The first live-action outing from the DC Universe streaming service to be classed as “child friendly,” Stargirl proves that you don’t need strong violence, gratuitous swearing, or body horror to tell a compelling superhero origin story.
When a television series based on Courtney Whitmore, a.k.a. Stargirl, was announced in the summer of 2018 it was met with some confusion. Namely, how it would gel against the otherwise-mature content being produced on DCU. Thankfully it purposely does not gel, and instead finds its own tone, niche, and balance of wholesome teenage superhero shenanigans versus nefarious adult supervillain machinations. Although it benefited from a next-day broadcast on American network The CW, Stargirl takes a leaf out of its fellow streaming series’ playbook and consists of just 13 episodes compared to a network standard of 22. But just how well does it utilise a concise runtime?
Where the likes of Titans and, to a lesser extent, Doom Patrol stumble and sometimes spend too much time flashbacking to the past, this series strikes a perfect balance between supplying the audience with all of the context they need regarding the Justice and Injustice Societies of America while also setting up the successors to these mantles in a satisfying way. By the time the season has reached its halfway point the stage is set, the second incarnation of the JSA has been established and developed, and the ISA have already committed enough atrocities to make us want to see each and every one of them suffer a beatdown from the ever-impressive S.T.R.I.P.E. mecha.
Speaking of the invention of legacy sidekick Pat Dugan, the CGI budget and SFX wizardry present throughout the series is something to behold. Be it the emotive Cosmic Staff, the chilling villain Icicle, or the stunning action set pieces, it can never be said that Stargirl does not impress on a visual level.
That is not to say that the actual drama and emotional punch found here is lacking in any way, as nothing could be further from the truth. What many comic book-based series fail to do is convey a sense of risk, with the audience generally safe in the knowledge that the hero will triumph in the end and the status quo will be reinstated. Without giving away the plot of the finale, what can be safely revealed is that throughout the series enough tragedies and pitfalls dash the hopes of our young cast of heroes to assure the audiences that the gloves are off and as far as Season Two is concerned, no one is safe.
There is also enough emotional baggage associated with our heroes that you would need S.T.R.I.P.E. itself to carry it all. From dead parents to invasions of privacy to teenage angst, they’ve got it all.
Hourman is haunted by the deaths of his parents, initially thought to have died in a regular car accident. It is revealed throughout the course of the series that the accident was in fact caused by Solomon Grundy on the fateful night which eradicated the original JSA, a revelation which motivates him to take down the ISA. Wildcat regressed from a sociable, straight-A student to a forced recluse at the behest of her parents after intimate pictures of her were leaked by her then-boyfriend’s jealous ex. In one of the series’ many plot conveniences, both of these teenagers are the children of ISA members. Dr. Mid-Nite, meanwhile, is more or less just along for the ride and is enjoying getting to know the AI replica of her predecessor which inhabits her high-tech goggles. Last but not least, Stargirl herself is determined to vanquish the ISA after learning that her father, supposedly the original Starman, was also killed alongside the parents of the new Hourman.
On the other hand, by comparison the vast majority of the Injustice Society members are disappointingly one-note, with the exception of scene-stealing Icicle and Brainwave who are determined to brainwash the American population and force them to conform to their ideals.
Nevertheless, stereotypical moustache-twirling villains aside, every episode in the series adds another piece to the puzzle that is the mysterious happenings in Blue Valley, with not a minute of screentime wasted. By the time the final confrontations take place in the two-part finale large dollops of vindication and justice are dished out to the audience’s glee, while also laying an intriguing foundation for Season Two.
In conclusion, Stargirl is a wonderful antithesis to the grimdark standard which has been set by other live-action series on DC Universe. Its main star is a delight to watch navigate the superhero realm, her co-stars are suitably fleshed-out and grounded in reality, and the classic superhero action is second to none in the television arena. While some of its villains hold it back from being the perfect series, their comeuppance will have to satisfy audiences for now before the survivors return to plague the JSA next year.