Well, this happened. CBS released a first look for the newest superhero show to hit the waves, and it’s Kara Zor-El, aka Supergirl, Superman’s older cousin. That’s right, after a preposterously written Catwoman movie and Marvel’s dodgy treatment of female superheroes because Disney feels that they can exclude female superheroes from solo movies and commercial merchandise because they already have the Princess line to target girls (You mean I’m not allowed to like both Princess Jasmine and Storm from X-men at the same time?), CBS and DC have stepped up to the plate to offer us a female superhero TV show, and if the trailer is any indication of what we have to expect this season then please step down from the plate, CBS and DC, and burn the plate forever. The last thing we need is another compelling female superhero repackaged into what appears to be someone’s fan fiction of the lost season of The Hills: Lauren discovers she has superpowers.
It’s hard to completely write Supergirl off. It’s just the trailer, after all, and CBS has a stellar line up of strong female protagonists, like Alicia Florrick of The Good Wife. Even as I watched the trailer, I saw so much potential, but not enough to overcome its very unsubtle grasp for a female audience.
Take the trailer’s opening, a powerful scene where 12-year-old Kara says goodbye to her parents for the last time. The tone then immediately shifts, cutting to a meek, bespectacled, high-heels-are-weird-because-I’m-a-nerd-even-though-I-have-super-balance Kara getting volleyed along the bustling streets of ‘National City’ while stammering her way through a phone call for work, jump cut to her boss, Callista Flockheart as ersatz Meryl Streep, marching around the office in oversized sunglasses, reprimanding Kara for cold lattes and the private elevator smelling of cheap cologne.
Kara has a run in with Jimmy—I mean JAMES—Olson because he’s a man now, and so dreamy that he makes her forget her name. Cut to Kara’s apartment, she flops about, puffing sighs like a chimney from her bottom lip to her messy-perfect bangs, complaining to her sister that she has NO IDEA what to wear on her date, but also she’s twenty-four, so it’s time to burst into a squiggly ball of neurosis: WHO AM I? I JUST FETCH LAY OUTS AND COFFEE, BUT I CAN LIFT BUSSES AND FLY—I THINK. All of this matched to a pop-rock soundtrack that left a pink and sparkly taste in my mouth.
SuperGIRL: she can lift a bus, but she can’t lift… her insecurities? Oh, just save someone from falling off a skyscraper already!
Well, let me be fair, the trailer did deliver on some action. The entire sequence of Kara saving the crashing airplane was intense, and her putting an elbow through that charging truck got me pumped, but it wasn’t savored, for every other shot demanded we acknowledge her formulaic femininity. Like Kara squealing and flutter-kicking on her couch when her antics made the News, Kara fretting over her superhero outfit (like cape or no cape?), Kara hugging her knees in angst because saving people is hard, Kara holding back tears when a military general-person-guy-whatever, who she could literally melt with a glance, inexplicably quips, “Stick to getting coffee.”
Also, Kara’s creepy Superman hero worship. I get he’s been at this longer than you, but dude, he’s your little cousin. Go call him or something, just stop giving the camera that doe-eyed pouty face of helplessness!
All culminating to the finale credits: IT’S NOT A BIRD, IT’S NOT A PLANE, IT’S NOT A MAN (ah hah!) IT’S SUPERGIRL! Oh yes, “GIRL”, and if you forget, rewind to Callista Flockheart’s fourth wall-breaking lecture, clearly designed to preempt any possible feminist objections, “What do you think is so bad about 'girl'? I’m a girl, and your boss, and powerful, and rich, and hot, and smart, so if you perceive Supergirl as anything less than excellent, isn’t the real problem you?”
Welp! Misogyny solved. Let’s all just go home and take a nice hot bubble bath.
This show is for girls. No boys allowed! Add this trailer to the long list of sorry attempts to adapt Supergirl with the same boring themes: Superman-but-a-girl, superGIRL, GIRL-SUPERMAN—we get it, okay? She’s, blonde, she has boobs and a vagina, she’s strong, she’s bulletproof, she makes flowers bloom, she gracefully pirouettes through the sky (for real), because everyone knows superGIRL can be strong and feminine, but what superGIRL cannot do is just be, you know, super.
DC, Marvel, CBS, Disney, whoever—listen to my cis-gendered, comic-geek, lover-of-girly-things vagina: your hardline gendering of female protagonists is not creative. It’s condescending. This large-eyed-girl-in-the-city-fashion-lattes-OMGboys-martinis angle is not original. It’s patronizing.
Why not give us an authentic Kara-El? The one from the comics, written in all her brashness, all her ugly PTSD, and survivors’ guilt from being the only one to make it off of Krypton’s Argo City and being old enough to remember. Give us her rebel ways, tamed by her love for the only family she has left. Where’s that trailer? An opening scene of her space pod in stasis orbiting Earth for decades, before finally landing in Siberia, followed by her busting out of her spaceship with a newly acquired shit-ton of powers and absolutely no idea what to do with them except rage. Then here comes Superman, dropping in to save the day, and she immediately punches him in the face because who the fuck is this grown ass man pretending to be her baby cousin? Give us her grit, her General Zod-like attitude while she adapts to this new world. Where’s the ferocity that earned Kara the title of Superman’s “secret weapon” during the Silver Age of comics?
That’s the Supergirl we’re waiting for. So unless you, CBS and DC, are planning to do a 180 tonal shift from that first look, please hit erase and head back to the war room.
—And hire more women writers for goodness sake!