The new breed of fe­male su­per­heroes smash­ing TV bar­ri­ers

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Three decades af­ter Won­der Woman and The Bionic Woman ruled the air­waves — and more than a decade af­ter Buffy The Vam­pire Slayer — fe­male su­per­heroes are fi­nally back in a big way.

Al­most 13 mil­lion Amer­i­cans tuned in to watch Melissa Benoist smash through the su­per­hero glass ceil­ing in late Oc­to­ber in the bright and bub­bly Su­per­girl. Rave re­views for Marvel’s darker and more twisted Jes­sica Jones on Net­flix in late Novem­ber helped con­firm the trend.

But se­ri­ously, Su­per­girl? Isn’t the name it­self, dreamt up in 1959, just a teensy bit de­mean­ing for a strong 24year-old woman with su­per­pow­ers?

Benoist — ac­tu­ally 27 and best known as Mar­ley Rose on Glee — is more than happy to cel­e­brate “girl” power.

“I think that ‘girl’ is no less pow­er­ful than ‘woman’ and, hon­estly, my take on it, really is that it doesn’t really mat­ter her gen­der. I think it’s a show about some­one per­se­ver­ing and fight­ing for hope and jus­tice and what’s good.”

It’s about as diplo­matic an an­swer as you could ex­pect, con­sid­er­ing we live in an age where brand recog­ni­tion is all im­por­tant and so the net­work was never likely to change the ti­tle. (The writ­ers do play­fully ad­dress the anachro­nis­tic name in the first episode.)

Su­per­girl last flew onto the pub­lic’s radar in the much de­rided 1984 movie star­ring He­len Slater, who makes an ap­pear­ance in the TV version, in which she and Benoist are able to com­pare notes about how the char­ac­ter are por­trayed then, and now.

Slater re­veals she had been di­rected to em­brace her “grace and fem­i­nin­ity”.

“She spent a lot of time jump­ing on tram­po­lines and tak­ing bal­let classes and really fi­ness­ing the move­ment — but this version of Su­per­girl, and Kara as well, she’s really tough and she’s really strong,” Benoist says.

But rather like Jes­sica Jones, the new show’s cre­ators haven’t been afraid to also em­brace the char­ac­ter’s vul­ner­a­bil­ity, (al­though that’s pretty much the only sim­i­lar­ity be­tween the rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent su­per­hero shows). Cre­ator Greg Ber­lanti (also be­hind Ar­row and The Flash) says he chose Benoist dur­ing a three-month au­di­tion process be­cause her quirk­i­ness and nerves when play­ing al­ter ego Kara made for a stronger switch to Su­per­girl.

Benoist re­calls Ber­lanti say­ing: “It’s al­most as if she’s the An­nie Hall of su­per­heroes.”

“And I really re­sponded to that and it made me think, oh OK, there’s a kind of re­lata­bil­ity and a ner­vous­ness and an awk­ward kind of sen­si­bil­ity to her that I guess I bring,” she says.

Pop­u­lar cul­ture’s new­found will­ing­ness to em­brace fe­male su­per­heroes — new movie ver­sions of Won­der Woman and Cap­tain Marvel are also in the pipes — fol­low the suc­cess of fe­male led films at the box of­fice, in­clud­ing The Hunger Games fran­chise, which has taken more than $3 bil­lion, not to men­tion Di­ver­gent, Mad Max and even Twi­light.

Marvel has been the lead­ing force be­hind fe­male su­per­heroes on the small screen — both from a gen­der stud­ies and sheer qual­ity per­spec­tive. Jes­sica Jones stars Krys­ten Rit­ter ( Break­ing Bad) as a night­mare-plagued, hard­drink­ing pri­vate de­tec­tive who gave up be­ing a su­per­hero af­ter vil­lain Kill­grave (David Ten­nant) used mind con­trol to make her do ter­ri­ble things.

Rachael Tay­lor, who plays Jones’s best friend Trish Walker (the char­ac­ter be­comes su­per­hero Hell­cat in the comics), says the se­ries can be seen as a metaphor.

“(Jes­sica) is very re­sis­tant and re­luc­tant and she drinks too much and she’s suf­fer­ing from post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der at the hands of some pretty pro­found psy­cho­log­i­cal and phys­i­cal abuse,” Tay­lor says. “The vil­lain in our show is a mind con­troller, which is a really in­ter­est­ing al­le­gory for violence against women, and psy­cho­log­i­cal violence.”

Tay­lor, who ex­pe­ri­enced do­mes­tic violence dur­ing her re­la­tion­ship with Matthew New­ton, says Jes­sica Jones may be a vic­tim, but she’s one slowly re­al­is­ing the enor­mous strength she has within.

“Strength and vul­ner­a­bil­ity are two ap­ples that fall from the same tree,” she says.

“I really like that, I felt it come off the page when I sat down to read (the pi­lot) … (it’s) about strength and vul­ner­a­bil­ity be­ing two things that aren’t mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive. I thought, that’s a really cool way to fur­ther, and move the nee­dle on how we see women, both on screen and off.” SU­PER­GIRL, FOX8, SUN­DAY, 8.30PM JES­SICA JONES, NET­FLIX, STREAM­ING

“I think it’s a show about per­se­ver­ing and fight­ing for hope and jus­tice”



Melissa Benoist is happy to em­brace “girl”


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