Yesterday, The CW announced that Tyler Hoechlin is joining the cast of Supergirl as her famous crime-fighting cousin, Superman. This follows the news that the female-driven show will be moving from CBS to The CW to join the Arrow, The Flash, and Legends of Tomorrow DC family. There are already plans in place for an epic crossover event with all four shows. We. Can’t. Wait.
But in the meantime, we’re still trying to digest the news that Superman is becoming a permanent fixture on the girlpower-centric Supergirl. Hoechlin is best known for playing Derek Hale on Teen Wolf, and there’s no denying that he has the type of chiseled jaw we’ve come to associate with one of the most famous superheroes of all time. Still, not everyone is happy about the casting — more importantly about the character appearing at all. Supergirl is one of those rare shows with a female action lead, and fans have taken to Twitter to question why the kindhearted superheroine needs her older, more famous male cousin to help her save the day.
It’s not an unreasonable complainant. Not that long ago, it felt like we were entering the age of the female superhero. Heck, we even wrote about it on BookTrib. But since then, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice was considered a failure according to movie goers, and critics pointed out how even though Wonder Woman stole the show, Lois Lane was still reduced to a damsel in distress. On Arrow, superheroine Laurel Lance (The Black Canary) was killed off, while Curtis Holt (Mr. Fantastic) became a series regular. With female superheroes disappearing from our screens, or finding themselves replaced by men, is there no wonder that some fans wish Supergirl would stay about, well, the girls?
Of course one can argue that Supergirl wouldn’t exist without Superman. She was born out of his myth, first appearing in comics in the late 1950s, after Superman had already been around for 20 years. Her story has almost always been linked to his, which is why some fans were so happy that he seemed to be regulated to the sidelines in Supergirl. He showed up in mentions, in text messages, or as a vague pair of boots, but he mostly left Melissa Benoist’s Kara Zor-El alone to fight her own battles. Now that Hoechlin is bringing the iconic male character to life, the fear is that he’ll take credit in some way, be stronger, or just generally overshadow the female lead.
Again, it’s not an unreasonable fear. There is a long history of misogyny and blatant sexism in comic books, so it makes sense that Supergirl fans would be nervous about having a strong male figure show up. In his new book, Investigating Lois Lane (Chicago Review Press, March 2016), Tim Hanley makes the point that Superman was the worst thing to happen to Lane, threatening to take her from a tough reporter to an emotionally abused victim. Will the same thing happen to Kara? We’ll just have to wait and see how The CW juggles their female lead and her more famous male family member.
The good news is that female superheroes are still prevalent in a way that feels both empowering and like a step forward. Last year, bestselling YA author Margaret Stohl teamed up with Marvel to write Black Widow: Forever Red (Marvel, 2015), a narrative account of the superheroine teaming up with a teen girl from Brooklyn to save the day. The sequel, Black Widow: Red Vengence (Marvel), comes out October 11, 2016. Similarly, the fact that we have more than one female-driven superhero show on the air right now is definitely a step in the right direction. Heroines like Jessica Jones, or the women of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. prove over and over that women can kick butt just as hard as the men.
Five or 10 years ago, CBS might have simply canceled Supergirl due to low ratings, but now the show has a chance to live on. As it should; the show is fun, heartfelt and inspiring to young girls everywhere. Let’s just hope that Hoechlin’s addition to the cast is a positive, supportive presence, and not a dominating male superhero stealing Supergirl away from the actual star.