Friday 24 February 2017

Comics to Screen: Supergirl 2-10


This episode involves two main themes, both, in essence, revolving around the theme of heroism and what it means. Primarily, we have the nature of what makes someone a hero. Is someone a hero if they simply engage in stereotypically heroic actions without any true compassion to back it up, as is the case with Mon-El, who uses his Daxamite powers to save people mainly so that he can impress Kara? Or is it someone's intentions that makes them a hero, as with James and Winn, who are finally revealed to Kara as the Guardian and his sidekick. They have no powers and fuck up as often as they do good, but they're doing so from a genuine desire to help people.

All this is run through Kara's own attitudes; as the central character of the series, she's the one who makes the judgments at the end of the day. It's refreshing though that James calls her out on this. Just because she's the city's resident premier superhero doesn't give her the deciding vote on the roles others play. (And she doesn't have the clout that, say, her cousin would.) Equally, though, James is clearly as motivated by his jealousy of Kara (and perhaps Mon-El), as he is by nobler reasons. 

I'm glad that there are no clear-cut answers. The charaters are both right and wrong in many ways. Mon-El doesn't think it matters why he's saving lives, as long as he's doing it, while it makes the difference to Kara. She's right to point out that James (and especially Winn) are putting themselves in danger because they have no superpowers, but then, neither does Alex, and she runs into battle with aliens on a weekly basis. Kara seems obsessed with making Mon-El into a hero to match up with his powers, but says to James that powers aren't all it takes, because if they were, Livewire would be a hero. 

Tying into this is the secondary theme, that of prejudice and prejudgment, and how this undercuts Kara's, and J'onn's, heroism. Kara refuses to believe that Livewire could possibly be innocent, until she sees visual evidence that she has been abused and used against her will. She also harbours lingering prejudices against the Daxamites, something that is holding her back even as her feelings for Mon-El grow. It's a relief that he finally admits his feelings for her, but she can't (yet) do the same. 

J'onn is far more prejudiced, which throws his character into a very poor light. While he has been the victim of supression on Mars (as a Green Martian), and prejudice on Earth (as both an extraterrestrial and a black American), he is, albeit understandably, prejudiced against the White Martians who destroyed his people. M'gann has been locked up under the DEO for what must be weeks, with no consideration of due process or her rights. This sort of shit goes on all the time in The Flash, and it's no more palatable there, but it's perticularly galling here as she's been so clearly noble and heroic herself. J'onn finally overcomes his prejudices and makes a huge step forward as a character, but it's a nasty side to both J'onn and Kara that keeps coming forward.

That's not to say I disapprove of the storyline. It's far more interesting to have flawed heroes, and sci-fi allows for a certain allegorical approach (I am reminded of Worf's attitudes to the Romulans on Star Trek: The Next Generation). Both Kara and J'onn have issues to deal with because of their backgrounds, but now that they're on Earth they're called out on it and made to deal with their preconceptions. While this isn't the most exciting episode of the series, it has important things to say.


Jimmy Olsen, of course, goes way back. He arguably made his first appearance as early as 1938, in an issue of Action Comics, only a few months after Superman himself. The newspaper boy who appears isn't named, but he does look like Jimmy, right down to the bow-tie. Jimmy's inarguable debut, though, happened on the radio, in the series The Adventures of Superman in 1940, played by Jackie Kelk. As a chatty sidekick to Superman and Clark Kent alike, he was quickly absorbed into the comics, appearing on-and-off for a few issues before disappearing again. It was only when Jack Larson played the character on the TV version of The Adventures of Superman in 1953 that he became a mainstay of the comics.

He became popular enough that in 1954 he received his own title, Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen. During this series' frankly astonishing twenty-year run, Jimmy was put through a variety of unlikely transformations, from Flash-like super-speed, to increased intelligence and elasticity. At one point he was transformed into an alien from Jupiter, and on another occasion, he switched bodies with a gorilla. There was quite a lot of stuff with gorillas, but they seem to be the province of The Flash these days.

The series also introduced Lucy Lane, who became Jimmy's ongoing love interest, although he also had dalliances with Supergirl. Jack Kirby took over the title on 1970, specifically because he wanted free reign to play with an existing title and Superman's Pal was one of DC's lowest selling titles at this point. He revamped the series with more impressive villains and gave Jimmy his own team, the Newsboy Legion, characters he had initially created for Star-Spangled Comics in the forties. Also returning from that title was the Guardian, the Captain America-like alter ego of Jim Harper.

Jimmy has appeared many times onscreen over the years. Best known is Marc McClure's portrayal, visually close to the look of the comicbook original however dated that appeared. McClure first appeared in 1978's Superman: The Movie alongside Christopher Reeve. going on to appear in its three sequels and in the 1984 Supergirl film starring Helen Slater. He was later played in the alternative continuation Superman Returns in 2006, played by Sam Huntington.

The popular 90s series Lois and Clark featured Jimmy is a prominent role. Michael Landes played the character as a cocky up-and-comer for the first season, but was replaced by the better-remembered Justin Whalin, who was more like the goofy rookie of the comics. Other actors who have played Jimmy include Aaron Ashmore in Smallville (whose brother Shawn was almost cast in the role for Superman Returns), and the late Tommy Bond in the 1948 Superman cinematic serial and its 1950 sequel, Atom Man vs. Superman.

Mehcad Brooks is, clearly, something of a departure. Aside from his race, the character as portrayed by Brooks is quite different from the naive sidekick of the comics and popular films. Confident, athletic and strong, Brooks's James Olsen has not only become editor of CatCo, but has transformed himself into the Guardian in place of Jim Harper (who has appeared in Supergirl). In many ways, Winn is more like Jimmy as we remember him. There are some elements of the character that follow on from the comics, though, such as his relationship with Lucy Lane and his brief attachment to Supergirl. And he is, of course, Superman's pal. It's just a shame he's so terribly dull (and he doesn't wear a bowtie).

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