Friday, October 30, 2015

I watched the first episode of Supergirl

I saw this ad in every comic I read this week.
•Part of me, probably the part of me that still has sympathy with the whole "Team Comics" tribalism philosophy, is glad that there are so many (so...very...many) live-action TV shows based on comic book series these days, to the point that I fear we've reached some sort of critical mass, and comic book superhero TV shows are becoming the new police procedural. And I'm glad TV executives now seem keen to make their superhero shows ones that are  based on the work of comics creators, which should send royalties and regard their way and, potentially, boost the sales of the comics they're based on. At any rate, it seems like a Green Arrow or Daredevil TV show is an infinitely better idea than made-for-TV superhero concepts, like those on Heroes or The Cape.

That said, I've had little to no interest in most of these shows, and their prevalence kind of irritates me. It dismays me how much of the comics press' time and attention goes to covering which minor actor is being cast as which minor character in the background of an episode of a TV show, for example, instead of covering, you know, comics.

I watched and enjoyed all of Daredevil (in large part because of its limited nature with a pre-determined, finite end, and Netflix's releasing all of the episodes simultaneously, making it scan like a very long movie rather than a TV series). I watched the first episode and the last few episodes of Agent Carter, and liked that okay. I saw maybe an episode and a few parts of episodes of The Flash at my friend's house. I haven't seen more than a handful of scenes from either the dreadful, dire-looking Arrow or Agents of SHIELD. You could not pay me to watch Gotham or the canceled-immediately Constantine, and I've no interest in Powers. Walking Dead and IZombie aren't superhero shows, of course, but they are based on genre-comics; I've no real interest in the former, although everyone loves it; I may get to the latter on DVD eventually.

I only mention all of this because I was interested enough in Supergirl to sit down and watch it, and to keep watching it until the end. So on a purely conceptional and purely marketing level, it seemed far superior to almost every single other based-on-a-corporate-super-comic show out there.

•The first episode seemed pretty troubled, with parts that really sang and parts that really sunk. It seemed a little over-stuffed and stitched together, with, as my friend said, it really felt like three or four different episodes all sort of crammed into a single pilot episode, presumably to lay the entire premise out immediately so they could get on with the show as fast possible. It could have used another hour to really breathe, or a smart and merciless editor to re-cut it.

The info-dump beginning was extremely weird, playing like the sort of sequence one might have seen as the 30-to-60-second set-up opening of an old '70s or '80 TV show, only like five-to-ten times too long. It could have been chopped, silent and set to music, or doled out via flashback more gradually.

•I liked baby Kal-El's hair a whole lot.

•Melissa Benoist was really good, I thought. She was charming, plucky, self-effacing and determined; a pretty mixed-up character who hasn't yet developed the strict duality in life-roles and personalities that most TV Clark Kents and Supermen have...likely on account that she's never tried being Super until the events of this episode.

•Most of the cast was fairly strong, too. I thought Calista Flockhart was pretty good as a one-note, evil boss character, for example, and it was interesting to see her play the antagonist to the very same type of character she one played on Ally McBeal. Guy With A Crush On Supergirl was pretty solid too; is he going to end up being her Alfred/Oracle...?

Dayum, Jimmy Olsen!
•The one member of the cast I just could not get used to was their Jimmy James Olsen. I've no problem with casting black folks to play white comic book characters in TV and movies–Hell, would you really want anyone other than Sam Jackson playing Nick Fury in those Marvel movies?–but it's not the fact that actor Mehcad Brooks is black that bugged me so much as the fact that he is so hot.

Like, really hot. Like as in every single time he was on-screen, I could only think about how hot he was. How big he was, how smoothly shaved his head was, how his shirts clung to his muscles. He would have made a great John Henry Irons–sexy, bald, huge–but Superman's teen pal Jimmy, the ginger cub reporter who was always getting in trouble? No way.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the original comic book version of Jimmy Olsen was perhaps meant to be a cool, attractive character, and that while tastes changed oer the decades and he remained the same, he just started seeming nerdier and nerdier. But I don't know, I wasn't reading comics in the 1940s and 1950s. Jimmy's geekishness seems like it's sort of the whole point of the character, to a certain extent, and Brooks' Olsen, and the way the character is portrayed and played, is pretty much the opposite of that.

All he really has in common with past Jimmy Olsens is the fact that he's a friend of Superman's, and he's a photographer, like so many of the more recent Jimmy Olsens.

I suppose they could have made him super-sexy and still kind of geeky, by maybe playing him as less self-assured or with poor social skills or something. If nothing else, they should have put him in a bow tie. Jimmy's bow tie seems to, in a way, be even more important to his character than the fact that he is a freckled redhead.

•Meanwhile, The Guy With A Crush On Supergirl wears a bow tie. Madness! This character totally out Jimmy Olsens James Olsen.

•I forgot to check; did they have Brooks wearing a watch?

•I didn't really think Chyler Leigh was that great a choice as Supergirl's earth-born sister, Alex Danvers. At least after the reveal about her occupation, when they showed her suited-up for action. She just looked very...little and weak. Between her, Benoist and Flockhart, that's just a lot of really slimly-built ladies. I have a hard-time believing in an government field agents in body armor and guns that I could beat up. Also, how weird is it that in this movie, Jimmy Olsen looks like he could take on the entire military organization himself....?

The 2012 trade collection, well worth reading.
•I was kinda surprised to hear the acronym "DEO," the Department of Extranormal Operations, which was the organization that Cameron Chase worked for in Dan Curtis Johnson and J.H. Williams III's short-lived (but excellent!) Chase series. DC has since developed a handful of similar super-people watching or dealing-with organizations, with ARGUS seemingly the prime one now. I don't really like ARGUS as much as the DEO, as the former seems more like SHIELD, while the latter seemed more like an FBI/CIA kinda place. I was surprised to hear "DEO" though, because "ARGUS" is, if I'm not mistaken, the organization that's been popping up in the other DC Comics-based live-action shows that this production team has been putting together.

Although since Supergirl is apparently separated from the shared-universe of Arrow, The Flash and the upcoming Legends of Tomorrow, maybe that explains why they chose a different organization.

•For the life of me, I couldn't figure out why the DEO was in a place that looked like the Batcave. I understand it was a secret, underground facility, but why did they leave the stalagmites and stalactites up? Batman does it because he's fucking weird and image conscious and really into bats and caves and stuff; what's the DEO's excuse...?

For one thing, TV Vartox wears pants.
•I was a little bewildered by the appearance of Vartox, who I actually had to look up to make sure it was the same Vartox I was thinking of (Who is currently appearing in the Harley Quinn and Power Girl miniseries). This guy not only doesn't look anything like Vartox, he also doesn't have any of Vartox's powers, or background.

He's just a dude with a super-axe. They could have made him anyone. They could have made up a name. They could have assigned him the name of a random Phantom Zone criminal, if they really were going for an obscure-ish DC Comics Easter Egg. I wonder why they didn't just call him Nyeun Chun Ti, the real-name of The Persuader, a kinda sorta DC Superman family villain, whose whole deal is that he has an atomic axe.

•I yelled at the TV when Alex said "Kryptonese." It's "Kryptonian," goddammit! That's like saying that this post is written in "Englese," or that the predominant language in Mexico is "Spaianese," or that Akiray Toriyama's Dragonball comics were translated from the original "Japanish" for the North American market. Gah!

•In general, I preferred the montages, the office drama and the flirting to the superhero fights, which weren't really all that great, and the Supergirl vs. Aliens premise that the show seems to be setting up (Like, as soon as she becomes Supergirl, she's shot full of darts by the DEO and starts getting attacked by aliens...?)

•I liked her costume pretty well. The blue is a shade too dark, I think, and I preferred the off-the-rack red boots with laces that she was wearing when stopping the bank robbers (that looked like the ones Batgirl currently wears in her comic, or that Damian Wayne wore when he became Robin) to the knee-high ones she'd later settle on. Also, the tights are a good idea. Leggings might be a little better (and in style), but it's a nice solution to putting her in a skirt without everyone constantly seeing her panties.

•I liked the way they handle Superman in this, as a mostly off-screen present who just occasionally appears on camera, and then his face is in shadow or it's just his hand or something.

If a bunch of TV executives asked me how they could do a Batman TV show, I would have suggested they adapt Gotham Central, and use Batman like that...just a husky voice from off-panel, an occasional bat-shaped shadow, a gloved hand. Instead, they decided to make Gotham. Which looks like the weirdest fucking show.

•I also had to look up the name "Hank Henshaw," as I couldn't remember if that was the name of astronaut who would eventually become The Cyborg Superman (a Superman and, later, Green Lantern villain in the "old" DCU, a Supergirl villain in the New 52), or if it was the name of Commander Steel or Steel. It is, of course, the former; Henry Heywood and Hank Heywood were the Steels.

•The weirdest thing about this show was its context, especially as it relates to DC Comics. Obviously Supergirl's Q-rating is as high as it's ever been at the moment (thanks not only to the show, but something a presidential candidate said about it) and DC has got...absolutely nothing awaiting anyone suddenly interested in the character who might find themselves in a comic shop or book store or library.

Seriously, they just cancelled the New 52 ongoing Supergirl, and, upon announcing a slew of new titles for their "DCYou" initiative, there was no new Supergirl title. Surely the folks at DC knew this show was coming for at least six months now...they couldn't manage to put together a comic to be on the stands this month? Preferably something akin to the current run on Batgirl, as in high-quality, new reader-friendly and something geared toward a general, YA audience...?

I talked about this before, when my friend asked which Supergirl comics to read when the trailer for the show suddenly got her very excited about Supergirl and desirous of reading Supergirl comics. I had the damnnedest time thinking of non-horrible Supergirl comics to recommend, based largely on how ill-served the character has been by DC's cosmic reboots over the years.

She's not quite in the same category as Donna Troy, Hawkman and the Legion of Super-Heroes, but she's still kind of a mess, with some three or four radically different iterations, including a shape-changing, artificial plasma creature from another dimension that pretends to be Supergirl and an Earth angel with fire wings version.

I didn't read any of the New 52 iteration, which looked too terrible, but which is also probably the most readily available in trade these days.

And there's no All-Star Supergirl, no Supergirl: Earth One, nothing. The best out-of-continuity Supergirl comic is probably the Cosmic Adventures series, and that is so far removed from the Supergirl of the TV show that it is unlikely to be of much interest.

I wish, at the very least, DC had assembled some kind of Greatest Supergirl Stories Ever Told collection, pulling stuff from Superman Adventures or Justice League Unlimited as well as any DCU Supergirl comics from the last 20-25 years that aren't completely unintelligible.

•On that subject, Tom Bondurant wrote a nice, long column about the history of DC's Supergirl comics, which should provide some good clues of what to look for, if any of you decide to start hunting for non-terrible Supergirl comics for yourselves while DC tries and gets its shit together.

I sincerely hope they simply publish a new, in-universe, in-continuity comic that can try and capture some of the charms of the show, including its tone and audience, rather than doing one of those weird-ass comics like those they did for Arrow and The Flash, where they are comics based closely on the shows that are based loosely on the comics, and given titles that include the word "Season" and a zero or decimal point. Bleah.


Wayne Allen Sallee said...

I loved the show. I knew I would like it, but I really did love it, though I agree about the info dump.My guess is that CBS wanted the info dump to keep people watching, instead of keeping the show on after THE BIG BANG THEORY for a few weeks and not one.

I like DEO instead of ARGUS. Maybe Cameron Chase will show up...I'm not sure why they had that guy be named Vartox, either. Did Supergirl ever have any real recurring bad guys from off-Earth?

Unknown said...

ARGUS is featured rather prominently in "Arrow," so I imagine they're using the DEO since Supergirl is not supposed to be in the same continuity as the CW superhero shows. DC tends to only allow one TV show adaptation of a character or concept at once (anyone else remember the Bat-Embargo?). I'm frankly astounded that "Arrow" managed to get its hands on Ra's Al Ghul instead of "Gotham."

Mike said...

Some thoughts…
"Kryptonese" was what the language of Krypton was called from the very beginnings of the Superman mythos until 2000. At that time, DC began referring to it as "Kryptonian."
I completely agree with you regarding Jimmy Olsen and Vartox. Weird.
The showrunners announced today that Cameron Chase will appear, played by Buffy's Emma Caulfield.

Caleb said...

Well, I stand corrected on the Kryptonese/Kryptonian, I guess.

And she may be far better known for her role on Buffy these days, but Emma Caulfield will always be "Beverly Hills, 90219's Emma Caulfield" to me!