This article contains spoilers. Lots of them. For a spoiler-free review of the first episode of Supergirl, click here.
Just like The Flash and Arrow, Supergirl isn’t shying away from the character’s comic book roots. With that in mind, we expect every episode to be a Fortress of Solitude full of Superman, Supergirl, and all around Kryptonian goodness, with the rest of the DC Universe showing up for good measure.
We’ll update this post every week with the latest bits we find. Click the episode titles to go to the full episode reviews. But again…if you haven’t watched the episode yet, this is going to be positively loaded with spoilers, and potential future spoilers as well!
Supergirl Episode 1: Pilot
– Just to get this out of the way up front, Supergirl as we know her first appeared in Action Comics #252 in 1959. She was created by Otto Binder, Al Plastino, and all-time great Superman artist Curt Swan.
The moment in the opening when you see Superman actually meet her spacecraft when it first lands is somewhat similar to her first appearance, too…
They’ve tweaked her origin somewhat for the purposes of this show, and it’s fine. Originally, the part of Krypton that Kara and her family (Zor-El and Alura, Superman’s aunt and uncle) was a place named Argo City, which conveniently had a dome over it that protected it when Krypton exploded, allowing it to exist in space. Eventually, Kara made her way to Earth because of a crisis befalling Argo City, and her older (he was always older) became her mentor.
If you want more (and I mean lots more) on Supergirl’s comic book history, click here.
This idea of Kara being caught up in relativity shenangians and the intent to watch over the much younger Kal-El is a relatively recent addition to the mythos, but it’s a twist I’ve always liked. I’m glad they’re using it here, as it adds a nice dimension to things.
– I just included this image because it’s amusing to see baby Kal-El already rocking the iconic spitcurl. That’s something we’ve only ever seen in comics and animation before. But, y’know, just in case you didn’t already know that’s Superman, there it is.
– One of the biggest legacies of Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie was the introduction of the “S” as a House of El family crest/coat of arms. It’s nice to see that’s brought back once again for this show. Kara even does the “it’s not an S” thing from Man of Steel later on in the episode.
– The Phantom Zone is a major component of Superman mythology. Explained here as a dimension where time doesn’t pass, it’s also where Jor-El (and apparently Alura) exiled the most incorrigible Kryptonian criminals. It’s been around almost as long as Supergirl, first appearing in Adventure Comics #283 in 1961.
It’s greatest fame has come in the movies, though. It played a major part in both Superman: The Movie and Superman II, and we saw the Phantom Zone and its inhabitants give everyone a headache in Man of Steel, aswell.
– Kara’s adoptive parents, the Danvers, are played by Helen Slater and Dean Cain. Slater was very nearly the only good thing about the 1984 Supergirl movie, while Dean Cain was Clark Kent/Superman on Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman in the ’90s.
– Alex Danvers is a creation of the series, but I can’t help but wonder about the Alex/Lex similarities. Lex Luthor had an estranged sister named Lena, and Alex (and her parents) is scientifically minded. Nah, I’m imagining things.
– Cat Grant was originally created in 1987 by Marv Wolfman and Jerry Ordway. She was originally more of an overt sexpot, intended to give Lois Lane some romantic competition for Clark Kent’s attention.
– Jimmy Olsen has been kicking around the comics almost since Superman’s first appearance, showing up as early as Action Comics #6 in 1938. The thing is, he has always had his greatest success in other media.
The character first came into his own on the tremendously good Superman radio show from the ’40s, and was played by Tommy Bond in the not-so-great Columbia serials that decade. But it was Jack Larson who put in the most time as Jimmy on seven seasons of The Adventures of Superman during the ’50s. I don’t need to chronicle the character’s further appearances, do I? Just know that Jimmy taking an active role on TV feels like something of a homecoming for the character.
Also, it’s nice to see that this Jimmy still likes ties…just not bow ties.
Jimmy’s photo of Superman recalls the original teaser poster (painted by the great Bob Peak) for Superman: The Movie.
See for yourself:
I love that poster. Anyway…
– The “running down an alley” change is such a classic Superman trope that I had to include it here. It was most notably deployed early on in Richard Lester’s Superman II, but it’s always around.
– The “plane rescue” or all around “aircraft rescue” is the most tried and true way to introduce a member of the Super-family to the world. In the original Adventures of Superman TV show, it was a blimp. In Superman: The Movie, it was a helicopter. In the 1986 Man of Steel comic book as well as Lois Clark episode 1 and Superman Returns it was a space shuttle.
When John Byrne rebooted Superman in 1986 with the Man of Steel comic book, Clark Kent was forced into action to save a crashing space shuttle. Not a big deal, except he didn’t have a costume or a secret identity at the time, and he found himself exposed to public scrutiny, and found himself “named” on the front page of The Daily Planet. Well, here we are with Supergirl…
Oh, and the bridge that she flies the plane over? That’s the Otto Binder Bridge. Otto Binder was the writer who co-created Supergirl in 1959!
I was looking to see if there were any national broadcasts in here, but apparently not. So, sadly, no Channel 52 from Arrow or The Flash. But also, no sign of Galaxy Broadcasting, WGBS. C’mon…shouldn’t WGBS have a west coast affiliate? KGBS?
Also, even though we don’t get the magic DC Comics number of “52” here, there is a “Channel 25” prominently displayed.
– Jeremy Jordan is playing Winslow “Winn” Schott. They’re kind of playing him as a potential love interest for Kara, but Superman fans might know him as fairly minor villain “The Toyman.” I don’t think we’ll see them go down that road any time soon, especially since it appears that they just cast another actor to actually play the Toyman.
– There was an infamous “selecting/designing the costume” montage on the first episode of Lois Clark, but it’s handled much better here. However, the next photo contains some fun DC history of its own…
Supergirl has had some unfortunate costumes in her time. This combines elements of three: her 1970s “hot pants” costume (not the best), her short-lived 1980s “headband era.” (which I kind of have a soft spot for), and her late ’90s/early 2000s bare midriff look (also not great).
– I will never ever not be amused by watching George Reeves look annoyed/bored by criminals shooting their useless bullets at him on old episodes of The Adventures of Superman. I wonder if Kara will ever get bored by watching bullets bounce off her, or if we’ll always get this fun/surprised vibe from her like we saw in this episode before she kicks their asses appropriately.
– The show borrows something else from John Byrne’s mid-80s reimagining of Superman…the cape isn’t bulletproof. Well, at least not until she replaces it. But the basic idea here is that Kryptonian invulnerability is more than just a dense molecular structure. Instead, Kara (and Clark) generate kind of a field that keeps any fabric pressed right up against them from getting torn or dirty.
This week’s villain is Vartox, who actually isn’t quite as much of a villain in the comics. Sean Connery in Zardoz lookalike Vartox first appeared in Superman #281 in 1974. He’s got a great creative pedigree, having been brought into the four color world by Cary Bates and Curt Swan.
The TV version has a much more reasonable and subdued fashion sense than his comic book counterpart.
The thing is, the Vartox of the comics was kind of a hero, even though he tangled with Supes from time to time. I’m not quite sure why they decided to mess with that here, but when you need a villain of the week who you absolutely, positively know won’t be needed in the movie universe any time soon, I guess you give a guy like Vartox a call.
Also, for reference…this is Sean Connery as Zardoz. You will never unsee this, either.
Oh, and the way he contacts her using frequencies humans can’t hear is another little homage to Superman: The Movie, right down to it stopping Kara right in her tracks in the middle of a busy office.
Alura being the “jailer” of all of the Fort Rozz aliens, and Vartox calling Kara “daughter of Alura” sure has some Superman II overtones, as well. The holographic communications from dead Kryptonian parents? Yup…another hangover from the Donner movies.
– The Department of Extranormal Operations is indeed from DC Comics, and has been floating around in the background for nearly twenty years.
– There are a handful of potential alien supervillains visible on this screen. But one in particular stands out: the purple guy in the middle there is almost certainly the Parasite, a character who we’ve never really seen done justice in live-action, and ummm…the other purple guy appears to be Despero. I could be wrong, though.
– And, of course, we get Hank Henshaw (played by David Harewood), who is the head of the DEO. This isn’t quite the Hank Henshaw of the comics…at least not yet, but he is scientifically minded, for sure.
In the comics, Henshaw was kind of a throwaway tragic villain in Adventures of Superman #465 in 1990, introduced in a comic that was a bit of a dark spin on the Fantastic Four origin story. He then returned during the Reign of the Supermen storyline which took place after Superman died fighting Doomsday, looking an awful lot like a Superman who had recovered from his mortal injuries by getting rebuilt like a Terminator on a bad day.
Needless to say, he wasn’t really Superman. He did some bad things. Reign of the Supermen is actually pretty great, though, and you should check it out.
As for when/if this Hank Henshaw is going to go down a villainous path, at the very least I’d expect a similar teased out approach to what we saw with the Reverse-Flash over on another Greg Berlanti production, The Flash.
– Fort Rozz is indeed from the comics, as well. It first appeared in the rather cool if you can find it Krypton Chronicles limited series from 1981, and it’s more or less exactly how they describe it here: a Kryptonian maximum security installation that also found its way into the Phantom Zone (it never crashed on Earth, though).
It was absent from DC continuity for years, but came back during Geoff Johns’ tenure as Superman writer, and played a role in the New Krypton/War of the Supermen crossover event, in which many, many Kryptonians from the Phantom Zone and Argo City got their time in the spotlight. In fact, I’d expect lots of little bits and pieces from that storyline to play out on Supergirl over the course of the season.
By the way, I rather enjoyed most of the flying effects in this episode. This shot in particular kind of recalls the Christopher Reeve/Helen Slater super-era. It’s framed very much like some classic Reeve flying shots in Superman: The Movie, while Kara’s arms outstretched flying style recall Helen Slater’s Supergirl.
Look, I know that Supergirl movie wasn’t very good, but Helen Slater was really great and it had some excellent flying sequences.
Alright, so I don’t expect there to be quite this many references per episode going forward. These pilots always have a lot to set up. But we’ll see what else we get in future episodes! Bookmark this page and keep coming back each week for more deep DC Comics dives!
Did I miss any fun DC Comics references? If so, please let me know in the comments or on Twitter!