Stargirl – Season 1 Episode 3
The end of S.T.R.I.P.E. saw Icicle return to Blue Valley to take over control of the New America Project, and also to take out the mysterious Stargirl who has inexplicably appeared to throw a glowing Cosmic Staff-shaped wrench into their plans. Now we get a proper introduction to the villain who is behind whatever it is that’s going on in the small Nebraska town, and an idea of what Courtney has set herself up against.
Personally, I’ve never found Icicle to be a particularly interesting villain, but that’s more an individual preference than a widely held opinion, so I can’t really hold it against the series and I’ll try to not let it cloud my objectivity. The comics version of the character had no powers of his own that this iteration has been seen to use, but instead wielded a cold gun constructed using his physics expertise. This alteration make him more dangerous, since he cannot be disarmed and doesn’t need a Jack Frost-style costume to protect himself from the weapon’s effects.
It’s an oft-repeated piece of storytelling wisdom that every villain is the hero of their own story, and while a gross oversimplification that severely limits potential motivations, it’s clearly intended to be applied here. A cold open – hah! – flashback scene sees Icicle at the bedside of his dying wife Christine (Amanda Lavassani), where she makes him vow to take vengeance on those responsible for her fatal condition and to remain steadfast in his great work, presumably in an attempt to make us consider there to be some sort of nobility in the unfeeling murderer.
Dialogue makes it clear that the spouses believe his plan will create a safer country, for their son in particular, which germinates an interesting perspective of what he’s doing, but is far too light in details to shift audience sympathies alongside him. If the intent is to infuse the character with some moral ambiguity, then perhaps some context of exactly what it is he’s fighting for might make us actually consider it.
This scene is set eight years previously, making it two years after the deaths of the Justice Society. It’s not specified whether or not the assault on the JSA headquarters was part of Icicle’s plan, or even the first step in it, but for the moment it seems counter-intuitive logic to supposedly make the nation safer by eliminating the people who have charged themselves with protecting it. There’s also every possibility that something the Society did had unforeseen consequences that led to Christine’s illness, but if so it will need a considerable amount of justification to be in any way convincing.
The alternative is that even if he perceives himself to be some antihero crusader making the world a better place through morally questionable actions and taking on the weight of responsibility like some arctic-breathed sin eater, orchestrating the deaths of the world’s greatest heroes would still be premeditated killings (and presumable meticulously planned for the attack to take out a group of such powerful individuals) undertaken purely for sadistic villainy. If we’re supposed to feel something other than contempt for him, much more is needed to make us consider it.
As for our heroine, Courtney is still riding high on her victory over Brainwave and now wants to do the same for Icicle, as he is the one who killed Starman, and wanting to live up to the legacy of being the hero’s daughter. I’m still not even slightly convinced her genealogical assumption is in any way accurate, but unless there’s a major development on the issue I’ll stop mentioning it lest the repetition get tedious.
Her infectiously vibrant personality counters her childish petulance at Pat shooting down her insistence they continue hunting the Injustice Society and telling her to act like a normal teenager, though has now taken to ordering him around like the sidekick she has declared him to be.
The school scenes first see Courtney striding past the school sign smashed in the previous night’s altercation, her guilty face unseen by anyone except the school janitor Justin (Mark Ashworth), whose periodic appearances just shy of being pointed make me think there’s more to him than a mere silent custodian. She then encounters Wizard’s son Joey (Wil Deusner), something of an amateur magician himself, whom she spares embarrassment when he botches a card trick intended to impress her, by declaring its success and feigning amazement. It reinforces that for all her argumentative and impulsive nature, Courtney is simply a decent person and doesn’t see why it’s too much to expect everyone else to be.
The stoically miserable Yolanda (Yvette Monreal) has now been slut-shamed by the obnoxious Cindy (Meg DeLacy) with graffiti on her locker for apparently dating Henry when she liked him, because she’s a vacuous cheerleader defined by her social standing and without that she has nothing and her vapid existence would become utterly meaningless. Although not exactly content with the situation, Yolanda believes that attempting to face the situation would only make it worse, the feeling of powerlessness being something relatable to many young people unable to find a place in which to fit at high school. The hateful declaration is later covered up with painted flowers by Cameron (Hunter Sansone), a boy Courtney’s interactions with mark as someone with whom she will inevitably become romantically involved.
As well as wearing the mask of a genial businessman, Icicle also sets out to do what he came for, drawing Stargirl out with a challenge as subtle as a sack of bricks to the face. The encounter reiterates the point that Courtney and Pat don’t really know what they’re doing yet, as a quick assault was all it took for Icicle to almost have victory, were it not for a rocket fist to his cerulean face.
The brief battle demonstrates that Icicle’s strengths lie not only in his abilities and ruthless determination – as well as a brief implication he is invulnerable to everything except the Cosmic Staff – but also battle tactics like ambushing and distractions. Using the latter of these, he causes a school bus to skid on an icy road to teeter precariously over the edge of a bridge, which is a classic piece of comics imagery, but as we’ve previously established this series is driven by retro charm we can forgive its use.
In a similar way that Brainwave’s defeat in the previous episode was inevitable as a result of basic narrative deconstruction, so this first skirmish with Icicle could only end with neither side in a position of advancement, as the final battle between the principal hero and villain would never take place this early in the season. It lowers the stakes for the encounter; despite it being an important development, ensuring no major players would be permanently harmed. Only minor ones.
Circling back to Icicle’s implied self-righteousness, another act hard to justify was bringing about Joey’s death. It wasn’t as though it was necessary in any way; he was already in temporary retreat so it was not a distraction and wasn’t required as something to hold over Wizard, as he had clearly already decided that the conjurer had to go, so to kill the man’s son first was nothing but pure spite, and strongly indicates that however Icicle might perceive himself as some saviour doing what’s necessary to create a safe world, he hasn’t abandoned the ways of malice and murder that mark him as a villain. Also, if the Injustice League members continue to be removed at this rate, he’ll be out of teammates before Courtney even has a chance to finish forming her own.
The loss of the boy and his father also leaves Denise lost and inconsolable after losing all that matters to her, reinforcing the possibility of her having a greater role to play down the line once she discovers who is responsible for her suffering. It also served to have Courtney learn the standard superhero lesson that you can’t save everyone, which is scant consolation when she’s mourning the death of one of the few people in the school of clichés who took the time to be pleasant to her, but also an inevitable development that serves to strengthen her resolve to bring his killer to justice.
Barbara doesn’t have much going on other than to make suggestions at her job that Gambler shoots down, and for the moment such scenes are all that she has to do. Although it seems Gambler is intent on making her know her place, as such people are wont to word it, Icicle in his human guise taking a liking to her means he has to back off for now. On the subject of this least highlighted villain, in a team containing assassins with varying levels of magical and metahuman powers, as well as a nigh-unstoppable superhuman monster, it’s questionable exactly how dangerous a self-important conman is going to be in comparison.
It inevitably transpires that Cameron the Cute Potential Love Interest turns out to be Icicle’s son, promising a plethora of family drama and forbidden trysts that are the heart of any CW melodrama. It raises the intriguing question of how someone as sadistic and vindictive as Icicle was capable of raising someone who appears to be a compassionate human being, especially when the teenager is a scion of a family consisting of a mother extracting a dying promise that everyone who had the slightest responsibility for her death should be hunted down and killed, and grandparents utterly unfazed by discovering their son standing over the corpse of his supposed friend who he just froze to death because doing so was an easier course of action than attempting a conversation to bring him fully on board with an endeavour they are all supposed to be working towards in the first place.
It also makes you question if Cameron will follow his comics counterpart and descend to a life of crime ands murder, or perhaps just to shake things up, the hero/villain roles typically associated with him and Brainwave Jr will be intentionally swapped, as the cruel jock Henry seems a far more likely candidate to take up his father’s mantle of supervillainy, and this show is going to be all about playing with expectations of what second-generation superpowered people should be.
To highlight to Courtney what she’s up against, Pat takes her to the defunct headquarters of the Justice Society, now an untouched shrine to the fallen heroes, to demonstrate the kind of firepower that already went up against the Injustice Society and failed. Of course, Courtney takes his point entirely the wrong way and decides that instead of giving up, they should recruit some help in their crusade.
The marketing of the series – and a five-second cameo in the coda of Crisis On Infinite Earths – made it clear we would see a younger generation team inspired by Doctor Mid-Nite, Hourman, and Wildcat, but though Courtney’s plundering of the memorabilia there is now every possibility we might also get a new Green Lantern, although this was the Alan Scott version of the character, so don’t expect Oa, the Green Lantern Corps or the Guardians of the Universe to be introduced any time soon. She also picks up the Thunderbolt, similarly suggesting a successor to Johnny Thunder will appear, wielding the power of the djinn-like entity housed in the pen, and hopefully going some way to address the comics hero’s problematic origin of the conditions of his birth leading to him being kidnapped by an assortment of racist Asian stereotypes. There may even be more if she, unseen, also picked up the likes of Hawkman’s mace and Doctor Fate’s helmet.
This kind of thing will probably be left for season 2, or at least an end of season stinger, so isn’t something to be too concerned with for the moment, but it’s certain the show is setting itself up to have room to expand in future should it stick around for the long haul.
“Icicle” slowly begins moving the plot forwards, highlighting to Courtney just how dangerous is the path she has willingly embarked upon, and Pat accepting being along for the ride to do all he can to keep her safe. The eponymous villain’s callous and vindictive nature is revealed, although the attempt to provide layers to his morally ambiguous motivations currently falls a little flat. The series is gradually growing into itself, with plenty of time to crescendo into something more spectacular and faster-paced.
- Courtney’s delightful and idealistic enthusiasm
- Cameron and Joey showing not every high schooler is an odious stereotype
- High school issues the young target demographic can relate to
- the impressively crafted Justice Society props
- the potential of expanding the series
- the unconvincing moral ambiguity of Icicle’s motives
- the counter-intuitive removal of the Justice Society
- the lack of details for Icicle’s self-justification
- Barbara having little to do
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