Heroes are a wide and varied bunch. You have the superheroes, those costumed wonders with nigh-godly powers, then you have the anti-heroes who do the wrong thing for the right reasons (or vice versa). Heroes both powerful and powerless have soared from comic books and reached both the big screen and the small. But when all is said and done, one show is taking the lead by a long mile: Greg Berlanti’s Supergirl.
Mainstream television is still in the process of adjusting to diversity, with many casts being either majority white or male oriented (often both). Supergirl soared straight past this issue by centering around a female character and hiring actors from diverse ethnic backgrounds.
James (formerly Jimmy) Olsen is now black, so is J’onn J’onzz (when he isn’t being green) and super-cop Maggie Sawyer has gone from Euro-American to Latino-American. As if the characters hadn’t already been updated enough, Alex Danvers – Supergirls’ adopted super-sister – also recently came out as gay. Much like the New 52 Earth-2, they have a balanced team.
Possibly the biggest loophole in any hero story – beyond the tights and powers – is their hefty budget. Bruce Wayne needs an entire multi-billion dollar company just to keep on track. And although Kryptonian abilities have many advantages, instant money goes against the moral code. So Berlanti decided Kara should get a job at the Department of Extra-Normal Operations or D.E.O.
It’s well known that heroes make enormous leaps of logic and save the day in the nick of time. Of course, this being less realistic than heat vision, the D.E.O. has a huge database of alien knowledge and technology to support Kara with. Whenever she faces off against the villain of the week, a little voice in her ear – and not the back of her head – is there to back her up.
Comic book heroes have a tendency to be two-dimensional. Considering Batman has been around long enough to fight in World War I, most development has been and gone already. But Supergirl is still new – or renewed – enough that there is plenty of room left for character development. Kara is one of the last surviving Kryptonians, J’onn may be the very last Green Martian and Mon-El is a frat-boy getting to grips with Earth.
Yet each of them has slowly grown into their new lives on the third planet. Even poor, powerless human James has gone from being a professional photographer to
utter lunatic civilian crime fighter. These characters have seen exactly how they want to change and set about doing so. Of course, there have been a few stumbling blocks, like the time Mon-El and Winn went on a bar crawl, but they generally overcome these problems.
In possibly the single most underwhelming superhero debut ever comes with Kara trying to admit that she is accepting her powers only for Winn to think she’s coming out. It’s not exactly smooth. But that’s the tip of the iceberg. Maggie Sawyer is so at home with aliens that she actually enjoyed relationships with some of the staff from the alien bar.
In maybe the most perfectly portrayed story yet, Alex Danvers has slowly come to grips with being in denial about her sexuality. The episode “Changing” revealed that her fear and confusion over her first crush caused her to bury her sexuality for years and futilely date men in an effort to be “normal”. Being so different absolutely terrified her. Even trying to tell Kara – born on an alien planet, different-as-can-be Kara – proves stressful enough that she walks off. Despite this, she eventually manages to come out to her overwhelmingly accepting family.
Whoopie, the Flash has super speed. And somehow people are still able to walk away without his realising it. Green Arrow has years of martial arts training to use against the doped-up criminals of Star City. The Legends are a bunch of barely functional misfits so they get a pass. But Supergirl has super-strength, super-speed, super-hearing, invulnerability, laser eyes, and more. In any other show, she’d be massively overpowered. But not in Earth Thirty-Eight.
Supergirl and Mon-El only get their powers because of the yellow sun and alien biology. This puts them on equal footing to aliens with powers and abilities all their own. Humans are still woefully weak but make up for it by harvesting alien tech for weapons. As Supergirl is still new to the game, she lacks control over the whole ‘faster-than-a-speeding-bullet’ area. This makes her easy prey to any alien with a grudge or human with a big enough gun. Instead of putting them in prison within seconds, Supergirl actual has to work at saving people. All in all, she has a tough go but never gives up. With the relatable problems and diverse cast, the touch of reality is what puts Supergirl ahead of the crowd.