On Wednesday, CBS released the action-packed first look at this fall’s live-action TV show, “Supergirl.” The reactions to this trailer might be the fastest I’ve ever seen the Internet snake snarf down its own tail, with opinions jumping from excitement to skepticism in a single Tweet. Much of what I saw was heartfelt emotional praise for, at long last, a superheroine starring in her own story. The producers did an outstanding job raising expected questions and slamming them back down with concise answers in this trailer, and I’m optimistic that this show could be exactly what fans demanding more women at the front and center have been hoping for.
While I am not well-versed in the canon of DC Comics’ “Supergirl,” I want this show to be wonderful. The trailer made me care about a character I haven’t really paid attention to before, which is a sentiment I saw echoed by other comics fans. I want “Supergirl” to be profitable, further proving that audiences support female leads in comic book adaptations. As awesome as Marvel’s “Agent Carter” is, it’s not the same as having a superheroine that can fly, lift airplanes and stop car chases. We are getting a powerful woman in Melissa Benoist’s Kara Zor-El that isn’t part of a team and isn’t answering to anyone, and it’s long overdue.
But there are some legitimate questions to be asked — so let’s review the most common reactions that I’ve been seeing and how I’m managing to stay hopeful.
“It looks like the Black Widow sketch from ‘SNL!'”
It’s true that my first impression, like many other viewers, was how much the first 30 seconds of the trailer resembled the recent “Saturday Night Live” sketch featuring Black Widow in a cheesy chick-flick rom-com version of her super-self. That sketch had a clear message: Marvel doesn’t know what to do with female heroes beyond placing them in familiar lady-type-situations, like the stress of getting a boyfriend. It’s a valid critique of how Natasha has been handled, especially since there’s no Black Widow solo movie or toys on the horizon just yet. Natasha is a grown-ass lady with an established career as a spy and a complex backstory rich with possibilities — but Kara isn’t.
Sure, we see a young, peppy ponytailed girl bumbling her way through a less than satisfying job with a demanding “Devil Wears Prada” prototype boss, flirting awkwardly with cute boys and living in an apartment way too large for her salary. These are typical tropes of many female-centric films — which is cool in a way, since the writers are acknowledging such things exist and may be the way idealized “normal” life appears to a young outsider like Kara. I mean, she’s from another planet. Clark Kent was goofy as hell sometimes, and it feels like Kara’s behavior is consistent with that. Using these tropes effectively isn’t a bad thing. They are directly marketing to female audiences, who have provided decades of financial evidence that those stories make money — like it or not, that’s a deciding factor in what ends up on TV. We immediately understand where Kara is at in life, and it’s a relatable place. She is uncertain of her direction, feeling like she isn’t living up to her potential all while attempting to shoehorn herself into an ill-fitting mold. She has hidden her true gifts for the sake of being normal — but normal isn’t cutting it anymore.
In a moment of frustration, Kara says, “I can lift a bus, stop a bullet! I can fly… at least, I think I can!” She is questioning her powers, remembering what she has put aside to pursue a mainstream life. From this moment on, it seems that unlike the “SNL” parody sketch, “Supergirl” will focus on a woman reconnecting to her power instead of a woman getting a guy.Â And that’s something I want to watch.
“But why does she have to hide her powers in the first place?”
Yep, that is a valid thing to think about. Male characters frequently embrace their abilities, choosing to keep them a secret only to protect their loved ones (speaking of tired tropes) but reveling in their powers the rest of the time. From what this trailer shows, it seems that Kara has voluntarily ignored her abilities and instead wants to try her hand at a career and an average life. From how we see Kara reacting to the idea of everyone knowing who she is, it’s clear that she has no intention of being discrete once she’s let the cape out of the bag.
I’m a 34 year-old woman — ten years older than Kara’s character — and I regularly ask myself why I chose to stay at certain jobs or in certain relationships when I know that I could have had something more fulfilling. Seeing just a few moments of a character exploring those same thoughts touched me. I know that I’ve downplayed what makes me special to be more attractive to men, or friends, or bosses. There are far too many times where I’ve worked hard to be non-threatening and non-confrontational, ultimately sacrificing my self-esteem while bolstering the egos of others. Re-learning how to be true to myself was challenging, and this is a reality that many people face. I’m hopeful that this is what we will see from Kara — not a woman hiding her powers, but a woman being too overjoyed by their presence to deny them any longer.
“But she seems like such a silly cheerleader.”
Benoist is bringing an enthusiastic charisma to Kara. This is a 24 year-old girl that seems to have good self-esteem, is building confidence in her identity and wants to have fun. Even in the scene where her sister’s plane is about to crash, there is the look in her eyes of a person having found their true place. She’sÂ gotÂ this. She wants to save people, to make the world better, just like male counterparts with similar motivations that are never accused of being anything less than… well, heroic.
It’s true that “Supergirl” isn’t gritty and dark like “Arrow” and “The Flash,” and I feel it’s about time we see a comics adaptation with a different tone. I’m excited for a happy, upbeat counterbalance to all of the doom and gloom. I got less cheerleader vibe and more “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” — a woman that understands there is darkness in the world and can fight it without letting it consume her.
“Her costume is too sexy/not sexy enough.”
In just over six minutes, this first look managed to initially soothe several reservations I had, namely Supergirl’s representation in her world and how they would show her physical strength coexisting with her femininity.
We see Kara try on two different costumes — one a skin-bearing two piece and a more modest dress. That scene shows something not often seen in superheroine stories: a choice. Kara could’ve picked the more revealing costume, but up until that point we’d seen her in conservative, classic, body-conscious skirts and sweaters. The two-piece would be a departure from her established style, and in a story about a girl accepting who she is, that costume would have been a contradiction. I appreciated that it showed her experimenting with different looks, ultimately landing on an outfit that she adapted to her needs: a skater-style dress with tights and boots. Functional, cute and drawing attention to what Kara wants people to notice: her family crest, proudly representing her commitment to mankind.
“But she’s so girly!”
I was particularly impressed with Cat’s speech about Kara’s reaction to her given mantle. “What do you think is so bad about ‘girl’?” she asks, going on to list her own attributes. And this one sentence speaks volumes — whatÂ areÂ the reservations toward Kara being a traditionally feminine character? Authentic diversity comes from showcasing a range of people including all sorts of gender presentations, and there isn’t anything wrong with a superheroine being femme. Kara is arguably the most physically powerful person in her world. Why does that mean she needs to exhibit typically masculine qualities associated with strength? Why does she need to eschew going on dates and talking about what she’s going to wear? She doesn’t.
Women face so much scrutiny as it is, constantly being told we aren’t pretty enough, we don’t have the right body, we aren’t well-groomed enough, or perfect enough and I was pleased to see no trace of that. Cat teaches Kara to dismiss hesitations, reminding her that if anyone perceives Supergirl as anything less than excellent, thenÂ theyÂ are the problem. Is it a little cheesy? Sure, but it’s important. There are viewers out there that have never heard that message before. It cannot be overstated that women don’t need to take up less space or apologize for our powerful existence. Just like Kara, we are flawed, we are seeking and ultimately we want to find joy.
All in all, I’m looking forward to watching. I like this Kara Danvers and I’m ready to know more about her. In a very small amount of time, her obstacles and triumphs brought me (and several other ladies I know) to tears. Even something as simple as the decision to give Supergirl her own series chokes me up and gives me hope that the future of the comics industry is one where I, and lots of other girls, will have touchstones we can see ourselves in.
So what do you think? Will you tune in this fall? And where should I start my “Supergirl” reading?
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