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‘Stargirl’ brings a lighter touch to DC’s superhero universe

DC's Stargirl -- "Pilot" -- Image Number: STG101_0001r.jpg -- Pictured: Brec Bassinger as Courtney/Stargirl -- Photo: The CW -- © 2020 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

(CNN) — “DC’s Stargirl” emulates DC Universe’s live-action series “Titans” and “Doom Patrol” by taking a way-deep dive into comic-book mythology, proceeding with a serialized story at a glacial pace.

What sets it apart from those gritty efforts is a lighter tone, deriving a sense of fun from coming-of-age teen heroes mastering new powers, making the series a good fit to share with the CW.

Based on DC Comics stalwart Geoff Johns’ reimagining of the Justice Society of America — the original 1940s superhero team that predated the Justice League — the title character inherits her cosmic staff and star-spangled costume from Starman, whose absence, along with his fellow heroes, is explained in an opening sequence that seemingly exhausted the show’s special-effects budget for about four episodes.

The powerful staff, it turns out, is in the possession of Starman’s one-time sidekick, Pat Dugan (Luke Wilson), the new stepfather of Courtney Whitmore (Brec Bassinger), a teenager adjusting to the family’s move to Blue Valley, Nebraska.

Courtney discovers the magical weapon, and it’s way cool having Starman’s power (Joel McHale plays him, cheekily, in flashback). Her initial exultation, however, is marred by the realization that the supervillains who killed him — part of the Injustice Society — have taken up residence in Blue Valley.

Courtney thus has no idea who she can trust — except Pat and her out-of-the-loop mom (Amy Smart) — a clever excuse that compels her to enlist other classmates to rebuild the Justice Society. Gradually, they revive arcane heroes like Hourman, Doctor Mid-Nite and Wildcat, whose names probably won’t mean much to anyone who doesn’t regularly attend Comic-Con.

Like “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow,” it’s a reach way down into the superhero grab bag. Nevertheless, the series (produced by Johns along with Greg Berlanti, the architect behind DC’s roster of CW shows such as “The Flash” and “Supergirl”) has a playful energy, and enough narrative momentum to pull those who enjoy such fare through the five previewed episodes.

Even by then, “Stargirl” hasn’t made much of a dent in advancing the story, so patience is a virtue. Acts of actual heroism — super or otherwise — prove sporadic amid the Disney Channel-type teen troubles.

Still, the overall effect is a better-than-average dip into TV superheroes, certainly compared to recent additions like the CW’s dreary “Batwoman” or DC’s latest stab at “Swamp Thing” (which, incidentally, will join “Stargirl” in streaming to the CW, as networks seek fresh content).

The producers have described “Stargirl” as a throwback to the teen adventure movies of the 1980s, and it does possess an amusing small-town vibe. (The CW episodes, it’s worth noting, run shorter than the DC Universe versions to make room for ads, but frankly, nobody should miss the excised content.)

There is, admittedly, a formula to these shows, especially with a superhero-saturated CW lineup. “Stargirl” hardly seeks to reinvent the wheel, or even expand the mold. Still, its mix of solid characters, clever writing and youthful exuberance casts a brighter light than most.

“DC’s Stargirl” premieres May 18 on DC Universe and May 19 at 8 p.m. on the CW. DC and Warner Bros. are owned by CNN’s parent company, WarnerMedia.

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