I can’t believe I’m writing this, but you leave me no choice.
Earlier this evening, CBS released the 6 minute trailer for their upcoming Supergirl show premiering this fall. I wrote about it at length already, so for my longer thoughts, you can read the original post. Suffice it to say, I’m cautiously optimistic. The show looks lighthearted and fun, but still carries the baggage of being another comic book property in a very long line.
Overall, I felt pretty good about it, until I started seeing people on twitter comparing it to a recent episode of SNL in which they created a fake trailer for Marvel’s non-existent Black Widow movie, a comparison that is more than problematic.
For context, here is the Supergirl trailer:
And here is SNL’s Black Widow sketch:
Now, before you say anything, yes, there are similarities. Many of the things the Black Widow sketch parodies are actual plot points in Supergirl (the Devil Wears Prada-esque storyline, superheroics on TV, romantic subplots), but the idea of comparing the two is almost laughable, because Black Widow and Supergirl are so vastly contrasting characters. What works for one does not and should not work for the other.
I understand the problem some people are having, I just don’t agree with it. On the one hand you have Black Widow, an assassin literally bred for death and destruction. On the other, you have Supergirl, an alien heroine trying to live a normal life. Where putting a character like Black Widow into a, for lack of a better word, “rom-com” scenario is jarring and borderline offensive, that’s not the case for Supergirl, and it would be just as jarring to see Kara Zor’El beating up assassins and dual wielding pistols. Black Widow exists in a world of super spies and constant danger. Supergirl lives in a world of day-to-day problems and selfless heroics. In what universe are the psychologies, goals, and narratives of these two women the same?
At the same time that the characters are different from each other, they are not so different from their male counterparts. It is in that comparison that we should be placing our collective scrutiny. Black Widow exists, within the Marvel universe, alongside the likes of Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and the Agents of SHIELD. Her story, if she ever gets one, should be comparable to theirs. It should be big, and awesome, and ass-kicking, as well as complex and character building. She deserves to be the James Bond of her group.
Supergirl, on the other hand, is most closely associated in the comics with her cousin, Superman, and in the greater realm of DC on TV, with the CW’s The Flash. Much like the stories of these two heroes, Supergirl deserves a story that waxes poetic on what it means to be human, and what it takes to be a hero. She deserves a story that shows a woman balancing a life, a career, and a calling. After all, Smallville included a Clark Kent learning to be a super powered teenager, dealing with hormones and dating and school and work and life and death. The Flash sees Barry Allen simultaneously reveling in and being tormented by his dual life. If we want and enjoy these stories from our male heroes, why shouldn’t we want and enjoy them from female heroes as well?
If you want good, female-led superhero fare you have to want it in whatever form it takes. For Supergirl, that form is this, and it’s a format that I actually have some amount of confidence in. It’s worked for her male counterparts, so I don’t see why it shouldn’t also work for her. Comparing the two characters does nothing to push the gauntlet of female driven storytelling, because it ignores the things that make the characters unique and interesting on their own. You can’t want Supergirl, but reject the things that make her the hero she has always been, just like you can’t make a Black Widow movie that forces the character into a “girly” scenario she’s never once shown any indication of fitting.
You can’t want female heroes, but not want them to be women. It’s not about being a girl, it’s about being a well written character, and that takes many many forms.