It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s –
Nobody here needs to be told that, on Oct. 26, it will be Supergirl – on TV, at least.
The new CBS series is coming with a lot of hype in the mainstream media, and a lot of hope among superheroine fans. There’s been a good deal of back-and-forth at Superwomenmania.com, and scattered posts at the Aurora Universe Readers Group.
The first episode has been put up online, without the official sanction of the network, but perhaps with its connivance as part of the PR blitz. Tarot Barnes has seen it, and given it a positive reaction at the Aurora Universe Readers Group; reaction has also been positive by Shadar and others at Superwomenmania.com. That episode will be one of the main attractions at Comic-Con in San Diego Thursday through Saturday, July 9-12, I won’t be there, and may not even be able to keep up with the fan reaction, since my wife and I will be visiting family.
Most of the hype has centered on the casting of Melissa Benoist, a veteran of Glee, as Kara Zor’el; on the design of her costume by Coleen Atwood (who has won three Oscars, but not for the suits of the The Flash or The Arrow); and on whether the series will take a comic or serious approach to the story. Benoist herself is on record that, even if there are camp aspects, ìI don’t think that takes away from the female empowerment.î It’s a given that she can fly, that she’s bulletproof, and that she can rescue people – among them her foster sister Alex – on a plane about to crash in a river. It’s also a given that there’s an Origin Story that involves the Phantom Zone as well as Krypton, and that she faces villains from the Phantom Zone as well as Earth – like the bank robbers who shoot at her.
Benoist as Supergirl looks incredibly sexy, but she isn’t a stereotypical sexpot with nothing going for her but big breasts and the cleavage to show them off. She's got personality; she's the winsome Girl Next Door type any guy in his right mind would love to have in bed, knowing shat she could enjoy herself there as much as him – but with the added spice that she’s super, and that he’d be the luckiest man in the world if she invited him to worship her – body and soul. That’s akin to the Aurora Universe fantasy...
I never saw the 1984 Supergirl movie, starting Helen Slater (who is on board for the TV series as Kara’s foster mother), but I gather it was a flop after getting terrible reviews. One of the problems may have been that the heroine wasn’t allowed to deal with any real world crises or even with male villains. Instead, the story had to do with a witch named Selena (Faye Dunaway), who had got hold of a device called the Omegahadron that was designed to power Argo City but could somehow empower her to cast a spell to strip Supergirl of her powers and send her to the Phantom Zone – from which she is freed only by the self-sacrifice of the exiled Kryptonian Zaltar. There was more silliness on top of that – don’t ask!
But that was it for Supergirl on screen, except for the 2007-8 season of Smallville, in which she was played by Laura Vandervoort – only she too was exiled to the Phantom Zone at the end of the season. She returned a few times after that, but eventually had to leave for good in order to get out of the way of Clark Kent. Superman, by contrast, has been on the screen since the Max Fleischer cartoons of 1941-43, then on TV during the 1950’s with George Reeves, and later on the big screen again in 1978 with Richard Donner’s Superman, which led to several sequels also starring Christopher Reeve, There was Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns (2006), with Brandon Routh; and Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (2013), with Henry Cavill.
Of course, there was Wonder Woman on TV (1975-79), with Lynda Carter, following a one-shot 1974 movie with Cathy Lee Crosby. Wonder Woman became a feminist icon, embraced even by Ms. Magazine, which featured her on the cover of its first issue in 1972:
She made a return appearance on the cover of the 40th anniversary issue in 2012, and just last February, it ran a feature on Jill Lepore’s The Secret History of Wonder Woman, But as played by Lynda Carter, the character was widely regarded as a jiggle queen appealing only to men’s fantasies – and Lepore, in an interview with Ms., said radical as opposed to liberal feminists saw her as “a complete catastrophe, a complete betrayal of everything feminism stood for. That there was all this emphasis on the individual, that the only way to actually triumph was to have super powers? What kind of equality is that?” On the other hand, there seem to be a lot of men out there who feel threatened by any kind of female empowerment, as witness the seeming popularity of “peril” stories and videos of superheroines brought low. Nearly all the porn videos about superheroines involve them being subdued somehow and forced into sex. In a few of the many retcons of the comic book, however, Steve Trevor gets to bed Wonder Woman, rather than just being repeatedly rescued by her and otherwise admiring her only from afar – never noticing that she looked like “Diana Prince,” any more than Lois Lane ever noticed Clark Kent was a dead ringer for Superman. In one version they had a daughter; and even if there weren’t any sex scenes, we can presume they had the hots for each other – just like the Velorians and the Terrans they make love with in AU fiction.
There has been a lot of “news” about a new Wonder Woman movie to be directed by Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot, coming to the screen in 2017. But that doesn’t seem to be quite a done deal yet – according to IMDB, for example, it’s only “rumored” that Trevor will be in it. And while there have been a number of blockbuster movies featuring comic book heroes, the comic book superheroines have been relegated to secondary roles. In the comic books from which they sprang, moreover, there have been so many reboots and retcons that one hardly knows what to make of them any more – not just what their powers are, but what they stand for..
Superpowered heroines have otherwise seemingly been relegated to the margins of fan culture. There was Mandi Steele’s The Awakening (2005), her first and last feature film. Kelly Johnston, who was the driving force behind that film and had a lot to do with the whole Steeleverse thing, now mostly moribund, later tried to launch a video series called Athena, but nothing came of it. Project Superwoman hasn’t put out a new video for a year, although it brought out a comic book last May; and the latest videos from Superheroines.net are from two years ago – except for a Peril item from last October. New Goddess Cinema may be doing better with Evil Woman and Vampire videos than with superheroine fare, for all I can tell. Katie Norris was appealing in Confessions of a Teenage Supergirl (2006), produced and directed by Dan Nastro – but nothing further ever came of that after the “to be continued” notice at the end, although the original video is still available online (The link doesn’t seem to work on Safari or Bing as opposed to Firefox):
Among major motion pictures, there was Ivan Reitman’s My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006), which featured Uma Thurman, but made her G-Girl character obnoxious. Not a way to create a franchise! That same year there was “She’s a Marvel,” a special episode of the TV soap opera Guiding Light, in which one of the regular characters, Harley Davidson Cooper, gets superpowers in a freak accident. Soap fans hated it, but soaps were in decline anyway, and Guiding Light bit the dust three years later. I managed to find inspiration for my own spin-offs on these two stories, “His New Super Girlfriend” and “Electricity” – but I don’t think they attracted many readers.
There’s been a lot of rhetoric lately about a War on Women, the assumption being that women are being abused more than ever before in history, that the incidence of rape is skyrocketing, and so on. The “war” may be overhyped, but there is certainly a subculture that demeans women, perpetrated by the kind of guys who think it is “manly” to get women dead drunk and then fuck them. Perhaps even more troubling is a subculture of women who romanticize abuse – the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon. And there are enduring clichés of another sort, like the one about the “male gaze” that supposedly demeans women (This doesn’t necessarily mean staring at then in a crude and obvious manner, let alone making lewd propositions.). Only, there was a news item the other day that 82% of the people going to see Magic Mike XXL (a movie about male strippers) are women – like, there isn’t a female gaze?
Will the new Supergirl series change things? Will it inspire women to seek empowerment in their own lives and men to admire women who can take an equal place beside them, instead of only under them? I hope so. I even hope that it might create a market for the kind of fiction we write. But nothing is guaranteed.
A lot depends on the chemistry between the star and the supporting players. There are hints of a “love interest” in James Olsen – no longer a mere cub reporter for the Daily Planet, but a veteran photographer, played by Mehcad Brooks – who is bald and black. That might rub some fans the wrong way, even in our supposedly enlightened times. Then there are the members of the Danvers family, who raised her and still play a part on her life. There is the business of CatCo, the media conglomerate she works for as “Kara Danvers;” and Hank Henshaw, an ex-CIA agent who works for the Department of Extra-Normal Operations, and sees her as a threat. Will all these characters and elements mesh, or only clash? And can the episode plots be truly inventive, or will the series just settle into a rut – say, with a Phantom Zone villain of the week. Some reviewers online have complained of continuity glitches in the pilot, as with her fighting skills changing from one scene to another, or her first cape being shredded by bullets that don’t damage the rest of her outfit. Further carelessness could put off viewers.
What’s the verdict? We’ll just have to wait and see!