Is Stargirl’s Summer School A Sophomore Slump?

Now that’s been exiled from DC Universe HBO Max to The CW, how’s Stargirl holding up? Is it a sophomore slump or does it pass with Paintball’s flying colors? Swing down for stars, sticks, shade, shivs, & SPOILERS!

ISA_TeamRocket

This would work better if Artemis was dressed like her mom instead of her dad.

Crime in Blue Valley has been at a lull since The Injustice Society Of America was thwarted by unseasonably warm Christmastime. Her JSA Junior is still not combating the underlying societal ills the ISA would’ve solved. Courtney Whitmore flunked two classes because she devoted her crisis-free months to only studying inactive supervillains. (Yes, Pat, what about Gentleman Ghost?) Thanks to Courtney, now Mobius’s brother doesn’t get to ride a jet ski either.

Stargirl is slightly less headstrong. Whereas this could’ve easily been portrayed as hormonal hysteria, it’s so consistent here that it just feels like her personality. Stubbornness has become derided a stereotypical flaw for “strong female characters,” but it works organically here. (It’s popular for protagonists of all genders because it allows conflicts to be stretched out due to their unwise decisions. I prefer to stretch my conflicts out with the less cinematic indecision because it worked for Hamlet.) They manage to walk the tightrope of having her be bullheaded but more endearing than Sabrina Spellman of CAOS. She promised her parents she’d be less impulsive this year.

Courtney Whitmore remains endearing because of Brec Bassinger’s Saturn-winning performance. She’s a one woman JSA! Does she ever put on a Russian accent to tell folks “I must Brec you!”?  Liar, Liar, Vampire features both Brec Bassinger & Sarah Grey, but it needed Britt Irvin for the Stargirl hat trick. (In She’s Funny That Way, Rhys Ifan’s character starred as the Red Bee in a five film franchise. Is Jason Statham doing the real life version?) Phil Jimenez designed Stargirl’s suit, but even Courtney’s casual clothes come from the comics!

Rather than getting unique titles, each episode is now “Summer School Chapter #?.” Wildcat’s parents make her attend summer school to keep their daughter in line. Can you enroll someone in summer school if they haven’t flunked any classes? The teacher who accused Hourman of cheating for acing his final & then demanding he take last year’s exam too is THE WORST.

Pat’s ex-wife, Maggie Shaw, is played by an uncredited Alicia Witt. Alia Atreides should be booking more important gigs. The mysteriously alive Starman sought her ought in the premiere for her ex-‘s whereabouts & then vanished until the finale.

The season begins by introducing Jade & Thunderbolt only to immediately push them aside because they’d be too helpful in vanquishing Eclipso. What’s taking the somehow not dead Starman so long to get to Blue Valley? When’s Shining Knight returning with The Seven Soldiers Of Victory? Will we meet Ted or Jack Knight in season three?

Barbara Whitmore is wise enough to call Pat when an antiquarian whose business card has no contact information inquires about buying The Wizard’s magic mementos. The Shade (not The Changing Man) is old enough to know this makes him look eminently suspicious! Despite Sportsmaster’s comment, Richard Swift doesn’t wear any ascots. Courtney was so delightfully excited when Pat told her The Shade arrived. She is wholesomely addicted to being a superheroine. The new Justice Society Of America look like trick-r-treaters next to The Shade in Mad Hatter mode. Jonathan Cake is superlative as a snobbishly genteel supervillain who doesn’t even want to deal with teenagers. As expected, this version is exponentially superlative to the one nobody remembers from The Flash.

TheShade

The Shade mimicked many of Gentleman Ghost’s traits after Zero Hour, so I worry that could kibosh GG’s usage.

Just like Beast Boy on Titans, Jade is deprived of her green skin. (Ordway Foster Home is named for The Power Of SHAZAM! writer/artist Jerry Ordway, but the staff seem like jerks.) Courtney may have wrecked part of her own house fighting her, but Jade shouldn’t have broken in to begin with. She shows off by making a giant replica of Obsidian’s toy car the first time she tries the Green Lantern ring. (This show is kind of obsessed with cars.) While Legends Of Tomorrow had Obsidian but no Jade, this has Jade but no Obsidian. Why didn’t Helix take both of Alan Scott’s shamebabies?

Johnny Thunder has a problematic origin as a mighty whitey in the comics. Instead of being a Jimmy Olsen doppleganger, this seventh son of a seventh son could’ve easily been Badhnisian, which is a fictional equivalent of Indonesian. His Zodiac Belt sounds like it ought to be more prominent. Here he’s played by Ethan Embry, who was the original casting for Nightcrawler, barely touching that backstory. The pink lightning djinn itself isn’t voiced by an Indonesian actor either, but I like Jim Gaffigan from Playmobil: The Movie. (It’s good, actually!) Why does the Thunderbolt live in a ballpoint pen? The Thunderbolt will grant wishes mischievously even if contrary to common sense or the wisher’s intention. Collaborative wish writing is surprisingly fun.

Zeek stumbled onto Pat’s secret robot, & decided he needed to upgrade STRIPE with a flamethrower. He’s disinterested in whether Pat may be a superhero. His reaction to seeing Thunderbolt is also wonderfully unique. Zeek’s actor is named King Orba!

I love how supportive Tigress & Sportsmaster are of Artemis. They didn’t really need to hide out with the Dugans if they wanted to watch their daughter’s try-out, especially as it didn’t appear there was any security chatty Pat had to sneak them through. It’s a shame her foster mom isn’t seeing to her nutrition. Artemis Crock being a polymath athlete without superpowers is low-key amusing when Stella Smith is so petite. (Riverdale copied this for Britta Beach. No offense to the actresses, but did they audition anyone who looks like they’d excel at football?)  Surely there will be other college recruiters who’ll overlook her temper? Artemis’s costume looks more like her dad’s gear, but she still has her mom’s crossbow. Let’s split the difference by naming her Sports-Tigress!

Is the House Of Secrets used bookstore run by Mark Merlin or Abel? The former is on a movie marquee, so probably not him. Ditto his alter ago, Prince Ra-Man, who isn’t soup.

Shiv & Eclipso transform art & general summer school teacher Paul Deisigner into a paint-symbiote version of Paintball who vomits color! We get art horror & Randy Havens! His name isn’t pronounced like designer? His paintings of The Black Diamond (nobody calls it The Heart Of Darkness) look a bit yonic. Cosmo the Cosmic Staff seems to cure him, but he still lost his marbles.

Courtney & Cameron remain an underdeveloped starcrossed couple. I don’t personally ship Starcat yet, but at least Courtney & Yolanda spend quality time together & feel anguished when apart. Aside from painting murals of his dead dad, Cameron Mahkent just broods in a less engaging manner than Hourman. I would’ve preferred the writers remembered Hournite rather than the C+C Snooze Factory. Because his helicopter grandma gave Cindy the cold shoulder, he doesn’t even join peewee ISA! The most Icicle II ever gets to do is as a hallucination. Eclipso doesn’t even corrupt Cameron by telling him the truth about his pops. He’s such a minor character that there’s no tension in such a slow freezer burn! Can Cameron unlock his Icicle powers & hook up with Artemis already?

Cindy didn’t even try to corrupt Mike the most-improved character. She just kidnapped him for bait when he called dibs on the giant drill bit. The school ravaging JSA vs. ISA battle was superb. I loves the shots of Courtney riding her staff through the air as it blasted. Eclipso manifests after Cosmo shatters The Black Diamond. His first act of villainy was to murder The Fiddler III, whose weapon had already been wrecked anyway. It seems a bit of a waste to to destroy Injustice Unlimited after its debut, but at least they went out with a bang.

Nick Tarabay is Eclipso because Captain Boomerang always returns when thrown away. Eclipso is the best live action Green Goblin costume. Instead of a shirtless edgelord, they deftly made his kooky Silver Age costume creepy. (This series is very toyetic yet McFarlane Toys has been ignoring it.) Oddly the blue penumbra area of his face often looks lighter than the rest of his skin.

This series has an embarrassment of riches for supervillains. Thanks to Eclipso’s visions, they even find clever cameos for deceased baddies. Only the still living Gambler doesn’t reappear.

Mike can have little a murder as a treat unlike guilt-ridden Yolanda. Wildcat wants to dethrone Daredevil in the Catholic guilt department. Unlike Artemis, Yolanda may be better off not being raised by her birth parents. She should move in with her cousin, Carcharo!

Season two makes lemonade out of covid filming conditions lemons. Setting it in summer school lets them keep the number of extras on set low. Eclipso ‘s presence make the summer weather cold & gray to disguise the season not actually being filmed in the summer.

Despite making Eclipso look menacing, he mostly manifests as the youngling form of Bruce Gordon. (As opposed to many child thespians, Milo Stein’s performance is intentionally creepy.) Unlike the ISA, Eclipso is a racist misogynist. The JSA in Beth’s vision imply they are too. (I wish they show would directly address the original JSA being less intersectional than their villains. The homogeneous team line-up makes sense in WWII but not the 21st century.) Beth overcomes him by herself because she chose to become Dr. Mid-Nite. The goggle databanks now acknowledge her as such too. This was a very satisfying win for her.

Yolanda returned her Wildcat costume, & Rick broke his hourglass. Solomon Grundy looks like a citizen of Pleasantville next to Hourman. He needs subtitles like the zombified Doom Patrol. Rick gets arrested for battering his drunk uncle after being tricked into thinking it was a child-murdering Grundy. (He’s innocent!) Grundy tosses apples to Hourman through prison window bars.

 Eclipso killed Dr. Md-Nite’s daughter decades earlier. (Dr. Charles McNider has been recast because Mike Flanagan called dibs on Henry Thomas.) The Flash said killing Bruce Gordon to stop Eclipso would be victimizing a victim. That is on point since Eclipso took advantage of him. On the other paw, Gordon is partially culpable for his deeds since he knowingly let Eclipso take over over his body. (Cindy showed it was possible to reject Eclipso’s sway.) That’s the kind of proximate causation that’d get you hauled away for Wendigo crimes up North! The Spectre couldn’t stop Eclipso, yet a handful of lower tier JSA members ended its threat by easily killing its human host?

JSA HQ is in Civic City. (Who’s been looking after Hooty?) Philadelphia is used for the establishing shot since that’s where it is in the comics. Pat said it’d be a short trip, but it’d take an entire day driving from Nebraska to Pennsylvania. The Milwaukee map in Todd’s room makes me think this Civic City is in Wisconsin, but that’d only halve the drive time. 

The Shade falling through the ruined kitchen ceiling during an argument is actually one of his better entrances. This magnificnt bastard was accidentally been empowered by The Men Of Tears cult, who will probably also be responsible for Johnny Sorrow. Rather than killing him during the JSA Christmas massacre, The Shade actually saved Dr. Mid-Nite’s life … by trapping him in a dimension of existential torment & forgot to rescue him for a eleven years. Some would argue that’s a fate worse than death. Why didn’t putting The Black Diamond back together heal The Shade? He sacrifices his remaining lifeforce to free Courtney, Chuck, & Cindy from the black & white Shadowlands. (Shadow-Barbara saying Courtney ruined her life was a realistic gutpunch.) The Shade dies doing what he loved: gazingly longingly at Charles McNider.

Introducing Jakeem Thunder by having his family literally call him a loser was rough in the sense that he has a terrible home life & the dialogue needed more specificity. I’m not sure how he’s a worthier Thunderbolt wielder than Mike. He’s even slower on the uptake that his wishes need to be worded specifically. Is the criteria that the wielder be a put-upon dope? This anti-Beth doesn’t even appear to be the seventh son of a seventh son. Jakeem’s portrayal feels like borderline racist comic relief.

The penultimate episode opens with a montage of Buddy the Stardoggo set to Right Said Fred? The Thunderbolt does Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs for Jakeem. Shiv has to use reverse psychology to get Yolanda to rejoin the team (Cindy is kind of right that Wildcat is the JSA’s weak link, aside from bolstering Stargirl.), while Pat does violence to Rick’s hospitalized dirtbag uncle to get him to drop the charges against his ward. Brutalizing wounded civilians is the mark of a true hero! Now that they’ve finally met, Beth & Chuck cement their best friendship.

Stargirl_Eclipso

Courtney Whitmore named the Cosmic Staff “Cosmo.” It probably named her “Stickgirl.”

Eclipso wants Courtney to embrace the darkness within as its new host. (I was expecting Barbara or Starman to fill that role.) Now that Eclipso is free, why does it want another host that’d make him vulnerable? It’s thematically appropriate since stars become eclipsed, yet she’d be cooler if she became Starrogirl The Conqueror! (A more intelligible headline for my last blog would’ve been “Starro Conquers Samhain!”) Getting Courtney to admit she hates him gives Eclipso the opening to possess her. Eclipso said she’d embraced the darkness, but this is a ridiculously low bar. She didn’t cross any ethical Rubicon! Now armed with grape-flavored Cosmo, Eclipso can merge the Shadowlands with Earth to feed on everyone’s darkness at once. Since Cosmo is sentient, couldn’t it just refuse Courtipso’s will? Wouldn’t her family turmoil & inherent light powers make Jade the better host?

The season finale has plenty of spectacle. Yolanda getting pugilized by an illusion of original Wildcat highlights how weird it was that she received a costume with claws when his didn’t have them. Shiv vs. her youngling self was more fun. Eclipso uses dodgy CGI to lope up buildings like Dracula. Thunderbolt gets Zeek the part to repair STRIPE so Mike can bust out its new flamethrower & chainsaw on Eclipso. Grundy gets a hole blasted through him! Courtipso opening the Shadowlands allows showman Dick Swift to reconstitute himself.

Starman finally arrives to help Courtney & Cosmo shake off Eclipso’s control. Stargirl, Starman, Cosmo, Jade, Jakeem, & Thunderbolt unite to literally make Eclipso toast! Will his next host have to eat him? Unlike the comics, Wilcat II & Dr. Mid-Nite II survive Eclipso! (Beth doesn’t even get blinded.) Solomon Grundy doesn’t, but The Shade assures Rick the zombie will rise again. Hourman hasn’t fixed his Mirakuru Miraclo-filled hourglass yet. 

I don’t like the idea of Starman & Dr. Mid-Nite acting as Infinity Inc mentors. They have too much direct expertise overlap with Courtney & Beth. It’s a more dynamic situation with more generalized peripheral mentors like Stripsey & Shining Knight. At least centenarian Chuck is retiring to reunite with his family. Does Beth get custody over Hooty? Revealing she’s a superheroine save her quasi-negligent parents’ marriage. They’ll make her a unique supersuit!

While assorted superheroes depart so they can gradually reassemble next year, the supervillains surprisingly stick around. I’m delighted we’ll be seeing more of The Shade, Shiv, Grundy, & the Crocks. No wonder next season is named “Frenemies.” Keith David is The Helix Institute’s & future DEO Director Mr. Bones, which is a slight balm after the world was robbed of his MODOK. Helix will have Obsidian, but hopefully it has the effects budget for Carcharo & Kritter the puppy genius too.

Shiv declares she wants a do-over like Yolanda to join the JSA. Wildcat didn’t get a do-over, however, since she chose to leave the group because her friends agreed killing Brainwave was justifiable. Meanwhile Shiv has been motivated almost entirely by destructive self-interest. Has she run out of resources & wants to wants JSA insulation? Is this her way of admitting she was only mean to Yolanda & Courtney because she’s attracted to them? While I doubt the sincerity of her desire for redemption, it seems like rejecting her offer could be more disastrous. Whereas Wildcat & Tigress have the overt cat motifs, Shiv is the show’s Catra.  

Stargirl: Summer School wasn’t a sophomore slump. If anything, it had the opposite problem of being too ambitious. The cast size ballooned so many players struggled for spotlight. Perhaps if these episodes were a full hour there’d be space for everyone. All the build-up to the new ISA was tossed out the window mid-season to make way for Eclipso. Although shocking, they could’ve saved that for a season finale cliffhanger. Speaking of which, the return of Starman is still unexplained, & he exists only as a plot device. The range of Eclipso’s, Jade’s, Shade’s, Thunderbolt’s, & Cosmo’s powers are still hazy. Despite all that, the second season was very entertainingly put together without a massive stumble at finish line like last year. Stargirl remains an appealing mix of nostalgia & novelty.

~

Eternals collaboreview is next!

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