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STARGIRL Pilot [Review]

Courtney Whitmore is not happy. It’s bad enough that she’s been dragged away from her best friend and the only home she’s ever known in Los Angeles to some small town in the middle of nowhere just as she was about to start high school. It’s even worse that her new school’s website was out of date and they don’t have a gymnastics team anymore. (The useless guidance counselor suggested she try out for cheerleading instead, because it’s basically the same thing and boys love it.) She’s a social pariah after day one and the principal already has it out for her after she stood up to one of the “good kids” that bullies the outcasts.

Courtney blames her dorky stepfather Pat for all of this. Okay, so what if Courtney’s mom has a new job with some group called The American Dream that required they move back to her hometown of Blue Valley, Nebraska? Courtney knows her mom would never have gone along with this insane idea if it hadn’t been for her meeting some guy from the same town and feeling all nostalgic for how much better things were before she moved out west and her dad bailed on them when she was five.

Courtney’s prospects brighten, however, after she starts nosing around in Pat’s stuff while unpacking and discovers a side of his life that he never told his wife about. How he was once a superhero’s sidekick. How he was there on the night that the Justice Society of America died saving the world. How he was entrusted with the Cosmic Staff of Starman, which stopped glowing on the night he died… and didn’t light up again until Courtney Whitmore touched it.
The original series’ release of Stargirl was scheduled for August 2019, but it was delayed for the better part of a year. Thankfully, it has proven worth the wait. From the first frame to the last closing credit, Stargirl is a clear labor of love. This is to be expected, given that the series is the passion project of comic creator Geoff Johns, who created the character of Courtney Whitmore for DC Comics and based her on his younger sister, who died tragically in a plane crash. Johns also wrote this pilot episode, which will be immediately apparent to fans of his work.

The pilot episode plays out like one of Johns’ JSA comics come to life. The special effects work is nothing short of spectacular, being of theatrical quality throughout. Indeed, the opening sequence depicting the final battle of the Justice Society of America seems like something from a superhero movie rather than even a high-end cable TV show. The gravitas of the world’s first superhero team is immediately established and that sense of legacy permeates the fabric of the pilot. Though Courtney hasn’t taken up the Stargirl name or donned a costume as the pilot closes, there is no doubt where her destiny lies or that the bond her stepfather has desperately been trying to form with her is starting to solidify.

Brec Bassinger nails the character of Courtney Whitmore from the comics right out of the gate, being both sympathetic while still having recognizable bratty tendencies. You can feel Courtney’s disdain for her stepfather without her saying a word, as she pointedly ignores his well-meaning but tone-deaf attempts to befriend her. Luke Wilson proves to be equally well-cast as Pat Dugan, conveying an over-eagerness that is balanced out by his earnestness. The rest of the show’s considerable ensemble do well enough, but the pilot is largely focused on Courtney and Pat’s relationship, which makes sense as this will likely form the core of the show following the first episode.

One change to the mythology from the comics that should keep things interesting for those who have already read Johns’ Stars and STRIPE series concerns Courtney’s father, who also disappeared mysteriously on the night the JSA fought their final battle and just why the Cosmic Staff responds to her. Courtney thinks her father, who she’s been unable to gather information about on-line, might have been Starman and that he romanced her mother while using an alias. Pat says this is impossible, as he knew Starman pretty well, but he also has no explanation for why the Cosmic Staff works for Courtney. Another new wrinkle is that the Cosmic Staff seems to have a mind of its own (think the magic carpet from Disney’s Aladdin) and it keeps trying to drag Courtney into danger.
While the pilot is a little by-the-numbers in how it establishes its characters (how many teen superheroes have established their good nature by taking on the bullying rich kids?) the cast carries it off well and the pilot contains enough surprises to suggest that Stargirl will be something special. I’m sure the usual suspects will dismiss it as another example of Hollywood trying to force another SJW-driven narrative with a strong female protagonist. They can sit and spin on the Cosmic Staff as far as this critic is concerened, because for my money Stargirl is the best thing to come out of DC Universe since Doom Patrol and I can’t wait to see more of it.

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