Supergirl & Mary Sue

Strong female leads are best when they aren't infallible characters.

Supergirl is better than the last 3 Superman movies and most shows on television besides. The CW has perfected, as far as I’m concerned, the superhero story on the small screen. Granted, I’m only 2 episodes in on the Netflix, but any show that passes the pilot and 2nd episode test surpasses most other offerings in the entertainment wasteland (like USA’s silly Fight Club clone Mr. Robot.)

I’ve been on record before that I don’t love the mandated need for Strong Female Leads in our entertainment. I tend to think good characters are good characters whether they’re kicking butt or damsels in distress. Because most shows or films seem terrified to depict any female lead displaying incompetence or internal obstacle, these characters are frequently left without any journeys to take or struggles to overcome, except those posed from the outside. Rey, the hero of the latest Star Wars movie, is a case in point. As screenwriter Max Landis pointed out, she is a “Mary Sue” a character for whom there is no challenge that cannot be easily overcome and without sacrifice.

Supergirl’s creative team is smart enough not to live in this cultural safe space. The show is still a fairly shallow feminist allegory, but it’s a good one. It’s about women working twice as hard to be recognized for doing the very same job as their male counterparts–Supergirl, no matter that she has his exact same powers, lives in Superman’s shadow. Still, the shows writers are smart enough to know that she can’t be ready from the start. She messes up a few big feats, including a great scene where she saves an oil tanker from exploding, but then accidentally rips a hole in the ship, contaminating the bay. This is the sort of SFL, and superhero in general, I can get behind, one who has to learn to be great, who doesn’t come by it automatically. The big screen attempts should take note. Good superhero stories have you rooting for the hero to overcome internal struggles. That means they can’t start off being The Man, or The Woman.

 

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