Honestly, it didn’t occur to me in advance that this was a great show to write about for Women’s+ Canon Month. It just felt like time to write about a show I like again, and this is easily one of the best of the shows the kids like. It’s got wit, style, and intelligence. Somehow, it is also extremely silly. It indulges in the occasional moment of potty humour while also frequently making references its audience might not get. Honestly, I think it’s the best animated superhero programming since the glory days of the ’90s.
Barbara Gordon (Tara Strong) and her father (Fred Tatasciore) have moved from Gotham to Metropolis, because it’s supposedly safer. On her first day in school, before she even walks in the door, she notices Kara Danvers (Nicole Sullivan), Zatanna Zatarra (Kari Wahlgren), Jessica Cruz (Myrna Velasco), and Karen Beecher (Kimberly Brooks) and figures out that there’s something special about all of them. She stages a food fight which gets all of them detention; while they’re sitting there, Diana Prince (Grey Griffin) is also brought in. Babs reveals what she knows, and the girls, mostly reluctantly, agree to form a crime-fighting team.
You will of course know these girls as Batgirl, Supergirl, Zatanna, Green Lantern, Bumblebee, and Wonder Woman. If you know them, that is; I was unfamiliar with this particular Green Lantern before the show, for example. But I knew Hal Jordan (Jason Spisak), who’s a jock at the school, and Barry Allen (Phil LaMarr), who works at the ice cream parlor, and so forth. About half the DC universe shows up at one point or another, mostly attending the same high school. It’s that kind of show.
Honestly, I don’t usually like that kind of show. We have at least one episode where Kal-El (Max Mittelman) is smug at Kara because, due to the weirdness of how they both arrived on Earth, he’s older than she is now and already out of high school. Whereas Lois Lane (also Grey Griffin) is still a student. Still, this means that everyone from Aqualad (Jessica McKenna) to Zatanna is within a handful of years of age, and almost all of them are students at the same high school. Even Harleen Quinzel (also Tara Strong) transfers in at one point.
However, despite the conceit that seldom works for me, the show itself does. Part of it, I think, is that some thought has been put into these characters as teenage characters. There’s the running joke that Diana is centuries older than the others and doesn’t quite get how to be a human teenager, but Barbara, for example, is obsessed with comic books and Burrito Bucket—and in fact gets a job working there in one episode where she has to keep her secret identity secret while also foiling a bank robbery across the street. She’s not Batgirl But In High School, she’s high school Barbara Gordon learning how to be Batgirl.
The girls are also distinct from one another in a way that a lot of shows of this sort don’t bother with. My son Simon watches a few different shows with large groups of female characters, and a lot of them are just barely distinguishable from one another. That’s not the case here; the six girls are six characters. Babs is excited and enthusiastic. Kara is short-tempered and likes to hide her softer side. (That she’s voiced by the same woman who voice Shego on Kim Possible only makes it better.) Zatanna is dramatic and a hint conceited. Jessica is nonconfrontational and a passionate environmentalist. Karen is shy and brilliant. Diana is fierce and utterly literal about everything.
The show also takes the time to really think about the realities of putting these characters into a high school setting. There’s Babs and her job, of course, but there’s also a hilarious episode where they have to do the Egg Project for home ec and it all dissolves into utter chaos as the characters’ basic personalities come out; the battle between Zee and Oliver Queen (Eddie Perino) is every Upper Class Custody Battle in media, except over an egg.
Also . . . when the heroes and villains are in school together and don’t know one another’s identities, that creates issues, and the show acknowledges that fact. Babs and Harleen don’t know that the other also has a secret identity, and the pair are good friends as Babs and Harleen. And the show isn’t afraid to show that the other superheroes don’t like Harleen and think she’s a bad influence on Babs, and it doesn’t end with Babs no longer spending time with Harleen.
At the same time, we see that you can have things in common with someone and not get along. There’s an episode where Jessica and Pamela Isley (Cristina Milizia) are both trying to save the same tree, and Jessica thinks that their common interest will make them friends. In part because Jessica believes she can be friends with everyone. But she can’t, because Pam can’t be friends with anyone; she’s easily the most misanthropic character on the show. Which is completely appropriate, all things considered!
The show is so fun and so layered, and I really wish my daughter Irene would ask for it more often. She was happy to tell me this morning, when I turned it on without consulting her, that it was her favourite, but she usually says that about shows I turn on without consulting her. She doesn’t ask for it much, preferring to watch shows I don’t like. Clearly, I should just not consult her every once in a while and watch this.