By Andrew A. Smith
Tribune Content Agency
June 18, 2020 — In case you love the new DC Universe/CW show Stargirl as much as I do, here are two dozen Fun Facts to Know and Tell about the star-spangled superhero show:
1. Geoff Johns (with artist Lee Moder) created Courtney Whitmore in 1999 as his very first comic book assignment, while working as an assistant for movie producer/director Richard Donner (Superman: The Movie). Johns has gone on to write a lot of well-received comics, serve as Chief Creative Officer of DC Comics and launch a career as a movie and TV producer. He’s also the showrunner on Stargirl, as God intended.
2. “I wanted to create a superhero for teenage girls,” Johns said in the foreword to the latest Stargirl collection, “someone who wasn’t a sidekick and who would actually grow over time. I used my sister as the inspiration for it all.”
3. That sister, Courtney Johns, was 18 when she died in the TWA 800 explosion in 1996, three years earlier. I’m not crying, you’re crying.
4. In the comics, mean girl Cindy Burman turns out to be the daughter of the Dragon King, and a budding supervillain named Shiv. On TV, mean girl Cindy Burman (Meg DeLacy) looks just like the comics version, down to the white streaks in her hair. We’ve already met the Dragon King (Nelson Lee), and his photo shows up next to hers in Dr. Mid-Nite’s goggles. So hmmm.
5. When introduced in Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. #1 in 1999, Courtney called herself the Star-Spangled Kid, second of that name. She used a “Cosmic Converter Belt” that had been adapted from a “Cosmic Rod.” When Courtney later received the “Cosmic Staff,” based on the same technology, from the sixth (!) Starman, she changed her name to Stargirl.
6. Which you don’t need to know. There’s a long, convoluted history in the comics regarding DC’s many Starmen, Cosmic Whatchamacallits and Star-Spangled Kids, which is absolutely irrelevant to enjoying the TV show. Forget I brought it up.
7. On TV, Sylvester “Starman” Pemberton (Joel McHale) is killed by Icicle (Neil Jackson), but in the comics Pemberton (going by Skyman at the time) was killed by Solomon Grundy, a super-strong revenant. On the TV show, Grundy kills Hourman instead. Take notes, there’s a quiz later.
8. In the comics, Brainwave’s son is Henry King Jr., who becomes the heroic, then the villainous, Brainwave Jr. On TV, Brainwave’s son is also named Henry King Jr. (Jake Austin Walker), is a pretty nasty piece of work and has begun to exhibit his dad’s mental powers. Hmmm.
9. In the comics, legacy JSA characters included Beth Chapel as Dr. Mid-Nite II, Rick Tyler as Hourman II and Yolanda Montez as Wildcat II. Two of those characters were killed, and all three appear to have been erased in a 2011 revamp. But Stargirl recycles those names/characters with Anjelika Washington as Beth, Cameron Gellman as Rick and Yvette Monreal as Yolanda. This is another thing you don’t need to know, but take it as a given that comics fans are thrilled.
10. In the comics, about half the 1940s Justice Society was comprised of what I call “Punchy Guys,” characters without super-powers (or with lame ones) whose crimefighting technique was to punch crime in the face until it fell down. Dr. Mid-Nite, Hourman and Wildcat on Stargirl fall into the Punchy Guy category, but have been beefed up for TV.
11. For example, in the comics Wildcat doesn’t have TV’s magic one-size-fits-all costume that gives Yolanda cat-like powers. The comic book Wildcat is Ted Grant, a professional boxer, who had no claws and was about as lithe, agile and cat-like as you’d expect a heavyweight boxer to be. Yolanda is seen boxing on TV, which is a nod to ol’ Ted.
12. In the modern era, Wildcat, who debuted in 1942, is still a young-ish man, which is waved away with the explanation that he is under a magic spell from, conveniently, an adventure we’ve never seen. This spell also gives him nine lives, which regenerate over time like a video game — he can only die for good by being killed nine times in quick succession. So far Yolanda doesn’t have this power, but she does have a magic suit whose full use and origin is unknown. So hmmm again.
13. In the comics, Dr. Mid-Nite was Dr. Charles McNider, who was blinded by gangsters but discovered he could see perfectly in the absence of light. He wore goggles to see in daylight, and used smoke bombs to blind criminals while he punched them. On TV, McNider’s goggles give Beth the ability to see in a wide range of wavelengths, project video and super-Google information. That beats the heck out of punching people until they fall down.
14. In the comics, Rex Tyler invented the chemical “Miraclo,” which he took in pill form to become super-strong for an hour. (Then promptly announced his time limit to the underworld by calling himself Hourman.) That was passable in the ‘40s, but we know too much about addiction today to, ahem, swallow the idea of superheroes taking drugs. So on TV, Rick receives an hourglass which somehow does the trick. This passes my “Acceptable Changes to Canon” bar.
15. I would bet good money that the Mirakuru drug on Arrow, which made people super-strong, but eventually drove them mad, was inspired by Miraclo.
16. Pat Dugan (Luke Wilson) says all of the Justice Society is dead. But we never saw the bodies, did we? Well, except for Hourman, Starman and Wildcat. In fact, there are several JSA members we didn’t see at all. Once again: Hmmm.
17. Moreover, Geoff Johns says there are no Easter eggs in the TV show. “There's nothing that's a throwaway mention, there's nothing that's a throwaway prop, there's nothing that's a throwaway anything,” Johns told comicbook.com. “It might not be something we get to immediately, but it's something we have plans for." So far we have seen Green Lantern’s green lantern, Flash’s helmet, Sandman’s gas mask and Johnny Thunder’s pink pen, which houses a magical djinn called The Thunderbolt. All together now: “Hmmm.”
18. So who could show up? Well, the other Punchy Guys in the 1940s were the original Atom, Black Canary (a name in use elsewhere on The CW), Hawkman, Sandman and Mr. Terrific. They were all pretty boring (except for Hawkman, who had a cool costume and could fly), but could be enhanced for TV. If you see the civilian names Al Pratt, Dinah Drake, Carter Hall, Wesley Dodds or Terry Sloan, you’ll know something is up.
19. The members of the original JSA that weren’t Punchy Guys I call Powerhouses, because they had astounding super-powers that didn’t require fisticuffs. Starman was one of those. We’ve seen visual references to three more: the original Flash, the original Green Lantern and The Thunderbolt. Pat mentions another, Dr. Fate. Missing entirely are Wonder Woman (who is busy being a movie star) and The Spectre (seen on Arrow, and way too powerful and/or controversial to be a running character on a TV show). Significant names to watch for are Jay Garrick, Alan Scott, Johnny Thunder, Kent Nelson, Diana Prince and Jim Corrigan.
20. The Injustice Society of America seen on TV is largely comics-accurate, including 1940s members Brainwave (Christopher James Baker), The Fiddler (Hina X. Khan), The Gambler (Eric Goins), Icicle (Neil Jackson), Sportsmaster (Neil Hopkins), Tigress (Joy Osmanski) and Wizard (Joe Knezivich), plus 1960s additions The Shade and Solomon Grundy, and 1990s supervillain Dragon King.
21. “Wait,” you say, “I haven’t seen all those characters!” Not in costume, true, but you’ve seen most of them. The Fiddler is Blue Valley High School Principal Anaya Bowin. Sportsmaster is gym owner “Crusher” Crock, and his wife Tigress is BVHS gym coach Paula Brooks. Their daughter is Artemis (Stella Smith), a hero on Young Justice but likely a second-generation villain here, like Henry Jr. and Cindy.
22. Other 1940s ISA members, most of whom I don’t expect to see, include Harlequin (too similar to Harley Quinn), Per Degaton (a time traveler, which is too big for a show already overpopulated with powerful characters), Thinker (used on The Flash) and Vandal Savage (used on Legends of Tomorrow).
23. We’ve only heard The Shade mentioned, when Dragon King said the Master of Shadows betrayed them. That’s interesting, because that’s exactly what The Shade did in 1990s Starman comics, too. If they adapt that story, we’re in for a treat. Also, the huge black hand that grabbed Dr. Mid-Nite in the first episode was probably The Shade’s doing. So where is he now? Hmmm.
24. I promised a quiz, and here it is: Is Stargirl cool and full of possibility, or is it super-duper cool and full of possibility?
There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to watch. Homework has never been more fun.
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