SUPERGIRL Matters: Representation And Real-Life Heroism

A true story of a TV show saving and inspiring.

We often lose sight of where superheroes came from, but the likes of Batman and Superman, silly as they may seem, were born alongside World War II. They’re the two of most iconic characters in the world; whether or not you had access to comics growing up, their symbolism is instantly recognizable and even a layperson who’s never heard of Kansas can strike Superman’s signature pose. That pose is often struck by Melissa Benoist, tasked with creating Kara Danvers on Supergirl, a character that shares DNA with several iterations of the Girl of Steel, but one whose template is essentially Clark Kent. She isn’t just “What if Superman was a girl?” but rather “What if Supergirl lived in Superman’s shadow?” and “How would a female superhero navigate a world of men?” The show’s first season understood this dynamic, making gender a primary thematic focus (“Red Faced”, the series' first great episode, is about how women’s emotions are perceived in the workplace), and its second seasons helps broaden that scope, using aliens as metaphors for immigrants, refugees and first generation Americans, while also telling an important queer coming-out story – the kind that can save lives.

That isn’t the exaggeration it might sound like to some. Where the uneven (albeit ultimately stellar) first season boasts an intricate understanding of masculine professionalism in spaces built by and for men, the second begins to touch upon a similar facet of society. Most cultures were not built with queer folks in mind, and Supergirl understands the fears and pressures that can come with heteronormativity and assumed heterosexuality. Much of this season has been dedicated to acceptance; the reason the attack on the alien bar in “Medusa” felt real and impactful was because over a mere handful of episodes, it became a safe space for those rejected by society, be the alien or queer or otherwise. Two of the show’s prominent humans spend time there, the FBI’s bold, out-and-proud lesbian Maggie Sawyer, and the DEO’s otherwise headstrong Alex Danvers, Supergirl’s sister and a “baby gay” burdened with insecurity amidst her late-in-life (self) discovery.

DC and Marvel’s television shows have a number of queer characters between them, but Alex’s arc this season has revolved entirely around coming to terms with something she couldn’t quite put in to words, a potentially isolating experience made easier by the people around her, the kind of love and acceptance that queer kids growing up aren’t always lucky to have. In such cases, they often turn to comics and TV shows (and fandom and fan-fiction) that reflect their experiences, acting as the societal mirrors they’ve been denied. In that vein, stories like Supergirl can have a very real impact, like the one shared by this lovely comicbook store employee in Indiana:

Mary is every bit a hero as Supergirl, the kind of person that I wish more folks in comics communities would strive to be. What’s equally important here however is the monumental impact the show had on the teen girl in question. Empathy and understanding can come in various forms, two of which are on display here - kindness towards others in terrible situations, when they’re too scared to even put it into words, and empathetic storytelling that can have a real-world impact on people’s lives. Art matters. Stories matter. Representation matters.

Supergirl returns January 16th.

If you’re experiencing a crisis, please contact RemedyLive or LGBTQ Hotline. If you’d like to donate to Equality Florida on Mary’s behalf, please click here.