‘Supergirl’: Why James Olsen Becoming the First Public Superhero Is so Awesome

Ron Robbins
TV The CW Arrowverse

Tucked into the closing moments of the Season 3 finale of Supergirl, James Olsen delivered a neat and tidy public statement with TV cameras rolling. “Oh, I have a comment. I’m the Guardian.” And with that, he had outed himself as the vigilante hero who has been aiding Supergirl and the D.E.O. in their ongoing defense of National City against some of the wildest threats you can imagine. NBD, right? Wrong. This was major.

In real life, we are in the harshest of political climates. Obnoxious movements and accompanying hashtags such as “white excellence” and “blue lives matter” are awfully louder and prouder than they ought to be. When real life becomes stranger than fiction, it’s up to the creative arts to turn our world around and give us a dose of what reality should be. The Guardian, a once masked vigilante, will now join the ranks of Marvel’s Luke Cage as a proud black superhero defending his cherished city against injustice.

Marvel’s recent characters Falcon and Black Panther proved to the world that black men can be superheroes, CW’s Black Lightning celebrates a strong, loving, supportive black family who happens to share some superheroic genetics, and Luke Cage and the Guardian demonstrate black heroism without the need for a mask. The messages are clear. Not all heroes wear capes and, most importantly, not all heroes are white.

James Olsen’s Backstory

Mehcad Brooks and Melissa Benoist in 'Supergirl'

The best shared trait throughout the Arrowverse is the rich tapestry of characters who are each fully explored and developed as every season progresses. One of the most exciting character evolutions to watch has been the evolution of James Olsen. When we first meet James, we learn he is the Art Director of CatCo. Olsen was a successful photojournalist who rose to fame in nearby Metropolis after winning a Pulitzer for the first photograph of Superman. The “Jimmy” Olsen you may remember from the comics and the movies of yesteryear is now all grown up and, incidentally, black. And tall. And incredibly sexy. We digress.

We learn he is on the heels of a break up from Lucy Lane, younger sister of infamous Lois Lane. Their relationship suffered too much strain, mainly due to his loyalty to his work and to Superman. He begins crushing hard on CatCo new-hire Kara Danvers. This attraction caught him by surprise because, as it turns out, he had not relocated to National City by coincidence. Superman had specifically asked him to move to National City to keep an eye on his cousin, Kara.

At the start of Season 2, Cat Grant abandons ship and leaves James in charge of CatCo. She names him acting CEO and, after just a touch of workplace strife, he demonstrates a true fit for the role. But something still feels lacking.

With some bouts of jealousy over Mon-El’s presence and his super abilities, and then the failed attempt to stop a bank robbery that resulted in the destruction of his father’s camera, James decides to become a vigilante. He asks Winn Schott for help, specifically to make him a suit as awesome as the one he made for Supergirl. Under a bit of duress, Winn agrees to help. He designs a suit tailored to protect James and wisely lines it with lead, which prevents Supergirl from being able to use her x-ray vision to see through the suit and identify its owner.

Mehcad Brooks as the Guardian

After the Guardian’s efforts made the news, he and Winn decided to continue their vigilantism. Hoping to avoid Kara’s overprotectiveness, they agreed to keep this a secret for as long as possible. But the truth is eventually revealed when Supergirl and Mon-El physically remove the Guardian’s helmet.

Learning of the secret that James and Winn have been keeping sends Kara on a journey through her anger and disappointment but eventually to a place of understanding. She tells Winn and James that she had always seen them as heroes. She decided that if they planned to continue, she will neither stop them nor support them. Of course, this stance evolved to full support, and Supergirl’s team became infinitely stronger for it.

The Importance of Guardian’s Identity Being Revealed

Mehcad Brooks and Melissa Benoist in 'Supergirl'

Then, this season, something terribly real occurred. While trying to save a young black girl named Tanya, a former member of Thomas Coville’s cult, Guardian goes after her attempted kidnappers. During the ensuing fight, one of them shoots him in the face with an armor-piercing bullet. His helmet splits in half, revealing his face. Suddenly, cops enter the warehouse and point their guns at him. Despite his calm statements, and despite Tanya screaming out that it was Guardian, the cops believe James to be the aggressor. They completely would have shot him had he not used a smoke bomb to escape.

In order for the cultists to reclaim Tanya, they threaten to reveal James’ identity as the Guardian. Although a common trope in superhero comics, James has significantly different fears about having his true identity exposed. Sharing an incident from his youth gives us context: a distrusting cop put him in handcuffs at the incredibly young age of seven during an innocent game of hide-and-seek with his cousins while staying at a hotel. Although they explained they were staying at the hotel, they were cuffed and marched inside until James’ mother demanded someone uncuff them.

James voices that he has enjoyed the anonymity provided by his mask because people now judge him by his good deeds rather than the color of his skin. However, he now realizes how important it would be for him to publicize himself as a black vigilante, serving to inspire young boys like himself.

And something rather “ordinary” makes the Guardian even more inspirational than Luke Cage et al. James Olsen lacks meta-human powers, impervious skin, alien origins, or hyperintelligence. He’s simply a successful black man who uses strength, courage, and technology to join the fight against evil. There’s no truer role model for young black boys or, frankly, anyone.

Supergirl and the squad develop a successful plan to halt world destruction, one which also prevented the cult from revealing Guardian’s identity. Still, James told Kara he would reveal his identity when the time was right. And lucky for all of us, the right time was in the closing moments of the exciting season finale. We cannot wait to see what Season 4 has in store for the Guardian. Consider us inspired and incredibly anxious for the premiere this fall.

Ron Robbins
Ron is fascinated by Max Headroom. His top three favorite things of all time are macaroni & cheese, General Hospital, and Archie Comics. Ron is easily triggered and living in West Hollywood, CA.
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