Let’s face it, for decades mainstream superhero comics have generally been considered a “boys club” (look no further than Wonder Woman’s station as the secretary for the Justice Society of America back during the Golden Age of comics). Comic publishers, particularly DC Comics, have taken significant steps in recent to eradicate that Kiwanis Club image and appeal to young girls best exemplified in the establishment of the DC Super Hero Girls brand. In an age where execs block production of Black Widow toys, the brand launched to appeal to young girls through toys and various media has in only a few short years has become an acclaimed and financial success for both Warner Bros. and DC Comics.
After revitalizing the My Little Pony brand for Hasbro and helping usher in the “brony” phenomenon, it didn’t come as any surprise that Warner Bros. Animation recruited Lauren Faust to refresh and expand the brand with a new cartoon featuring her own unique design aesthetic and storytelling. Faust is no stranger to DC’s staple of characters having produced the Super Best Friends Forever series of shorts for the DC Nation block of programming back in 2012, which are available to watch (free and legally!) on YouTube. So when Warner Bros. approached Faust about pulling the concepts and characterizations from the shorts into anew show, she immediately jumped on the opportunity. Actresses Nicole Sullivan, Tara Strong, and Grey Griffin who voiced the characters Supergirl, Batgirl, and Wonder Girl respectively in Faust’s SBBF shorts will reprising those roles with Wonder Girl/Donna Troy now Wonder Woman/Diana Prince for brand consistency. Rounding out the team are Bumblebee, Zatanna, and Jessica Cruz the first Latina Green Lantern who has quickly become a fan-favorite character.
Given their established professional and personal relationships, most fans assumed (or at least hoped) that both Griffin and Strong would be returning. “I’ve worked with Grey [Griffin] and Tara [Strong] for like forever. Those were just no-brainers for me. They’re just so talented,” praised Faust. Although her history with Faust doesn’t stretch nearly as far back, Sullivan has nothing but tremendous respect for Faust, which is reciprocated. Furthermore, there’s clearly great camaraderie between the cast, with Sullivan considering Griffin performing the equivalent of watching a master pianist.
While the reboot still retains a high school setting like the previous iteration of DCSHG, a key difference with the reboot is that the show creators are fully embracing the secret identity tradition of superheroes. According to director Jennifer Kluska, secret identities serve as a “metaphor for deciding and figuring out who it is you really want to be” within the show. Moreover, through the secret identity metaphor Faust is attempting to convey the idea that your true self is best expressed when you’re with your closest friends. Kluska emphasized that each character is meant to represent a classic teen archetype and selecting the final character roster was based on finding the superhero teen mirrors. It’s an ingenious use of the meta-narrative writing technique that allows the show creators to talk about events outside the concerns of genre fiction, while still delivering the tropes that viewers expect. You can see the character breakdowns below:
|As A Hero She’s…
|As A Teen She’s…
|The Show Off
“A big goal for us on this show to boil our characters down to their most iconic versions. A lot of our characters we went back to Silver Age which is their purest and simplest incarnations and better for an 11-minute cartoon and easier to get the ideas across,” said Faust. Unlike the other characters whose comic book histories go back decades, Jessica Cruz is a relatively new character introduced by Geoff Johns towards the end of his Green Lantern run. Faust described Green Lantern powers as “easy gets” in that their powers are simple to explain i.e. “at the end of the day Green Lanterns have a ring and use their willpower and imaginations to create things.” Because of Jessica Cruz’s “dark and heavy” comic book origin story, Faust admitted that they had to work around and step away from the comics more than the other characters on the show, putting Jessica’s fear in the past. “But we really hope that everybody likes how we’re handling Jessica,” said Faust. “She’s a really fun and interesting character. We’re making her one of our smarter more responsible characters as well. She’s up there with Wonder Woman knowing the right stuff to do. So hopefully it’s not too much of a departure because we like her very much.”
Of course, what are heroes without adversaries and these girls will be facing their own DC Super Villain Girls team comprised of Catwoman, Giganta, Livewire, Poison Ivy, Star Sapphire, and Harley Quinn. Much like their heroic counterparts, the villainous girls each serve a specific role and reflect classic high school archetypes. Catwoman for instance is the leader and brains of the group who doesn’t sully herself with physical fighting. Both Giganta and Livewire are the typical school bullies but whereas Giganta is “the bully who might pound your face in, Livewire is going to kill your soul,” said Kluska. Originally a shock jock granted electricity based powers created and introduced in the 90’s Bruce Timm Superman: The Animated Series, the teen version of Livewire in the show uses a media channel to embarrass her victims, a modern teen angle on the character that is incredibly relevant. Poison Ivy was compared by Kluska to Ally Sheedy’s character from The Breakfast Club who is the waif and recluse most than likely talking to a potted plant. Star Sapphire, as comic aficionados are aware, is the romantic love interest of Green Lantern/Hal Jordan, so the show creators are playing her as the crazy ex-girlfriend. Finally, Harley Quinn is the wild card, both figuratively and literally, who is completely unpredictable. None of the voices for the characters have been confirmed but it’s probably a safe bet that Tara Strong will be playing Harley given her propensity and past work voicing the character.
From what I’ve seen of this new DCSHG cartoon thus far, I can’t help but be reminded of the late/great Dwayne McDuffie, a writer for comics and animation who strove for better representation in media. As a black writer, McDuffie was constantly frustrated with the pressure of minority characters to represent an entire block of people whereas white male characters have the luxury of not having that added weight, a sentiment Faust shares when it comes to the depiction of girls in animation. “Usually they’re the ‘one’ character, and so [they have] all this pressure to be perfect to be flawless. All the encapsulation of whatever that person is whether they’re a minority or girl gets shoved down that one character,” said Faust. “And this was the same for me on My Little Pony but also on this show when you have six girls, you don’t have that pressure. Nobody is ‘the girl.’ They get to have flaws. They get to have differences. So if you have a character who somebody might call a stereotype like she’s prissy or you have a character who does like to get her nails done or something, you five other characters who don’t care about it, so nobody pressures you to take that idea out of it. You can show diversity in personality because you have so many of them.”
The potential of the cartoon to positively impact children is not lost on the cast either. As a mother of two boys, Sullivan hopes that seeing these female superheroes in action will teach her sons not to undermine women. Likewise Griffin who is the mother of three children including most recently a baby girl, is thrilled that her daughter gets to grow up with the current resurgence of Wonder Woman’s popularity and a world where little girls’ clothing isn’t entirely pink anymore. In fact, Griffin has already purchased a Wonder Woman Halloween costume currently in storage for when her daughter is older.
During the panel at SDCC, rough animatic footage was shown featuring the six main leads gathered together in detention and an epic Wonder Woman and Supergirl personality clash to say the least. Though not officially announced, based on the brief dialogue I was able to hear, I believe that I recognized voice actress supreme Kari Wahlgren as Zatanna as well as Fred Tatasciore as the principal.
Also shown during the panel was a DCSHG short entitled “The Great Batsby” involving Batgirl sneaking out of the house to meet up with the rest of her team to fight Mr. Freeze. The basic premise is somewhat reminiscent of one of Faust’s earlier aforementioned Super Best Friends Forever DC Nation shorts “Time Waits for No Girl” but on a grander and more elaborate scale. The credits for “The Great Batsby” reveal that Sam Riegel, who first worked with Faust on the Disney animated series Wander Over Yonder, serves as the voice director. And if you listen closely, you may recognize veteran Star Trek actor John de Lancie providing the vocals for Mr. Freeze. Having cast de Lancie as Discord, the master of chaos, when she worked on My Little Pony, I’m guessing Faust is still a fan of the actor. You can actually see “The Great Batsby” short when it plays before Teen Titans Go! To the Movies this weekend, in case you needed additional incentive.
Unsurprisingly, the cast and crew remained tight lipped on certain things I was able to glean some tantalizing information on future episodes. Expect a Catwoman versus Supergirl conflict that will entail a brains versus brawn episode. Supergirl will get some pets which Sullivan found relatable to her own high school experience when she secretly adopted cats into her mother’s home. Not only will Wonder Woman experience some fish out of water culture differences that promise to be hilarious, but the Amazon warrior will also have her first crush. In contrast to billionaire Bruce Wayne (who apparently licenses his alter ego Batman within the DCSHG world) Batgirl will actually have to work at an after school job at a Taco Bell pastiche. Here’s hoping that it’s Taco Whiz and a nod to the infamous comic where Wonder Woman decides to enter the exciting world of fast food. Even though the show focuses on these six heroes, you can look forward to guest appearances by other iconic DC characters.