52 revisions seem to have taken away that particular character trait; but they’ve also made it hard to reconcile the comics’ Supergirl with the more effervescent TV version. The latter looks like it could combine the butt-kicking attitude of Lauren Faust’s Super Best Friends Forever with the down-to-earth dilemmas of Faith Erin Hicks’ Adventures of Superhero Girl and even some of Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the Eighth Grade’s manic tone. WHAT I BOUGHT: Everything — Convergence #8, plus the second issues of Action Comics, Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Crime Syndicate, Detective Comics, Infinity Inc., Justice Society of America, Plastic Man and the Freedom Fighters, Shazam! and World’s Finest NOTES: Well, that’s that. That makes the final goodbyes of all the Golden Agers a little more poignant in hindsight, but honestly it was just a matter of time (as it were) before DC did something like this.

Most of issue 8 is devoted to Brainiac’s angst over tripping through the Multiverse, and exposition about how to fix things (including the revelation of the new Earth-2). That one delivered subtle changes to the timeline (including an 8-year timeframe which was quickly discarded), came out weekly, and was accompanied by a set of new reader-friendly special issues.

Somehow, Phantom Lady shoots green energy from her hands, and the Futures End cyborgs can be blasted apart with a lot more ease than I would have expected. I did enjoy the Blue Beetle conclusion (written by Scott Lobdell, drawn by Yishan Li, colored by Dave McCaig), mostly because it had a very Giffen/DeMatteis-esque sense of humor. Miraculously, the conclusion of Booster Gold (written by Dan Jurgens, pencilled by Alvaro Martinez, inked by Raul Fernandez, colored by Chris Sotomayor and Sotocolor) made sense. With Ordway writing the issue, and Brigman and Richardson’s work so closely approximating Ordway’s thick, polished lines, this conclusion really evoked the feel of a mid-1980s Earth-Two comic.

Most of it was a fight with post-apocalyptic Jonah Hex and company, and it ended with a too-long epilogue (virtually described as such in dialogue), but it did a fine job showcasing the Infinitors and their combat-hardened opponents. Finally, if Convergence and Multiversity haven’t convinced DC’s high sheriffs to produce an Earth-5 Captain Marvel book, I don’t know what will. Shazam! #2 (written by Jeff Parker, drawn by Evan “Doc” Shaner, colored by Jordi Bellaire) was a really great issue which almost stood on its own despite the multiversal mash-up. It’s one thing to have a steampunk Mister Atom; but it’s another to draw him initially in massive silhouette, red eyes gleaming like a diabolical Iron Giant.

Add in a two-page spread where Billy and Cap join forces to resist an incredible barrage of non-magic lightning, another two-page spread centered on Mister Tawky Tawny flying a fighter plane, and a general sense of rock-em sock-em action, and it just can’t get much better.

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