For anyone who has ever wondered, “DC” stands for Detective Comics. The name is drawn from the influential comic series that predates the company as it exists today and introduced some of its most famous and important characters. Even after DC, as it is now known, came into being, the series remained influential and other DC titles also emphasized detective and mystery elements in their stories. The brand has since branched out and become more known for superhero stories of various types, of course, but one of its current live-action adaptations is paying homage to this part of its past. The third season of Stargirl features a murder mystery at the center of its plot and the strong results this has had for the show highlight how the detective and superhero genres would do well to reunite more often.
Detective Comics premiered in 1937, published by what was once National Allied Publications, which was renamed Detective Comics Inc. at the same time. The series was an anthology featuring various characters, many of whom, like Slam Bradley and the Crimson Avenger, would become fixtures in the DC universe, solving crimes. Most famously, the title introduced Batman in issue #27 in 1939, which has gone on to become one of the most sought after and expensive comics in the world. Batman’s popularity led the title to switch to featuring him as its regular lead, although stories about other characters were still featured and Batman received his first solo title just a year later.
Even when the company shifted to superhero stories as its primary genre, many DC titles retained detective elements. Storylines were often referred to as “cases” by narration and the characters themselves and many heroes were known for their detective skills just as Batman was, with examples including the Martian Manhunter, Barry Allen’s Flash, Elongated Man, and The Question, among others. While these characters have retained their detective influences as a whole DC is no longer known for mystery stories. That’s what makes Stargirl’s return to the genre so exciting.
Keeping the Peace
In the Season 3 episode of Stargirl, subtitled “Frenemies,” Courtney Whitmore/Stargirl (Brec Bassinger) is struggling to maintain the peace between her teammates in the Justice Society of America and the various semi-reformed supervillains and anti-heroes living in Blue Valley, Nebraska. Optimistic Courtney wants to believe that these former enemies are capable of changing and living normal lives, or even joining the JSA as Cindy Burman/Shiv (Meg DeLacy) wants to, but other heroes like Yolanda Montez/Wildcat (Yvette Monreal) and revived Starman Sylvester Pemberton (Joel McHale) refuse to trust them.
Tensions are exacerbated by the return of Steven Sharpe/the Gambler (Eric Goins), who even Courtney has a hard time believing has turned over a new leaf until he tells her of his desire to reform and be a better father to his daughter.
The season’s murder mystery starts when the JSA finds Cindy standing over Sharpe’s dead body holding a gun and claiming her innocence in his killing.
The detective story is already paying off for Stargirl. By diving deep into the mythologies of both the JSA and its villainous opposite the Injustice Society, the show gathered an enormous cast over its first two seasons and by the end of the second, when it became clear that the reforming villains were going to stay in Blue Valley whether Courtney and company liked it or not, it was easy for viewers to become concerned that the show would become overcrowded. After all, other DC TV shows like The Flash and Supergirl have lost their way by focusing too much on supporting characters and losing sight of their main heroes’ stories.
The murder mystery angle is a good way for Stargirl to avoid this. The hunt for the Gambler’s real killer gives everyone an important purpose, whether it’s as an investigator like Courtney and her team, a suspect like Sylvester, the Shade (Jonathan Cake), and the ISA characters, or both.
Storylines Tie Back to the Murder Mystery
Storylines that could have seemed tangential, like Rick Tyler/Hourman’s (Cameron Gellman) attempts to resurrect Solomon Grundy, are becoming more relevant as possible ties between them and the murder are revealed. And tying Courtney’s desire to get justice for the Gambler to her own dysfunctional relationship with her father ensures that the series keeps her and her endearing, family-focused brand of heroism in the foreground.
Stargirl Season 3 should serve as a lesson to other superhero properties, especially DC ones, that returning to the genre’s detective mystery roots can have great results. Not only does it pay homage to one of the defining periods in superhero history it also allows for complicated plots that viewers find engaging (shown also by the success of recent non-superhero detective stories like Knives Out and Only Murders in the Building) and creates storytelling opportunities for large groups of characters.