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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled emStargirl/em’s new Justice Society suits up in a thrilling episode
Photo: The CW
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In a way, these first six episodes of Stargirl have really been one long pilot for a series that arguably should’ve been called The New Justice Society. It’s now clear that Stargirl was always designed as an ensemble series rather than a solo superhero one, and while that was evident from the show’s marketing, it wasn’t as readily apparent from the first two episodes, which put Courtney and Pat (and, weirdly, Brainwave) front and center. After providing a better sense of the Injustice Society in “Icicle” and rounding out the new JSA in “Wildcat” and “Hourman And Dr. Mid-Nite,” Stargirl finally feels like it’s got all the major pieces on the board and it’s ready to start telling stories with them. Even Mike gets an enjoyable storyline for once this week!

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In fact, what I initially critiqued as rushed plotting now looks more like a slow-burn approach to the show’s JSA vs. ISA worldbuilding. And while I don’t know if introducing the show as one thing only to pivot to something else was a fully successful choice, it’s definitely an interesting one—as is Stargirl’s balance between episodic and serialized storytelling. If the Arrowverse relies too much on “villain of the week” plotting and Netflix’s Defenders Universe leaned too heavily on the serialized approach, Stargirl comes closer to finding a successful balance.

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“The Justice Society” picks up right where last week left off. Courtney arrives home from recruiting Rick to find that Pat has discovered her stolen (er, borrowed) JSA stuff. He once again puts the kibosh on the idea of rebuilding the JSA with teens, citing Joey’s death as an example of what could happen to the kids Courtney recruits. The problem is, it’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle. Though they’ve only had their JSA identities for a few days, Yolanda and Beth have found a new sense of purpose and power they refuse to let Courtney take away from them. Yolanda has taken a huge amount of inspiration from Ted Grant’s boxing comeback story, while Beth has found her first real friend in “Chuck” (Doctor Mid-Nite’s A.I. voice).

Illustration for article titled emStargirl/em’s new Justice Society suits up in a thrilling episode
Photo: Annette Brown (The CW)
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Elsewhere, Pat’s sidekick status doesn’t earn him much respect from Rick, who’s pissed that Pat has done so little to defeat the Injustice Society in the past 10 years. So when Beth-via-Chuck announces that The Gambler is hacking into Empire Enterprises’ communication network, Courtney’s new teammates decide it shouldn’t be too much of a problem to take down a non-powered master strategist. Unfortunately, not only do they overestimate their own abilities, they underestimate the Injustice Society—who may not be friends but who still have each other’s backs. Instead of The Gambler, the new JSA come face-to-face with Icicle’s “attack dogs,” Sportsmaster and Tigress (a.k.a. gym owner Crusher Crock and gym teacher Paula Brooks).

Stargirl emphasizes both the dramatic and comedic potential of the Injustice Society this week. On one end of the spectrum, Jordan and Cameron spend a somber day remembering Cameron’s late mom on her birthday. On the other end, Crusher and Paula casually murder their third football coach in two seasons to ensure their daughter gets the star treatment she deserves. Stargirl mines some great dark comedy from two tightly wound, achievement-focused parents who are literal supervillains. Before heading off for a “date night” of beating up teen heroes, Crusher and Paula pause to remind Artemis how much they love her (and how many crunches she should do while they’re gone).

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Illustration for article titled emStargirl/em’s new Justice Society suits up in a thrilling episode
Photo: Jace Downs (The CW)

Stargirl’s been a little light on action lately, but “The Justice Society” more than makes up for that with an elaborate battle that weaves through the halls and parking lots of Empire Enterprises. The show once again does a great job embracing Golden Age goofiness without devolving into camp. Sportsmaster may use baseballs as weapons and pause mid-battle to pose with his wife, but he and Tigress are truly terrifying threats too. The moment the four teens stumble upon the bloody body of a murdered security guard is an icy wake-up call for their sunny superhero adventure.

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While all of Courtney’s fight scenes have had a scrappy, improvisational feel to them, “The Justice Society” really ups the stakes in that department. There’s no order or discipline or planning to how the new JSA goes about their mission, and Courtney and Rick almost immediately get into a power struggle over who’s the real team leader. Courtney’s pleas to stick together are ignored as Yolanda and Rick impulsively leap into action. Soon enough it’s brute against brute and cat against cat.

Of course, you kind of just have to go with the fact that Courtney and co. can even remotely hold their own in the fight, considering they’ve had absolutely zero training. Even accounting for the fact that they’ve got superpowered tech to help them, the young JSA fair surprisingly well here. Courtney’s hand-to-hand combat abilities have somehow grown exponentially since the last time we saw her in action. And it’s a bummer the episode so immediately undoes the terrifying moment where a busted Cosmic Staff leaves Courtney as nothing more than a teen gymnast in a mask.

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Still, Stargirl mostly gets away with the “it looks cool, so don’t think about it!” rule, especially since moments like Sportsmaster and Tigress posing indicates we’re not meant to be taking any of this too seriously. To its credit, the action does look very, very cool—especially the moment Courtney springs backwards off the ground. And though Stargirl somewhat prioritizes splash page ready iconography over internal logic, it at least handwaves it away by having Courtney admit that they got lucky. It’s only Pat’s arrival is his S.T.R.I.P.E. armor that finally scares off Sportsmaster and Tigress, and even then it’s really more of a draw than a defeat. The new JSA clearly has a long way to go before they’re ready to take on the full Injustice Society.

Illustration for article titled emStargirl/em’s new Justice Society suits up in a thrilling episode
Photo: Annette Brown (The CW)
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Like most Stargirl episodes, “The Justice Society” ends just as it feels like it’s getting started (that’s one downside to the more serialized approach). But the final scene of Pat forcing Courtney to confront her own rebellious streak by way of her frustrations with her new teammates is a pitch perfect use of all the character dynamics Stargirl has introduced so far—especially the fantastic chemistry between Luke Wilson and Brec Bassinger. We’re just about halfway through the season, and Stargirl has finally landed on the “Pat mentors the new JSA” dynamic a lot of versions of this shows would’ve introduced much earlier. Though it remains to be seen whether the slow-burn approach will pay off in the end, “The Justice Society” is a thrillingly transformative episode of Stargirl.


Stray observations

  • The whole runner with Barbara and Mike and his science fair project was so sweet that it makes me want to retroactively take back every complaint I ever made about him!
  • I initially thought Hourman’s “one hour a day” powers were kind of lame, but I like the explanation Pat gives here: Rex wanted to set limits on an addictive set of abilities that could easily be misused.
  • Beth to Chuck about Fahrenheit 451: “You bought the first edition off the stands? Wow you are old.”
  • The Gambler has a cat named Juniper and an unexpected love of Pitbull/Ke$ha collaborations.
  • We previously glimpsed the shot of S.T.R.I.P.E. and the new JSA line-up during the multiverse montage in the Crisis On Infinite Earths finale.
  • Icicle’s “Project: New America” involves broadcasting equipment, satellite codes, whatever Dr. Ito’s been up to, and Brainwave. I’m gonna guess it has something to do with nation-wide mind control.
  • Other ISA reveals: Principal Bowin was apparently married to the original Fiddler, which explains why she’s not an Irish man and why her powers didn’t cure Brainwave.
  • “What are you studying, Pop Tarts?”
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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Caroline Siede is a pop culture critic in Chicago, where the cold never bothers her anyway. Her interests include superhero movies, feminist theory, and Jane Austen novels.

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