A/N: When speaking about DC Superhero Girls in this article, I am referring solely to the webseries. Cartoon Network has recently announced that Lauren Faust is developing a full-length edition of the series for the network which, to anyone who is familiar with her work and her stance on progressive female characters, is incredibly promising.
The concept of female empowerment in modern-day media is slowly becoming a central theme within many Americanized animated works. Both Steven Universe and Star vs. the Forces of Evil are presently-broadcasted highly-rated animated series that portray female characters in both a positive and powerful light. In this sense, we can argue that a portion of recent high-status animated series support feminist perspectives.
The title under the critical telescope in this article is DC Superhero Girls, a webisode series featuring prominent females of the DC universe (e.g. Wonderwoman, Harley Quinn, Batgirl, etc.) interacting in a high school setting—one tailored to the superhero lifestyle, of course. The webseries follows a similar format to Monster High and Ever After High, which also fall under the category of short online episodes set in high schools of their related themes.
The most significant feature of each of these webseries is that their creation is based on the sole purpose of selling associated merchandise.
Unfortunately, measuring animated series’ success based on toy sales is becoming a norm in children’s programming. Advertising revenue just doesn’t cut it anymore with the rising number of online streaming sites (especially those of the legally-questionable variety). A few animated series have even been cancelled due to the lack of toy sales or inability to land a merchandise contract (e.g. Young Justice and Sym-bionic Titan). So one form of combating this is to release low-budget mini-series via YouTube that contain heavy branding which can be carried over to merchandise production.
Keep in mind, there is nothing wrong with selling toys that are based off of a television series. In order to create content there has to be some form of financial payoff for its production to be viable. However, based on my experience as a viewer, series with heavy branding tend to be very simplistic in narrative. The intent of these series is clearly to reach commercial ends, which is the basis of production companies and businesses in general; however when this fact is made painstakingly obvious in work meant to entertain, it prevents the viewer from being fully immersed in the content. In other words, despite arguments against animation being an inferior form of storytelling, it’s series like DC Superhero Girls, Monster High, and Ever After High that solidifies the “for kids” mentality commonly held towards animated works.
Now before continuing, allow me to point out that it is okay for cartoons to be targeted at children. This isn’t the problem of these series,
although it is my complaint as a viewer.
The issue that arises from DC Superhero Girls is that the concept of “girl power” is being used as a selling point for associated dolls and action figures. In other words, it’s not much of a stretch to say that merchandising efforts promotes commodification as a legitimate solution for social issues.
As mentioned previously, series like Steven Universe address many societal issues in their narratives. However, this isn’t done to sell products; instead, these issues are incorporated into different plots for the sake of telling meaningful, insightful, and socially-reflective stories. On the other hand, DC Superhero Girls (along with Ever After High and Monster High) takes female empowerment and places it within an overly-simplified premise, which is further held back by its heavy branding.
Despite the commercialized elements of the webseries, it does have some positive features. First of all, the series’ production is very female-led (which can’t be said about the other two webseries). With female showrunners, writers, and creators, the chances of negative female portrayals or even female-empowerment done wrong is minimal. Its second noteworthy feature is related to the series’ merchandise. While the colour pink consumes the majority of toy aisles targeted at young girls, DC Superhero Girls products stands out with its unorthodox blue packaging.
So I guess you can say that the webseries subtlety fights the patriarchy—even if it is through surface-level narrative and heavy branding.
A/N: This series has excellent potential and a great premise. I am an avid DC fan and enjoy keeping up with its webisodes. So rather than this article undermining the series’ enjoyment level, it’s simply meant to be critical of widely-spread media content and how it deals with social issues.