‘Supergirl’ Handled Anti-Alien Discrimination Better Than ‘Secret Invasion’

The Big Picture

  • Secret Invasion addressed themes of discrimination but left this issue underserved, with little progress made by the characters.
  • The series briefly mentioned how fear of the other and bigotry made it difficult for Skrulls to find a home on Earth.
  • In contrast, Supergirl handled the theme of discrimination more gracefully throughout its seasons, with recurring storylines addressing anti-alien sentiment and promoting tolerance.

Secret Invasion juggled a large assortment of themes for a short show. Topics like broken families, international politics, trust, betrayal, and more were addressed throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe series’ six episodes. But one theme the show left underserved was discrimination. In a few instances, the series mentioned how humans’ fear of the other and tendencies toward bigotry would make it difficult and dangerous for the shape-shifting Skrulls to make a permanent home on Earth. However, none of the characters made any significant progress in addressing this issue and the end of the series featured a spike in anti-alien hostility as an abrupt set-up for future MCU projects, possibly involving the X-Men franchise. One of DC’s live-action TV series handled the same themes much more gracefully. Supergirl featured anti-alien discrimination as a recurring issue throughout its six seasons, and while the storylines dealing with this problem weren’t always perfect, they were generally thoughtful and more fully developed.

RELATED: ‘Secret Invasion’ Ended Where It Should Have Started

How Does ‘Secret Invasion’ Address Discrimination?

Image via Disney+

The subject of discrimination is first brought up in the second episode of Secret Invasion. After the Skrull resistance bombs Moscow, peaceful Skrull Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) tells Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) that during the five-year Blip after Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) Snap, during which Fury had been erased from existence, he sent out a beacon inviting Skrull refugees from throughout the galaxy to come live on Earth, raising the planet’s secret Skrull population to around a million. Fury is outraged upon hearing this and points out to Talos how unrealistic it is to expect Skrulls to be welcomed to the planet peacefully when the human population still fights within itself due to forces like racism.

However, for most of the series, the extent of the Skrull infiltration remains hidden from the public, so this issue is relegated to more of a background concern. It’s only in the final episode that U.S. President Ritson (Dermot Mulroney) describes the infiltration to the public and calls for aliens on Earth to be exterminated. This brings the issue of discrimination back to the center of attention, and the images of random civilians assassinating both Skrulls and humans they believe to be Skrulls are effectively disturbing depictions of the destruction that can be caused by bigotry. The series ends soon after these scenes without taking the time to really explore the main characters’ reactions to the new crisis, postponing that kind of material until a future MCU installment. Fury and his Skrull wife Varra (Charlayne Woodard) do leave the planet to help negotiate peace talks between the Skrulls and their long-time enemies, the Kree Empire, but even if they are successful in ending the conflict between the two groups, that will do little to improve the situation of the Skrulls on Earth.

‘Supergirl’s Exploration of Discrimination Is Handled With More Care

Melissa Benoist as Supergirl
Image via The CW

Supergirl’s exploration of anti-alien discrimination progresses more successfully. The series’ earliest episodes take a simplistic stance on the issue. Most of the aliens that appear in these episodes, other than Kara Danvers/Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) and her cousin Clark Kent/Superman (Tyler Hoechlin), are violent criminals, many of which escaped from Fort Rozz, an intergalactic prison run by Kara’s late mother Alura (Laura Benanti). Kara works with the Department of Extra-Normal Operations, or DEO, a government agency her sister Alex (Chyler Leigh) is a part of, to neutralize these alien threats. These episodes send the message that aliens are dangerous and to be feared, with the rare exceptions of Kara and Clark.

However, that idea is turned on its head when it is revealed that DEO director Hank Henshaw (David Harewood) is actually J’onn J’onzz, the alien superhero known as the Martian Manhunter. An innocent and noble person who had survived a genocide on Mars, J’onn was hunted by the DEO years prior before he secretly assumed the identity of Henshaw, an agent who was killed on the mission. He used his position as director to encourage the DEO to use less harsh tactics while investigating alien phenomena. When Kara is corrupted by Red Kryptonite and went on a rampage throughout National City, J’onn is forced to use his superpowers to subdue her, revealing his identity. He is arrested and subjected to harsh interrogation by government officials, but after helping Kara stop Non’s (Chris Vance) attempt to conquer Earth, he is reinstated as director.

‘Supergirl’s Later Seasons Follow a Fight for Tolerance

supergirl the house of L
Image via The CW

The second season sees the show becoming still more progressive in its handling of the alien storylines, and more direct in condemning discrimination. Season 2 also makes it clear that there are just as many innocent, peaceful aliens as dangerous ones with President Olivia Marsdin (Lynda Carter), who is herself secretly a shape-shifting alien, enacting the Alien Amnesty Act, officially allowing aliens sanctuary on Earth and giving them rights as American citizens. However, these developments lead to a bigoted backlash, including the rise of Project Cadmus, a rogue government organization, as a terrorist threat. Cadmus, led by Lillian Luthor (Brenda Strong), seeks to eliminate all aliens on Earth using a modified version of the Kryptonian Medusa virus but is stopped by Kara, her team, and Lillian’s daughter Lena (Katie McGrath). Cadmus continues to recur as a threat throughout the season but Kara and company are eventually forced to work with Lillian to defeat Rhea’s (Teri Hatcher) Daxamite invasion. This twist, and having the ultimate villain again be an alien invader, muddled the season’s thematic point somewhat, although the Daxamites’ use of immoral practices like slavery and their hatred of humans meant that the protagonists were still combating bigoted forces.

The fourth season is Supergirl’s most political and features the most thorough exploration of anti-alien discrimination. At the beginning of the season, Kara naïvely assumes that anti-alien sentiment has been largely eradicated, only to discover how widespread it still is. The bigotry in America is exacerbated when Mercy Graves (Rhona Mitra) exposes Marsdin’s true identity as part of a plot concocted by Lillian’s son and Superman’s archenemy, Lex Luthor (Jon Cryer). Marsdin is forced to resign and her replacement Phil Baker (Bruce Boxleitner), who is secretly in Lex’s employ, is much less tolerant of aliens and instigated institutionalized discrimination against them, including the repeal of the Alien Amnesty Act. An anti-alien militia called the Children of Liberty rises to prominence and, despite the hate crimes they commit, their leader, Ben Lockwood (Sam Witwer), continues to gain popularity and was given a government position by Baker.

The ensuing crisis causes Kara to reconsider her beliefs. When the DEO begins returning to a policy of hostility against aliens, she separates herself from the organization and begins participating in protests promoting tolerance. In her capacity as a reporter, she manages to stop Lex’s plot by exposing his ties to Baker and the government of Kaznia, a fictional nation similar to Russia. This leads to Baker’s impeachment in one of the series’ most direct criticisms of real-world American politics. Although the defeats of Lex and Lockwood reduce the amount of hate in the country, Brainiac 5 (Jesse Rath) remains concerned that aliens will grow resentful of their human neighbors because of their mistreatment. In Season 5, the aliens prove him wrong when they use their advanced technology to help evacuate the planet’s citizens into the multiverse during the Arrowverse’s Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover.

‘Supergirl’ Connects Many of Its Storylines to Real-World Issues

supergirl nia nal
Image via The CW

Supergirl also did a better job of connecting the plight of aliens to real-world problems of prejudice than Secret Invasion did. While Fury makes a few connections between the Skrulls’ situation and his own experiences as a Black man living in America, these points were still not fully developed. Supergirl features more substantial storylines in which J’onn reflects on his choice to live with the face of a Black man despite the discrimination this causes him to face, while also acknowledging that human Black people don’t have this choice.

The later seasons of the series also connect discrimination against aliens to transphobia through the character of Nia Nal (Nicole Maines). Nia is a member of the alien race known as the Naltorians as well as a transgender woman, and the storyline that leads up to her becoming the superhero Dreamer deals with the intersection of these two aspects of her identity. Nia’s mother is one of several Naltorians who possessed superpowers including prophetic dreams. These powers are typically passed from mother to daughter, which leads Nia’s older sister Maeve (Hannah James) to expect to inherit the powers. Maeve is outraged to learn that Nia has received the powers instead and questions how it’s possible. This leads to a significant rift between the sisters, who only start making amends years later during the series’ final season. As Dreamer, Nia promotes tolerance and combats bigotry. Sheis interviewed by Kara in costume in an effort to foster human and alien cooperation and defeats a transphobic bigot who committed a hate crime against her roommate, Yvette (Roxy Wood).

Secret Invasion had its strengths and was certainly enjoyable, but its efforts at tackling the complicated topic of discrimination through its alien characters left a lot to be desired. Supergirl’s efforts at exploring the topic weren’t always perfect either, and the show had plenty of its own problems, but for the most part, it was more successful at telling superhero stories that emphasized the importance of tolerance.

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