Week of 9/20/21 Stargirl and What If?
So, I finally caught up on Stargirl, and got through the first five episodes over the weekend. It’s a show that I watch with my teenage daughter, so schedules frequently don’t mash and I’m perpetually behind. Even now, I’m a single episode behind… That is until the new one premieres tonight!
Stargirl was really the highlight of my television last year. Not only are you pretty much guaranteed to get my attention by invoking and flashing back to golden age DC with characters in the Justice Society,, but it’s also just generally good rollicking superhero fun, heavy on characterization and action, and light on ideology… Sort of the opposite of what the CW’s pattern has increasingly been. Courtney, Stargirl herself is a good character, but even more daring is the fact that instead of going through the bad Dad trope, they actually explore her complex relationship with her stepfather, played by Luke Wilson who steals every scene he’s in. There is resentment there but there’s also some genuine affection there, with a Dad who’s just trying to do the best he can, and isn’t portrayed as bumbling or stupid… But perhaps a little overwhelmed sometimes.
After defeating the Injustice Society last year, series kind of has to start fresh this year, and giving it the whole “Summer School“ hook was a delightful idea. It probably would’ve worked better if the show had managed to premier back in July or so, but I understand that the plague has wreaked havoc on shooting schedules so I’m willing to give them a little slack… Especially when the end result is as fun as this.
The evil daughter Shiv is back, trying to rebuild her parent’s Injustice Society with the kids of the original members. Obviously, that’s going to be the main baddie this year, right? Except there’s something awfully familiar about the black crystal that she’s using and channeling for power. The first episode opens with one of the creepiest little kid sequences I’ve seen in a long time, and even my daughter immediately realized… Eclipso was coming. The Shade also arrives this season as well. The Shade’s been a regular villain when it comes to this legacy, I’ve just finished reading James Robinson‘s excellent Starman run from the 90s, and the Shade is all over that thing. True to form, he’s a villain, but sometimes he’s not… Again, complex. Serious props for challenging writing here.
In the meantime, the gang is all back, and facing their own issues. Hourman still feels isolated and is feeding something that I suspect is Solomon Grundy related in the woods. Dr. Midnight is dealing with her parents divorce, and Wildcat is still trying to reconcile the fact that she killed Brainwave Junior. I know that’s a lot of gobbledygook to throw at you all at once, but it’s genuinely good stuff and propels the whole series developing forward. Despite this, there’s actually a noticeable lack of attractive people standing in hallways talking about their feelings. It’s still there, but not nearly as present as in say, The Flash.
Once we hit episode five though… remember how in the last third of Superman and Lois, it seems like every episode I was saying “this feels like a season finale cliffhanger… Or a penultimate episode right before the season finale“. Stargirl goes right ahead and does it in episode five, with a face off of the new injustice society versus the justice society which results in Eclipso being freed. And man, Eclipso does not disappoint. The make up and look is dead on, increased in detail for television, and every bit as terrifying as I remember him from those crossovers in the mid 90s. It’s shockingly effective. I guess that means I really got a find a good way to bribe Maddie to sit down and catch up on last week and this weeks episode… Because I’m dying to know what happens. Perhaps if I bribe her with more episodes of He-Man…
What if continues to be the strongest of all the marvel television series. Perhaps it’s because it’s not truly bound to continuity (yes, I know some stupid editor said “it’s all in continuity”. That’s not really the case, even if you rationalize multiverse nonsense.) but also because it very much feels like episodic MCU. Really, that’s what the movies have been trying to do for a while now, but to get it chopped up and served in bite size half hour portions every week, with different elements of the MCU, played by the same people and featuring the same look in environments… It’s actually really satisfying.
I once said I prefer Doctor Strange in other peoples movies rather than his own, I’m beginning to wonder after his What If episode, if it’s just that I prefer him in smaller doses. What if Doctor Strange lost his heart instead of his hands actually feels like it could be its own standalone thing within continuity, if they just tweak the end. It’s actually a nice visit with a good doctor in that world, and takes some chances with some of the dark themes it uses. Of course it’s not nearly as dark as Marvel Zombies. My daughter is a huge fan of marvel zombies, she’s collected all the comics, and this is actually the episode they got her into What If. I agree with her assessment, Watching this episode just makes me want an animated marvel zombies series on it’s own. It’s that good. It captures an interesting variety of heroes from different films, and while there’s a decision with the vision that I don’t entirely agree with, it’s really nice to see Tom Holland’s Spider-Man here, as well as getting to see Doctor Strange’s cape, with it’s own distinct personality, acting on its own again. That of course brings us to last weeks episode… A little bit of light-hearted fun before things get serious in the last two. What if Thor never had the maturing influence of a rival like Loki… and had just essentially grown up to be a giant frat boy. I feel like I should take some offense of this, but it’s so much fun and has us laughing so much through it… Also it manages to feature Howard the Duck, and Darcy; two of my favorite characters in the MCU. Can we please get a Howard the Duck series? Put it on right after the marvel zombies series… That’s all I’m asking!
It’s been a fun week, and if you get tired of superhero stuff, pop over to Netflix… There is a new season of nailed it up there, which is the most entertaining (if a bit mean-spirited) baking show you’ll ever see.