With a 43 percent market share, Marvel is the dominant force in comics, and on the big screen Marvel Universe is so expansive that 18 of the 25 highest grossing superhero movies have come from the creative mind of Stan Lee and his cohorts. It’s DC Comics’ properties, however, that are killing it on television, especially the live-action scripted series.
While Marvel shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter initially spun their wheels, DC’s Gotham did remarkably well for a series contractually unable to feature the Dark Knight, and Arrow, The Flash, and Supergirl have drawn huge audiences from their debuts. Although the overall tone may vary in order to mirror each hero’s personality, the Warner Bros. Television production teams have created a consistent look, feel, and style that allows for seamless crossover episodes (Barry Allen [Grant Gustin] and Cisco Ramon [Carlos Valdes] pop in this season of Supergirl). They’ve also managed to change enough to breathe new life into old characters and storylines. More importantly, however, they’ve tapped into what teens and millennials seem to like, reshaping the DC superhero sagas to appeal to a whole new generation.
Like Disney, DC’s series write for one audience, but insert enough allusions and pop-cultural references to appeal to others. Anyone old enough to remember George Reeves taking off his glasses and seconds later emerging in full ’50s Superman costume will smile when they notice that Kara/Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) also apparently wears her suit underneath her work clothes and does the same sort of melodramatic quick-change. Gen X-ers watching some of the campy Supergirl scenes with villains could be prone to flashbacks to the hokey-but-wildly-popular Power Rangers battles of their youth.
There are plenty of allusions here for self-confessed comic-book geeks as well, like a cute exchange between Superman (Tyler Hoechlin) and Supergirl where he says “Up, up” and she chimes in with “and away!” Kara/Supergirl even uses the “Look, up in the sky, it’s a bird …” to distract a villain so she can more easily dispatch him.
Whether Warner Brothers is paying homage or providing additional winks for DC fans who’ve been around long enough to remember, it’s fun that they decided to include alums of previous superhero films and TV series. Helen Slater, who played the title role in Supergirl (1984) on the big screen, turns up as the mother of Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh) and adoptive mother of Kara, while the girls’ father is Dean Cain, who played Clark/Superman in the ‘90s TV series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Among others who appear are Teri Hatcher (Lois Lane in Lois & Clark), Laura Vandervoort (Kara/Supergirl in Smallville), and Lynda Carter (TV’s Wonder Woman).
With regard to the show’s style, after working on 54 episodes of The Flash, production designer Tyler Bishop Harron lent his talents to season two of Supergirl, creating far-out cityscapes that provide the kind of verticality flying superheroes need to strut their stuff, although the set designs for other planets seem less lavish, and come closer to something you’d see in an Irwin Allen Lost in Space world. When you add Flash/Arrow alum and Emmy-nominated composer Blake Neely’s driving up-tempo score that manages to straddle the dramatic and campy, it’s fairly transformative. Same with the camerawork, which is comprised of fast pans and an abundance of 360, canted, and sped up or slowed down shots. These cameras in near-constant motion give viewers a deliberately varied and energetic visual experience. It’s a style that also helps the series find a reasonable middle ground between realism and comic book style; that middle ground plays as well to this intended audience as the old Adam West Batman series did for another generation.
Further, 54 percent of voters ages 18 to 29 years preferred Clinton over Trump, and the political undercurrent in the series reflects that. You don’t have to be terribly perceptive to notice, only headline-savvy enough to smile (or grimace) as you run across episodes titled “Resist” and “Nevertheless, She Persisted”. Season one introduced the phrase “stronger together” (Hillary Clinton’s slogan); season two offers not-so-subtle markers that betray the creators’ commitment to a left-leaning ideology.
When media mogul Cat (Calista Flockhart) verbally snipes at a replacement chosen by Kara (Supergirl’s street-clothes identity), Kara defends the woman: “She went to Yale,” she says. “So did George Bush,” Cat retorts. There are also plenty of subtler lines, as when the President takes J’onn J’onzz (David Harewood) to task for a comment about false hope: “It’s hope, John. How can it be false?’; later, J’onn is told, “It’s easy for the young to demand change. You were open to it.” In Supergirl viewers encounter a group determined to get rid of all aliens (immigrants) in the United States (not just villains), and a White Martian majority that won’t rest until the last Green Martian is dead.
That being said, a mountain of political allusions still wouldn’t be enough to make it the driving force behind this series. At its core, Supergirl is a personality-driven show, and Benoist is charismatic as can be in the title role. As one of the replacement characters in Glee, she also knows a bit about the target audience. In this series, she’s every bit the girl-next-door who just happens to have super powers because she was born on Krypton instead of Earth. The first season was all about her learning how to be Supergirl; this season it’s about her trying to nail down her other identity as a “human”; the same challenging journey faced by all teens and young adults. Who am I, and what career path should I follow? Kara/Supergirl may be a badass when it comes to wielding her powers, but she’s demonstrably awkward in social situations. She shrugs, she shrinks, she covers her mouth, she giggles nervously, she’s sometimes inarticulate, and, like the other characters, she struggles with dating and relationships. In other words, she experiences many of the things with which that the target age group can identify.
Benoist told Teen Vogue that she related to her Glee character because “I was such a wallflower in high school. I did a lot of extracurricular theatre shows, but at school, I spent a lot of time by myself. I ate lunch by myself, and I was always okay with it. But I was definitely made fun of and I always felt like an outsider.” That also sounds like perfect training to portray another outsider, an alien-on-Earth whose special talent isn’t singing, but flying. Also, super strength, and the ability to shoot destructive laser-like beams out of her eyes. Although I can’t imagine this series without Benoist as Supergirl, the rest of the cast also seems to have been chosen for their charisma; they’re such a strong group collectively that the show sometimes feels like an ensemble production.
This season, many of them join Kara in identity searches of their own. Promoted to head media giant CatCo, James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) questions whether he has what it takes to make the leap to leadership, and also yearns to become a superhero himself. Winn Schott (Jeremy Jordan) embraces but also resists the challenges of working for the alien-monitoring DEO instead of being a CatCo media techie. Kara’s adoptive sister, Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh) faces a more personal identity shift after she meets law enforcement agent Floriana Lima (Maggie Sawyer). J’onn J’onzz (David Harewood) faces a rather literal identity crisis when another Martian turns up in National City. Newcomer Mon-El (Chris Wood), whose trajectory (pun intended) matches Superman’s and Supergirl’s, learns how to pass for a human and put his powers to good use. Even new series regular Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath) has to cover new territory as she tries to convert her evil brother Lex’s business into something good. With so many characters and storylines, it’s likely viewers will feel an affinity with at least a few of them.
“Be your own hero”, Supergirl tells Lena, and that theme runs throughout season two; an egalitarian message that resonates because each character has a challenge to meet. Of the WB superhero shows, Supergirl is by far the most family-friendly, and a big reason is that the series seems conscious of its heroes being role models for younger viewers. The action almost feels like a two-by-four over the head to get people’s attention. This season you’ll encounter Superman in four episodes, as well as new superhero Guardian (Mehcad Brooks) and villains like Roulette (Dichen Lachman), Red Tornado (Iddo Goldberg), Livewire (Brit Morgan), Armek (Terrell Tilford), Metallo (Rich Ting), Music Meister (Darren Criss), and Mr. Mxyzptlk (Peter Gadiot) (a short bald man in the comics who’s turned into a more attractive if annoying suitor for Supergirl). If there were only those villains plus cyborgs, evil organizations, evil robots, and secret weapons that can selectively target aliens, Supergirl wouldn’t have the super drawing power that it does. Focusing on human elements and relationships adds a level of complexity to the usual heroes vs. villains comic-book structure and proves that Warner Brothers has been paying attention to Stan Lee’s pioneering comic-book double emphasis on the super and the human.
This Blu-ray release offers all 22 season two episodes, along with five all-new featurettes, including a fun “Facts for Fans”, an “Aliens Among Us” conversation between developer and executive producer Andrew Kreisberg and filmmaker Kevin Smith (who directed three episodes), and a perennial favorite for people unable to get to San Diego: a revealing 2016 Comic-Con Panel featuring actors Benoist, Brooks, Leigh, Jordan, Harewood, and Hoechlin. It’s clear from watching them interact that the stunts are demanding, and the affection that the characters seem to display for each other is rooted in an affection and mutual admiration that the actors have for each other. That’s ultimately what makes the series click, especially for a younger audience.