CBS's Supergirl Reacting to the Legacy of "Tricky" Wonder Woman

Curator's Note

We are still waiting for more than a few seconds of footage of the first live-action Wonder Woman since Lynda Carter, but since the writing of my In Focus essay, a live-action, super-powered, female hero is starring in her own television show for the first time since the 1970s. Supergirl's premiere on CBS boasted the best ratings of any new show of the fall television season, and has garnered praise (if light) from comics fans, viewers, and cultural critics. Even before it's premiere on October 25 and the publicity that surrounded it, Supergirl was discussed as feminist. As a branded media product within the same industrial context that has led to failure after failure for Wonder Woman adaptations, the stark differences between the industrial discourse around creating a live-action Supergirl and a live-action Wonder Woman further supports Wonder Woman as a threat to patriarchal power. Wonder Woman by her Amazonian nature, history, and origin is subversive in an industry that still operates based on largely sexist notions of female superheroes and comics fans. Wonder Woman is "tricky" because of it. But Supergirl, is not. The term is rarely, if ever, used to describe Supergirl during the show's development and airing. An episode is "tricky" narratively or the use of "girl" in her name is "tricky" (and arguably the reason for the reiteration of its feminist bona fides), but Kara Zor-El and the intellectual property that is Supergirl avoids the label.

The reason for this? Supergirl is not a disruptor but instead is a continuance of DC's central IP, Superman, who acts as patriarchal protection. Supergirl will always operate in the shadow of Superman, by her origin, by her name, and by her cultural and industrial position. The clip here shows that, and the second episode deals explicitly with Supergirl negotiating her place in the world relative to her cousin. But it is in that semi-protected space that Supergirl can be overtly feminist. The discourse around Supergirl has emphasized the feminist stance of both the show and the character. If Wonder Woman is too "tricky" (read: feminist) to get her own story, Supergirl can declare that this is her story, even if always relative to Superman. Superman's lineage grants her the discursive protection to continue the legacy of Wonder Woman in explicitly feminist terms.


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