First Thoughts: Jem and Supergirl

This past week, two big trailers were released that I was… enthused is the wrong word. That I was interested in. I’m speaking, of course, about the trailer for the Jem and the Holograms movie and the trailer for the Supergirl TV show. Before I saw either of these trailers, I would have said that I was fairly optimistic about Jem and the Holograms and fairly pessimistic about Supergirl. After seeing them both, I’d say that my position has reversed.

We’ll start with the Jem trailer, because that’s the one I saw first. Now, I was a little skeptical about the idea of doing Jem in live action in the first place. I wasn’t sure if they could make it look truly outrageous enough (sorry, I had to). But, you know, in a post-Hannah Montana world, I felt fairly confident that a live-action Jem was an obtainable goal. And with the way special effects have progressed, I was willing to bet that the holograms would be pretty great looking too. Except, no. In this new version, there are no holograms. Well, no literal holograms – Jem’s bandmates, referred to as the Holograms, are still fully present. But no cool sci-fi earrings that completely transform Jerrica into Jem. That was a serious disappointment for me, I won’t lie. I am slightly invested in the idea of a secret identity pop star. I was heavily invested in the idea of a secret identity science fiction pop star. Let’s put it this way – if this was going to be comparable to a Disney Channel original movie, I was expecting Jem and the Holograms to be Pixel Perfect and not actually Hannah Montana.

My other big concern (because truly, the lack of holograms is not completely outrageous) is the plot. Without the backstory of Jerrica and her sisters (both biological and adoptive), without the other girls of the Starlight House, without Jerrica literally running a recording studio, hell – without The Misfits (no, not the real ones), I had to wonder – what the hell was left? Of course, the story appears to be about as bog standard as you can get. Jerrica becomes corrupted by fame, and leaves behind her old friends/sisters as she is pressured by her managers to become a solo act. Do you know what this is? This is Dreamgirls, but without the kickass motown music, without Beyonce, without Jennifer Hudson, and without any semblance of originality. We already have Dreamgirls AND Hannah Montana, we don’t need “Dreamgirls but with the aesthetic of Hannah Montana in the 1980s”. So, yeah, you could say that I’ve lost a lot of hope in this movie. But there is good news! IDW is currently publishing a Jem and the Holograms comic series, which is truly truly truly outrageous(ly good). I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants a real taste of what Jem and the Holograms should be.

So, now let’s turn to Supergirl. I’ll admit, I have not been interested in any of the slew of superhero TV shows lately. I sort of hate-watch Gotham, I keep meaning to watch Daredevil, I am a little bored by Agents of Shield, Agent Carter (I’m sorry! Don’t kill me!), Arrow, and Flash. Considering that Supergirl is going to be part of the shared DC TV universe (with Arrow and Flash), despite airing on a different network, I wasn’t super hopeful. And I’ve never felt an especially strong connection with Supergirl as a character to begin with. I’d seen Melissa Benoist’s acting before on Glee and I wasn’t particularly impressed. I figured that this would be yet another superhero TV show that was intended to be marketed to me that I probably would not watch. … I have changed my tune.

To start with Benoist’s acting, it appears that she can do a lot better when she’s given better writing to work with (I’ll make no secret of the fact that Glee’s rapid quality decline after the first season was one of the biggest disappointments to me). And if I didn’t have a strong connection with Supergirl before, I feel like I might now. Yes, give me this young woman, determined to help people and find her place in the world and come into her own powers, YES. The trailer was six minutes, and I went into it skeptical and came out of it very very hopeful.

To be clear, there are a lot of valid criticisms about it going around. One scene in the trailer shows Kara’s boss (at the news agency where she is an intern) defending calling the new mystery hero “Supergirl”. She gives an ardent defense of the word “girl”, even referring to herself as one (despite being played by Calista Flockhart, who is 50 (and married to Harrison Ford! Did you know that?). A lot of adult women, myself included, take some offense to being called a girl. It’s infantilizing, and often comes with a demeaning edge. But 1) maybe if we didn’t use ‘girl’ like a fucking insult all the time, and 2) Supergirl is a recognizable, iconic brand name and they’re not going to start calling her Superwoman because some people don’t like being called girls. There’s the very valid criticism that there’s only one person of color in the trailer (Jimmy Olson). Yeah, it’s bullshit that these superhero shows keep being All White People and Their Token Friend. But I’ll admit… I wasn’t expecting anything different? If you did expect differently, you are far more optimistic than me, my friend. I don’t think that it’s right, and I absolutely think we should keep pushing for more representation in our media. But I can’t say I felt even a twinge of surprise to go along with my disappointment here. A lot of noise has been made about Agent Carter’s lack of POC representation, and I like to think that we can do the same for Supergirl.

The other main criticism that I’m seeing thrown around with alarming frequency is that the Supergirl trailer is too similar to a fake Black Widow movie trailer that was shown on SNL a few weeks ago. To that I say… what? Are your critical thinking skills impaired? The Black Widow SNL trailer was funny because 1) the tone and direction was completely inappropriate for a literal Russian assassin with a very dark backstory, 2) the focus on romance was front and center, 3) it didn’t show Black Widow doing anything even remotely superheroic. I’d say that a more lighthearted tone is appropriate for a younger hero who is just coming into her powers. There were, naturally, some hints of romance with Jimmy Olson and with “Winn Schott” (Jeremy Jordan’s character). But it was shown as completely tertiary to things like Kara’s powers and heroism, Kara’s relationship with her sister, and even Kara’s job at CatCo. I generally have no qualms with romance as a subplot, only as a main plot.

And obviously, with that said, Kara is shown doing several quite heroic things. I mean, she literally saves a plane from crashing by carrying it. She flies and stops bullets and is incredibly strong and that’s something we’re just not getting from any other female-led superhero media right now. Peggy Carter is badass as hell, but she is not a literal superhuman from another planet. Even if we got a Black Widow movie tomorrow, Black Widow and Supergirl are heroes with entirely different skill sets and areas of expertise. You know who can fly and can lift super heavy things and can do all that? Captain Marvel. You know whose movie we’re not getting until 2018 at the absolute earliest? Captain Marvel. Don’t get me wrong, I’m super excited for a Captain Marvel movie (given that it’s confirmed to be Carol Danvers), but 2018 is a long way away with no guarantees, and they’re only just now getting around to hiring, you know, writers for this movie. That’s a hell of a long time, especially compared to a TV show that starts airing this November.

So, as excited as I once was for Jem and the Holograms to be a real movie, my enthusiasm has waned significantly with the release of the new trailer. Luckily for me, I almost immediately found an outlet in the form of the Supergirl trailer, which I was previously so pessimistic about. And again, I’d strongly encourage anyone with an interest to check out the Jem and the Holograms comic series currently being put out by IDW (written by Kelly Thompson, with art by Sophie Campbell and Amy Mebberson, to give proper credit – all female creative teams for the win!). There’s only two issues out so far, with the third coming later this week, so it’s a great time to jump on. It even addresses some of my concerns with both trailers this week – Jerrica in the comics has agency, is powerful AND girly, and the supporting cast is way more diverse than you’re going to get in any mainstream TV show these days, with numerous people of color and LBTQIA+ people (besides already being entirely about girls). So, maybe it’s funny to me that the character that started out as a cartoon is being better represented in a comic series, where the character who originated in comic books is getting such a good portrayal from TV.

…Does anyone have some recommendations for some good Supergirl comics?

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