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The Surprising Success of Stargirl

By | August 10th, 2020
Posted in Longform | % Comments

In a lot of ways, Stargirl should have been anathema to my tastes. James Robinson’s “Starman” is my favorite comic series of all time, and I have a deep, deep love for the way that Robinson, David Goyer, Tom Peyer, and Geoff Johns took the inactive Justice Society of America and brought them back to the forefront in the late 1990s through books like “Hourman,” “JSA,” and “Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E.” Stargirl, in many ways, is a reduction of that entire period that removes many of the most interesting parts in favor of teen drama and easy to comprehend stakes.

And yet, as “Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. Part 2” wraps up the 13 episode first season, I can’t help but consider Stargirl an overwhelming success. The series takes its subject matter and shakes it up, sometimes in unrecognizable ways, but what comes out retains more of its comic DNA than you’d think. A big part of that comes from the spirit of the show not backing away from the most important part of that era of comics: the idea of legacy.

Note: this article will not feature any spoilers for “Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. Part 2,” as it has not aired for folks who watch it on the CW yet. We will have a proper review of that in our usual Wednesday at noon ET time slot.

I truly believe that legacy is the key to DC Comics successes since the 1980s onward. While a lot of that was undone in the years following the New 52, it has been there for years and years: the Justice Society begat the Justice League, which begat Teen Titans, which begat Young Justice, etc. There was always a sense of generational heroism at DC, and the late 90s is when that idea started to really flower into something of a cornerstone of the universe. When the Justice Society of America returned, they returned with a mission: to teach the next generation of heroes. This is different than a group of peers forming their own team; this was a conscious effort on the part of its members to not just rest on their laurels, but find a way to give back.

That sense of altruism isn’t present in Stargirl, but the job of training the new Justice Society does come from one of its early members: Stripsey, aka Pat Dugan. In broad strokes, Stargirl is adapting Geoff Johns and Lee Monder’s “Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E.” series, but instead of Pat just being Courtney’s mentor, he’s the mentor for an entire new generation of heroes. And while those heroes, especially, suffer from the lack of connection to their earlier namesakes, Pat’s sense of responsibility to the kids helps root the show in something other than cosmic staffs and magic accessories.

The acting, especially among the kids, is pretty hit or miss, but Stargirl never misses an opportunity to tug on the heartstrings. While this can be manipulative at worst, for the most part, all of the emotional beats work because they are tied into experiences that feel earned. When we first meet Yolanda, she’s a popular girl in a healthy relationship. When her topless photo to her boyfriend gets leaked, it destroys her young life. Even if we haven’t had nudes leak online (and I believe by 2028, a statistical majority of folks will, in fact, have experienced this), we can understand the idea of our private life being made public or trust being broken by someone we love.

There is also a lot of focus on the family bonds between the characters, which again harkens back to “JSA” and the other comics of this era. DC was really leaning into family ties in these books, both biological families and ‘found’ families like the JSA itself. This is a concept that doesn’t require a pull list and twenty years of reading to understand, and can likely help the casual viewer care about legacy versions of characters they don’t already know and love.

The fact that the show is so build on legacy, but in a universe where the viewer has no connection to that legacy, is a sort of astonishing accomplishment. Hell, it was hard for DC to convince readers that they should care about legacy characters, and those readers had connections to the original characters that were being referenced. While Luke Wilson’s lilting “Back in the day…” stories often came across as exactly what they are – expository laziness – there was still a history being weaved through the series that felt lived in and real, even when things were made overly complicated for no reason (introducing the Seven Soldiers instead of just saying that Justin was in the JSA, for instance). But more than any other of the CW shows, this series suggests an entire universe, both in the past and across the world, that is ripe for exploration.

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But the show wouldn’t work without Brec Bassinger in the lead role. It took her a few episodes to find her tonal footing, but once she dropped the eye-rolls and started showing her heart more, Bassinger picked up the show and put it on her back. I really enjoyed the decision to make Courtney, not Stargirl, the moral center of the show. Courtney remains one of the best people in any of the CW shows. I fear that with the jump from being a DC Universe produced series to a CW series that we’ll get an edgier tone, and we really don’t need that for this series. The Blue Valley of TV essentially in the Golden Age, and that balance is key to its success.

There are a lot of places the show could go in its second season, but it seems like the Seven Soldiers of Victory and the children of the ISA will both be in the focus, and I am certain that this crew will be involved in the big CW crossover, whenever that happens. But more than that, I’m interested in seeing how the show walks the Mike tightrope, or how involved Barbara becomes, or if the JSA will continue to recruit new members.

I’d also love to see a flashback episode or two every season, like the ‘Times Past’ issues of “Starman.” Show the JSA or the Seven Soldiers in action or give us a look at Justin’s time in Camelot. There’s a plot point introduced in “Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. Part 2” that looks like it may factor into one of the best “Starman” arcs, and I would love to see the show lean into that, though it may be a bridge too far.

Regardless of where season 2 goes, season 1 was, at least to me, an overwhelming success. The series established yet another Earth in the CW Multiverse with ease, and has given viewers a lot to be excited about in the future. See ya in the stars.

//TAGS | Stargirl

Brian Salvatore

Brian Salvatore is an editor, podcaster, reviewer, writer at large, and general task master at Multiversity. When not writing, he can be found playing music, hanging out with his kids, or playing music with his kids. He also has a dog named Lola, a rowboat, and once met Jimmy Carter. Feel free to email him about good beer, the New York Mets, or the best way to make Chicken Parmagiana (add a thin slice of prosciutto under the cheese).


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