NOTE: Some spoilers from throughout the second season of, “Stargirl” are present in this review

 

 

Stargirl is a DC superhero series that hasn’t felt like it’s gotten a truly fair shake, especially here in Canada. By the time the series first debuted in the U.S. in mid-2020, simultaneously being hosted on the now-shuttered DC Universe TV app and soon-to-be-sold basic cable network, The CW, DC Universe was being threatened with its eventual shutdown, plus the lack of international distribution for Stargirl at the time, paired with its Summer placement, made it pretty much unknown to less than devout DC fans outside of the U.S. That lack of public fanfare continued into the series’ second season, now hosted full-time on The CW in its native U.S. market (this makes Stargirl the only surviving DC Universe series to not migrate to HBO Max instead), though fortunately, Season 2 finally saw Stargirl gain official distribution here in Canada, via Amazon Prime Video, which simultaneously debuts new episodes alongside their American CW airings.

This strangely had Stargirl coming full circle here in the Great White North, with the series originating as a streaming series made for DC Universe, before becoming a basic cable series made for The CW, and then looping back around to become an Amazon Prime Video streaming series for Canadians. Considering Stargirl’s continued commitment to high production values and ambitious comic book-style threats in Season 2 as well, the series definitely feels like a better fit for streaming anyway. After all, despite Stargirl being one of the least recognized DC shows in The CW lineup at this point, only barely hovering above the retired Black Lightning’s paltry level of recognition outside of the hardcore DC fandom, the series remains a lovable, wholesome delight in Season 2, even refining some of its scope to present a tighter, more satisfying sophomore follow-up to what was already a pretty solid first season.

Season 2 of Stargirl picks up not long after the conclusion of Season 1, which ended with the ultimate defeat of the Injustice Society, thus saving fictional DC town, Blue Valley, and all of the U.S., from the villains’ mind control plot. Since then, Courtney Whitmore/Stargirl and her Justice Society friends have failed to determine any further threat to their town, or seemingly anywhere else in their world, leading to all except Courtney beginning to devote less attention to being teen superheroes. Courtney ends up in a particular bind following her continued obsession with heroism as well, after Pat and Barbara learn that she’s failing several classes, and can’t advance to becoming a Junior at her current rate. This forces Courtney to be plunked into Summer school, hence the subtitle of this sophomore season. Needless to say though, most of Courtney’s Summer is not in fact going to be spent in a classroom, and she’s about to get far more than she bargained for after her old nemesis, Cindy Burman/Shiv unleashes a major new obstacle against her.

That obstacle is Eclipso, first foreshadowed during the ending stinger of Stargirl’s first season. Goofy name aside, Eclipso happens to be one of the most dangerous and powerful supernatural villains in the DC Universe, and thus he naturally creates a very powerful enemy for Stargirl’s teen Justice Society! While most of his connection to the wider DC Universe lore is predictably stripped out for Stargirl’s take on the character, Eclipso, portrayed by Arrow veteran, Nick Tarabay, nonetheless retains his seemingly endless ability to prey on people’s fears and negative emotions, along with being able to manipulate endless supplies of dark energy. Eclipso even has the ability to banish people to the ‘Shadowlands’, a hellish nightmare world wherein they’re permanently tormented by their worst memories. Yeah, Eclipso is a nasty villain, and he makes most threats from The CW’s mainline Arrowverse continuity feel like small potatoes in comparison!

How Eclipso is introduced and developed over the course of Stargirl’s second season is pretty exciting too. There’s a thrilling fake-out plot for the first few episodes to start, wherein Cindy appears to want to rebuild her own Injustice Society, thus creating a shady mirror to Courtney’s first steps as a superhero during Stargirl’s first season. Cindy successfully recruits angered former classmates, Isaac Bowen and Artemis Crock to her cause, and also makes a failed effort to recruit Courtney’s own stepbrother, Mike Dugan, believing she can use the dark power of Eclipso to counter Courtney’s Cosmic Staff. During the ‘new’ Injustice Society’s first confrontation with Courtney’s Justice Society however, Eclipso ultimately betrays Cindy, kills Isaac, and soon after banishes Cindy to the Shadowlands, with only Artemis escaping unscathed. From here, Eclipso starts to run amok in Blue Valley, creating adverse weather events, tormenting the population, and eventually coming full bore for the new Justice Society, and all they hold dear.

Once again, despite its sunny, borderline corny exterior, Stargirl’s second season carries some deceptively dark stakes, and not just through Eclipso. It remains refreshing to see a series revolving around mostly teenage protagonists that doesn’t feel like it’s pulling punches, even though Stargirl still manages to avoid restricting itself to an adult audience. Yolanda and Rick face particularly bleak storylines in the fallout from Season 1, on this note. Yolanda, for example, becomes tormented by her continued estrangement from her family, as well as the malicious memory of Henry King Sr./Brainwave, whom she killed in cold blood at the end of last season. Rick, meanwhile, continues to struggle under his abusive uncle, as well as his distrusting teachers that doubt his genius intellect, though all the while, Rick tries to distract himself by attempting to make peace with Solomon Grundy, who has disappeared into the woods adjacent to Blue Valley. Beth, meanwhile, gets a slightly less perilous conflict to define her Season 2 arc, namely that her parents are getting divorced and not effectively communicating with her about it, though Beth’s storytelling still feels like it comes from a relatable place, while still allowing Beth to be the upbeat, optimistic ally to Courtney, even when Courtney meets her match with Eclipso’s black magic.

The morally ambiguous legacy that’s already been established for the new teenage Justice Society even stems back to the OG adult Justice Society in a great way, as revealed over the course of this season. This ominous secret is first foreshadowed by the arrival of Richard Swift/The Shade, played by Jonathan Cake, the last member of the Injustice Society that’s been unaccounted for until now. The Shade is a wonderfully unpredictable wild card that further deepens the growing complexity that Eclipso brings as a new enemy, consistently hinting at a dark, complicated history with the former Justice Society.

Eventually, the truth comes out here as well, namely that The Shade previously inspired the first Justice Society to kill Eclipso’s former host, Bruce Gordon, following Eclipso causing the death of the original Doctor Mid-Nite’s young daughter many years ago. Gordon was an explorer that had the misfortune of finding Eclipso’s diamond-like prison on an island, before bringing it back to the mainland, and he’s thus an innocent that Eclipso used to corrupt the Justice Society’s heroes, even if Gordon’s death did eventually result in Eclipso being imprisoned again. Still, this dark secret shattered the unity between the Justice Society, and seemingly contributed to their eventual demise at the hands of the Injustice Society, a difficult revelation that forces Courtney and her friends to confront a newly challenged heroic ideal as the Justice Society’s would-be successors.

Stargirl’s incredible ability to balance an optimistic tone with well-developed conflicts that don’t have easy answers is perhaps even better realized in Season 2 than it was in Season 1. On the negative side however, the series does still struggle with an overstuffed cast at this point, even though the more centralized threat of Eclipso still helps to create a clearer, better-defined obstacle for Courtney and her friends this time. That said, Stargirl is still juggling a few too many key characters at this point, something that eventually results in several pivotal character arcs disappointingly petering out before they can reach a truly satisfying resolution. Yolanda’s and Rick’s arcs particularly suffer here, as both of them are ultimately pushed to the brink of abandoning their heroic mantles, only to be awkwardly forced to take them up again for this season’s climax, simply because the plot says so.

Mike, meanwhile, faces the opposite of this issue in Season 2, initially becoming the new master to the Justice Society’s mysterious pink pen, and its comical genie inhabitant, Thunderbolt, cutely voiced by comedian, Jim Gaffigan. Through learning to wield Thunderbolt’s power judiciously, Mike is eventually forced to reckon with his own shortcomings as a would-be hero in his own right, particularly as his father continues to resist training him in combat, an issue that comes to a head following Thunderbolt’s power getting accidentally transferred to another boy Mike’s age, Jakeem Williams. It is pretty satisfying to see Mike finally get his own shot at heroism anyway though, especially after he seems to take inadvertently killing the Injustice Society’s leader, Jordan Mahkent/Icicle a lot better than Yolanda took quite deliberately killing Brainwave, even if Mike’s payoff takes a while to achieve, and the Thunderbolt tease from last season ends up feeling a bit secondary to the other hero arcs here.

Perhaps most underutilized however is a budding romance that continues to develop between Courtney and Icicle’s surviving son, Cameron Mahkent, who struggles to move on from the loss of his father, while being oblivious to the Mahkent family’s apparent metahuman abilities. The growing relationship between Courtney and Cameron is fairly sweet, but it still feels superfluous to the series for now, instead largely existing as a tease for Stargirl’s upcoming third season, whereupon Cameron will no doubt embrace his destiny as this universe’s new Icicle.

This callback to the now-neutralized Injustice Society through Cameron is complemented further by an equally underutilized check-in with the Crock family, as Artemis Crock initially promises to become a major obstacle to Courtney and co. in Season 2, only to quickly get pushed into the background. This is despite an entire episode being structured around Lawrence “Crusher” Crock/Sportsmaster and Paula Brooks/Tigress breaking out of prison, just to watch their daughter play football. It’s too bad that these highlight antagonists from Season 1 barely factored into the plot in Season 2, though again, there’s still a compelling tease for the upcoming Season 3 here, after the Crock’s move in next door to Courtney’s family, following the parents’ release from prison. At least that ending twist will make for a fun batch of new episodes in 2022!

I should also mention that, while it’s not quite as underdeveloped, Season 2 of Stargirl also delivers a major tie-in to a more widely recognized DC superhero, one that Warner Bros. and DC have been pretty skittish about in live-action since 2011. That’s right, Stargirl’s sophomore season introduces a major connection to its universe’s Green Lantern, through the debut of Green Lantern’s daughter, Jennie, who eventually comes to inherit her father’s lantern and Power Ring. Jennie only shows up for the starting and ending episodes of this season, but she nonetheless creates a strong foil for Courtney as a slightly older hero-in-training, one that wields her own light-based power that can actually harm Eclipso. Jennie also stands as yet another promising glimpse of things to come, after she indicates that she’s searching for her missing brother, following a life in a crooked orphanage that’s eventually revealed to be run by nefarious DC villain, Mister Bones, as revealed in another ending stinger that leads directly into Stargirl’s upcoming third season.

This cool Green Lantern connection is further supplemented by John Wesley Shipp briefly reprising his Arrowverse role as OG Flash, Jay Garrick during some of this season’s flashbacks, something that gives Stargirl a small, but satisfying connection to The CW’s mainline DC TV universe. Stargirl still takes place on the Arrowverse’s parallel Earth-2, mind you, and this new version of Jay is simply a multiversal doppelganger of Shipp’s previous Jay Garrick from Arrowverse series, The Flash, but even if Stargirl still operates within its own self-contained universe at this point, this neat Flash Easter egg nonetheless presents some potential promise that perhaps Courtney Whitmore and her friends could still one day cross dimensions, like Supergirl and Black Lightning before them, and team up with the Arrowverse’s heroes against some especially large multiversal danger.

Regardless of whether or not Stargirl ever crosses over with the Arrowverse in earnest however, or any other live-action DC world for that matter, it’s not like the series needs to lean on other DC properties to cement its appeal. Stargirl’s second season, even if it ultimately features very little of its promised ‘Summer School’ hook, continues to solidify this series as one of the most underrated and lovable DC shows on the air right now. This season’s writing continues to dig deep and challenge its otherwise wholesome characters with surprisingly dark conflicts, often with truly lethal stakes behind them, while the show’s heightened production values continue to help Stargirl stand alongside the similarly great Superman & Lois as one of the most polished and exciting DC dramas that The CW has aired to date.

Sure, this series isn’t quite on the level of outstanding prestige that a show specifically made for Amazon Prime Video would be trusted to deliver, but aside from its disappointingly diminished, CW-approved visual resolution, Stargirl still manages to fit into the Amazon Prime Video blockbuster catalogue fairly well for us Canadians. If you crave more superheroes out of your Amazon Prime Video membership (or HBO Max membership if you’re American), but need a break from the relentlessly bleak and ultra-violent storytelling of The Boys and Invincible, Stargirl will tickle you with its retro-flavoured, but nonetheless impeccably fleshed-out battles between good and evil, especially now that we Canadians finally no longer have to piggyback off of first-run American CW airings in order to actually watch it.

Stargirl: Summer School (Season 2) Review
Stargirl: Summer School further improves on the lovable foundation of The CW's most underrated DC drama, presenting a truly terrifying villain to thrillingly challenge its relatable teen heroes.
THE GOOD STUFF
  • Retains charming tone and heightened production values after moving full-time to The CW
  • Eclipso is a terrific villain that better focuses the series' conflicts
  • Effectively re-frames the challenging standard of succeeding the Justice Society
THE NOT-SO-GOOD STUFF
  • Overcrowded cast still leads to some strained narrative focus
  • Rick's and Yolanda's conflicts eventually peter out
87%Overall Score
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)
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