Friday, November 6, 2015

In DC's Newest Live Action Series, A New Hero Rises

Last week, the latest live action television adaptation of a DC Comics character aired on CBS. This new series, developed in part by producers of Arrow and The Flash, Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg, adds a lead female protagonist to DC's current line-up, with Melissa Benoist cast as the title character. This new series is Supergirl.

Poster advertising the new Supergirl Television series
A few months back, when I saw the trailer advertising this series, I was intrigued by it, in particular because it was introducing Supergirl into a universe where Superman not only already existed, and was already well established, but was doing so without actually introducing Superman.

The trailer created a lot of excitement and hype for this new series. Unfortunately, at least for me, the series pilot, while having some great moments, did not live up to that hype as a whole. Much like the Green Lantern movie that was released about four years ago, I see the pilot for Supergirl as decent, though not particularly impressive, but due to the expectations the advertising beforehand set up for it, made it come off as a let down.

Though the actress cast as Supergirl definitely has the look for the part, she doesn't have the characterization of Supergirl that I've seen portrayed in the comic books over the last ten years. Whether this is due to how Benoist interprets the character, is do to the fact that the character in the TV series is in her mid-twenties rather than in her teens as the comic book character is, or that the writers were going another direction with her, this is not the Supergirl that has been seen at least since the character was killed off in the comic books in the mid-eighties.

As mentioned earlier, Superman is well established on Earth when Kara arrives. The problem I see is that in the beginning of the episode, Kara is thirteen years old. The episode then jumps to 11 years later. This would put a Superman that was already well established when Kara was a teenager likely into middle age by the time Kara decides to take on the role of a hero.

Is the Superman of this show beginning to show his age?
And is that the real reason that his face is never shown?
Granted, a middle-aged Superman could still work (it's something we've seen with some versions of the Earth-2 Superman, as well as with the Kingdom Come Superman). The problem I see is that the writers of this episode would like to do crossovers with Arrow and The Flash, which would place Supergirl in the Arrowverse. The way civilians react to vigilantes, superheroes and meta-humans in Arrow and The Flash, I have a difficult time believing that this could be the same world where Superman has been around for over ten years. It just doesn't fit.

Without giving away any major spoilers, I will also say that the role that Kara's adopted sister is revealed to play in this episode (and will apparently continue to play through the season, and possibly the series) feels too convenient. It comes off as rather contrived, and nothing more than a plot device to get Kara involved with other characters.

Chyler Lee plays Kara's adopted sister, Alex
One thing that doesn't make sense (and this is true of many Superman origin stories as well) is why she wears glasses. After she takes on the superhero identity of Supergirl, they make sense. But when she had no intention of ever taking on a superhero identity, why would a Kryptonian, with superhuman vision, be wearing glasses? It's definitely not about fashion, as Kara is clearly depicted to be fashionably inept. So what's the point in wearing them?

Melissa Benoist plays Kara Danvers, who wears glasses, even while having supervision,
and even before she ever decides to take on a hero identity
Lest this turn into nothing more than a rant of everything that was wrong with the pilot episode of Supergirl, there were some things I definitely liked about it.

Kara's adopted human parents are played by Dean Cain (who played Superman in Lois & Clark: the New Adventures of Superman) and Helen Slater (who played the title character in the 1980s Supergirl movie). I appreciated this nod to the previous material. I liked how it carries on the tradition started in The Flash with casting John Wesley Shipp (who played the Flash in the 90s Flash TV series) as Henry Allen, as well as bringing back Amanda Pays and Mark Hamill to reprise their roles as Dr. Tina McGee and the Trickster that they played in the previous series.

Helen Slater (who played Supergirl in the 1980s film) and Dean Cain (who played Superman in Lois & Clark)
play Kara's adoptive parents
I also like the continuing tradition of bringing in characters from the ensemble cast from the comic books. Some, like Cat Grant, are portrayed in a very similar way as they have been in the comic books. Others, like James (Jimmy) Olsen, are portrayed very differently. While still others, such as Hank Henshaw, still remain to be seen.

Choosing to use Kara as her name in her civilian identity is also an interesting choice. Originally I was opposed to it, as it the character in the comic books has almost always gone by Linda in her civilian identity. But when I think about it, if she had grown up never intending to be a hero or take on another identity, why would she not use the name she had gone by throughout her life? Going by Kara in her everyday life makes sense.

Again, without giving major spoilers, I found the apparent source of the villains that Supergirl is apparently being set up to fight this season intriguing. It's definitely more refreshing than the Smallville villain of the week that received his or her powers from exposure to Kryptonite, or even the improvement of the villain of the week meta-human created by the particle accelerator explosion typically used in the first season of The Flash. That being said, I hope that they go beyond just the villain of the week formula, though I am interested in seeing where they go with this.

I also like that Superman can be casually mentioned in the series without ever really being fully shown. It's a reminder of Kara's history and culture, while reminding us that she is not her cousin. I will say, however, there is a line of talking about him too much. As this was the pilot, and an origin story, I'll give the numerous mentions of Kara being Superman's cousin a pass, though in the future, I hope that this will be more balanced, as talking about him too much (even without him being seen) takes the focus away from the characters in this series.

This is as much as is ever shown of Supergirl's well known cousin, Superman
And finally, I do like Supergirl's costume. It is more styled after the classic costume. And as Kara is trying different styles, they even poke fun at the bare midriff style of costume that has been seen in more recent years in the Supergirl comics. The costume that Supergirl ultimately goes with is a good fit for Kara's personality.

Bare midriff may be the modern costume style for Supergirl,
 but it's definitely not Kara's style
I do intend to continue watching Supergirl, and seeing where the show-runners take this series. However, I cannot say that I am excitedly waiting for the next episode in the same way that I was watching the first seasons of both Arrow and The Flash. This series still has a lot of potential, and I hope to see it reach the same level as I've come to expect for a live action TV series that depicts DC Comics characters.