One of the reasons that I have always tended to prefer DC Comics to Marvel was their rich history. DC had multi-generational heroes, legacies passed on, and great interactions between some of the eras. I loved, for example, that the modern Black Canary was taught to fight, in part, by Ted Grant, the original Wildcat. Sadly, in 2011, DC did a big reboot and got rid of most of their legacies, removing earlier characters and changing later ones to the point of being almost unrecognizable. Over the last few years, they’ve been moving away from that, and restoring their earlier, and better (in my opinion) history. Stargirl, the newest show on both DC Universe and the CW, runs with the idea of legacy heroes.
Continuing the unimaginative trend of doing first episodes called “Pilot,” Stargirl opens with a brief bit about heroes protecting the world until ten years ago. In that time frame, we see the fall of the Justice Society of America, as a huge battle against a collection of villains goes horribly badly, and the original heroes either die before our eyes, lay in heaps on the floor, or are strongly implied to be dead by things like Jay Garrick’s helmet on the floor or bits of green flame all over the house, likely residue of Green Lantern Alan Scott’s power. The sole survivor of this is Stripesy, Pat Dugan, sidekick of Starman. As he dies, Starman charges Pat with finding others to carry on the legacy, although Starman is really harsh to Pat. In this same time frame, we meet Courtney Whitmore, a very young girl waiting for her father on Christmas Eve. Dad never shows up.
Now in the present, Courtney and her mother, Barbara, are packing up to leave Los Angeles to move to Blue Valley, Nebraska. You can imagine how excited any teen would be to leave their friends during high school and go from the big city to a small town. Courtney isn’t happy about the move or Pat Dugan, her new stepdad. Pat’s son, Mike, isn’t crazy about this either. There’s a lot of adolescent sulking, and we see Courtney’s friend Merry several times. Given the name, the red hair, and the general connections to Golden Age characters, I strongly suspect this is some version of Gimmick Girl, AKA Merry, the Girl of 1,000 Gimmicks, a minor Golden Age heroine.
Things continue to not go Courtney’s way at school. The gymnastics team she wanted to join has apparently been removed, she clashes with the cool kids over cheerleading, and gets blamed for a fight with some of the stereotypical jock/bullies. We have seen that, in addition to gymnastics, Courtney is also skilled at martial arts, from the fight gloves that were featured in her packing and then unpacking, and some pictures from tournaments. Dinner doesn’t go well that night, either, and Courtney’s even less pleased that her geeky step-brother already has plans for Friday night and she doesn’t. Apparently, the first day of school was on a Friday, which is just plain weird. Other interesting bits were Pat trying hard with Courtney, who is being a real brat to him, an odd janitor in the school who some comic readers might know the story behind, and Courtney having lunch, and later detention, with a group of “losers” who I suspect are going to become very important later.
That night, Pat goes down to the basement, studying files on the JSA’s enemies, and going over a map with their new home of Blue Valley prominently circled. Clearly, Pat has some secrets and plans. During the day, Pat the mechanic opens his new garage and has a run-in with a local business owner whose name should also ring bells for comic book readers. Later, Courtney goes downstairs, trailing a crowd of teenage angst, and kicks over some of Pat’s boxes because, well, she’s a teenager. Naturally, she manages to find some of his earlier stuff, and is intrigued and surprised. The biggest discovery is the Cosmic Staff, Starman’s weapon, hidden away in a crate Pat was very protective of during the move. The staff, inert since Starman’s death, comes alive at her touch, and apparently has something of a mind of its own, a bit like Thor’s Mjonlir in some versions. There’s a very entertaining scene of Courtney and the staff not getting along, which ends up with her at the local drive-in. She has another run-in with the jock/bullies, which escalates quickly to serious property destruction. Eventually, she makes her way home, and Pat isn’t pleased about her going through his stuff or taking the staff. To his credit, he seems largely worried about her. To his blame, this important secret stuff was really badly secured. Courtney asks some questions, gets a lot of surprising information, and leaps to a conclusion about something from her earlier life. Pat does his best to let her down gently from this idea, but she’s not really inclined to listen. On her way back upstairs, she has a minor argument with her mother, but actually shows some maturity in the encounter.
On a normal show, the jocks would probably be just the stereotypes we’ve seen so far. One of the places this show leaps up in quality is our seeing what happens when the head bully goes home and tells a highly edited version of events to his father. Dad is a lot more interested in the staff than the destruction, and clearly knows more than he’s telling. After sending his son to bed, he shows us Pat isn’t the only one keeping secrets in this small town. Out on the porch, Courtney has another talk with Pat, which is partially interest in what he knows, and partially some blackmail on her part. It’s a really uncool thing for her to do, but it’s in character and true to the original run of the comics.
While the jock’s dad makes an interesting phone call, Courtney gets harassed by the staff, which apparently wants to go out and play. Eagerly, she agrees, and they do some interesting acrobatics/gymnastics/flying. She is very obviously not quite ready for everything the staff has in mind, and it’s a well done young-hero-discovering-their-powers scene. Her late-night excursion gets interrupted when she suddenly finds out that the staff comes with a history and enemies, and has her first battle. She barely gets out of it alive, and then gets another big surprise as the episode ends.
What I liked: There’s a lot of nods to DC history, from Merry, to the JSA to the Action Movers truck styled after Action Comics’ logo. I’m really intrigued to see where they go with the various names that were dropped and if the janitor gets the same storyline as the comics. All the performances were decent, and I like Courtney so far, somewhat in spite of herself. The scenes with the staff were great. There were a lot of Easter Eggs in the big fight at the beginning, and I have some questions from that I hope will be answered. Pat comes across as a nice guy, out of his depth both on his mission and with Courtney. They get huge credit for doing something more interesting with that jock.
What I didn’t: I never like seeing my heroes fall, and especially not a team slaughter of icons. I don’t like where I think they’re heading with the lunch table crew. Why did school start on a Friday? How did the JSA die “saving the world” if they were wiped out completely? What did they stop?
I think this was a great start, and I’m really looking forward to the rest of the season. This may be one of the best pilot episodes from the “Arrowverse,” even if it’s an alternate Earth. I’m giving this a 4.5 out of 5.