Geoff Johns on how DC's Stargirl stands out from the Arrowverse shows
DC's Stargirl is about to break new ground for the titular comics company — and not just because it will be airing on both DC Universe and the CW.
While most of DC's shows are about adult heroes in various metropolises (Gotham City, Star City, National City), this charming Greg Berlanti-produced series is more akin to, say, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It's set in Blue Valley, Neb., a small town that may not be quite as idyllic as it looks, and it centers on Courtney Whitmore (Brec Bassinger), a high schooler who finds the glowing Cosmic Staff while rummaging through her basement. Taking up the staff — which was previously owned by her stepfather Pat's (Luke Wilson) former partner in heroics, Starman (Joel McHale), a deceased member of the Justice Society of America — she becomes a star-spangled avenger and helps revive the JSA with a new crop of young heroes. Joining her in the fight against the Injustice Society of America are Yolanda Montez/Wildcat (Yvette Monreal), Beth Chapel/Doctor Mid-Nite (Anjelika Washington), and Rick Tyler/Hourman (Cameron Gellman).
"I love that they're kids, because kids' paths are uncertain," says showrunner Geoff Johns, who created Stargirl in the '90s. "We see them make mistakes and we see them succeed, and we see them figure out who they are and who they want to be."
He continues, "By playing with this younger generation taking on legacies of the older generation and having someone like Pat Dugan be their chaperone and mentor in a way, it has a very different feel, because it both ties into the original superheroes who started it all and then looks forward by having this generation embrace their legacies and improve upon them in some ways, but also find their own ways of doing things, just like generations do in real life."
Johns, who based Courtney on his late sister, who died in a plane crash, has dreamed of a Stargirl-centric show ever since she debuted in 1999's Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. comic. Before that would happen, the character popped up as a supporting player on Smallville (played by Britt Irvin) and Legends of Tomorrow (played by Sarah Grey), though she was depicted as an adult in both cases. Stargirl is more faithful to Johns' original vision, following Courtney at the beginning of her superhero career.
"She is learning this and we're learning it with her," he says. "I think the exuberance and enthusiasm and positive energy that Stargirl embodies is really front and center in [this version of] Courtney. Brec Bassinger, who embodies that on screen and off screen, has really brought that to the forefront."
The show also shares the comic's light, family-friendly tone. "Because the show is about family, it should for families, much like The Flash is," says Johns, who helped develop the CW's speedy superhero drama. "It's important for the character, too, because it's true to who Stargirl is. She's a fun, colorful character through the JSA stories, [which] are inspirational and aspirational but still have real stakes. People get hurt and it's dangerous, and this isn't just a game, and the villains are villainous, but at the same time you still want to embody the tone of who the character is [and ensure that it] translates from the comics to the TV show."
With Stargirl, Johns — who's also a producer on Wonder Woman 1984 and Aquaman — wanted a cinematic feel, which "required doing things differently than other shows." For example, Stargirl utilizes previsualization, a technique for rendering effects-heavy scenes that's usually reserved for blockbusters. Here, it's employed to pull off such eye-poppers as the hulking zombie Solomon Grundy and Pat's 15-foot-tall robot suit, S.T.R.I.P.E.
"We were the first show with Warner Bros. to use pre-viz," says Johns, adding that they also have a practical S.T.R.I.P.E. that was built by Legacy Effects, the same studio that made Tony Stark's armor in the Iron Man movies. Similarly, Johns really wanted Courtney's staff to "have a personality and be alive when she fights with it," so they hired Walter Garcia, who previously worked on Captain Marvel, as their stunt coordinator and second-unit director to help them achieve that.
"Utilizing all these tools that we used on Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Shazam [allowed us to] not only have these great emotional, heartwarming, fun stories, but also these visuals that you haven't seen in superhero shows before," Johns says. "I can't wait for people to see the opening scene. I don't think people really expect Stargirl to be visually as big as it is."
Now there's a chance for even more eyes to see the show because it will air on both DC Universe and the CW, which Johns is pretty excited about even if it means cutting about 10 minutes out of the first two episodes to accommodate the network's commercials (DC Universe will stream the full-length episodes). "We had to lift some scenes out of 1 and 2. It was painful to do, but I was thrilled it was going to be on broadcast as well as streaming," he says. "The more people see the show, the more people get to meet Stargirl and the Justice Society. I really hope the characters connect with people that don't even know them."
DC's Stargirl premieres Monday, May 18, on DC Universe and Tuesday, May 19, on the CW.