Continuing with comic book adaptations, this week’s subject is also a look at how one work can still have influence. While the 1984 Supergirl movie wasn’t the blockbuster the studio hoped for, the movie it was spun off from, the 1978 Superman, is often taken as the definitive version of the title character. As a result, audiences have expectations of what a Superman or Superman-related work involves.
Lost in Translation went through the history of the character of Supergirl in the analysis of the 1984 film. However, there’s more to the character than mentioned there. Yes, Kara Zor-El was Kal El’s cousin and became Supergirl after arriving on Earth after Argo City was destroyed. Kara was the first Supergirl, first appearing in 1959 in Action Comics #252. She wasn’t the only Supergirl.
After Kara dies in the mini-series reboot Crisis on Infinite Earths saving Superman and the multiverse, other Supergirls appeared. The first was Matrix, an artificial life form from an alternate universe, with a different power set. As Supergirl, she spent time with the Teen Titans and as a hero on her own. When Matrix finds a dying Linda Danvers, she merges, becoming an Earth-born angel. This Supergirl has a different set of powers, including wings made of fire. Eventually, this merged Supergirl falls from grace, causing Matrix and Linda to separate. Linda keeps some of the powers, though not at the same level as before, and continues to be Supergirl.
The changes to Supergirl post-Crisis came from DC’s editorial wanting Superman to be the only surviving Kryptonian. When that policy was relaxed, Kara returned, though with her origin rebooted. She’s still Superman’s cousin, but after being launched from Krypton, she loses her memory. Her first meeting with her cousin has her in disbelief; to her, he should still be an infant. In reality, she had lost time while in her lifepod.
That brings us to 2015. The CW has had success with Arrow and The Flash, showing that a broadcast network can have success with a superhero TV adaptation. CBS took the chance on the lastest from Greg Berlanti, Supergirl. With Melissa Benoist as the title character, the first season explored hope, dreams, family, and how the three mix. The analysis that follows focuses on the first season; cinematic universes tend to go in their own direction once started, even when the studio works to keep close to the original work.
The opening voice over explains the background; thirteen year old Kara Zor-El was sent by her mother to keep her cousin, Kal El, safe until he grew up. However, Kara’s pod was knocked off course into the Phantom Zone, where she lingered unaging until somehow she got out. When she reached Earth, her cousin had grown up and become Superman. Instead of her taking care of him, he finds a way to take care of her, bringing her to her foster parents, the Danvers, Jeremiah (Dean Cain) and Eliza (Helen Slater). Kara grows close to her older foster sister, Alex (Chyler Leigh).
Once Kara has graduated college, she started work at CatCo, the media empire owned by Cat Grant (Callista Flockheart), former Daily Planet journalist. The series starts with Kara being Cat’s assistant and gopher, with her name mangled to Kira. Still, Kara keeps her spirits up. She enjoys her job and her co-workers. One, IT whizkid Winslow “Winn” Schott, Jr (Jeremiah Jordan), has a crush on Kara but can’t quite tell her. Starting that day is James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks), who has moved from Metropolis to National City to work for CatCo as the art director. Kara is looking forward to seeing her sister; Alex had been out of town on work. All in all, Kara’s life is normal.
All the normal goes out the window when Kara sees a news report about her sister’s flight in trouble. An engine caught fire and the plane was on a course to crash in the middle of National City. Kara runs out, throwing her jacket aside and, after a few short jumps, flies off. She catches the jet, but because women need to work twice as hard to be considered even half as good as men, she has to dodge a bridge before setting the plane down in the river. Despite the efforts, news anchors criticize her for setting the jet down where rescuers couldn’t get to it immediately. Nevermind that no one died.
Alex realizes who saved her and the other passengers and confronts Kara. However, Kara is just so earnest that Alex breaks down and reveals her big secret – she’s really an agent for the DEO, the Department of Extranormal Operations, whose mandate is to protect the Earth from alien threats. Alex knows Kara isn’t a threat, but her boss, Hank Henshaw (David Harewoood), isn’t so sure, but he trusts Alex enough that he’s willing to accept Kara. The problem that the DEO is facing is that Fort Rozz, the Kryptonian prison in the Phantom Zone, has crashed on Earth, letting the prisoners escape.
Kara can’t keep her excitement at bay. At work, after Cat names the new hero “Supergirl”, Kara needs to share her news with someone. That someone is Winn, who helps Kara with a costume. As Supergirl, Kara does what she can to keep National City safe. Her appearance, though, lets General Non (Chris Vance) and Astra (Laura Benanti), the twin sister to Kara’s mother, Alura, know that there is another Kryptonian on Earth. The plane crash Kara prevented was to kill Alex, set by escapee Vartox (Owain Yeoman) under Non’s orders. Vartox tries to kill Supergirl but fails, committing suicide when she beats him.
As the season plays out, Supergirl makes a few rookie mistakes, but with the help of Winn and James and with Cat giving her a media boost, she improves and becomes the darling of National City while still helping the DEO in its mission. However, as Superman’s cousin, Supergirl is constantly compared to him. This changes after she stops Reactron, a villain Superman couldn’t completely defeat.
Other characters from the comics make appearances through the season, including Dr. T.O. Morrow; his creation, the Red Tornado; the Silver Banshee; Jemm, Son of Saturn; the Toyman; and possibly the greatest danger to National City, Maxwell Lord(Peter Facinelli). There were also some twists on villains from Superman’s Rogues Gallery. Bizarro, who in the comics looks like a twisted copy of Superman, is based on Supergirl thanks to Max Lord and his experiments with Kryptonite to create a counter to the Girl of Steel. Brainiac appears as Braniac 8, though she prefers Indigo (Laura Vandervoot).
Of note is the episode “For the Girl Who Has Everything”, which takes a cue from a Superman comic. The producers realized that the Black Mercy, a creature that traps a victim in an memory recreation of a happier time, would work better with Kara. Superman has little personal experience with Krypton, having arrived on Earth as an infant. Everything he knows about the planet comes second hand. Kara, though, was older when she was sent away. She had family and friends, all of whom perished when the planet exploded. Kara is far more vulnerable to the Black Mercy, and the episode shows how.
Just having the names of characters, though, doesn’t make the series a good adaptation. It’s how the characters are presented. Kara is earnest and adorkable, which does follow from her appearances in the comics. She’s heroic because she wants to help. The Martian Manhunter is protective of the Danvers sisters and shares with Kara the loss of a family and a home. Maxwell Lord does reflect the character in the comics, a mix of helpfulness and dangerous-ness that makes it difficult to pin down if he is a hero or a villain.
The show also gave itself an out with accuracy. “Worlds Finest”, the crossover episode with The Flash, reveals that Supergirl isn’t quite in the same universe as Arrow and The Flash. Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) at one point goes through the differences between the universe he’s from and Kara’s. Cat also gets an interesting line when Kara, Barry, James, and Winn are lingering in her office, “You look like the racially diverse cast of a CW show.” Supergirl moved to the CW with its second season.
Each Supergirl episode plays like an issue of a comic. There’s character development; every character has a story arc. There’s heroics. If there’s a villain, Supergirl has a setback that helps her discover what she needs to defeat the miscreant. There’s even a end-of-episode cliffhanger, a hint on what will happen next week. Episodes have both stand-alone elements and still contribute to the the season’s main arc.
Supergirl, being the latest in Superman TV adaptations, also winks at the audience. Kara’s foster parents are played by leads in previous works. Helen Slater was Supergirl in the 1984 movie while Dean Cain was Clark Kent in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Cain’s co-star Teri Hatcher, who played Lois Lane, appears in season 2 as Rhea. Laura Vandervoot (Indigo) portrayed Kara on Smallville.
The series has the potential to be the definitive version of Supergirl to the general audience, much like the Richard Donner Superman. The chemistry amongst the cast and Melissa Benoist’s portrayal of Kara will leave a long lasting impression that will be hard to top.
For the last survivor of a doomed world, Superman has a large family. Many Golden and Silver Age superheroes had a “family” – characters who share in the main hero’s adventures as, if not an equal, as a sidekick. Batman had the various Robins, the various Batgirls, Ace the Bat-hound, Batwoman, and, at times, Catwoman. Captain Marvel, of Shazam! fame, had Mary Marvel, Captain Marvel, Jr., and Uncle Marvel. Superman had Superboy*, Krypto, Beppo, and Supergirl. not to mention the various Kryptonian criminals in the Phantom Zone. Supergirl, Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El, was first introduced in 1959, though DC had floated the idea in 1958 with Jimmy Olsen wishing a “Super-Girl” into existence. Kara has the same powers as her cousin, thanks to being under Earth’s yellow sun. She arrived on Earth in a different manner, though.
In her first appearance, Kara wasn’t sent off from the dying world of Krypton on a rocket. Instead, she lived in Argo City, which had survived the planet’s explosion only to have the ground it sat on turn into Kryptonite. Kara was sent off to follow her cousin, but arrived in Midvale instead. She took on the the secret identity of Linda Lee, an orphan at the Midvale Orphanage.
Being the comics, nothing stays simple. Kara, as Linda, gets adopted, graduates high school and college, and moves to the West Coast to work as a TV camera operator. A second Kara, from the alternate dimension of Earth-Two and becomes Power Girl. However, after Crisis on Infinite Earths, a 1985 crossover event to try to clean up the DC Universe’s massive convolutions, not is Kara killed off, the universe is rebooted, removing both Supergirl and Power Girl from continuity. A third Supergirl, Matrix, is a shape changer, appeared in 1988, and a fourth, Linda Danvers, is an Earth-born angel**. Also, being the comics, no character stays dead for long. Kara began reappearing through the late 80s and is reintroduced in 2004 by Jeph Loeb, first in Superman/Batman and then in a new Supergirl title.
Rewinding back to 1984, Alexander and Ilya Salkind still had the movie rights to not just Superman but related characters, including Supergirl. Superman was in the top ten grossing movies of the 70s and is the movie that people associate with the character. Superman III, with Christopher Reeve and Richard Pryor, came out in 1983 to poor reviews. Supergirl was a chance for the Salkinds to rebound. There were several cuts, including a domestic cut for the US and a longer international cut for the rest This review uses the 2006 DVD release, which was the international version of the movie.
Supergirl begins in Argo City, the home of the last survivors of Krypton, tucked away in an alternate dimension. Kara, played by Helen Slater in her first role, watches Zaltar, played by Peter O’Toole, use the Omegahedron, a powerful power source that uses imagination for creation. Such a powerful device needs to be used carefully, lest it falls into the wrong hands. Zaltar hands the Omegahedron to Kara to let her explore her own imagination. Kara’s creation, though, gets away from her and pierces the wall surrounding Argo City. The power source is blown out through the hole; its loss means Argo City’s time is limited. Zaltar, because he “borrowed” the device without permission, will be sent to the Phantom Zone. Kara chases after the Omegahedron to make up for its escape.
On Earth, Selena, a vain, impatient sorceress out for world domination (Faye Dunaway) and Nigel, her mentor and long suffering lover (Peter Cook***) are having a picnic while discussing invisibility spells. The Omegahedron falls into the potato salad and is picked up by Selena. The sorceress senses the power within and claims the power source as her own. She returns to her home, an abandoned amusement park she shares with Bianca (Brenda Vaccaro) and experiments with the Omegahedron.
Kara arrives not far behind. Now under Earth’s yellow sun, she discovers her new powers, including flight. She heads to the nearby town, Midvale, where she finds the girls of Midvale High. Kara changes into a similar uniform and becomes the new student, Linda Lee. She name drops Clark Kent when she arrives, and, when the headmaster, Mr. Danvers, is distracted, types up a letter from her cousin to make sure that she’s accepted. Danvers shows her to her new room and her new roommate, Lucy Lane (Maureen Teefy), the younger sister of the Daily Planet’s star reporter, Lois Lane. Lucy, while not thrilled about having a roommate, perks up when she discovers who Linda’s cousin is. Linda also sees the school’s buff groundskeeper, Ethan (Hart Bochner), and is impressed.
Ethan also impresses Selena, who comes up with a plot to force the groundskeeper to love her as part of her plot to rule the world. Selena drugs him with a love potion, which will make Ethan fall in love with the first person he sees when he regains consciousness. Unfortunately for the sorceress, Nigel interrupts. While he’s not allowed in, Nigel is enough of a distraction to let Ethan stumble to an escape. The groundskeeper, walking drunkenly down Midvale’s main street, avoids being hit. Selena uses the Omegahedron to locate him and enspells a backhoe to retrieve him. Lucy and Linda, along with Lucy’s boyfriend from Metropolis, Jimmy Olsen (Marc McClure, the only actor from Superman to appear in Supergirl), see Ethan in trouble. As vehicles avoid both Ethan and the backhoe, chaos ensues, leading to spilled gasoline, downed electrical lines, and a tire fire. Kara disappears to the bathroom and appears as Supergirl on top of the diner. Supergirl saves the day, cutting the electrical lines with her heat-ray vision, blowing out the fire with her superbreath, and rescuing Ethan from the animated construction vehicle. Ethan recovers, and, to Selena’s chagrin, sees Linda first.
Selena escalates against Linda and Supergirl, never realizing they are the same person. The sorceress lures Supergirl into a trap by kidnapping Ethan. Selena twists the knife; she kisses the groundskeeper before sending Kara into the Phantom Zone. Kara, lost in the darkness of the Zone, loses her powers and, as she wanders, falls into an oily bog. Zaltar, in self-imposed exile, rescues her and helps her return to Earth through a small rift.
On Earth, Selena has succeeded in taking over Midvale through her dark sorcery and has plans for the rest of the continent. Lucy and Jimmy try to lead a resistance, but are arrested by Selena’s ensorcelled police. However, Selena and Bianca are watching what is happening in the Phantom Zone and are amazed when Supergirl returns. In the final battle, Selena summons a shadow demon to tear Supergirl apart. Kara turns things around on the sorceress, who is pulled into a whirlwind and trapped inside a mirror. With Midvale returned to normal, Kara retrieves the Omegahedron and leaves to return home.
Supergirl was not well received and failed to recoup its $35 million budget. Dunaway and O’Toole each received a Razzie for the film. Slater, though, was nominated for a Saturn for Best Actress. The problems may stem from having an almost twenty minute difference in running time between domestic and international. The longer version gives the movie time to set itself up, showing the rift between Selena and Nigel and showing Kara getting used to being on Earth. The chemistry between Dunaway and Vaccaro as Selena and Bianca is worth seeing. The main problem is that the movie went for camp at a time when camp wasn’t appreciated. If the movie had been made in 1979 instead of 1984, Dunaway’s over-the-top performance wouldn’t have seen out of place, following in the footsteps of Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor.
As an adaptation, Supergirl took the character and presented her on the big screen. Her powers were influenced by Superman’s from his 1978 movie, though without the time travel. In the comics, Supergirl helped people at a personal level, and this does come through in the movie. The plot itself would fit earlier Superman comics, though not as much in the 80s. Kara’s origins, while meddled with, still reflect her background in her comics debut. The film does look like it came from a comic without being a cartoon.
Supergirl, while meant to be a stand-alone film, still leans heavily on Superman. Other than the villains, each character has a connection to the Superman cast, with Jimmy Olsen being brought over. However, as a character, Supergirl wouldn’t exist without Superman, so the links are expected. There were plans for a Christopher Reeve cameo, but that fell through; the lack of Superman is explained in a radio broadcast early in the movie, one ignored by Selena she’s taking Nigel’s car to return home.
Overall, some changes were made, more to take advantage of the medium than anything else. Despite the movie’s issues, it made an attempt to be faithful to the character, making this a successful adaptation despite the lack of theatrical success.
* Sort of. Superboy was originally the young Superman in Smallville, but later the name got attached to a different character believed to be a clone.
** Soap operas don’t get this complex.
*** Cook portrays a Snape-like character long before Snape was created.
Let’s round up those tidbits and see what’s going on.
NBC drops a house on Emerald City.
NBC’s entry to the 2015-16’s Wizard of Oz lineup has had its plug pulled and water poured on the corpse. Emerald City was going to be The Wizard of Oz as seen through a the lens of A Game of Thrones. Disagreements between NBC and showrunner Josh Friedman launched the suborbital house drop. Friedman will shop Emerald City around.
Chloë Moretz says Kick-Ass 3 dead due to piracy. Screen Rant says, not so fast.
Kick-Ass 2 broke even in the US with overseas markets adding to its total take. Moretz, who played Hit-Girl, believes that piracy was a factor in the low take. Screen Rant counters with a 29% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, a factor that the R-rated movie wasn’t that good to start.
Blade Runner 2 has a script.
Sir Ridley Scott has confirmed that the Blade Runner 2 script is done and will have Harrison Ford back. Filming has not been scheduled; Prometheus 2, with its March 2016 release date, may cause a delay in the filming of Blade Runner 2.
Museum of London and the BFI need help finding Sherlock Holmes.
The 1914 film A Study in Scarlet, the earliest known Sherlock Holmes adaptation, is the second oldest on the BFI‘s Most Wanted list. If found, contact sherlockholmes at bfi.org.uk or use the #FindSherlock tag on Twitter.
The Greatest American Hero getting reboot movie.
The creators of The LEGO Movie are adapting the Stephen J. Cannell series as a TV series on Fox. The original series featured an inner-city school teacher who finds a super suit but loses the instruction manual.
Patrick Warburton to return as The Tick.
Amazon will be making new episodes of the series. Fox had aired nine episodes of the live-action adaptation of the Ben Edlund comic in 2001, with an animated series running on the same network earlier from 1994 to 1997. The Tick – comic, animated, and live-action – was a parody of superheroes.
Stan Lee confirms Black Panther movie.
During a panel at Fan Expo Canada, held in Toronto, Stan Lee let slip that the Black Panther will have a movie. Marvel’s plans are to have a movie with all their heroes.
Casting has begun for Ghost in the Shell live action adaptation.
Margot Robbie, seen in The Wolf of Wall Street has been cast in the American live action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell.
Neil Gaiman’s “Hansel & Gretel” graphic novel to become movie.
Juliet Blake, producer of The Hundred-Foot Journey, has picked up the rights to Gaiman’s as yet unreleased graphic novel retelling “Hansel & Gretel”. The graphic novel should be out in October.
AMC orders companion series to The Walking Dead.
The so far untitled new series will take a look at what’s happening elsewhere during the zombie apocalypse. AMC has released few details beyond that. The Walking Dead also returns for a fifth season this fall.
Warner Bros. has Legion of Superheroes movie in pre-pre-production.
So far, just rumours that a Legion of Superheroes movie is coming, but Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy may have put some fear into Warner. Legion began in 1958 centred on Super-Boy but evolved to stand on its own. The team has appeared in live-action before, being featured in the Smallville episode “Legion”.
Fox to air series based on Neil Gaiman’s take on Lucifer.
Countering NBC’s Constantine, Lucifer will follow the titular devil, based on Gaiman’s work in Sandman and Milton’s Paradise Lost. The fallout from the show should be impressive, especially over at FOX News.
CBS picks up Supergirl series.
The Warner produced Supergirl TV series has been picked up by CBS, allowing the The Eye to join the other broadcast networks in superhero shows. Fox has Gotham, the Batman prequel. NBC has Constantine. CW has the ongoing Arrow and the new kid Flash. ABC is reaping fortune by having the same owner as Marvel – Disney – and both Agents of SHIELD and new series Agent Carter.
Deadpool movie confirmed.
The Merc with the Mouth will finally get the movie people have been wanting. Fox announced that the movie will be released February of 2016. Ryan Reynolds will return to play the character. Filming has not yet started, and the announcement of the Deadpool movie has bumped the Assassin’s Creed movie off Fox’s release schedule completely.
Real Genius being turned into a TV series.
The 80s movie, Real Genius, which starred Val Kilmer, is getting remade as a sitcom. Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions is one of the studios on board with the reboot.