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DC Super Hero Girls: a startlingly funny kids series of masked and caped crime fighters

Andrew P Street
·4-min read

Spending 2020 in periodic lockdown with two young sons and a finite number of Bluey episodes meant delving deeper into some of the streaming services than I had ever imagined would be necessary. And at first I thought it was some sort of pandemic-related iso-madness, but as time went on I found myself wondering: “Is … is this seemingly terrible show actually quietly brilliant? Did I just laugh out loud at this joke in a Trolls series? Did that Boss Baby episode just take some genuinely amazing twists? What in the actual world is going on here?”

Then my Wonder Woman-obsessed son discovered DC Super Hero Girls and I realised, no, we live at a weird time in history where some of the planet’s sharpest comedy writers are working on turning what would otherwise be run-of-the-mill franchise cash-ins into legitimately entertaining television.

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Like Marvel and the superhero genre generally, DC Comics’ roster suffers from a massive discrepancy between the number of well-known male heroes and the number of known-whatsoever female ones. Super Hero Girls has an elegant solution: take the one first-tier hero available (Wonder Woman), add two recognisable spinoffs (Supergirl, Batgirl) and present three deeply obscure comic book creations as though viewers should already know them: the Jessica Cruz-era Green Lantern, the size-shifting Bumblebee and the magic power-infused Zatanna.

It’s empowering and inspiring and great to see female characters showing agency in a series aimed at children and so on – but also, significantly, it’s just funny as hell.

DC Super Hero Girls is the work of Lauren Faust, who previously revived another sidelined franchise, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, and lands right in my 90s cult TV sweet spot thanks to kinetic animation in the style of Genndy Tartakovsky (Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory) and a “heroes saving the world and also navigating high school” theme that calls back to classic-era Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

It plays so well with the tropes of high school shows, most obviously with the notion of “finding your tribe”, but avoids ever being a tiresome issue-by-issue series. That might have something to do with having a female showrunner, female producers, female art directors, female musical director and a lot of female writers – maybe curbing the temptation to have an episode where the group turn on each other over romantic rivalry or some other tired sitcom cliche.

And there are so many running jokes, like the wonderfully butch Supergirl seething about her much more famous cousin; Green Lantern constantly trying to befriend the socially awkward Pamela Isley, aka Poison Ivy; or Batgirl’s rivalry with the much more famous and obnoxious Robin.

But there’s joy in tiny details too, like showing Lois Lane as the yearbook editor evidently based on Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday, complete with machine-gun-paced 40s slang (“What’s buzzin’, cousin?”), adding colour and joy to an already wildly entertaining show. There’s even an episode that is one long fart joke, managing to be wildly entertaining and uproariously silly, and still make a point about dealing with public embarrassment. And this is also the first and only time I’ve seen Wonder Woman, Princess of Themyscira, portrayed with anything approximating a Greek accent.

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Unusually for an animated series, the voice actors generally record together, which suits the show’s ensemble vibe. It helps that they are amazing performers, including videogame and animation mainstays Grey Griffin, Kari Wahlgren and Kimberly Brooks, and genre legend Tara Strong. Strong provides a masterclass in voice work in an episode in which Barbara Gordon and her old Gotham bestie Harleen Quinzel hang out – and battle each other – as secret nemeses Batgirl and Harley Quinn, with Strong playing both characters in both guises. That, friends, is acting.

All that said, one of the most refreshing things about DC Super Hero Girls, after enduring decades of gritty reboots with angsty heroes crushed by their responsibilities, is that it makes being in a superhero team look like it’d be … you know, fun. These girls (and the male heroes who occasionally turn up) actually seem to really enjoy having powers, and revel in finding cool ways to team up with each other against the rogues gallery that threatens Metropolis.

It’s wild, it’s colourful and it’s got my son already planning to be Batgirl for Halloween. Forget the comparatively feeble cinematic universe: this is DC’s greatest incarnation by far.