Both Geekdom and the mainstream are abuzz over CBS’s Announcement of over the series commitment to “Supergirl,” an hour long superhero drama from Ali Adler, executive producer of “The New Normal” and Greg Berlani, executive producer of the successful series “Arrow.” And, rightfully so, as a female superhero lead on network television has been long overdue especially after the massive failure to launch a series about Wonder Woman in 2011. But, is Supergirl the right female superhero that our current era needs?
It very much depends on how makers flesh out Supergirl, aka Kara Zor-El, as she decides to embrace her superhuman abilities and become the hero she was destined to be. Supergirl as a character can be exceptionally challenging to convey in a meaningful manner. The facets that most easily distinguish a superhero character—namely, their powers—are not unique with her in most iterations of the character (minus the “Matrix” Supergirl of the 1980s and 1990s), being essentially identical to her cousin Kal. The writer is thus afforded both the opportunity and the challenge to find another method of distinguishing Kara both from her Kryptonian cousin and the plethora of other ‘flying bricks,’ both male and female. The best writers, such as John Byrne in the 1980s and Peter David in the 1990s (as well as the collective writers behind her portrayal in the DC Animated Universe) flesh out her personality and character, making her a unique and engaging addition to the collective narrative. However, the worst writers—and even the mediocre ones—fall into the trap of simply latching onto the gimmick of her gender. This, taken to its logical extreme, results in the oversexualization of the character without any complimentary character development, leaving us a Supergirl who is misused for little more than cheeky fan-service.
Kara at her best is smart, loyal, and a worthy ally to Superman, but the Dark Age of comics and the modern hyper-sexualized age have seen her at her very worst. What’s even more saddening is that Supergirl hardly has the market cornered on cheeky fan-service; this is a niche far better served by her busty counterpart/expy/alternate self (take your pick) Power Girl, who combines a gleeful in-your-face cheesecake appeal with an engaging personality and clever wit. In the hands of lackluster writers, poor Supergirl is left to compete poorly with Power Girl in the realm of both male-centered fan service and genuine character development. This is arguably a slap in the face to the character’s proud history and strong story-telling potential, but it is the modern trend, and is a form of fan service purgatory that the character still strongly lingers in. This is what makes me fear for the future show—which Supergirl will we see? Current trends portend a displeasing answer.
Ultimately, in the age that “Smart is the New Sexy,” a just brawny babe or dude who relies on super powers and strength just doesn’t seem to cut it. In this new era, it seems that in 2012 ABC and other networks made a big mistake passing up Melissa Rosenberg (Twilight screenwriter), and then also passing on a series featuring Jessica Jones, a relatively new Marvel character who first appeared in the series Alias in 2001. Why would Jessica Jones (Aka Jewel, Knightress, and Power Woman) been a better choice for current audiences? Even without the radiation that gave her superhuman strength, psionic protection, and flight, she has the skilled mind of a great detective, investigative journalist, advanced training in hand to hand combat. But fear not Film Fad fans, even without the mass reach of network television, Disney and Marvel announced last winter that the series will air on Netflix with Rosenberg both writing and producing the series, in case you haven’t already heard. It is slated to air after Netflix’s Daredevil in 2015.
Supergirl is a character who had one job–to protect and help a young Kal-El–but, by chance, was unable to do so. Unlike Kal, she is old enough to remember Krypton and its destruction, though in most incarnations she is young enough to not fully understand the tremendous power she now possesses on earth. This makes her a compelling character with emotional and physical challenges to push through. Both Arrow and the upcoming Flash feature leads who are not only strong but highly intelligent and whose characters in the comics seem to be more of a focal point of their brains than their strength. Will the producers of these top-notch and fast-paced series follow suit with Supergirl, or will she suffer a ‘brawn over brains’ mentality and only show up to punch bad guys then throw them through styrofoam walls—or even worse, be trapped in the undignified “fan service” ghetto that is still so paramount in this medium?