With the announcement of Supergirl’s impending end, the world of comic book superheroes suddenly feels pretty small after all.
It’s official: Supergirl is hanging up her cape.
The CW announced earlier this week that the upcoming sixth season will be the last for the series, with filming set to begin this month and new episodes to air in 2021.
It’s a development that’s not altogether that surprising, but it’s still sobering, if not entirely frustrating.
The news of Supergirl’s ending burns for a lot of reasons. It was the CW’s first female-led superhero show. And unfortunately, it seemed to completely lose sight of that fact in season five. Then, the announcement that the series would be ending came on Kara Danvers’s canonically established birthday.
But perhaps the most devastating part of Supergirl‘s ending – whether the show was canceled or if the showrunners and cast simply decided it was time to end things is still unclear – is that it’s a stark reminder that there’s little room in the world of supers for characters without massive legacies.
Because the end of Supergirl marks the end of more than a few new stories.
Beyond introducing a different hero from the House of El, Supergirl also brought us the story of her sister, Alex Danvers, who’s super without powers. It gave us the story of Lena Luthor, a minor character in the comics who quickly became a fan favorite on-screen. It brought us Nia Nal, an entirely new character who made history as television’s first trans superhero. It brought us Kelly Olsen, another original character, as Alex Danvers’ girlfriend and a key player at Obsidian North.
The stories of these women didn’t rely on the history of their well-known relatives – those household names were merely used as an entry point. From there, fans fell in love with the nuances of these women individually, and how they handled life and its struggles side by side.
And yet, Supergirl inevitably fell back on those established names.
Superman himself, who was merely a set of instant messages during season one on CBS, was introduced in person as soon as the show moved to The CW. He wasn’t a series regular, and it was admittedly fun to see him for just a few episodes to kick off season 2 and then again during crossovers. But now, he’ll be the only Kryptonian on The CW, with the premiere of Superman and Lois early next year.
In Supergirl‘s fourth season, Lex Luthor was brought to life by Jon Cryer. And from there, the show essentially devolved into The Lex Show (as Luthor himself no doubt would appreciate), sidelining Lena almost entirely, and forcing Kara to face off against her cousin’s more famous enemy.
We already know Lex Luthor. We already know Superman. Their stories have been told time and time again. And yet, they’re the ones who will be leading our super television line-up next year (assuming some version of Lex does show up in Metropolis again).
Why can’t we leave room on our screens to get to know other players?
Sadly, this isn’t a problem exclusive to Supergirl. The breathing room for lesser-known or entirely new characters, be they heroes or villains, is slim across most super universes.
When Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) released in February – yes, that was earlier this year – the number one question it faced was “Where was the Joker?”
Star Margot Robbie publicly noted (multiple times) that not including the Joker in Birds of Prey was a deliberate choice. She and her comrades knew that if The Joker were to be included at all, it would negate the whole point of the film.
Birds of Prey gave us not just an independent Harley Quinn but used the name recognition associated with her character to bring in less familiar faces who still deserve the spotlight. It brought to life a new Black Canary, Huntress, Cassandra Cain (the future Batgirl), and put Renee Montoya on our screens.
And yet, the question was still “Where’s Joker?” We know the Joker. We got another version of his story as recently as last year.
The CW’s Batwoman faces a similar legacy overhang, but so far, is faring much better.
Alice has been notably compared to the Clown Prince of Crime, but she’s been given room to establish her own place as a Gotham Baddie. As a result, she’s become one of the most compelling characters in the Arrowverse.
And, while Batwoman introduced the face of Batman in its freshman series finale, fans know that it’s not truly Bruce Wayne. It’s Hush, given Bruce Wayne’s face thanks to Alice. There’s no indication that his alter ego of Batman will appear at all in season 2. (Or ever, for that matter.)
Though Batwoman is tackling its own identity problems, Gotham’s newest hero is at least being given some space to spread her wings, as is the city’s newest Big Bad. Fingers crossed it stays that way.
And in the name of impartiality, no, these struggles aren’t solely relegated to adaptations of DC stories.
Over in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, many characters have faced the same uphill battle. Perhaps no one was hit harder though, than Peggy Carter.
Peggy was one of the most prominent agents of the SSR, and a founder of S.H.I.E.L.D. But even after a star turn in Captain America: The First Avenger, Hayley Atwell’s series Agent Carter only survived two seasons.
Meanwhile, ABC’s other Marvel series, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. made it through seven seasons, finally wrapping earlier this year.
Why could Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. succeed where Agent Carter couldn’t? It was allowed to build a world and characters outside of the Avengers. Peggy Carter couldn’t seem to escape the shadow of her story with Captain America.
Similarly, over on Netflix, no Marvel series – Jessica Jones, Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Defenders, The Punisher – made it past season three. Despite bringing in dynamic characters, their lack of familiarity and major tie-ins to the universe at large appeared to be their undoing.
Over and over, we get the classic hits. We’ve seen Uncle Ben die too many times. We’ve seen Martha Wayne’s necklace scatter in an alley so often we can count the pearls at this point.
That said, a change could be coming, and sooner rather than later. Marvel is set to premiere a She-Hulk series on Disney+, and both Black Lightning and Stargirl are thriving over on the CW. For comics fans, these characters are anything but new, but for those with a more casual interest in the world of supers, the world is finally expanding. Let it.
Supergirl is slated to return in 2021. How do you feel about season 6 being its last?