Stargirl surpasses the MCU's Spider-Man in one incredible way
Entrenched in the high-stakes drama of high school, Stargirl ups the teen superhero genre in a stunning display of atmosphere, scenery, and showmanship.
Two years ago, I interviewed Ryan Parrot, the comic book writer attached to BOOM! Studios' array of (excellent) comic books that reboot the cheesy '90s superhero hit, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. In a conversation that spanned everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Spider-Man: Homecoming, Parrot said something that's stuck with me ever since. “It feels like all the responsibilities you had in high school were so monumental," he told me. "For these people" — meaning superheroes — "it actually is."
I thought about Parrot and his comics while watching Stargirl Episode 7. For the past few weeks Stargirl has dazzled in its youthful, yet nostalgic take on the superhero genre. Though the whole world isn't under threat every week, Courtney's world sure is. And when you're a teenager, that means everything.
In "Shiv Part One," the latest episode of Stargirl, the ongoing saga of Courtney (Brec Bassinger) ups the ante in a high-octane climax that calls to mind so many of its most obvious influences while spinning something new. Coupled with a bravado and confidence from the filmmakers — including director Lea Thompson, known for playing "Lorraine" Back to the Future, who taps into that particular influence in a fun way — that you can't help but be on board with everything Stargirl throws down.
It may not be apparent today, tomorrow, or six months from now, but Stargirl is on its way to being one of the best superhero shows of this era. And "Shiv Part One" is why.
Warning: Spoilers for Stargirl Episode 07, "Shiv Part One" ahead.
"Shiv Part One" isn't a villain origin story, but it is the first appearance and reveal of Shiv, a key character from Geoff Johns' original Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. In a near recreation of the comics, "Shiv Part One" unmasks Cindy Burman — the Gen Z reincarnation of Regina George, played by Meg DeLacy — as Shiv, daughter of the Injustice Society's Dragon King, arch-nemesis of Starman.
Stargirl's biggest theme of inheritance plays out through Shiv. Whether Starman really is Courtney's father or not (the show has done a heck of a job setting up a twist that may or may not come), Stargirl is inheriting her predecessor's oldest rivalry. But when the two meet and clash inside the empty gymnasium, decorated in a Grease theme for Homecoming, there's already history between them that makes their grudge match their own and not just a legacy of their fathers.
Earlier in the episode, Cindy — abandoned by her try-hard lackey — gambles on a moment of vulnerability by inviting Courtney to hang out the same night of the school dance. But when Courtney turns down Cindy's offer because her crush invited her to Homecoming, the animosity of that abandonment is transferred into their battle as Stargirl and Shiv, a well-choreographed and well-directed exchange of punches, kicks, and backflips fueled by story and tension.
The entire rivalry is reminiscent of another, well-made portrayal of a teenage superhero's life collapsing on itself. Three years ago I was in a packed screening for Spider-Man: Homecoming, seated alongside overly excited influencers and jaded film critics, when the entire theater gasped in unison at who opened the door for Peter on Homecoming night. It was a twist not even Stan Lee could have seen coming.
Since that moment, I've long regarded Spider-Man: Homecoming as the paragon of putting young adult drama through a genre filter. Anyone can relate to the high-stakes anxiety of meeting their girlfriend or boyfriend's dad. That Spider-Man turned that anxiety into an epic supervillain reveal was one for the ages.
Stargirl's twist isn't played out like in Homecoming. There is no moment of inhalation before all the air is taken out of the room, like in Homecoming. But in Stargirl and Shiv's first battle, the spirit of Spider-Man: Homecoming runs deep, in concert with other notable influences and cues like Back to the Future (in the corny '50s-inspired Homecoming dance) and The Guest (Adam Wingard's 2014 thriller with a violent finale set in a dimly lit gymnasium).
Ultimately Stargirl uses "Shiv Part One" to teach Courtney a harsh lesson. Courtney started the episode overly-confident in her abilities, to the point of ruining the very first training session with her friends. Now, alone and outmatched by the daughter of her father's nemesis, Courtney ends the episode unconscious and in the arms of her stepfather (an always watchable Luke Wilson).
We may already know where things will go next. Courtney will have to reconcile with her teammates and learn to work with them as they all inevitably confront the top of their high school's food chain. That Shiv is a direct line to the biggest bad of the Injustice Society only means our heroes will have their work cut out for them as the show barrels towards the end of its 13-episode season. But while we can already anticipate Stargirl's next big beats doesn't mean it can't still surprise us along the way.
Stargirl streams Sunday nights on DC Universe. It airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. Eastern on The CW.