Is it possible James Robinson wrote the best episode of Stargirl to date?
We’ll be honest, it’s been a long road with Robinson. His Starman series was the best superhero book of the 1990s and early 2000s. It inspired a lot of interest in the Golden Age of DC Comics and forever cemented the idea that legacy characters are as vital and important as the original versions. Jack Knight was one of the most compelling characters of the time — a hipster tchotchke collector who never wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps, but accepted the mantle, tried his best, and eventually handed it to Courtney Whitmore when a greater responsibility came into his life.
Maybe we were in the right place in our lives for it, but it was a foundational reading experience alongside The Sandman and The Invisibles.
But Robinson’s follow-up work has been … let’s say it is not as emotionally resonant. Opportunities in Hollywood meant no long-form project in the scope of Starman ever materialized and the work he did produce, like Justice League: Cry for Justice and his subsequent run on the main title, lacked a certain spark. Even his return to Golden Age ideas in Earth 2 left us cold.
So, it is a great pleasure to see the Robinson of Starman re-emerge this week with an episode featuring father-and-child themes, humor, and even the notion of legacy. Although, legacy appears here in a twisted form as Henry (Jake Austin Walker) confronts the truth about his father and Brainwave (Christopher James Baker) makes one last effort to recruit him to the Injustice Society. It means Henry, who started this series as the high school bully, made startling emotional growth and even had a moment of bittersweet heroism. To be honest, we’re surprised by his fate as Brainwave Jr. has a long history in the pages of Infinity Inc. Nevertheless, it felt like the right way to resolve this version of the story. And, really, it was just some damn good writing.
Meanwhile, we’re also pleased Barbara (Amy Smart) went on a journey of discovery this week. Her reaction to superhero antics was exactly right and, honestly, Pat (Luke Wilson) withholding it from her during their courtship is grounds for a divorce. Nonetheless, it was also pleasing to see her doubt her assumptions about life in Blue Valley and twig onto how weird Jordan’s (Neil Jackson) parents behave around her. We always expected her to factor into his endgame, but that he would — to use a horrifying Tolkien expression — take her to wife, is truly creepy.
Oh! But Barbara’s story this week also comes with a huge question mark — why didn’t she flatly deny Starman as Courtney’s father? We always doubted Sylvester Pemberton (Joel McHale) was her father, but the fact she couldn’t confirm this is weird. Sure, photos of him are intentionally obscured, but you would think she’d look at the clear photo of him and Pat and say “this man is not your father.” Then again, this set up the email she sent to Courtney’s presumed father and since we saw a response, it seems like that man is still alive. At one point during the season, we thought maybe it will turn out to be Jack Knight (considering Ted constructed the Cosmic Staff), but we’re not so sure Robinson would ever agree to let him be depicted as a deadbeat dad. Of course, she could be related to the Knights in other ways. Jack has (or had) a brother. There are also cousins and all kinds of relations via JSA shenanigans.
And those relations matter because they were a big part of this week’s episode. Though we’ll never see her in action, Merry Pemberton, aka Gimmick Girl, received a huge shout-out as Henry’s mother and the reason Brainwave retired from crime. Of course, in the comics of the 1940s, she was Sylvester’s adopted sister, but we imagine they are blood relations here for the sake of simplicity and for Courtney (Brec Bassinger) to feel Henry’s death more sharply — provided they are actually related, of course. That said, we’re stunned to see such a deep pull from the comics (Merry is Brainwave Jr’s mother in the pages of Infinity Inc.), even if no one alive loves their Golden Age DC Comics history quite like Robinson.
Beyond the writing, we have to give this episode its due credit for a great action scene in Dr. Ito’s (Nelson Lee) lair and the handful of funny moments contained within — like Courtney and Yolanda’s (Yvette Monreal) reaction to Ito’s Croc-like face. That variance in tone definitely kept the proceedings interesting and allowed the most action-packed moments to really pop. Although, we have to admit, it is totally weird seeing teen-aged characters drawing blood. We’ll be stunned if The CW allows it to happen next year.
All-in-all, it amounts to an episode which reminded us of Robinson’s Starman and his short JSA run with Geoff Johns in the best way possible. And while it contains the biggest death on the show so far, it all feels right for the episode and where the series is heading.
Stargirl streams Mondays on DC Universe and airs Tuesdays on The CW.
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