Sharing the Skies: Why the Presence of Superman on Supergirl is a Warning Signal

Supergirl’s premiere marked a major first for modern comic-to-TV adaptations.

With Kara Danvers arrival at CBS, the Kryptonian cousin to Clark Kent became the first DC heroine to headline her own series. In an ever-expanding crime fighter spread that has largely been dominated by men, her presence was eagerly welcomed.

However, it seems that after a mildly successful first season featuring a powerful and emotionally complicated heroine, a slathering of female guest and recurring roles, and dramatically dynamic female relationships, The CW is looking to take the focus of Supergirl’s second season in a distinctly different direction. That direction points to Kara sharing the spotlight with her more famous (and male) Kryptonian family member, Superman.

Adding Clark Kent to Supergirl’s universe is an inevitable development choice that under different circumstances would feel entirely organic. But the launch of Superman into the skies of National City is, at this point in Kara’s storyline, a questionable move. Especially for a network that has only recently acquired the female-driven series, but has seemingly featured the prolific male hero in almost every one of Supergirl’s season two promos. Especially also for a network that after debuting three of its own superhero shows since 2012, failed to develop a single one around a female lead. The soaking masculinity of The CW’s DC TV universe, as well as Clark’s consistent presence in season two’s promotional material, is raising some red flags about the introduction of one of DC’s golden trio and more importantly, Kara’s series going forward.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Greg Berlanti series is that it has, from the start, been quite intentionally female-oriented. But despite Supergirl’s roster of bad girls (Live Wire, Siobhan Smythe, Indigo and more), and its good ones (Cat Grant, Alex Danvers and Lucy Lane), and its decision to tackle — perhaps not perfectly — the language of gender discrimination (What’s wrong with the word girl?), Supergirl’s most central, complex, and investing relationship ultimately lies between Kara and her sister, Alex. From Alex supporting Kara through the devastating Astra reveal through Kara fighting bitterly with Alex after becoming infected by red kryptonite, these two aren’t just compelling characters; their relationship helps drive both their personal development and the show’s larger plots.

But with the many 30-second clips and promo photos showing Kara and Clark constantly side-by-side on a show that should feature Kara front and center regardless of how famous her cousin is, it’s hard not to find his sudden constant presence off-putting. Or worse, erasing.

So why would Clark’s relationship to Kara ultimately be a threat to Kara’s story? The answer to that lies in the connection we already know Clark has established with her.

Despite the hype about Clark’s arrival, season two isn’t our first introduction to the man of steel. In fact, he made several text-message appearances during Supergirl’s first season, in addition to appearing as a shadowy figure in episode three, “Fight or Flight” as as nothing more than a pair of red boots in a later episode. There’s no doubt the series has worked to establish Kent as an influential force in Kara’s life. In almost every instance he “appears,” he’s offering aid and guidance to his younger cousin. It’s the kind of guidance that Alex offers to Kara on a more human and less heroic level.

But rather cleverly, season one kept Clark in the shadows. Unlike her relationship with Alex, Clark’s type of mentor-ship presents a patronizing possibility a la  the independent character on her own journey suddenly attains a male mentor who doesn’t just want to share the skies with her, but worse case scenario, he fights them with her or for her. Fortunately, common sense, and good writing meant the physical distance between these two characters ultimately forced Kara to learn how to survive and get better, without the help of her more well known cousin, and the show was the better for it.

The full article first appeared at ScreenSpy on October 7, 2016

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