One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most about Stargirl is the history from DC’s older characters they’ve managed to bring in, bit by bit. They’ve created some interesting mysteries (Why was Dr. Midnight so much older than he should have been? Where are the rest of the Seven Soldiers of Victory?) but still respect at least most of the various character’s pasts. They bring in one of the JSA’s more obscure members, and show some depth to a character that they did some great things with in the comics. A power passes on, a confrontation goes badly, and some hard truths are faced in “Summer School, Chapter Three.”
The episode opens eleven years ago, as the Christmas holidays go badly for the Justice Society. We see the edges of what we know was the last mission for the original Justice Society of America. Pat Dugan is in their garage, working on the Star Rocket Racer, when Johnny Thunder comes in, and they commiserate on being benched. Just as the two make plans, Wildcat comes in, saying they need Johnny, despite the risks of the Thunderbolt’s unpredictability, because of what the JSA just learned about the ISA lineup. Johnny ends up going off with them, and, as we know, none of them made it out. Except whoever they decide to retcon into surviving like Hourman. In the garage we do see several of the Arrowverse-style costume mannequins, which is so far the only tie between Stargirl’s Earth-2 and the “main” Arrow-verse on Earth-1. In the present, Mike is still doing his paper route, as they established in season one, when he runs afoul of a trio of bullies. This is followed by breakfast at the Dugan’s, where a lot of things get discussed and one of the family feels very left out. Later, Mike gets some complaints about his job (which are probably fair), tries to do something fairly ordinary to fix things, and gets a big surprise.
Mike is now the master of Johnny Thunder’s Thunderbolt, and it’s a vast, cosmically powerful being with a lot of problems attached to it. The things they set up here for rules and limitations, it’s both not the same as the comics, and sounds a bit like Disney’s Aladdin rules. That’s sort of entertaining, since Disney is tied to Marvel, DC’s biggest rival in the superhero publishing industry. Later, the new JSA has a meeting at Pat’s garage, a far cry from the headquarters of the original team, and discusses the Shade being in town. Pat tries to brief them about him, gets interrupted by Courtney a lot, and then Rick points out some difficulties ahead of them. Beth also has a unique perspective on things, based on what she’s just learned, and I don’t blame her at all. After her meeting with Shade, Barbara is going through the storage area of the American Dream company (which I still have a lot of questions about). She has a very unnerving encounter with the Shade himself, but it really could have gone much, much worse.
In a nod to the title of the season, we finally see Yolanda and Courtney actually in summer school. Yolanda seems to be developing a case of subplot, and she and Courtney get called out for talking in class. It’s hard to try and save the town while listening to a teacher drone on about the end of civilizations, although Courtney does pull off something surprising. Mike and his new Thunderbolt find the bullies Mike dealt with earlier, and things rapidly spin out of control. Courtney and Yolanda come by in a case of remarkable coincidence, but I guess Blue Valley really is a small town. The team regroups back at the garage, and Pat and Courtney argue about the pen that houses the Thunderbolt. The others all have ideas about how to use the Thunderbolt, but Pat urges caution and makes a Monkey’s Paw reference that goes over at least some of their heads. We learn about Johnny Thunder’s last wish, and Pat finds out something that saddens him about his son. Outside, Courtney and Mike have a talk about JSA membership, hazing, and parental veto power.
Presenting a united front, the team goes to Pat to plead for Mike being given a chance. His objections sound familiar, and Courtney points out most of them applied to her entire team and they’ve done well enough. Possibly because Pat’s too nice, possibly because they really need some help, Pat reluctantly agrees to allow Mike, who came up with a really horrible codename, to use the Thunderbolt to find the Shade. This leads to some brainstorming and a really entertaining, convoluted, immensely specific wish that most gamers would be familiar with. Mike is disappointed he has to stay behind once they work out where Shade is, even though he agreed to it, and the rest of the team heads out. Pat and Barbara have a hurried discussion on the phone, and Mike does what any unattended, disappointed kid would do: nothing good.
The team, with Pat but not STRIPE (what Pat is going to do on his own I’m not sure) sneak up on the Shade, or think that’s what they’re doing. What they get is more the nuanced character from James Robinson’s run on Starman than a typical villain. Teen defiance and bravado are met with 19th century manners and an invitation, and the confusion is entertaining to watch. This may be my favorite sequence on the episode, possibly the season to date. Things are mostly calmed down and something approaching a civil discussion is happening, although Shade certainly has an edge to him, especially when Dr. Midnight hurls an accusation at him. Shade makes some interesting statements about his past with the ISA. They manage to recover from that even, but then a well-intentioned party crasher upsets everything and Shade leaves, after showing he’s more than a match for the entire team. Later, Wildcat tries to reassure someone, and finds out something surprising about the big battle at the end of last season.
Later, at the Dugan-Whitmore household, earlier events are discussed. Courtney is showing some remarkable loyalty to someone she didn’t really seem to like that much last season, but I guess they bonded near the end of it and in the time in between. As the discussion goes on, Mike makes a simple slip of the tongue that’s going to change some things, and we get a peek at a later generation JSA character who was hinted at last season. Pat and Barbara discuss the days’ events, she fills him in on something important, and Pat starts to realize just how high the stakes could be here. Beth and Rick have a heart to heart, and Beth shares her fears with Rick. Rick is surprisingly understanding and supportive, given how he usually acts. Beth has some limited success with her ongoing attempts to restore the Chuck AI in the Dr. Midnight goggles, and gets a surprising warning. The final scene shows some hidden depth and a hint about what one character is actually up to.
What I liked: I’ve always loved the Golden Age heroes, and this show really honors them. It was great seeing Johnny Thunder in what was not only his first live action appearance, but, I believe, his first appearance outside comic books. We also got a bit more insight into the JSA’s final mission. It’s a nice change that Courtney is appealing to Pat instead of ignoring him. This was a fantastic interpretation of the Shade, and I’m really looking forward to seeing more of him.
What I didn’t: This was a weird version of the Thunderbolt and I can’t say I loved it. I don’t know why Pat was in the field without STRIPE. Where did Zeek, Pat’s over-eager assistant, suddenly disappear to?
There were a lot of good things in this episode, and I’m really intrigued by the Shade, his apparent mission, and how some things are coming together. We’ve seen a good bit of the younger JSA team now, and some of Infinity, Inc. I hope we get more. I’ll give this a 3.5 out of 5.