Comic book superheroes have never been a stranger to other media. In fact it’s likely that many of us encountered certain heroes by way of cartoons, toys or movies long before we had the chance to read one of their paper outings. My Batman fandom certainly started with repeats of the Adam West show after school in my childhood. Indeed, while DC might not be enjoying the greatest success on the big screen they’re certainly the superhero stars of TV, which brings us to DC SuperHero Girls.
A multimedia project, SuperHero Girls is primarily aimed at young girls with its focal point being a line of fashion dolls based on DC’s pantheon of iconic female heroes. In a slightly sanitised version of the DC universe, young heroes aspire to attend Super Hero High and hone their abilities to become the next generation of champions. To give you an example of the tone here, Amanda Waller (long characterised in the main canon as a no nonsense government representative willing to turn metahumans into a tagged army) is instead the firm but fair principal of the school. The plot of the film sees the likes of Wonder Woman, Supergirl and Starfire competing in the titular Intergalactic Games against a villain school chaired by Sinestro and Darkseid’s own youthful team, the Female Furies.
A variety of subplots run across the film, chief amongst these being Wonder Woman (who attends the school as a representative of her amazon island, much as in the regular canon) following her mother’s wishes to prove herself in the games to win a scholarship to further train as a planetary ambassador. This actually has a nice pay off regarding the issue of how we define true strength and social responsibility.
Other subplots in the film seem to imply a necessary familiarity with past stories in this canon, with the Female Furies being discussed as opponents in some specific past battle and a central antagonist apparently upset about another such case. I did fine with having just seen some of the web shorts and having a token geek level of DC knowledge so this isn’t a huge lockout for anyone.
The focus on the games makes it difficult for me not to compare this to one of its central competitors- My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and its Equestria Girls sub brand. Specifically their third movie, ‘Friendship Games’. There the big finale was triggered through one of the emotional themes running throughout the story, giving it more weight. Here, although the big bad of the film is foreshadowed, it comes out of virtually nowhere and has no connection to the tournament seen in the rest of the film as it slides into the kind of epic throwdown you’d see in any superhero story. I give them points for showing that female heroes can more than hold their own but the results feels like a bunch of loosely connected subplots tackling youth issues.
The voice cast is a solid mix, including a few returning stars. Tara Strong is once again Harley Quinn, joining the likewise returning Greg Cipes as Beast Boy. Khary Payton and Hynden Walch also return as Cyborg and Starfire/Blackfire respectively, with the latter getting the subplot about the feelings of sisterly bonding. DC have a good stable of recurring talent for specific roles but it’s also nice to see them willing to slot in others on occasion. For instance, Strong has become the de facto voice for Batgirl but here it is recent alternative Mae Whitman. The most recurring actors always do a fine job with their characters but it’s nice to rotate them out when needed and see what a different actor can do with the role. I love Kevin Conroy as Batman but the likes of Bruce Greenwood and Diedrich Bader have delivered superb interpretations too. DC are in the unique position that they’ve created such a consistent roster of high quality animated adaptations that they can afford to explore casting in this way.
In terms of multi generation appeal as a whole I’m not sure there’s much to offer. Often reimaginings such as this aim to hit both a child and adult audience. To compare to Batman once again, Brave and the Bold was a perfectly child friendly show that also drew heavily from the craziest creative eras of DC’s past to offer some meta humour for older fans. SuperHero Girls isn’t really going for that, putting its child audience and the morals it wants to impart front and centre. That’s not inherently a bad thing (indeed, the screening I attended was full of many parents and their beaming heroes-in-training) but it does mean older viewers don’t have much to invest in. Dare I suggest this is why the forthcoming TV series based on the property will be helmed by Lauren Faust, responsible for the aforementioned current My Little Pony incarnation and already proven creator of DC girl power with Super Best Friends Forever?
If you have young children invested in superheroes, Intergalactic Games is a fun enough watch for them and certainly stands out for making the female heroes the stars instead of secondary or love interests. As for the rest of us? Well, as I’ve made reference to throughout the review, we’re not exactly lacking for choice in other DC animated works.
DC SuperHero Girls: Intergalactic Games is released 5th June and can be pre-ordered from Amazon UK.