Battle of the comic book superheroines

February 17, 2016


Lawrance Bernabo
Zenith News

Supergirl (CBS) made a smart move holding off until late October to premier, by which time viewers had given up on most new series and were looking for something else to latch onto.

Supergirl has always been a problematic character, because what makes her interesting is her relationship to Superman, which is also her curse. Every time the Man of Steel is in the picture, she suffers by comparison.

As played by Melissa Benoist, Supergirl trying to figure out the whole superhero gig is far more interesting than Kara Danvers, who goes old-school and channels the bumbling Clark Kent of yesterday.

The producers made some interesting choices in cannibalizing the D.C. Universe for Supergirl’s supporting cast: The shallow and superficial but powerful Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart) as Kara’s boss; James “Don’t call me Jimmy” Olsen (Mechad Brooks), who is no longer red-headed and freckle-faced; and Winslow “Winn” Shott, Jr. (Jeremy Jordan), who turns out to be the son of the Toyman and not the villain himself, but the final leg of a potential love triangle with Kara and James.

Kara’s adoptive sister Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh), who is part of the Department of Extranormal Operations, headed by Hank Henshaw (David Harewood), who turns out to be J’onn J’onzz (a.k.a., the Martian Manhunter). The DEO sees Supergirl as an alien threat when she first appears, but she ends up joining the team as the show fast-forwards through setting up its situation.

It is stunning how many people knew Kara’s secret identity by the end of the pilot. Finding out used to be a big deal. One of the best episodes of the first season of Daredevil (Netflix) was when Foggy found out Matt was Daredevil and they had to rehash their entire friendship. Supergirl just zips through these revelations.

When Kara’s ship crashed on earth, so did one with hundreds of intergalactic criminals, which means Supergirl has villains on which she can use her superpowers. But once you have crazy Kryptonians running around causing havoc, you have to wonder why Superman continues to ignore this dangerous situation. Supergirl seems to always take one step backwards for every step forward.

Totally heading in the right direction is Jessica Jones (Netflix), about a former superhero who opens up her own detective agency. Krysten Ritter, best known as the ill-fated Jane Margolis on Breaking Bad, plays the weary and wary character who is always on edge.

Jessica’s adopted sister, Patricia “Trish” Walker (Rachael Taylor), is a 21st-century Patsy Walker, who premiered as the star of a teen romantic-comedy series for Marvel’s precursor, Timely Comics, in 1944, before becoming the superhero Hellcat in 1976 (long story). Luke Cage (Mike Colter) is no longer the Blaxplitation film-inspired “Hero for Hire” of the 1970s (thank God).

Whatever case Jessica is working as a private detective in any given episode is small potatoes compared to her quest to track down a man named Kilgrave, whose body produces pheromones that allow him to tell people what to do. In the not-so-distant past, he used his powers to control Jessica and make her do horrible things.

Ultimately, Jessica Jones is neither a superhero nor detective story, but a horror story. The first season breaks down into three “acts,” each of which culminates in a brutal showdown between heroine and villain. This is really more of a mini-series than any other comic book television series, another reason why it is the best one out there.

Jessica Jones follows Daredevil as the second in a series of shows that will culminate in a Defenders crossover (Luke Cage airs in 2016 and Iron Fist is still to be announced). Unlike the Marvel Cinematic Universe blockbuster films, Jessica Jones says bad words and has sex.

This is the comic book version of New York City that Frank Miller created in Daredevil. Hardwired into the first season story arc are issues of rape and sexual assault, as well as some particularly brutal killings, all given a decidedly different edge by the film noir tone.

The only reason Jessica Jones is not a stripped-down “superhero” show is that Agent Carter (ABC) deserves the title. Peggy Carter is not a superhero; she just dated one (almost). With Hayley Atwell as the title character, this tongue-in-cheek show is a comic noir, playing with conventions of the 1940s from a postmodern perspective.  
Season 2 finds Peggy in Los Angeles, continuing to struggle with being a secret agent in a man’s world. Every man with a brain in his head falls in love with her. Of course, what chance do they have compared to the memory of Steve Rogers?  But then why does Peggy appear to be smitten with scientist Jason Wilkes (Reggie Austin)?

Dominic Cooper’s Howard Stark is starting to look like the MCU’s version of Howard Hughes. Plus, the Hollywood Big Bad appears to be a takeoff on legendary actress-turned-scientist Hedy Lamarr, so the writers are taking their period research seriously.

DC is not as far behind Marvel on television as they are at the movies, but their propensity to overload shows with characters and conflicts is starting to become burdensome.

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