'Supergirl': Has a wave of female-led superhero stories finally begun?

TV shows 'Supergirl' and 'Jessica Jones' are set to debut, while movies about Wonder Woman and the female Captain Marvel are in the pipeline for the next several years.

Darren Michaels/CBS Entertainment/AP
'Supergirl' stars Melissa Benoist.

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s … a female superhero, something that we haven’t seen a lot of recently. 

On Oct. 26, CBS premieres its new show “Supergirl,” a program that centers on Kara Zor-El, Superman’s cousin. The program stars Melissa Benoist as the caped heroine as well as David Harewood, Chyler Leigh, Calista Flockhart, Jeremy Jordan, and Mehcad Brooks.

In the show’s story, Kara went to Earth to make sure her cousin was safe. She works as an assistant at a media company, where she struggles with her powers and with her attraction to Superman’s sidekick, Jimmy Olsen (Brooks).

“Supergirl” arrives in a pop culture that’s ruled by superheroes but decidedly lacking in superheroines.

In the hero-glutted box office, female superheroes are occasionally members of a team, like Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow or Jaimie Alexander’s Lady Sif, but they haven’t gotten their own stories.

Black Widow, one of the most high-profile, is part of Marvel’s Avengers team. She popped up in the “Iron Man” and “Captain America” film series as well as the “Avengers” movies, but she hasn't gotten a solo movie yet.

“Hulk” star Mark Ruffalo, one of the “Avengers” co-stars, recently complained that he found it difficult to find Black Widow merchandise for his female relatives.

And some fans objected to a plotline in the most recent “Avengers” film, this summer’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” in which Black Widow revealed she is unable to have children.

Elsewhere in the Marvel universe, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), who works for the Strategic Scientific Reserve agency and can also hold her own in combat, is the center of ABC’s show “Agent Carter.”

But on many other comic book TV shows on networks and streaming media, including “Daredevil,” “Gotham,” “Arrow,” “The Flash,” and the recently canceled “Constantine,” male characters are the focus of the story. 

More female protagonists will soon get screentime in comic book stories both on TV and at the multiplex. Netflix’s “Jessica Jones,” which debuts next month, is the story of the super-powered character of the same name, and after Wonder Woman makes an appearance in this March’s “Batman v. Superman,” she’s scheduled to star in her own movie in 2017.

The Marvel superheroine Captain Marvel will star in a movie, too – eventually. Originally scheduled for 2018, her film is now slated for a 2019 release, possibly because a new “Ant-Man” movie was just announced by Marvel for 2018. It’s titled “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” and the Wasp is usually a female character in comic book lore. 

Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, says, “I’m surprised we haven’t seen more [female-led superhero stories]. The time is not only ripe for this but way overdue.” 

Though Hollywood's conventional wisdom maintains that only men like comic books, Mr. Thompson sees no reason that male viewers wouldn’t tune in to a comic book movie or TV show about a female superhero. And that thinking of only men watching comic book stories is flawed, anyway, says Thompson – he points to the box office grosses of Marvel films and movie series like the “Dark Knight” Batman movies.

If only men were going to see these movies, he says, they wouldn’t reach the same grosses. “The math doesn’t work on that,” he says. Gender demographics for the opening weekend of this summer’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” were almost even, with about 59 percent of the audience being male.

Whether “Supergirl” succeeds or fails will “be a matter of execution,” he says. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to 'Supergirl': Has a wave of female-led superhero stories finally begun?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today