DC Universe’s Stargirl series is not to be confused with Disney+’s Stargirl movie. Now it’s also The CW’s Stargirl. Since television is drying up, why aren’t you watching it? We’ll soon be out of bread & circuses!
The first trailer made the show look cheap in a bad Smallville way. The actual production values, however, are higher than Beeboverse shows. I also got the impression that it would be a lighter series intended for younger audiences, but it gets plenty dark. Kids love stories that don’t talk down to them more than adults may believe, so it could still be a youngling favorite. This series is a rarity for superhero shows this year for its lack of time travel. Lengthy SPOILERS for ethics in teen superheroism below!
The opening sequence is the Injustice Society slaughtering the Justice Society of America as Stripesy calls out the superheros’ names. A dying
Star-Spangled Kid Skyman Starman instructs his sidekick to find a worthy bearer of the Cosmic Staff, specifically someone who isn’t Pat Dugan. Holy tonal whiplash, Batman! Even if Joel McHale wasn’t playing Starman, this bit is too smugly comedic for such a tragic moment so early in such an earnest series. How’d the public react to that massacre?
Courtney Whitmore is the extremely impetuous titular superheroine. She arbitrarily insists she’s Starman’s daughter based on nothing but the Cosmic Staff liking her & her real dad vanishing around the same time. She ignores her stepdad’s advice as veteran sidekick & the needs of her team. She’s still less obnoxious than CAOS’s Sabrina Spellman though since she gradually grows through humility. Brec Bassinger convincingly plays her like a real teenager. Starman was slain by being impaled in the tummy, so Courtney removed the entire midriff of his reinforced costume? Although the mask is still a bit weird, she gets the best of the three live action Stargirl costumes.
Geoff Johns is Lebanese-American. Despite basing her her off his late sister (both Courtneys have been edited into a photo), Courtney Whitmore is as lily white as can be. She could’ve beaten Kamala Khan to the Middle Eastern-American teen superheroine punch. It may’ve originally been an editorial mandate, yet but that seems less likely since Johns hasn’t made her less WASPy as he gained more creative control.
Rod Staff being sentient is new. (The Cosmic Control Rod is Annihlius’s weapon.) This allows it to do many narrative shortcuts like giving Brainwave a seizure by reflecting his psychic blast & chasing Icicle alone so it can get kidnapped. It encourages Courtney’s headstrong impulses & lets this gymnast ride it like a witch’s broomstick. Why does the Cosmic Staff refuse to do anything for Courtney while she believes she’s unworthy for not being Starman’s daughter even though it wasn’t under this impression when it chose her? Courtney also appears to wear the Cosmic Converter Belt, but it doesn’t explicitly do anything here.
Perennial sidekick Pat Dugan is a redhead in the comics. Instead of casting a brunet black actor, they’ve got a brunet white one. (Casting directors know they can choose from more than two races for those parts, right?) Where was your outrage over this, fake nerds? Wear a ginger wig or dye your hair, Luke Wilson! In addition to being the world’s greatest stepfather, he also improbably built an awesome mech-suit, STRIPE (Subatomic Tactile Robot Internet Pat Enhancer, a different dumb acronym from the comics’ Special Tactics Robotic Integrated Power Enhancer), from vintage car parts. His biological son, Mike Dugan, is more insufferable than Scrappy-Doo. He accidentally moved his new family to supervillain central. He’s actually very responsible though! He wanted to loop in his new wife about superheroics earlier than his secretive stepdaughter. (After the initial surprise, Barbara Whitmore reverses her plan to leave Pat & town when she looks into the villain conspiracy.)
Stargirl‘s pilot has more flying car action than seven seasons of Agents of SHIELD. The actor who plays Brainwave, Christopher James Baker, is also one of the bad Chronicoms last season. He was unable to get vengeance on the Cosmic Staff for viciously murdering his (non-flying) car! (This was secretly a windfall to her mechanic stepfather. “Coutney, I’m going to need you to recklessly damage as many cars as possible.”) Pat worked so hard getting STRIPE’s fist to shoot off only for Brainswave to throw it back at him.
I loves me some supervillain teams! The Injustice Society of America is like The Pride, except Stargirl has more costumed superheroics & the same amount of running away as The Runaways. (This sentence stolen verbatim from a top secret Discord.) They call themselves the Injustice Society not because they’re the adversary of the Justice Society but because they’ve banded together to fight injustice. That’s a better recontextualiziton than attempting to reclaim the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. The team relocated to Blue Valley, Nebraska to take advantage of its secret underground tunnels built by rogue Masons. It’s got a nice variety of personalities & powers. The team’s biggest weakness is its propensity to kill each other.
The leader of this iteration is The Icicle. He was a freeze ray wielder before Captain Cold & Mr. Freeze in the comics, but here it’s an innate power stemming from Norse Frost Giant lineage. (That’s typically the origin of Ice, so perhaps she’ll appear later as a relative.) Jordan Mahkent’s frosty body looks cool, but just wearing normal clothes on top spoils it. This widower’s been on a road trip for years to kill all the corporate polluters that gave his wife terminal cancer. Icicle has the hots for Stargirl’s mom. (Snowpiercer is also what Icicle named his trouser snake). Neil Jackson’s otherwise impeccable American disguise voice sounds a bit like Mayor Quimby when he says Barbara. Likewise his son, Cameron, has a crush on Courtney, but they barely interact so I keep forgetting it’s a thing.
Despite some of the villains having jobs at high school, Paintball the evil art teacher isn’t among them. If they wanted to keep the ISA for classic characters, Rainbow Raider or Crazy Quilt could’ve subbed in. I’m kinda disappointed the Injustice Society caged Solomon Grundy in its basement HQ instead of getting him an innocuous job like neighborhood ice cream vendor. This one has the build & moves of Donkey Kong.
This version of Sportsmaster feels more honest to the character than the Deathstroke clone Young Justice had (before having him fight real Deathstroke). I both hate him for being an annoying uber-jock & love that he’s so clueless about how annoying being a uber-jock is. He & Tigress are a fun yet lethal power couple who are such proud helicopter parents to Artemis Crock, most famous for supplanting Arrowette & Ravager in YJ. (This cartoon influenced Tigress & her daughter being cast as Asian American.) Neil Hopkins & Joy Osmanski are yet another example of the show’s superb casting. Why can’t Tigress just coach the Blue Valley High football team since she’s already a gym teacher? I would’ve expected Sportsmaster to teach PE & Tigress to run Ripped City Gym.
I didn’t expect The Fiddler to be a villainess in two primetime series. (Why’d I wager so much on The Top instead?) Isaac Bowin got his magic violin from a fakir (or demon disguised as one) in the comics, so it makes sense to cast a Desi actress as his wife. (His successor is also a women called Virtuoso.) Shockingly, their son plays the tuba. RIP Principal Anaya Bowin! (The Fiddlers being so disposable is the reverse of The White Violin being so powerful.)
Dragon King courteously asks if he can sit, has his brainwashed servants pull out his chair, & then quickly rises for his dramatic pronouncement! Dr. Shiro Ito is a WWII war criminal & a Yellow Peril throwback, which they surprisingly kept unaltered. While he & his daughter, Shiv, has a fraught relationship, it turns out he’s not quite as bad a dad as Brainwave. Unhooded Dragon King resembles Killer Croc. Not only does this nigh-immortal’s cape have a popped Dracula collar like Ra’s al Ghul’s should have, his bloody apron has a Professor Pyg vibe. Did assorted Batman baddies divvy up his attributes? The Synaptic Amplifier he built looks like an evil Cerebro chamber.
Shiv is an underused supervillainess. Unlike the rest of the villains’ offspring, she’s fully aware of the family business & eager to join in. Meg DeLacy brings this psychotic prodigy to life. Her fight with Courtney in the gym using a fire-breathing dragon scepter (directed by Howard the Duck’s girlfriend, Lea Thompson) may be the season’s best battle. Cindy Burman begging her dad to release her from dungeon time-out so she could kill Stargirl was hilarious.
Brainwave is a great example of how to make a forgettable villain absolutely terrifying just by taking their gimmick to its logical conclusion. Dr. Henry King Sr. became a murderer because he disdains listening to everyone’s thoughts! (You thought social media was odious!) You’re a fake nerd if you can’t name every gimmick in the arsenal of his murdered wife, Merry, Girl of a 1,000 Gimmicks! He absorbs his son’s powers after callously murdering him. He also wastes VHS tapes! “Or I’ll make up your mind for you” is most unnerving ultimatum a telepath can give.
At the end of his initial confrontation with Stargirl, Icicle arbitrarily endangers a school bus & directly kills Wizard’s son. I expected him to pin it on the new superheroine to galvanize his teammate, but he admits it wasn’t an accident before killing Wizard too. I guess this turn of events is supposed to confirm that the otherwise sympathetic Jordan Mahkent is a supervillain rather than a misunderstood anti-hero. He’s so sincere about wanting a better future for the next generation that making him a hypocrite feels like character assassination. Perhaps it would’ve felt natural if the Wizard’s son had been written as a bad seed rather than universally beloved? Losing a town councilman with a magic wand seems like a waste of resources too. Where’s the wand?
Pat’s efforts to dissuade Courtney from superheroism spurred her to recruit more children to endanger! The series could arguably be called Justice Society of America, although Stargirl’s new JSA is more like Infinity, Inc. Filling out the titular lead’s supporting cast with other superheroes is standard for the Beeboverse, although Crisis On Infinite Earths confirmed this series is isolated on the new Earth-2. It’s just sped up here. That pacing is preferable to never getting to the payoff that was frequent in the Defenders series. Her teammates have more personality than Earth-1’s JSA. (Remember when its Stargirl became Merlin by creating Camelot using a shard of The Spear Of Destiny? I’m still waiting for her to bind Etrigan to Jason Blood.) The Thunderbolt pen, Green Lantern ring, & Dr. Fate helmet Courtney stole from JSA headquarters (Where is it?) still need new wielders.
Yolanda “Wildcat II” Martinez becomes a pariah after her boyfriend, Brainwave Jr., leaks topless photos of her. Her family is especially awful to her. She’s slut shamed despite not actually being promiscuous. (I’m sure this happens frequently in real life, but it’s odd the injustice is that she’s been wrongly labelled rather than her sexual choices aren’t respected. It kind of implies shaming her would be acceptable if she actually was slutty?) Her Wildcat suit gives her feline powers rather than improving her boxing skills. This is an upgrade from Ted Grant’s lack of powers (aside from the nine lives he acquired late in the game).
This version of Beth Chapel breaks the tradition of all Dr. Mid-Nites being legitimutant doctors & blind except in darkness. I don’t want to see Beth get hurt, yet it is a big miss for sightless representation. I love how joyously nerdy Anjelika Washington plays her! It’s incredibly narcissistic that Dr. Charles McNider programmed his personality into the nigh-omniscient AI of his goggles. (Poor Hootie the owl doesn’t realize his human’s been dead for a decade.) Beth is hopped up on goofball goggles! Red Bee gets a shout out! Her parents starved because she didn’t make them lunch.
Hourman II is the inverse of Stargirl in that he is actually the offspring of a superhero & has an awful stepdad (who runs a sideline in selling his stepson’s carburetors.) Rick Tyler is just as hotheaded as Courtney though. He goes rogue on a mission trying to pry open Grundy’s cell with his bare hands for revenge, failing at both. Is the Hourglass filled with
Mirakuru Miraclo? He only gets one hour of roid rage a day! Hourman is a dumb name for someone who’s not a porn star, but an hour was a the biggest amount of time they’d invented by the 40’s. Nowadays he’d be called Centuryman!
Shining Knight constantly quotes Don Quixote as if it’s hip new lingo modern teens will grok. Mayhap he’s just going senile as is wont to happen when you’ve been alive since the Dark Ages. It must be so embarrassing to The Fiddler II that she hired Shining Knight as janitor. How’d he clear the background check? Oh, the ISA just brainwashed Sir Justin into forgetting he’s a superhero. He only wears his armor in a grainy photo. (The team portraits are a classy touch.)
Much like how it just rolls with superhero kookiness like lizard-men & the Arthurian knights that hunt them, this series leans into its aesthetic. Earth-2 has a low key retro vibe. The colorful costumes look like they leapt off the page, for better or worse. Wildcat’s jowls & Hourman’s canary cloak are two of the more questionable sartorial choices, but they have much more personality than black leather uniforms or street clothes. Tigress rocks the tiger-striped Lara Croft costume her daughter originated in the comics. Shiv may have the best costume, complete with skunk stripes unlike Megan Fox starring in Rogue. Unless the Cosmic Staff also keeps her toasty, Stargirl could use another suit for winter exploits.
Now that she knows the truth, will Courtney quit saying “Starman was my dad?” It’s not as snappy a catchphrase as “I used to be a barista!” Too bad there was no reference to her father being in The Royal Flush Gang.
I was expecting the Injustice Society’s Project: New America scheme to be commentary on certain Americans wanting a return to the “good old days.” Actually the big twist is its goal. It will brainwash a hundred million adults. That’s bad. The brainwashing will make them incredibly progressive. That’s good. The process will kill twenty-five million who resist. That’s bad. This is frogurt all over again!
So had the original Justice Society opposed them specifically to keep the nation’s status quo inequitable? I could see them doing a “the JSA were bad, actually” arc, depending on how much they’re worried about keeping them marketable. Come to think of it, the JSA were more racially homogeneous than their opponents. Likewise the eighth member of The Seven Soldiers of Victory may be Wing, the Crimson Avenger’s Chinese sidekick. (They could’ve gotten it down to Five Soldiers of Victory if they didn’t count white sidekicks Stripesy & Speedy too.) Maybe they won’t have the JSA be outright evil like the “original” Mystery Inc., but it’ll be a lesson in not putting your idols on pedestals.
Giving villains noble goals is a great way to add depth to them. Heroes fight them because they take the wrong approach to righting a wrong. The issue with this trope is that the heroes rarely demonstrate better ways to correct the imbalance. (Black Panther is an outlier in having the hero take steps to remedy a problem the villain railed against.) It’d be facile to have superheroes fix societal ills that bedevil us (especially when the populace resists the rare easy solutions like wearing masks in public), but it becomes an issue when the supervillains are the only ones trying to accomplish meaningful change. It just implies ravings against Social Justice Warriors are on the money. If the ends don’t justify the means, what does? Once the JSA Jr. defeats the ISA, will they be committed to fighting for political & environmental reform? It’s often hard to make those stories dramatically satisfying, especially in a genre that can have larger than life visuals.
Down three powered members, the Injustice Society doesn’t fare that well when the JSA puts them on the defensive. Shiv slays the Dragon King as soon as she escapes, thoroughly disrespecting Shining Knight’s dibs. (She’d previously murdered her mum, so this unlocks her Stabby Babs potential.) Just like in Gotham, Solomon Grundy has a penchant for bashing opponents with their own torn-off arms! Sportmaster & Tigress probably survive, though it’s unclear if they were arrested. The Gambler, who I didn’t bother mentioning earlier because he’s uninteresting, escapes unscathed by virtue of not being in the room where everyone charged at each other. The satellite broadcasting the more lethal version of Project Non Nocere is destroyed.
Brainwave tries to deceive Wildcat by cleverly disguising himself as his dead son, but she perceptively slashes his throat. He didn’t read her intention to do so? Meanwhile vengeful Hourman spare Grundy when he realizes he’s just been used as an attack animal. This is an inversion of their earlier conversation where Wildcat insisted God would disapprove of murdering a zombie. Is only foreshadowing dramatic irony only when it’ll be immediately relevant good or bad?
Icicle destroys Chuck along with the Dr. Mid-Nite goggles yet doesn’t blind Beth. Barbara’s claim that nobody died from thinking wrong is false since thought predicates action. (Disbelieving the germ theory of disease won’t protect you from coronavirus is just one 2020 example.) Although he doesn’t shatter after being knocked off a roof, Mike arrives out of nowhere to vehicularly homicide Icicle. It’s funny cause he smashed a man into ice cubes with a stolen truck & dog co-pilot. None of the superheroes raise the necessity of using less murdery stratagems to achieve the Injustice Society’s lofty goals. Having their scheme kill 1/4 of those influence seems like a cheap way to have the new JSA keep the moral high ground in thwarting it.
There’s plenty of teases for season two. Shining Knight is off to find the other
Seven Eight Soldiers of Victory & his pegasus, Winged Victory. The traitorous Shade only has a cameo, yet this version is already a significant upgrade than the one on The Flash. James Robinson, who revitalized him in Starman, is one of Stargirl’s writers & producers. Shiv is totally going to form Injustice Unlimited with the other second generation supervillains. (They didn’t show their reactions to learning that their parents are supervillains & mostly murdered.) She’s also found Eclipso’s black diamond to possess some protagonists. Speaking of which, Sylvester “Starman” Pemberton is also suddenly alive because his actor’s too prominent to waste on a single scene.
Slightly truncated episodes of Stargirl aired on The CW a couple days after premiering on DC Universe as an inducement to lure in subscribers. It’s now been renewed for a second series but only on The CW. This support the theory DC Universe is doomed, but hopefully Doom Patrol will continue on HBO Max. Does this mean its budget will be cut significantly? Unless it cost more to make ten episodes of this than it does to make twenty-two episodes of a Beeboverse series, it shouldn’t be too noticeable a change in quality.
So Stargirl turned out to be much better than I expected. It doesn’t reinvent the superhero wheel, but it doesn’t need to. (If nobody reinvented the wheel, we’d never have cogs or tires.) I would like it to explore the ethics of heroism in a complicated world more, but I doubt it will that much. I’m looking forward to the things it does handle well instead. Stargirl is unashamed of being a comic book series without being constrained to a standard CW formula. It’s like getting a weekly dose of SHAZAM!
Will Cyclone pop up in season two? Although they’ve not referenced Ma Hunkel yet, her granddaughter is a Geoff Johns creation (a cameo in Kingdom Come notwithstanding). Beth has some of Maxine Hunkel’s characteristics. Supposedly Cyclone will be in Black Adam despite never interacting with him. Perhaps the character is actually Isis with her vast powers simplified to airbending like Legends Of Tomorrow’s Zari, & they wanted a less controversial codename? I don’t see this would preclude Maxine appearing on TV as Red Tornado though. Alternately I hear Isis & Cyclone, who was picked because Stargirl was embargoed for TV (usually it works in the opposite direction), will be separate characters.
Since Marwan Kenzari totally sold being an immortal romantic in The Old Guard, why not cast him for Hawkman in Black Adam? We could finally get a modern Hawkman adaptation without him being a creepy stalker devoid of charisma!
AT&T is laying off lots of DC Comics editorial staff! After twenty-two years, DC Direct/DC Collectibles has met its demise! WB will be taking huge cuts too. Kurt Busiek found a way to explain it using Ace the Bat-Hound & Krypto.
ABC is airing the final two episodes of Agents of SHIELD back-to-back, so it looks like I’m busy blogging this week!