AboutJody Houser is a writer, a geek, a webcomic-making person, and an Angeleno.
WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
As a Batman fan, one of my favorite things about Nolan’s trilogy is the variety of comic story lines that he draws inspiration from and weaves into his own vision of the character. Watching The Dark Knight Rises, I ticked off the same mental checklist as plenty of other moviegoers. The Dark Knight Returns, Knightfall, No Man’s Land, etc.
But there was one element that reminded me of something else altogether. The hero defeated by the monster that had taken control of the city, while their love interest stood by and watched. Banished to a distant, inescapable prison, helpless and powerless in the dark. Advised on the the only means of escape by a friendly fellow inmate who helped them survive. And finally, the hero ascends (against all odds but never doubted by the audience), climbing up sheer stone towards a circle of light high above. They escape out into the world for the final battle, much to the shock of the villain.
I’ve seen that in a comic book movie movie before: Supergirl.
For those who haven’t seen it, Supergirl was a 1984 spin-off of the Christopher Reeve Superman movies. It’s one of the better female-led comic book movie out there (though that’s really really not saying much) and is a bit of campy eighties superhero fun. I’d rank it as slightly better overall than Superman III (also not saying much). It’s one of the reasons I became a superhero fan early on in my life.
After watching The Dark Knight Rises, I had to pull out my Supergirl DVD to see what other similarities there are. Several jumped out:
- The trouble starts when a woman stumbles across and steals something precious to the hero—an object that played an important part in motivating the hero to put on a costume. (Selina in TDKR, Selena in Supergirl)
- Said thief lives in a what is supposed to be a bohemian dump (but it looks pretty awesome) with a rather annoying roommate/bff. (Holly in TDKR, Bianca in Supergirl)
- A city is threatened when a sphere with a bunch of lights that was intended to be used as a source of power is utilized by the villain as a weapon, putting the hero on a ticking clock counting down to doom. (fusion generator core in TDKR, Omegahedron in Supergirl)
- The female lead by turns plays meek as a disguise and maims men who offer unwanted come-ons. (Selina and Kara)
- Said female lead never actually refers to herself by the alias that most fans know her by. (Catwoman and Supergirl)
- The hero falls for a romantic interest that comes from a whole different class/world. (Selina and Ethan)
- Said romantic interest strikes a key blow in the final battle with the villain. (Selina shooting Bane, Ethan releasing the Omegahedron)
- British guys who are treated like crap by the people who are supposed to be their closest ally. (Alfred and Nigel)
- Science-savvy mentors/father figures with a mischievous streak. (Lucius Fox and Zaltar)
- League of Shadows vs Power of Shadow
Another interesting link? Helen Slater, who played Supergirl, also voiced Talia al Guhl in Batman: The Animated Series.
Granted, many of the ties are either superficial or common superhero movie tropes (Bruce knew that cutting-edge science is ALWAYS used for evil at some point). But even even with that in mind, even considering how different in tone these two movies are, there’s something wonderful about those little reminders of the stories that made you fall in love with superheroes in the first place.
One of my favorite non-animated movies when I was little was Supergirl. It’s a movie I still pull out and watch every few years or so. Yes, willingly. I wouldn’t call it a great film or anything; the script is silly, the pacing much too slow, and the love interest all kinds of creepy. But for me at least, the movie holds up as well as (or maybe even better than) Superman III: The Quest for Richard Pryor. Which really isn’t saying much. It really does have a few good points!
1) Cast - I still think that Helen Slater is a fantastic Supergirl. She may not have had the best material to work with, but she’s so delightfully innocent and earnest throughout. She never refers to herself as Supergirl. She’s simply Kara. Trees are new and exciting! Bunnies love her!
It’s also pretty fun watching Faye Dunaway and Peter O’Toole chew up the scenery.
2) Magic - I don’t know about everyone else, but I get pretty tired of how much the Superman movies/TV shows depend on Kryptonite to depower Supes. While it wasn’t executed terribly well, at least Supergirl went a different route and used magic, another of the Superfamily weaknesses. As a villain, Selena could actually go toe to toe with Supergirl in a fight. Demon final boss!
3) The Phantom Zone - The Superman movies talked about the Phantom Zone. Supergirl actually went there. And clawed her way out. It’s pretty badass. More badass than fighting killer bumper cars.
4) Music - It’s not John Williams, but Jerry Goldsmith isn’t too shabby. And there’s so many amusing 80s synth riffs peppered throughout the score. You could make it a drinking game!
You’d probably die.
5) Learning to Fly - Supergirl discovers her powers pretty quickly after she arrives on Earth (one of the few things that does happen quickly), and there’s a lovely little scene with her learning to fly. She bounces and flips through the air and is just so darn happy. It’s a quiet moment and a very relatable one. After all, isn’t that what most of us would do after discovering we had super powers?