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Thursday, June 9, 2016

Supergirl Adds Superman to Season 2

Edited by Robert Beach

One of the bigger problems with Supergirl season 1 was the presence, or rather lack of presence, of Superman. Due to copyright issues, the show was unable to show Superman on-screen as a fully realized character. Instead, they were forced to keep him always just off-camera and never speaking. That plot device ended up getting very taxing by the end of season 1 and left the show with a big problem to solve going into season 2.

I already proposed some ways they could solve it, but it seems CW, CBS, and WB have hammered out an arrangement to fix the big issue of Superman as an actual character on Supergirl.  This will mark the first time Superman has appeared on TV since the end of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman in 1997 (Smallville doesn’t count as Clark was never really Superman till the very last minute.)  So what does this mean for Supergirl going forward? Let’s find out. 

The biggest red flag with the presence of Superman in Supergirl season 2 is that it risks removing any real need for her. While season 1 had its flaws, the acceptance that Superman couldn’t enter any scenario for meta reasons was at least reason not to expect his involvement. Without that aspect, it’s very hard to justify any emergency being big enough for adequate stakes and also being too small to justify Superman’s interest in solving the situation. Obviously, there’s the “emergency somewhere else” excuse that cropped up in Supergirl season 1, but that excuse only gets you so far and can only be trotted out so many times in a season before it starts to feel stale and repetitive.  

That’s the inherent problem with showing off Superman in any given show. Once you’ve shown him, he has to exist as a persistent part of this universe. Superman is the omnipresent God of his own universe, cursed by amazing powers to forever be conspicuous by his absence. Honestly, the idea of bringing him on Supergirl strikes me as a mistake CW would’ve circumvented. 

They already ran up against this problem on The Flash and Arrow with the expanding roster of super beings like the Atom and Firestorm. Rather than constantly trying to excuse their absence during the various world-ending crises in Central and Star City, CW just sent its collection of supporting powerhouse heroes into the time stream on Legends of Tomorrow. That way, if Flash is in the midst of a massive meta-human crime wave, the question of “why doesn’t he call Hawkgirl and Hawkman to help?” has an answer.  

In a lot of ways, I feel like it would’ve been the better to make Superman go away--I suggested in my “12 Things CW Should Add to Supergirl Season 2” article--they should consider having Superman die, and Supergirl struggles to pick up his slack and maintain the Super legacy while crafting her own identity, but there are other ways Superman could take a back seat on Supergirl. Recently, comics Superman became vastly depowered and had his secret identity revealed to the world. 

It was a real shake-up that made for some great storytelling. This new vision of Superman in blue jeans and T-shirt tooling around America on a motorbike as a community crime fighter for the little people the world tends to step on. It was a great idea that made for some great stories and could work as a way to get Superman on Supergirl without having him dominate the conversation. 

One thing I really like about the premise of including Superman is that it helps expand the mythos of Supergirl and the identity of Earth-4, her TV universe. Something the CW shows have capitalized on very well is that same thing the Marvel movies have hit on the idea that emphasizing the genre differences among various interconnected superheroes can actually be a strength rather than a hindrance. 

In the case of CW, they’ve picked up on the old comics’ approach of tying genre to scale with Flash’s weird sci-fi stuff at the forefront of the basic superhero stories, Arrow’s gritty urban crime defender giving way to more mystic stuff in the fight against Ras Al Ghul and HIVE, and Legends of Tomorrow’s big, bold, cosmic story using time travel to touch on multiple genres. 

In the case of Supergirl, the inclusion of Superman has helped make it the forefront of space sci-fi, a trend I hope will be continued going forward. We’ve already seen Martian Manhunter on the show, and who knows, maybe next season it will feature Adam Strange, Starfire, Warrior, Lobo, Starman, or any number of other DC alien figures.  

The other very interesting, very worthwhile thing about Superman coming to Supergirl is that we might finally have a good live-action Superman again. Look, I’m on record saying that Henry Cavill was a decent actor before Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman consigned him to the “whatever happened to that guy?” bin. 

Let’s not mince words: there hasn’t been a good live-action Superman since before the new millennium.  I don’t envy whatever actor CBS/CW conscript for the part as the role of Superman. That role has a tendency to ruin the career of whatever actor ends up in the part, but I do hope they get a good one. 

Supergirl season 1 completely nailed everything about the idea of Supergirl and the ideals of the Superman franchise. Even with the many problems that restricted the first season, Supergirl completely understood and embraced the kindness, sincerity, and honesty that made Superman so vital for so many years. 

A new, live-action Superman, imbued with those qualities, would be amazing and would drive an even larger wedge between DC TV and the films. Actually, given Cavill’s Superman is dead in the films (Um, spoilers), Supergirl’s vision of Superman could end up the one and only Superman for at least 2 years much like how Grant Gustin will be THE Flash for 4 years by the time Ezra Miller’s Flash finally comes out.  

As it stands, I’m cautiously optimistic about Superman’s migration back to the small screen. So far, CW has nailed every characterization they’ve set out to achieve, even turning one-not C-listers like Reverse Flash or Firestorm into interesting and compelling characters. 

Combine that with how incredibly well-realized Supergirl was, there is no doubt the folks handling this are the best ones imaginable for the job. With the right casting, this could be the latest slam dunk in a long line of major victories for CW, the only worthwhile voice in DC comics adaptations this decade. 

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