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.