Stargirl: Summer School wrapped this week (Nov. 2, 2021) and what a crazy ride it was! Interdimensional demons, genies, new legacy characters, and so much more! Now we’ve gotta decide if it was everything it should’ve been, or maybe even more. Was it better than its debut season? Would we get more Joel McHale?!
Be warned; there will be spoilers below.
Yes; it was amazing. Yes; blew it out of the water. Yes; a lot actually.
The writers took a very different direction from the show’s initial season, and it couldn’t have been a better decision for the story they were telling. Most importantly, they dive into the horror genre hard and fast.
The Opening Sequence
Stargirl: Summer School‘s opening sequence takes place several decades ago. We’re introduced to a young girl dejectedly sitting across the street from a birthday party. She is being punished and can’t attend. Suddenly a new boy, young Bruce Gordon (Milo Stein), appears seemingly out of nowhere and persuades her to go anyway. Then he convinces her to take one of the girl’s presents while they are all still inside. As the wrapping paper is torn away we see that there is something… off. The boy then absorbs this young girl for her transgressions leaving nothing but an ashen scorch mark on the lawn. He vanishes as the girl’s mother starts hysterically searching for her daughter before a hard cut to black.
The entire sequence looks dreary and muted in color. Like all of the life is being sucked away. The most colorful thing we see is the violet energy blasting out from the boy as he essentially eats his victim. This scene sets the tone for the entire season, and it does it perfectly. Without it the episode where a man gets possessed and becomes a monster made of paint would seem out of place and silly. The reality is, that episode is f@#$ing terrifying.
The Biggest of Bads
The opening sequence also establishes our season’s big bad, Eclipso (Nick E. Tarabay/Milo Stein), as a force to be reckoned with and an unabashedly evil one at that. Eclipso proves to be a perfect foil to our heroes in the JSA, both new and old, as well as the series’ host of colorful non-superpowered characters.
Except the mechanic. Not even the devil can touch that man.
He doesn’t lose his sense of malice or dread and feels like a constant threat from start to finish, even managing to be genuinely terrifying at times. Unlike with Jordan Mahkent/Icicle (Neil Jackson) and the comedically amalgamated characters that made up the ISA, there was no softening of Eclipso at any point. If anything, the show constantly doubles down on how evil he is, and it is truly a treat to watch.
Our villain most typically takes the young form of a former wielder of the Black Diamond, Bruce Gordon (Jason Davis), and I’ll admit I had my doubts. That being said, even when he’s portraying himself as a 4ft adorable child, Eclipso is menacing. It’s a real testament to how well the character is written and how expertly everything is staged.
When we do get to see Eclipso in all his glory it doesn’t disappoint for a second. He’s not a big CGI mess and he’s not a completely off the wall design that bares no resemblance to his namesake. THIS. IS. ECLIPSO. And I loved it. I can only imagine how long the makeup must’ve taken, but it is so worth it. He looks truly grotesque and ancient while still being unmistakably his comicbook counterpart brought to life.
Full disclosure: Eclipso is one of my all-time favorite DC villains.
Theme: the Importance and Weight of Legacy
The mysteries around Eclipso are used extremely well. They manage to develop both the history of the older JSA and their relationship to the newer members which helps to create a strong theme of legacy which is carried through in almost every character’s arc this year. For example: we’re given new wielders of Johnny Thunder’s pen, Jakeem Williams (Alkoya Brunson), and the Green Lantern ring, Jade (Ysa Penarejo), taking on both the legacy of previous heroes as well as that of a lost father. Jakeem doesn’t get a huge opportunity to develop, but what we see characterizes him perfectly when we see the former user of the pen, Johnny Thunder (Ethan Embry). A lot of Jade’s story is setup for next season, which looks like it is going to be awesome, but we still see what losing her father and her brother has done to her. She’s driven. I’m interested to see more of both characters next season in Stargirl: Frenemies.
Mike Dugan (Trae Romano), Pat/Stripesy’s (Luke Wilson) son and Courtney’s step brother, steps up after losing the genie, Thunderbolt (Jim Gaffigan). His character is given a lot of time to grow and come into his own. We see how much he idolizes his dad and the others. He wants to be a part of the team and to help, and by the end he gets that chance in earnest. He ends up being not just a mechanic, but a pilot for the incredibly awesome giant robot S.T.R.I.P.E.
Yolanda Montez/Wildcat (Yvette Monreal) struggles with having taken a life, thinking she’s the only member of the JSA to have done so, only to learn too late that she was not alone. Watching her struggle and eventual come to terms with the weight of killing someone while also being a hero was fascinating.
What started off as one of my least favorite aspects of the season ended up developing into something really interesting and strong by the end. Beth Chapel/Doctor Midnite (Anjelika Washington) struggles with the idea of being a hero. She struggles to get her former hero namesake’s goggles working after they were damaged last season, and accidentally makes contact with the original Doctor Midnite, Charles McNider (Alex Collins)! The two start off distant, but over the course of the season Beth is able to prove herself to her mentor and earn the mantle she proudly wears.
One of the most interesting additions to the series this year was Richard Swift/the Shade (Jonathan Cake). While he doesn’t pass on his powers or anything of the like we do see how his reputation has affected him and how the weight of his long life and memory color his actions. He is expected to be evil and villainous from the start, but actually presents himself as more of a third party, neither good nor evil, until he’s forced to choose sides. He has his own goals and it was intriguing to watch him try to accomplish them. When his relationship to Eclipso is revealed, it adds another layer to the character that was genuinely surprising. His arc managed to subvert any expectation that I had and kept me guessing the entire time.
The Story (ALL THE SPOILER WARNINGS)
Stargirl: Summer School was a complex, layered, and emotional story about the weight and trauma that comes with being a superhero. It showed a very honest look at how teenagers would handle some really intense situations, and how sometimes more experienced adults don’t always come to the best or right answer.
We pick up with Stargirl/Courtney Whitmore (Brec Bassinger) and the JSA shortly after their conflict with the ISA at the end of the first season. Blue Valley is much quieter now that there isn’t a nefarious team of villains actively trying to build a super-weapon and take over the world.
Who could imagine that?
The team spends their nights going on regular patrols finding nothing, and everyone except for Courtney is thinking of hanging up the cape for awhile. Rick Tyler/Hourman (Cameron Gellman) has secretly been looking after Solomon Grundy in the woods outside town, and the two have developed an almost master/pet relationship. Beth is still trying to fix Chuck and the Midnite goggles. When she finally gets a response he doesn’t remember her! Yolanda has been having terrible headaches and keeps seeing flashes of Brainwave (Christopher James Baker) and his son Henry (Jake Austin Walker). She goes to confession, but finds herself unable to speak.
Mike rediscovers the pink pen used by Johnny Thunder and releases the genie inside, the Thunderbolt! Thunderbolt is immensely powerful, but you have to word your wishes very carefully. Very much a “monkey’s paw/be careful what you wish for” situation, that creates a few very interesting moments.
Good thing he’s got a pen, eh?
We then meet a young orphaned woman named Jade on her 16th birthday. She can no longer live at her foster house, so she’s going to try to find her lost twin brother. Before she goes she’s given her inheritance from her father… the GREEN LANTERN RING!
Jade follows the ring to Blue Valley where she eventually makes friends with the Dugans/Whitmores and the JSA. After a few tense moments with Courtney initially they agree to train her with the ring. She accidentally destroys the charging lantern, and absorbs all of its power. She won’t have to recharge the ring like her father, the famous Alan Scott, would have. After this she decides to resume her search for her twin brother, hoping the ring will help.
Off into the ether to do ring s@#$
Que the return of our young arch nemesis Cindy Burman/Shiv (Meg DeLacy) with a powerful artifact known as the Black Diamond. The diamond houses an ancient and extremely powerful malevolent entity called Eclipso that she plans to use to kill Courtney and the others. Meanwhile, an old foe of Pat’s, the Shade, reappears in Blue Valley in search of the same diamond.
Cindy sets to her task by trying to reassemble the ISA using the kids of the former members. Sportsmaster (Neil Hopkins) and Tigress’s (Joy Osmanski) daughter, Artemis (Stella Smith), and the Fiddler’s son, Isaac (Max Frantz) are quickly coopted. They severely damage S.T.R.I.P.E. and kidnap Mike, but things go horribly wrong when they try to confront the JSA directly. Eclipso is released from the Black Diamond, injuring the Shade, before he sends Cindy to the Shadow Lands and eats Isaac! In the aftermath, Mike accidentally wishes the Thunderbolt were in better hands, whisking the pen off, unknowingly, to his friend Jakeem.
Sportsmaster and Tigress as escaped convicts going to watch their daughter’s football tryout was an unexpected gem. Can’t wait for more of them next season.
Stargirl’s Cosmic staff is damaged in the battle and needs time to heal. Beth makes contact again and we learn the original Doctor Midnite is actually still alive! He’s stuck in the Shadow Lands: another dimension where Eclipso was born that feeds on negativity and sadness. He’s been able to stay alive thanks to his goggles. Yolanda hangs up the cowl citing her having killed someone and tainting the honor of the JSA after Eclipso gets into their heads. Rick hallucinates that Grundy attacks him and nearly kills his uncle before realizing what is happening. In his anger he destroys the hourglass that gives him his super strength before he is taken to jail.
Pat and Courtney head east where they hope to find Jade. The Green Lantern ring is very powerful, so they assume it could probably help fight Eclipso and restore the Black Diamond. They’re not wrong… but things go badly. Courtney is banished to the Shadow Lands and forced to live through the worst moments she can imagine!
This episode was fantastic, and I could gush about it all day.
Using the Shade’s help, Courtney, Dr. McNider, and Cindy are all able to escape the Shadow Lands and set to finding a way to destroy Eclipso once and for all. Everything culminates in an epic showdown at city hall. Eclipso forces everyone to hallucinate and battle with themselves or their past mantle-bearers while Stargirl and Jade try to fight him directly. Eclipso manages to possess Courtney and tries to use the staff to merge the Shadow Lands with Earth, but is stopped by… the original Starman/Sylvester Pemberton! He is able to inspire Courtney to exorcise the demon allowing the group to collectively take him down.
The visual effects continue to be impressive, and the sound design was stellar. There was a healthy amount of both practical and CGI effects going on, and they were both used very well. Fight scenes with super powers and explosions looks smooth and clean, and the choreography is very well done. Characters really get to show off their strengths.
The Shade, Thunderbolt, and the Green Lantern ring get a lot of screen focus, and for good reason. Thunderbolt’s magenta shines out in stark contrast to everything around him. Jade’s green light is literally expelling darkness and desaturation. The wispy smoke of the Shade as he appears and disappears is both fluid and unsettling. It feels like it has a cloying quality to it. Like it would leave a residue behind.
The music and sound design are used to great effect as well. Somber moments are made all the more melancholy. Moments of triumph are elevated. Giant robots extending newly attached chainsaw arms are every bit as gritty and awesome sounding as they should be. The thunks and clunks of each step forward and the groan of metal as it moves are music to my ears when done well.
The Final Say
9/10: Fantastically evil villains vs well-rounded heroes = great entertainment
Stargirl: Summer School managed to be something truly special. They took their characters to new places that I wouldn’t have guessed they’d even try to go with them. Some things were a little slow to develop, like Jakeem and Thunderbolt, and others felt a little rushed at first, Jade’s training, but overall the season proved to be extremely fun, well-executed, and even frightening.
Needless to say, I am definitely looking forward to next season. As of this writing you can still check out all of season 2 on the CW app. Go catch it before its gone… for like a week and ends up on HBOMax or Netflix.
I’ve worked my whole life to become a comic book illustrator, writer, and stand-up comedian. Batman and Captain Benjamin Sisko helped put a good head on my shoulders. I spent most of my childhood saving Hyrule and the Mushroom Kingdom and seeing the Justice League save all of creation time and time again. I live in Johnson City, TN with my wife Kary and daughter Laila enjoying the beautiful mountain scenery and occasional show. Three puppies round out the family and take up the rest of the time that isn’t spent debating which Wes Anderson or Studio Ghibli movie to watch. I spend an inordinate amount of time binge watching SVU, Futurama, and Letterkenny, and when I’m not watching I’m listening to “My Brother, My Brother, and Me” or playing the occasional game of D&D. If there’s a nerdy endeavor out there, I’ve probably at least tried it.