I’ve been watching DC’s Stargirl mostly quietly over the last few months—just enjoying it for the sake of enjoying it (something we entertainment writers rarely get to do). I can stay quiet no longer.
DC Universe’s The CW’s Stargirl started out like most comic book adaptations, setting the stage and introducing us to its heroes (past and present). Brec Bassinger stars as Courtney Whitmore, the titular Stargirl, a character created for the comics by Geoff Johns and Lee Moder and based on Johns’ late sister. The adaptation gives us a quick history lesson on DC Comics’ Justice Society of America before swapping focus to the modern-day and Courtney’s life with her mom Barbara (Amy Smart), stepfather Pat Dugan (Luke Wilson), and step-brother Mike (Trae Romano) after they’ve just relocated from Los Angeles to small-town Blue Valley, Nebraska.
Pat used to be the sidekick of the JSA’s Starman, and now does some work in secret on his own with the giant robot he built, STRIPE. As Courtney, previously unaware of the JSA as a whole, discovers one of the super team’s most powerful weapons (Starman’s cosmic staff), she also discovers a purpose for herself. Instead of joining the cheerleading team at her high school, she’ll fight crime (with Pat mostly disapproving but helping regardless). You see, Blue Valley also just so happens to be the home of the Injustice Society of America. And they, like many supervillain groups, have a Big Bad Evil Plan. Can you guess what it is? You’ll never guess what it is. Stargirl is ostensibly meant for a younger crowd but in part one of the season one finale the writers introduced, quite possibly, one of the most bizarre villain plans I’ve ever heard.
If you haven’t been watching, I need you to understand what kind of people make up the ISA. We’ve got characters like Brainwave, Icicle, Tigress, Sportsmaster, and the Gambler working throughout the town as regular citizens in good standing—some of them even have jobs at the school. Then you have those like Dragon King and Solomon Grundy existing literally below the surface of the town in a bunker that was built god knows when. They kill people, even kids, with no regard. So that’s what made the finale twist so wild.
Throughout the season the Big Bad Plan had been teased. The ISA was going to change everything! Maniacal laugh, maniacal laugh, etc. The whole idea was to use Brainwave’s mental powers to influence the minds in the immediate area in Nebraska and later, after getting a power boost thanks to killing his own son Henry (Jake Austin Walker), the greater Midwest. They even revealed a giant Cerebro rip-off in “Stars & S.T.R.I.P.E. Part Two” hidden underground in order to help pull this off.
Beth Chapel, the new Dr. Mid-Nite (Anjelika Washington), happens upon the ISA’s “manifesto” (yes, it’s really referred to that way) while hacking their system in “Stars & S.T.R.I.P.E. Part One.” She reveals to the entire team on comms that the villains want to make people believe in what they call it “The New Constitution.”
“Oh, no,” you think to yourself? “What’s that going to be??” Turns out, they have a progressive agenda that would put Bernie Sanders to shame. I shit you not. This is how the conversation went.
Dr. Mid-Nite: “They want to combat... global warming? They want to force people to... embrace solar and wind power. They’re going to eliminate discrimination over race, religion, sexual orientation.”
Hourman: “You’re kidding me?”
Dr. Mid-Nite: “Oh, and universal healthcare.”
Stargirl: “That sounds good... is that not good?”
Hourman: “Hey, Pat, are you sure we’re on the right side?”
Well, that is a pickle, indeed. So how is our team of young heroes meant to square this with their own beliefs? Luckily, Beth and her BFF Chuck (Henry Thomas)—the disembodied personality of the original Dr. Mid-Nite who currently exists in his old goggles—discover that there is a catch to reprogramming developed minds. Though the reprogramming will only affect “developed minds,” aka adults, there are people who will fight too hard against it and roughly 25 million people will likely wind up dying. They all breathe a sigh of relief and continue to foil the plan, never to discuss it further.
Often in comic book stories, villains (or even anti-heroes) will have some large plan they truly believe is for the better of humanity or the world at large. And perhaps it even is, but it always comes with a price—a price that heroes are not supposed to be OK with. Watchmen’s Ozymandias is a perfect example; though it killed countless people, he used his giant squid as a diversion to unite the world against a common enemy in order to avoid what he saw as the larger, looming threat: all-out nuclear war.
There are a few issues with how this plot device works in Stargirl. First and foremost was that our heroes barely had a chance to discuss this new wrinkle before being handed an easy out. Their very straightforward “good vs. evil” fight was suddenly no longer black and white and it would have been amazing to see the kids wrestle with that, especially considering how new they are to superhero-ing. The ISA’s plan also makes the assumption that a lot of people don’t already believe in the things they were trying to brainwash into them. Or that the ones who might fight against it the most would be the ones who think the opposite? And just, my god, so much to unpack there. But I think the larger issue, for me anyway, is like... read the room? Do we really need to make a liberal agenda, things that would be very positive for the world, into an evil scheme in 2020?
Oh, we also didn’t get around to one of our heroes, Yolanda Montez (Yvette Monreal), aka the new Wildcat, straight-up murdering Brainwave, no one talking about that either, and then her being invited to Christmas a few months later as if nothing ever happened. A lot to deal with during Stargirl season two, that’s for sure!
Suffice to say, Stargirl’s debut season was a bit of a mixed bag for me. On one hand, it was a very wholesome comic book adaptation, on the other, it was almost as horrifying as Titans in terms of the body count. Consequences play a huge role in superhero stories and I have no doubt we’ll see some of that come into play next time around, but what I feel is needed the most is more time with these characters, individually and as a team. Here, they embody rather generic roles, had no idea what they were doing most of the time, and no support system outside Pat in order to deal with losses. With the ISA members now dead or scattered to the wind—and new threats like Eclipso and the Shade looming—let’s hope the new JSA can get a little time to adjust and figure out just what it means to be heroes, outside of putting on a cape.
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