Quick Review: Supergirl Trailers

So, as many of you (most? All?) probably already know, there’s an upcoming Supergirl TV show produced by Greg Berlanti, the same guy behind Arrow and Flash. Two trailers have already been released for it; you can find the first one here and the second, here. The first is over 6 minutes long, but the second clocks at just a bit over 2 minutes. You guys can go watch both if you haven’t already; I’ll wait.


Back already? Good! Now, let’s talk about them.

Now, I’ve never been a fan of the Supergirl concept (I prefer the idea of
Superman truly being the last son of Krypton) or the Kara character in
particular, but I think it’s problematic how this show is being marketed when compared to Flash and Arrow.

Let’s take a look at the first trailers for those series:

Arrow (example #1): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zt8Fbmg8S6k
Arrow (example #2): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2zrxQOLd3g&spfreload=10
Flash (example #1): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVDGoP4_VYE
Flash (example #2): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yj0l7iGKh8g

Look at their focus: superpowers! Origin stories! Plot hooks! Heroes rising above great challenges!

Now compare that with the first trailer for Supergirl and how it focuses on her double life as an
“ordinary” girl / extraordinary girl. I mean, it’s over 6 minutes long; how much of that time was spent showing Kara in her civilian identity as this cute, earnest young woman starting out a new job (so, basically the set-up for dozens of romantic comedies), as opposed to showing her as Supergirl? And can anyone imagine an authority figure turning to Superman or Flash and saying the only thing they can do to help is go get coffee?!

(Also, could Cat Grant – her boss, played by Callista Flockhart – be any more of a ridiculous ” ‘powerful’ female”
stereotype? Sure, the character started out like that in the comics, but she’s grown out of that for decades; I’m not an avid Superman reader and even I can tell you that!)

Now, to be fair, the second trailer is a lot better in many ways. For starters, it shows a lot more of Supergirl actually being a superhero and facing off against a superpowered villain (sidenote: does anyone know who that is? I’m not that familiar with the Superman / Supergirl mythoi, so I don’t know if he’s based off an existing comic book villain or if he was created for the show). Secondly, her sister is acting supportive; from the show’s description (“Kara grew up in the shadow of her foster sister, Alex“), I was afraid it was going to feed the stereotype that women can only be rivals.

But… Look at the emphasis on how comparatively fragile she is being thrown around by the bad guy, how she needs her sister’s help to gain the confidence to be the superhero she can be. Now, that, by itself, isn’t a problem; a large part of the superhero’s journey since Spider-Man’s debut, I believe, is they learning the ropes of superheroing, being defeated a few times by a villain here or there, that sort of thing. In short: it’s not a problem to show the hero growing up as he faces new challenges.

But look again at the trailers for Arrow and Flash. Do we see Oliver Queen full of doubts about whether he can clean Starling City of crime? Do we see Barry Allen afraid he won’t ever find out who really killed his mother? No! There is tension and hardship, yes – theirs won’t be an easy path -, but most importantly, we see their determination in meeting those challenges. The series themselves do show moments of weaknesses on their part, but the way those trailers introduce the characters to the public – done before the shows had aired, remember – only focuses on heroes being heroic. However, when it comes to presenting a female superhero, the focus isn’t on her being already a hero, but on her getting there.

Now, I don’t think any of those things are intentional. The “new girl in town” scenes of the first trailer are there probably because they want to show that this series will be more lighthearted (even comedic) in nature than the other two;  and the scenes with her losing the fight or doubting herself are there probably to showcase her superhero’s journey. Plus, the original Supergirl stories from decades ago had plenty of wackiness and romantic subplots.

Here’s the thing, though: so did the Superman stories, with the interminable love triangles between Clark Kent, Lois Lane and Superman and Superman, Lois Lane and Lana Lang. As for wackiness, heck, the Silver Age of comics is mostly famous for its wackiness! Not only that, but the second trailer makes it clear they don’t intend for the show to be focused only on the rom-com elements. So I can’t help but think there’s something more insidious at work here, that the only reason those elements take the specific forms they do (set-up for a romantic comedy, fragility and insecurity) is because the protagonist is a woman. Or, to put it another way: even as they’re creating something new, they’re still falling on the same old storytelling tropes about female characters. It’s similar to what happened with Valka in How to Train Your Dragon 2: back when they still planned for her to be another antagonist, she was important to the plot, but once they decided to remove that storyline – once she was no longer an antagonist, but only a female character -, her role was reduced to being saved by Stoick and giving Hiccup an inspiring speech.

Hopefully, the Supergirl show will subvert my expectations, but the marketing for it has been quite disappointing, to say the least.

12 Comments

  1. Hadithi says:
    I sort of agree with you, but sort of don’t. I don’t think that they’re setting up Supergirl as the romcom protagonist. I think they chose her because she’s already kind of the romcom protagonist – personality wise. There’s been some debate over this, but I’ve heard a lot of people say that shy and insecure is part of who Kara is in the comics, and usually the defining part of her origin story.

    I agree that the marketing is sexist, but I think that’s what they intended. I don’t think they thought “let’s make a female superhero show” they thought “let’s make a superhero show for women”. They think this is what women want to see when they ask for a superheroine, rather than the general consensus being that most women asking for it want something along the lines of Arrow or Flash or the big budget superhero movies like The Avengers. The genre can (and should) stay the same, but I think the marketing companies have trouble wrapping their minds around that concept.

    I hope the show’s writer can.

    1. SpoonyViking says:
      […]but I’ve heard a lot of people say that shy and insecure is part of who Kara is in the comics, and usually the defining part of her origin story[…]

      Which Kara, though? Matrix (the first post-Crisis Supergirl) wasn’t; she was somewhat emmotionally immature at first, but that was because she was an artificial lifeform who had only recently been “born”. The second post-Crisis Supergirl – who really was Kara Zor-El, kryptonian – wasn’t shy at all and was only insecure in that she didn’t know how to fit in Earth society, having grown up as a kryptonian. Her New 52 incarnation doesn’t seem to be insecure at all. Maybe that applied to the original, pre-Crisis Supergirl, but that’s a big maybe – after all, that was the same Kara who gave her life fighting the Anti-Monitor in the Crisis.

      Besides, even if “shy and insecure” fit all incarnations of the character perfectly, they’ve never hesitated before revamping a character for their shows (Arrow‘s Oliver Queen has precious little in common with the comics’ Oliver Queen; likewise, there are significant differences between both versions of Barry Allen), so why would they decide to keep exactly those traits for Supergirl?

      Even if the reason is something as seemingly innocuous as “they thought ‘let’s make a superhero show for women’ [and] they think this is what women want to see when they ask for a superheroine”, isn’t reflective of a rather sexist thinking?

      1. Hadithi says:
        I completely agree that it’s sexist! There’s no doubt. I was just thinking that the sexism came from the marketing aspect of it and the audience they expect, rather than coming from the idea “this is what a woman is”.

        You also make a great point with the loads of iterations of Supergirl, and how they’ve never hesitated to change a character when they adapt.

        1. PostguestivePostistPhase says:
          I can already bet my horse that this show will have a lot of romcom shenanigans and Supergirl will be far more girl than Super, especially compared to other cape stuff. Because obviously women wouldn’t enjoy it without those, the spectacle of superstrong punching that’s the hallmark of the genre won’t work here because that’s boys’ stuff with cooties on it.
          1. SpoonyViking says:
            I can already bet my horse[…]

            Is it called Comet?

        2. SpoonyViking says:
          Hm… That’s entirely possible. However – and perhaps I’m underestimating the power of marketing -, I don’t know if they could sell the show like that unless the writing somehow already reflected those things.
          Well, we’ll confirm whether it’s one or the other when the series actually begins. :-)
  2. actonthat says:
    The amount of similarities this had to the joke SNL trailer was one of those speechless moments for me. There is literally no difference between satire and the crap studios are churning out for teh wimmins.
  3. illhousen says:
    That reminds me rather uncomfortably of the “science fiction for people who don’t like science fiction” slogan.
    1. SpoonyViking says:
      That’s how Meyer described The Host, isn’t it?
      1. illhousen says:
        Well, I don’t remember if Meyer specifically described it as such, but the slogan was definitely a part of the movie’s marketing.
  4. PostguestivePostistPhase says:
    A very belated additional word on this stuff now that I’ve actually watched some of those other cape series: They’re so full of stupid soapy crap. Imagine a giant jpg of crap here.

    So fucking much soap opera happens in Green Arrow’s life, I’m astonished the actor didn’t drown in bubbles while filming. Flash is a much better series but also has a gratuitious amount of a cancerous “romance” subplot wasting valuable runtime. They’re cool series when they don’t waste my time with Niceguyery 101 by B. Allen and Advanced Four Timing 301 by Prof O. Queen. The worst thing is the wasted potential: they’re still good shows but both would become a billion times better off if all the soapy crap was cut and the time spent on characters or punching.

    They also have the hot Amanda Waller, which is even more unforgivable than the soap crap infesting them.

    Ontopically, if this Supergirl series (which I won’t watch because I really don’t care about knockoff versions of other heroes, they can come back when they got something unique) is built upon Flash and Green Arrow moulds, it’ll also be filled to brim with unnecessary drama and riddled with soap cancer and that’ll have nothing to do with Supergirl being girl. It’s just how tv cape writers roll apparently. Or maybe it’s unique to this specific network and their noncape series are also full of dumb shit. I don’t watch tv at all, let alone murrican tv, so I dunno.

    1. SpoonyViking says:
      Urgh, I never watched Arrow past the first season exactly because the drama was so pointless and the characters, so boring. I do still watch The Flash occasionally, but yeah, it’s much better when it drops the romances and focuses on the heroics (although I’d appreciate some actual character development in there).
      Supergirl has improved in many ways, but it’s still bad in many others. I’ve only watched the first half-season so far, but I intend to watch the other episodes. In general, though, I wouldn’t recommend it.

      That said, a lot of the bad is tied to Supergirl being a girl and can’t be ascribed solely to the usual “soap cancer”.

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