We’re on the cusp of a new season of Supergirl, with the second season set to begin tonight. It’s Supergirl‘s second season on TV, but it’s her first on CW. One of the big elements teased running up to the debut of the show has been the appearance of the Man of Steel himself, Superman.
I’ve seen a lot of hemming and hawing about the show, the character, the actor, and the timing. But this, I think, is the perfect time to bring a character like Superman into DC’s television universe. The work by the writers of The Flash, the show’s first season, the origins of Supergirl herself, and the casting of Tyler Hoechlin as Superman all make this the right time and place. So, stop complaining for a second and let’s fly high enough to get a Kryptonian’s-eye view of the situation.
Comic books are silly
DC had a hard time finding its footing between the separate successes of their critically maligned but financially successful films and their group of television shows that was equally successful (relatively speaking) but opposite in almost every way. It was tough taking the source material seriously without being beholden to the gritty tone established by the Nolanverse Batman films.
At first, the two were kept entirely separate. Not just in story, but in characters, as well, with Arrow‘s Deathstroke, Deadshot, and the Suicide Squad being pulled to
Make room for their cinematic counterparts. Arrow co-creator Marc Guggenheim said in so many words that Deadshot was, indeed, “off the table” for the show.
But then The Flash happened. If the timing on this had been slightly different, the fastest man alive might not have been greenlit at all. If the Justice League film had been further in development, DC and Warner Brothers might’ve put the hammer down and kept the show from ever existing, isolating Arrow to his own universe. But the timing was right, and the same lightning that gave Barry Allen his speed hit the show itself. It was an immediate success both with the network and among fans. It left behind the vigilante-fueled tone of Arrow for one that embraced the comic books.
Then, as The Flash began its second season, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow joined the fray. Melissa Benoist stepped into the role of Superman’s cousin and gave the titular character a relentless optimism that helped hook me immediately.
The show struggled to find a tone for a good chunk of the season thanks to the decision to put the show on sister network CBS instead of CW where all the other Guggenheim-Berlanti-created shows were doing well. The show tried to paint in broad strokes and shied away from the inherent goofiness of comic books. They started to figure things out toward the second half, though, especially with the crossover between the dimension-jumping Flash and Supergirl herself. The two had immediate chemistry as both actors and characters.
With the jump to CW, the writers have much more room to embrace that goofiness and explore more of Supergirl’s stories and have her interact with more CW and DC characters.
Supergirl isn’t the only super out there
One thing that makes Supergirl different from Flash and Green Arrow, though, is that she doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Her place in American culture is tied directly to Superman, as is her existence as a written character and as one existing in her own world.
The first season of the show needed to exist without Superman in any substantial way to give the character room to grow as her own, independent thing, rather than as a variant on Superman himself. We had time to learn about Supergirl and Kara Danvers and to watch her grow from a newly minted superhero to one who can stand on her own.
Part of that, though, required a dance around Superman. At first, the writers had to come up with ways to refer to perhaps the best-known of all superheroes without ever referring to him by name. Then CBS and DC relented and were able to finally call him by the name billions of people know. But they still couldn’t show him, so he existed as a silhouette and a streak of color and, a couple times, as an instant message buddy for Kara to exchange emoticons with. It felt contrived at best and had me rolling my eyes at its worst. The writers wanted to show us the bigger world that Supergirl exists in, but they were hampered by studios that don’t think their viewers are capable of understanding that two actors can play the same character.
As the suits relent and Superman is able to take part in Supergirl’s world, we’re presented with so many possibilities for not just Supergirl herself but for CW’s shows in general.
Kara will be able to let the two sides of her family – Kryptonian and Earthling – interact. We’ll be able to see the two supers work together. We could even see a character like Deathstroke return to Arrow.
Real People, Real Problems
What we like the most about superheroes, what makes them stick around for decades, isn’t their epic battles with supervillains like Darkseid, Doomsday, and Brainiac. It’s that they’re ostensibly real people that are at once burdened and privileged with the ability to do that. They willingly hold down real lives between their acts of superheroism, and they cling to those lives as something that keeps them sane. Except for Batman, but he has enough problems to keep a therapist busy for decades.
Movies about superheroes necessarily have to go big. That’s why they exist. Movies are perfect places for heroes to fight big bad monsters that can shrink cities down to microscopic size and threaten the very existence of the planet earth.
The television shows have a lot more room to work, so we get to see the heroes as humans. A huge part of that has been the casting done by the teams creating the CW shows.
While Arrow Stephen Amell is about as physically perfect as a human can get, Grant Gustin and Melissa Benoist play more humble heroes; fit and attractive, but not godlike. Gustin conveys what a dork Barry can be, while Benoist plays the dual roles of an icon of hope and hopelessly geeky assistant well. They look equally at home in and out of their uniforms and in the more realistic environments that their dual identities require. I have a hard time seeing Henry Cavill as Clark Kent the way I was able to with Christopher Reeve.
Tyler Hoechlin has taken some heat for not being the Adonis-like image we’ve come to expect of Superman, but he fits the overall look of the CW stable perfectly. His suit looks just a bit more advanced than Supergirl’s, as he’s had to figure out super heroics, but cut from the same cloth (probably literally). He looks like he could blend into a crowd when he wants to, rather than being so perfect that he causes fainting fits when he walks into a room.
With that said, there are a few caveats. Hoechlin still has to prove himself, and so do the writers. The bigger world they have on CW gives them room to spread out, and that can be a double-edged sword. Superman can be a difficult character to write and one that’s easy to overuse.
If it goes well, Superman could be a turning point for the CW, or at the least, a big opportunity. We’ll find out when Supergirl debuts on the CW at 8 p.m. ET tonight.