“Supergirl” is good.
Actually, you know what? Let’s not be coy: “Supergirl” is great, and I genuinely can’t wait for it to come back next week. Did you know there’s going to be a musical episode this season? Who doesn’t love musicals? Scrooges and MRAs, that’s who. It’s a bright, fizzy show: Like cracking open a bottle of sparkling lemonade, if the makers of that lemonade were also dedicated to closing the wage gap.
It’s true that one of “Supergirl’s” largest draws is its unabashedly feminist overcast: Cat Grant (Calista Flockheart) is pure second-wave feminism, from the top of her perfectly-highlighted head to the sharktooth tips of her black power heels. Need to appeal to a new generation of feminists? The Danvers sisters (Melissa Benoist and Chyler Leigh as Kara and Alex) are a dictionary-perfect picture of girl power, literally and figuratively.
“Supergirl” doesn’t try to hide its liberal, feminist agenda: There’s a great moment during the wholly winning crossover episode, “World’s Finest,” when Barry Allen (Grant Gustin as The Flash) goes for a ceasefire with the episode’s baddies, Livewire and the Silver Banshee, by suggesting they “settle this like women” — shrugging his shoulder after their quizzical looks, and pointing out that he, as a dude, is outnumbered.
Not everyone loves the way the show handles what is an intrinsically complex issue — stopping barely short, at times, of Kara screaming “FEMINISM!” whilst punching some hapless villain sunwards — but the only real issue with this “I am woman, hear me roar” overtness is that it can eclipse a more meaningful message: Kara solves her problems just as often with self-reflection, negotiation and kindness as she does with violence.
The best moment in Season 1, in fact, may be the climax of the finale, when Kara chooses reason and speaks from her heart rather than attacking. That’s because Supergirl’s real superpower is something a lot subtler than punching people in their faces, or calling a corporate villain the “walking personification of white male privilege.”
The real power — of Kara as Supergirl, and “Supergirl” as a hit show — is hope.
Understandably, this positions the show for a heaping helping of cynicism: It’s too cheesy, too bright, too cheerful, too hopeful — anything we used to say about Superman, back when he was those things — but that’s the point of “Supergirl”: Kara Danvers is a joyful young woman, in a world where joy is not only possible but readily available, and — what with Superman lately awash in sullen tones of sepia and despair — even just a little of that goes a long, long way.
Additions to the Season 2 cast take steps to diversify the line-up, but “Supergirl” will still want to address its perspective through more than just a wider range of characters: There’s a reason people talk about “White Feminism,” and even though it’s upsetting to discuss, it’s not doing anybody any favors to ignore it either. To date there’s been a single speaking role for a Latinx actor, and no notable speaking roles for Asian, Hispanic, Native or Pacific Islander actors; every relationship on the show is heterosexual, every woman is coded feminine; the wage gap exists — despite Kara’s palatial loft, somehow maintained on an assistant’s salary — largely as a soft target for Cat’s witty one-liners.
But “Supergirl’s” biggest problem isn’t its typically imperfect grasp of intersectionality, the cheese or the feminism. The biggest problem with “Supergirl” isn’t “Supergirl’s” problem at all — he’s DC’s, and his name is Eddie Berganza.
If you’ve been following the conversation about DC Comics for any amount of time, I apologize for the cold shiver that probably just ran down your spine. If not, let’s take a quick spin through the DC Editorial offices: A place Cat Grant wouldn’t set one kitten heel in.
Back in April, news broke that DC was restructuring their Vertigo imprint — birthplace of “Sandman,” “Hellblazer,” “Lucifer” and “Preacher,” to name some of its still-huge properties — in the wake of imprint creator Karen Berger’s exit four years earlier, and eliminating longtime editor and Vertigo vice president Shelly Bond’s position. Even as a unique occurrence, it’s a move that would have caused uproar — Shelly is one of the most beloved talents in comics — but it wasn’t unique.
In fact, it was all too familiar a move, and several long-time publishers, journalists and creators had simply had enough:
Although Eddie Berganza isn’t connected to Vertigo, his name was suddenly everywhere, tied into the Shelly Bond story as frustrations boiled over. But why all the anger? That’s a darker story.
Back in 2012, Bleeding Cool reported on a sexual assault that took place at WonderCon. No names were given, but it was an open secret in the industry that the man described was DC senior editor Eddie Berganza, of the “Superman” office.
As reports continued to roll in, rumors about the lengths DC would go to protect a serial sexual harasser joined them. In September 2015, writer Alex de Campi put DC on blast, alleging that no women were being hired for the “Superman” office — under which the main “Wonder Woman” title falls — to deprive him of temptation (and subsequent liability suits).
But still, no one was naming names. Even as late as 2015, De Campi described him only as “one of the most senior editors … a sexual harasser with multiple incidents on his HR file,” despite his identity being well known.
So it’s unsurprising that when Shelly Bond — a talented, hard-working editor connected to some of the biggest titles in the last fifty years — was summarily fired, against allegations of DC’s special protections for this guy, fan (and creator, and publisher) frustrations with DC hit a shattering point:
Journalist Nick Hanover, after naming Berganza outright as the harasser in question, tweeted a string of stinging condemnations.
Later that same night, publisher Janelle Asselin, once an Editor at DC herself, joined the fray:
Rich Johnston at Bleeding Cool published a scathing editorial later that day, describing the free reign Berganza is still given, by an employer who should know better.
So what the hell does this have to do with “Supergirl”?
Well, for one thing, Berganza is editing the current main “Supergirl” title. Like “Wonder Woman,” she still falls under the umbrella of the “Superman” office, in which Berganza remains a senior editor. (Beyond a lame press release in mid-May, DC has not responded to requests for comment — especially depressing given the promotional, boastful, empty language of the statement itself.)
“Supergirl: Rebirth,” a separate title written by Steve Orlando and penciled by Emanuela Lupacchino, shares Bobbie Chase as its executive editor with Greg Rucka’s “Wonder Woman: Rebirth” (though Berganza is still listed as one of the book’s editors). As a sidenote, Rucka reportedly only returned to write a “Wonder Woman” book under the agreement that Berganza would not be involved.
DC Television characters — unlike the DC Cinematic Universe — are often relatively unconnected to the comics. A digital title, “Adventures of Supergirl,” ties into the show, but it’s unrelated to both the main book and the “Superman” editorial office. What’s important, and troubling, is that a lauded feminist show could be so intrinsically, inarguably connected with both a serial sexual harasser and his protectors in a large corporation. It could be a storyline on “Supergirl,” if were just a shade less cynical and sad.
If you’re a comics fan, you may have been struggling with this hypocrisy for quite a while: Comics are not exactly in the vanguard of billion-dollar entertainment industries struggling to overcome their predisposition toward protecting and pandering to this particular minority — cis, white, straight men — at the expense of everyone else.
CBS might be conservative, but the younger-skewing CW isn’t exactly known for its feminist agenda either, when it comes genre entertainment: “Arrow” and “Flash” — and of course the immortal juggernaut “Supernatural” — are all, despite heavily female audiences, pretty notorious for their treatment of female characters. But when you throw in “Jane the Virgin,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and the more lady-centric “Vampire Diaries”/”Originals” universe, the CW starts looking a lot safer for this coming season.
But for a lot of fans, the questions remain: Is it possible to separate DC, the multimillion-dollar company, and the choices that they collectively make, from “Supergirl” as art created by separate individuals? From the character herself? Is that separation a good idea? And how can a company that prides itself on decades of feminist iconography, from Supergirl and Wonder Woman to Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, still be so doggedly devoted, in 2016, to protecting a man who attacks women?
Kara would say, “Have hope,” because that’s what she — and her cousin — always say. And it’s not hard, because no matter what the show’s still tinkering with, they get Kara perfectly. As “Supergirl: Rebirth” writer Steve Orlando says:
I think it’s an interesting magic trick that the show has done because it gets everything right, it just understands Supergirl … What we’re really digging into, with the show on top of everything else, is what the character of Supergirl means. What she stands for: The hope, the positivity, the never giving up.
Things don’t always get better when we talk about them like this. But they always stay bad when we don’t. Ultimately, we who love Supergirl — and “Supergirl” — look forward toward a happier future, where questions and issues like these don’t surface, because the people responsible — for keeping their employees safe, and our heroes safeguarded –won’t stand by and watch, or cover up for them anymore.
Because while bringing up Eddie Berganza on the eve of a new season may seem like a complaint, for those of us who know that we can do — can be — so much better, and without too much work, it doesn’t feel like that at all.
It feels like hope, like positivity. Like never giving up.
“Supergirl” airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.