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Friday, August 19, 2016

Static Thoughts - Is CW Planning the Death of Superman?

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Edited By Robert Beach

There’s no denying that Supergirl season 1 is the biggest success story for the Superman brand since Smallville. It’s a knockout show that captivated audiences and embodied the spirit of the Superman mythos in a way we haven’t seen in live action since 1978’s Superman. The show embraces pure heroism and the fantasy of being able to make the world a better place, a pair of ideals both in tragically short supply these days (and lacking from the DC movie adaptation of Superman). I need to preface all of that because I’m about to suggest a very un-Supergirl thing about what we might expect from the upcoming season 2. It’s my suspicion that Supergirl is planning to kill off newly introduced Superman Tyler Hoechlin in the season 2 mid-season finale. 

From the outset, I realize that’s a crazy thing to suggest. Supergirl has, so far, made a big deal out of the fact they’re bringing Superman into their show, and his appearance is tied to an attempt to boost ratings. See, even though Supergirl was a major success, its ratings weren’t great enough to justify the high production costs to CBS, which is why the show moved to CW in the first place. The rumor is that CW is looking to increase audience interest by bringing Supergirl more in line with its other stable of shows; part of that is introducing a larger cast of superheroes such as Mon-El, Superman, and Miss Martian. 

The other big way in which Supergirl is getting brought into line with CW’s other series, and the fact that makes me the most suspicious, is that it’s going to be moving to Earth-1. A little clarification for those who don’t know: in the ‘60s, DC Comics introduced the idea of the Multiverse, a collection of infinite parallel realities all occupying the same space but vibrating at different frequencies. 

The idea allowed DC to integrate the various superhero properties they purchased from defunct competitors into their continuity without dealing with any issues of reinvention or the like. For instance, when DC purchased the rights to Shazam and his attendant universe, it was decided those characters all existed on Earth-5. 

CW has recently adopted this approach, framing DC’s entire history of superhero television as a multiverse in its own right.  Earth-1 is the world of CW’s big three TV show: Arrow, The Flash, and Legends of Tomorrow. Earth-2, introduced in The Flash, is a world of evil doppelgangers while Earth-3 is home to Jay Garrick, an alternate version of the Flash played by John Wesley Shipp. 

Earth-4 is the home of Supergirl and her attendant show and mythos as established in the Supergirl/Flash crossover earlier this year. However, now that Supergirl has moved to CW, there are plans for her entire universe to become in-continuity with Flash, Arrow, and Legends of Tomorrow so that nobody has to go dimension hopping for crossovers. 

That makes a lot of sense as far as streamlining the universe for regular viewers who aren’t so strictly dedicated to maintaining continuity and mechanics. I mean, a big part of people’s complaints about the Flash/Supergirl crossover we already enjoyed was that it spent too much time re-explaining the multiverse stuff from Flash, which it only had to do so that Supergirl fans would understand the set-up. Dropping the multiverse divides and smashing the universes together is a great way to avoid that in future, but it leaves one big problem: what about Superman? 

If Superman now suddenly exists in-universe with every CW show, his absence in them becomes all the more conspicuous. One of Supergirl’s biggest hurdles has always been explaining why Superman isn’t on hand to deal with any crisis, to the point they had to cast him for the new season. There’s no way CW wants to extend that problem to all of their shows. Now there are a few ways they could be looking to solve this: having Supergirl be stranded on Earth-1, but that would also require ditching her entire supporting cast, which I think is a move beyond what CW would attempt. 

Or the other option: they could extend the “shipwrecked in another universe” concept to the whole of National City as a way to keep Supergirl’s supporting heroes, yet that still denies the show access to core plot elements like CADMUS, Krypton, or the Phantom Zone.  Honestly, ditching Superman seems like the best way to go and it’s not like the death of a Kryptonian is that unheard of when it comes to big, continuity shake-ups; in fact, it’s an old tradition.

The whole idea of streamlining continuity by compressing multiple Earths into 1 goes back to a 1986 DC mega-event called Crisis On Infinite Earths. It’s a pretty solid event that did a lot to revitalize DC after their implosion in the late ‘70s. A big part of the event was killing off certain elements of the DC Universe the editorial board didn’t like or deemed “against brand,” and the biggest casualty of that purge was Supergirl. 

Despite high sales in her initial debut, Supergirl’s struggle for popularity in the ‘80s led to DC killing her off in the pages of Crisis on Infinite Earths #7. It was a big deal, with the image of Superman holding her broken body (above) becoming emblematic of the new age of comics that the Crisis helped usher in. It was so iconic, the pose and imagery became one of the cornerstones of modern cover creation. 

With all that in mind, it would make a lot of sense for CW to try and pull this trick in reverse. Superman sacrifices himself to save the universe, and Supergirl being the one to cradle his body in anguish and pain. 

We already know that CW is copying Crisis’s universe streamlining set-up, and we’ve seen throughout The Flash that they’re willing to borrow the visual iconography of the Crisis. Borrowing this particular plot point won't be that much of a stretch. After all, aside from the death of Supergirl and Barry Allen, Crisis really doesn’t have any other big notable moments to it, just a lot of cool battles and neat imagery like the red skies. 

There’s one other reason I could see CW going this way: clarity.  This is based on rumor more than anything else, but a story that’s circulated a lot is that WB doesn’t like having two versions of their characters split between TV and movies. That’s allegedly why the Suicide Squad were killed off on Arrow, and I’ve even heard rumblings we might lose the Barry Allen Flash for the same reason. 

Given that, it’s a little strange that WB was so willing to let Supergirl adapt Superman, especially now that Henry Cavill’s Superman is confirmed to be returning. It could be that the only way CW could get WB to go along was to agree to kill Clark by the end of season 2. If that is the case, having him die off saving the universe in an Crisis on Infinite Earths pastiche would be a much better way to go with it than the Death of Superman Doomsday nonsense of Batman v. Superman. 

Batman v. Superman, incidentally, is the biggest reason I could think of why this might not happen. Superman’s death acting as the emotional crux of that film has unquestionably tainted the idea and will definitely color all future iterations of the idea. However, there are a lot of ways to realize death, and I could see CW refitting the Crisis death to rely less heavily on similar iconography to that of Batman v. Superman and The Death of Superman. 

The big advantage CW has here is the multiverse aspect of the story, for the continuity merging gives creators a lot of control to create something unique. In this case, they could very easily have Superman simply fade from reality due to the universe combination with Supergirl as the only person to remember he existed at all. It would add a lot more pathos to the situation and really separate this event from previous vision of the idea. 

  Supergirl season 2 premieres October 10, 2016

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