Stargirl Season 1, Episode 1 Review
WARNING, spoilers ahead (yes, this is that kind of review).
When the Stargirl series was announced, I held back any form of excited anticipation. I was cautiously optimistic, as many people have become when waiting for a new superhero show to debut. I had been impressed with the teaser that I had seen at the end of the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover event on the Arrowverse shows, as well as with other promotional imagery. The costumes looked great, as did the action, and effects. Could it finally be that we could finally be seeing a very good representation of these Golden Age heroes?
Yes we could.
Point of fact, I am a huge Justice Society of America fan. I’ve followed them since I was exposed to their adventures in the 1970’s version of All Star Comics, and all other subsequent appearances. Any time they make an appearance on TV, I tune in. Smallville, Legends of Tomorrow, Batman: Brave and the Bold, I’ve seen them all. Some were good, and some were not quite as good. And I am understanding of that, because the JSA has a past that comes with a lot of baggage. In their seventy plus year history, there have been retcons, multiversal re-alignments, and creative changes. Many of the incarnations have taken creative liberties, and cherry-picked bits and pieces of the lore, and what they have put together was kind of a mish mosh of JSA history and characters. I was very impressed then, when the showrunners of Stargirl put together a story in this first episode, that was true to the JSA, and true to the storylines that gave them the greatest success. That run (in my humble opinion), began in 1999 with the introduction of this show’s titular character, Courtney Whitmore in the book, Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E., co-created by series executive producer, Geoff Johns. The book (as does the show), introduces us to Courtney donning the costume of the Star Spangled Kid (known as Starman in the show) to annoy her stepfather, Pat Dugan, the Star Spangled Kid’s partner Stripesy, (AKA S.T.R.I.P.E). The comic was a slow build and only lasted 14 issues, but ran concurrently with the more successful series, JSA (also co-written by Geoff Johns, James Robinson, and David Goyer). The JSA series focused on the rebuilding of the Justice Society of America team after many years of inactivity and hiatus. This was also the first continuous series of the team since the end of All Star Squadron in the late 1980’s. But, like the aforementioned series, Stargirl seems to not only see the growth of the main character, but builds up the revival of the classic superhero team.
So let’s get into Episode 1:
The first act of Episode 1 begins with a spectacular battle going on between the JSA and the Injustice Society of America (a consortium of classic Golden Age villains) at JSA Headquarters just outside of Los Angeles. Pat Dugan (AKA Stripesy, played by Luke Wilson) is furiously racing to JSA HQ to help the team. He makes his way up through the hills to find the mansion doused in green flames, a nod to the Golden Age Green Lantern. As Stripesy enters the fray of battle, he sees the demise of JSA members Wildcat, Dr. Midnite, and Hourman. We will later see Jay Garrick’s winged Flash helmet, frozen on the ground as well as the body of the Sandman. As Pat looks to meet his end at the hands of classic villain, The Wizard, Starman (played by actor Joel McHale) leaps forward and dispatches both the Wizard, as well as villains the Gambler, Sportsmaster, and the Huntress (no not the hero, the villainess from the 1940’s). While fighting the Brainwave, Starman, is mortally injured by the Icicle, the Injustice Society’s leader. Stripesy removes Starman from the battle scene, and both narrowly escape with their lives. Before dying, Starman assigns Stripesy the task of ensuring that the JSA legacy live on. From here we cut across town to a small apartment, where another drama is unfolding. Young Courtney Whitmore is waiting for her deadbeat father to show up on Christmas as her mother, Barbara (played by Amy Smart), prepares to head off to work. Longingly she waits for a father who doesn’t show up, clutching a locket with his photo in it as Christmas Eve disappears into the night. The showrunners did a great job in this first act of getting a lot of information in: introducing us to the Justice Society, the Injustice Society, and the inciting event that will propel this story for a good portion of the first season: the death of the JSA. I really enjoyed the nostalgia with the classic heroes and villains, many of whom stayed true to their original costumes. They also did a good job of showing the viewers the importance and power of Starman to the JSA. There was good foreshadowing of two events that would collide in a major way: Pat carrying on the JSA legacy, and Courtney’s search for her missing father.
In the second act, we move forward 10 years in the future and we see that the paths of Courtney (played by Brec Bassinger) and her mother have crossed with Pat Dugan’s and his son, Michael’s. This is much to the disdain of Courtney, who sees Pat as trying to replace her father. The newly meshed family is preparing to move from Los Angeles to Blue Valley, Nebraska, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. A fresh start for everyone, or so Pat and Barbara hope. Arriving in Blue Valley, the town seems very friendly and accommodating, with many of the townsfolk welcoming the new family. It all seems perfect, almost a little too perfect. Pat begins unpacking his things, including his JSA belongings that he has collected, which includes files on JSA foes and a mysterious map of Blue Valley (which will come into play later). Along with these items, he has many mementos of his superhero days, including Starman’s uniform, some photos of the JSA, and the Cosmic Staff, Starman’s personal weapon. Pat tries desperately to connect with Courtney, but to no avail, he can’t seem to crack the wall Courtney has set up around herself. Barbara sets off to her new job, working for the American Dream Foundation, which seems to have rescued Blue Valley from past troubles, and has created a model All-American town. Courtney, meanwhile, tries to adjust to her new high school, where she meets the school bully, some mean girls, and a trio of “losers” who will have a closer connection to Courtney in the future. It is in school, that we see hints of Courtney’s heroic nature come out, as she defends a classmate from the school bully, Henry King, Jr (played by Jake Austin Walker). Things don’t work out as planned, both at school and home, and Courtney finds herself feeling lost and angry kicking over boxes in the basement of their new home. This event leads to her discovering Pat’s hidden past as a superhero sidekick and his connection with the JSA. It also leads to her discovery of the Cosmic Staff which (for some unknown reason), works for her. This leads her to take the staff out for a trial run in her new town. This second act also had a lot to cover and set up, although it was not quite as successfully as the first act of clearly presenting everything. There were a lot of internal struggles with the characters, Pat, Courtney, Barbara, etc… All dealing with moving into their new home and getting adjusted to their new lives. For Pat and Courtney it also meant dealing with a lot of their past. This second act also begins to show us cracks in the town’s perfect exterior. While the adults put on a happy, smiley face, the kids seem to show a more honest representation of society.
Our third act begins with Courtney taking the Cosmic Staff out on the town, playing around with it, connecting with the staff, and letting it take her away from everything including her problems. It seems to be the first pleasant surprise in her life in a long time. She winds up at the town’s drive-in where Henry King, Jr., the school bully is harassing other teens. Courtney decides to teach King and his friends a lesson by letting the air out of his car tires. This quickly escalates into a fight where Courtney (with the staff’s help) winds up fighting the boys and blowing up their car. Upon arriving home, Pat catches Courtney returning with the staff and confronts her, as does she about Pat’s hidden past and the coincidence that the JSA and her father both disappeared on the same night, Christmas eve (ten years prior). Pat is dumbfounded as to why the staff works for her, which leads Courtney to believe that the previous Starman may have been her father. It is at this point that Courtney and Pat begin to have an understand among each other (although tenuous). Across town we see a similar scenario playing out in the affluent King household as a very curious Henry Sr is having a serious discussion with his son, Henry Jr, about the event at the drive-in. When Henry Sr discovers that a mysterious stranger with a glowing staff was to blame for the demise of his car, he becomes both intrigued and unnerved. It is later revealed that King Sr has a hidden room in his house, and he is the villain Brainwave. This sets up the final confrontation which happens between Courtney and himself at the town’s tire shop in a melee of explosions and flying tires, as the young heroine barely escapes with her life. In the show’s final scene, we see the reveal of Pat’s newest invention, the S.T.R.I.P.E armor, a gigantic robot prototype battle suit, as he has come for the AWOL Courtney and the cosmic staff, hoping to keep them out of trouble.
I really enjoyed this show and it left me with anticipation to see Episode 2. There was definitely a lot to take in, and I think that for seasoned Arrowverse fans, this would not be an issue as they are used to having characters and events pop in to set up the story. I think for newer viewers, however, it might be a little confusing having to figure out who all these characters are, since many are not well known by the general public. Flash, Superman, Supergirl, Green Arrow, all have become household names, or were at least partly in the spectrum of a lot of viewer’s childhoods. But it’s a little difficult explaining to fans who Starman, Hourman, and Dr. Midnight are, as well as the many villains who seem to show up so rapidly. I applaud the effort by the showrunners to give the audience quick insight into these characters, and set up situations as clearly as possible, but I can definitely tell it will be a challenge in future episodes as the plot thickens and more mysteries will pop up. However, I think there are a couple of silver linings for the show. The first is the excellent portrayal of a young heroine who is not perfect, makes mistakes, takes lumps, but doesn’t give up. Most of all, she eschews the heroic ideal that the JSA is known for in their books. I think that a lot of people (especially younger viewers) could relate to her trials. The second silver lining that this show has going for it is a good mix of drama and action to keep viewers entertained. In the midst of explaining what is happening and setting up storylines, I think that it definitely delivers as any superhero show hopes it could. To read more about Stargirl and the JSA check out the following books: Stargirl by Geoff Johns, JSA Omnibus Vol. 1 and JSA by Geoff Johns – Book One
I give Episode 1 a solid B.
The Experience Is Everything!