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Supergirl: James Takes a Step Forward in Superheroism

Welcome back, buddy.

Nick Campbell

What do you think Brian (Josh Hallem) does all day? I find myself wondering that every time I see him. How does he find the time to sit in his car under a bridge and listen to the ponies? What does he do for a living when he's not gambling away his savings to the college fund of some bookie's daughter? Why is he the only person alive that's buying weed from a shady dude in an abandoned warehouse? If the news and television have taught me anything it's that weed comes to you now. You don't have to traverse the seedy underbelly of your city's decaying manufacturing industry just for that ganja. Visiting rusted-out plants should only be reserved for gritty superhero fights and young women in their mid-20s chasing down the anonymous and omniscient bullies who attack them for being fibbers in high school.

It feels like Brian needs some guidance in his life and I'm surprised that Supergirl hasn't found a way to institute some sort of mentorship program for him beyond the fists of the show's several vigilantes. "City of Lost Children" really drove home the pervasive idea that kids these days really need guidance in the same way that The Flash constantly drives home Barry's need for a father figure. In this episode alone, you have Rhea (Teri Hatcher) mentoring Lena (Katie McGrath) (in both professional and maternal ways), J'onn (David Harewood) mentoring James (on how to be a hero even when you're of human-squishiness), and, most importantly, James (Mehcad Brooks) finding his way to helping a young boy named Marcus (Lonnie Chavis) cope with a harrowing time in his life.


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The James part was the bulk of the episode and rightfully so as Mehcad Brooks has felt missing in action for so much of the season. Sure, he's been there to occasionally pop in as National City's graveliest-voiced hero and as Winn's wingman before he and Lyra started getting awkwardly public with their affection. But he disappeared for so long, popping up every once in a while only because it seemed like it felt weird if he wasn't at CatCo when Kara (Melissa Benoist) sparred with Snapper (Ian Gomez). Sadly, James seemed like an afterthought.

I'd considered his Guardian story starting to take shape like a backdoor pilot for a CW Seed series. Maybe something in between seasons that could possibly take off on its own, like an Angel or even a Frasier. I'd binge a show where James, Winn (Jeremy Jordan), and Lyra (Tamzin Merchant) all lived together in a Seattle apartment and James' radio voiced boomed advice to a metropolitan audience. And then maybe he meets Liv Moore. And Guardian helps fight the bad guys, both zombies and the inevitable human reaction to those living with zombies. And thus begins my pitch for the Supergirl/iZombie crossover.

But I digress. The meat of this episode was about James and Marcus bonding via a relationship not unlike a Big Brothers, Big Sisters kind of thing. That's a dimension of James that was apparent early on as he tried to pass his wisdom of being human onto Kara throughout the first season. It was complicated by their budding and then suddenly decaying relationship and suddenly James launched himself away from the sensitive part of himself into what he thought a hero is supposed to do: punch stuff until it cries.

Fleshing out James's ownership of defending the put-upon is an important step in the growth of a brushed-aside character. Kara's contagious superheroism sometimes put James in a position where he was sacrificing himself and his body to stop crime, but the way those Guardian scenes were constructed, it felt mostly like he was really into stopping crime and saving the victims was secondary. James was all slick moves and clangs of his cold steel against the brain boxes of ne'er-do-wells but the moments where Guardian helped the victim after the fight were few and far between. Putting Guardian in a position where he looks scary enough for a mugging victim to scurry away frightened of her rescuer was the distillation of that. An important part of the superheroes in the CW DC universe is that they have shown some humanity, both in their actions and in their costuming.

Supergirl shows her entire face to the world. Every hero on The Flash, including Kid Flash, Vibe, and Jesse Quick, shows some part of his or her face when fighting baddies. Guardian, in an attempt to protect his human squishiness from being exposed to harmful elements trying to mark up that handsome face, has a helmet that only exposes his eyes. James talks to Marcus about having a wall that he constructed when he felt small and weak as a child. This helmet was the physical manifestation of that wall, the last thing between him and the open and perpetual self-sacrifice of a hero.

Sure, he'd still bleed, still get nicks and bruises, but he was never exposed. The moment he stood strong with Marcus and the Phorians in the face of imminent danger, no matter what happened to him and Winn, was the moment his hero wall came down. Winn shouted something about James being a hero without a suit. We know that phrase better here on our Earth as a "not all heroes wear capes."

Juxtapose that with J'onn's mentoring speech about how keeping people safe was his ultimate calling and how he joined law enforcement on Mars to give context to James's feelings and we have James taking a big step in this episode, advancing the promise he showed when the whole Guardian thing started. As we head into the final two episodes of political allegory at the end of this season, James concretizing his role as Guardian not as a way to punch bad guys but as a way to save innocent people fits into the mold of what they want to achieve on balance.

As Season 2 draws to a close, we're on the brink of what is essentially war with supercharged and supersuited Earth-38 versions of the collective evil of nationalism and racial supremacy (disguised as alien-fearing Cadmus and the invading deplorables of Daxam). The self-sacrificing civil servants of the DEO are teaming up with the Kryptonians and are ready to fight. Unfortunately, in our reality, we sometimes fail to see the good in the actions of people we've been taught to be scared of, either by media or by general conditioning. James unmasking himself is his demonstration of how we need to see the humanity of these heroes, that they are complex and flawed like everyone else but are ready to stand for something bigger than them and fight for humanity at its most altruistic. It's a coalition of good people fighting an objectively bad force. Buckle up.

Supergirl airs Monday nights at 8/7c on The CW.

(Full disclosure: is owned by CBS, one of The CW's parent companies.)