All-Star Supergirl: Why Supergirl Should Adapt Superman’s Greatest Moment
Trying to pick the best of something when you’re discussing works of fiction is frequently a Sisyphean task; subjective viewpoints mean works will have different meanings to different people, works can have huge impacts but in completely different ways, and the rules and values of different genres can make for very different experiences by which to judge a work. But ask any number of comic book fans or creators what is the best moment in superhero comics, and you’ll very likely hear many voices pointing out one particular scene.
If you run a Google search for All-Star Superman, the issue with the top results is #10. Comics writer Mark Waid, who knows a thing or two about Superman, calls the dialogue of the scene “the most moving words we have ever read in a Superman story.” And I think it’s time this scene be recreated in live action, and I think the CW’s Supergirl should be the one to do it.
An Open Hand Rather Than a Closed Fist
Since the superhero genre has gotten so big on film and television in the last couple decades, we’ve seen higher budgets and better special effects devoted to the colorful, kinetic action of superhero battles. When the Marvel shared universe started in 2008, we couldn’t have known we were going to see the massive battles of Captain America: Civil War less than 10 years later; when Christopher Reeves amazed audiences with his first flight as Superman in 1978, we had no idea that by 2015, Supergirl would be performing the same, and greater feats, on a television budget. The spectacle of live action superheroes is reaching the point where it can finally match the imaginations of many comic writers, and that’s a good thing. But amongst these waves of special effects and astounding action, there still needs to be a heart, an emotional core. Superheroes carry a more distinct identity than your standard ‘action hero’, superheroes are here to help and protect just as much as they’re here to battle evil.
And I think people can see this and are taking steps to remind us of the kinder side of superheroes within these stories currently being told. Take a look at the Spider-Man: Homecoming trailer, and you’ll see that even with all the fighting and action they’re putting on display, the climactic shot of the trailer isn’t Spider-Man battling anyone at all, it’s him using his webs to hold a breaking ship together, while worried bystanders look on. Forbes even pointed out that the first official image of the film was of a maskless Peter standing in front a train, reminiscent of the lauded train rescue sequence of Spider-Man 2. These kinds of moments create a stronger connection with superheroes and civilians and drive home the point of why they do what they do better than most fights ever can.
That connection extends to the audience, and All-Star Superman remains one of the greatest examples of that in the industry’s history. All-Star Superman has saved lives. I’m not just saying that hyperbolically, there are numerous testimonials across the internet, across message boards, via YouTube channels of people who point specifically to issue 10 of All-Star Superman as one of the things that got them through depression and suicidal thoughts. This scene is powerful. And putting it on television now would only increase that range and bring that hope to more people. It would be a small, simple gesture, but one that could do a lot of good.
I don’t just mention Supergirl because it’s a related property; Supergirl is a perfect candidate for recreating this scene for some reasons. The first is that this scene fits tonally with Supergirl. Of all the Superman-related properties in recent years, including many of the comics, this show has put a greater focus on the inspiration and optimism at the heart of this section of the DC Universe. Hope saved the day in the first season finale, and I mean that literally; the show has been full of moments where noble, heroic actions valued more than super strength. This scene would fit right in with the tone they’ve built for themselves.
Secondly, the show’s audience should also be taken into consideration, in particular, the audiences courted this season. With two LGBT showrunners involved, it’s probably no surprise that Supergirl would make the opportunity to include LGBT representation, but when the second season rolled around, they turned that image into a story of self-discovery. Alex Danvers, up to that point assumed to be straight (by both herself and the audience), begins to recognize that she is, in fact, a lesbian, in a story being widely heralded as one of the best coming out stories in recent memory. This story has endeared the show to LGBT viewers; a recent experience was shared by a comic shop clerk who had a young, not fully out customer who had had suicidal thoughts before and was looking for comics to carry her through Supergirl’s winter break. And this is the point; research shows that suicide attempt rates and suicidal thoughts are comparatively higher in LGBT youth than other demographics. This is a demographic that is at increased risk and is already watching the show. A sequence giving comfort to those thinking about suicide can only help.
Third, some of the best moments of Supergirl have been when the show tries to tackle contemporary, social issues, from using the experiences of Supergirl and other aliens to metaphorically discuss the plights of refugees and immigrants, to less metaphorically referencing the discomfort that society has over women and black people publicly displaying anger. Depression and suicide are among the most universal issues faced by society today. It can be a depressing world, for some reasons, and a scene like this provides an emotional outlet for anyone watching. Right now, this is something that everyone could use.
How To Do It?
So how do you go about putting this kind of sequence to film? Well, there’s a couple of options, but I’m going to say that ultimately the best is to film as straight an adaptation of this particular sequence as possible.
Regarding other options, they could easily create their sequence where Supergirl talks someone down from a suicide attempt, and it would be great. There’s also a decent number of similar sequences from throughout Superman comics that they could use as inspiration.
There’s a close-knit and personal scene from 1989’s Christmas with The Super-Heroes #2, but (as the name would imply) it’s a Christmas story and is rather setting specific, so there would have to be a decent amount of setup that would make it more complicated.
There’s also a sequence from 2010’s Superman: Grounded, where Superman spends hours trying to talk a woman down from a ledge. There’s a particular emphasis placed on Superman trying to convince her, rather than force her down, which on the one hand is a great element to try and bring into play, though on the contrary overlooks the component of mental soundness when discussing suicidal individuals. Just in case it needs to be said, suicide is not typically the same thing as end-of-life procedures or the dying with dignity debate; suicide is (frequently, if not always) attempted by people who are experiencing episodes of mental instability, and the decision to ‘jump’, as it were, can’t just be assumed as a sound decision.
And that brings me back to All-Star Superman. This scene has it all. The idea that Superman is offering help and comfort, rather than forced protection, is visualized subtly using Superman approaching from behind; he’s come to pull her back, rather than showing up to stop her. He offers a more optimistic way of looking at her immediate problems; we get the sense that she feels, at that moment, abandoned by someone, but he assures her that that’s not the case, there was just an accident that held her doctor up, and he should know, he was there to save the doctor. And on that note, there’s the little fact that he found her because he was looking for her. This sequence is frequently seen contained on this single page, but it begins, once again subtly, earlier in the issue. Superman saves a monorail filled with passengers, and we see among the conversations someone yelling into their phone, telling Regan that he’s on his way. In the pages in between, we see Superman performing various good deeds and having conversations with his friends, but he’s looking, he’s scanning. He knows someone is in trouble, and he’s keeping his senses tuned in to try and find them. These elements work together to take a single page (plus one panel of earlier setup) and deliver the simplest and yet most effective version of this kind of scene that any comic has ever had, and that’s what makes this version stand out so much.
The final question as to how this could be approached is which character to use, and I think there’s a solid case for both playing this scene with Superman or with Supergirl. On the one hand, this is a major, famous, beloved scene for Superman specifically. It says a great deal about who he is and what he stands for. Part of the fun of comic book adaptations has been seeing classic, iconic moments visualized on the screen, from Captain America’s Civil War speech used in full in the movie adaptation, to Bane breaking Batman’s back in The Dark Knight Rises. This scene is one of the most iconic for Superman, and it would be a treat to see it performed in a live action adaptation.
But on the other hand, it speaks to more than just Superman, it speaks to the legacy of the character and the brand of heroics he champions, but by no means monopolizes. Supergirl forges her path but also follows in his footsteps because what Superman does is good and inspiring. A year and a half into the show and Supergirl displays just as much of an affinity for saving people like Superman, and she’s experienced enough to know how to find people who need her. The scene would work just as well starring her as it would Superman. There’s also the question of whether or not the show would be allowed to use Superman again, and whether or not actor Tyler Hoechlin would be available. Also, I just know Melissa Benoist would deliver the hell out of this dialogue.
When the world was caught between world wars and great depressions, people invented superheroes to look up to and comfort them. Through decades of changes, generations of fans, and adaptations into all sorts of media, superheroes have never really gone away; in more forms than ever before, they continue to bring us comfort. Different people from all walks of life are facing stresses and threats and instabilities right now, and it would be easy to see the problems of this world, or even just our problems, as bigger than anything we can hope to overcome. This is what superheroes were made for, to be a reassuring hand on the shoulder, to tell everyone, “You’re stronger than you think you are.”