With classic characters such as Supergirl and Batgirl making an indelible mark on pop culture — along with more recent characters including Harley Quinn — the iconography for the DC Super Hero Girls range of comics, toys, and books was strong and the appeal immediate. Debuting in 2015 with a web series and a toy line, it re-framed characters like Batgirl and Harley as students at Super Hero High who experienced typical young teen problems along with complications from their side gigs as heroes. It eventually led to direct-to-video features, an animated broadcast special, and graphic novels as part of a continual expansion of the brand.
But last week’s debut of a new DC Super Hero Girls animated series on Cartoon Network, developed and executive produced by My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic’s Lauren Faust, establishes a new cartoon continuity for the brand that is separate from the web series. And as voice actors Tara Strong and Kimberly Brooks — veterans of both versions — told Rotten Tomatoes, the new series is very different from its predecessor.
The show focuses on a group of girls at a Metropolis-area high school who discover they all moonlight as superheroes. The team includes Batgirl, a.k.a. Barbara Gordon (Strong); Wonder Woman, a.k.a. Diana Prince (Grey Griffin); Zatanna (Kari Wahlgren); Green Lantern, a.k.a. Jessica Cruz (Myrna Velasco); Bumblebee, a.k.a. Karen Beecher (Brooks); and Supergirl, a.k.a. Kara Danvers (Nicole Sullivan). Characters including Lena Luthor, her older brother Lex, and Barry Allen also populate the world. Harley Quinn (also Strong) even makes a cameo appearance in the series’ 60-minute debut, “#SweetJustice;” a frantic, silly, and fun introduction to the characters as they learn to be friends and heroes.
“The last version was geared toward a younger audience,” Strong explained. While the earlier format “had its place” and drew in plenty of little girls who were fans of the superheroes, she noted the new show is “a lot sleeker and more sophisticated and appeals to a much broader audience.”
The growing sophistication and broader intended age range also means an added emphasis on what superheroes do best: fight.
“[On] this show we actually do some serious fighting,” Strong said. “We have serious weaponry. The stakes are a lot higher. In my view, it’s a completely different show, although still encapsulating what it is to be a female superhero and be a teenager.”
The series is also hilarious and will attract plenty of boys as well, the women added, but most importantly, it’ll appeal to families.
“The kids are going to like it and also there’s humor that adults are going to get, too. It’s not wasted on us,” Brooks said. Gags include punny names for businesses, an extended Twilight pastiche in “#SweetJustice,” and nods to more obscure elements of DC Comics mythology.
Wahlgren credited Faust and her deep knowledge of the comics as essential to shaping the series and explicitly communicating to her stars what she wants to achieve.
“She’s so talented and she’s also really, really open to suggestions and interpretations from the actors,” Wahlgren said. “I think we’ve all had a chance to find our characters because she’s given us a lot of leeway to do that.”
Added Strong, “I just thanked her last week for having every single body type represented in this show. As a little girl, I was never, like, a little stick-skinny thing, and when you see magazine covers of supermodels you think, ‘Oh is that what I’m supposed to be?’ And so the fact that every single body shape is represented in superheroes [means] … there’s an authenticity to these characters that translates.”
As it happens, Faust was fostering a concept very similar to DC Super Hero Girls for ages. As part of Cartoon Network’s 2012 DC Nation block, she produced a pilot of sorts with Super Best Friends Forever, five animated shorts featuring a bulked up Supergirl (Sullivan), a tiny and energetic Batgirl (Strong), and a confident Wonder Girl (Griffin) leading the pack. So the fact that aspects of the designs and the voices return in DC Super Hero Girls is no accident.
“As a concept series for these females, I thought [Super Best Friends Forever] was such a strong idea. It was not long after Powerpuff Girls and I thought, ‘let’s keep this rolling.’ And it didn’t get picked up,” Strong recalled. The continued success of the DC Super Hero Girls range led to discussions with Faust to revive elements of Super Best Friends Forever as the new DC Super Hero Girls show. As production began, Faust produced a new version of the Super Best Friends Forever short “Time Waits for No Girl” — in which Batgirl waits for her father to go to sleep so she can join the other heroes — as DC Super Hero Girls‘ “#TheLateBatsby,” which ran in front of the theatrical release of Teen Titans GO! to the Movies.
All three actors have long associations with the DC Comics characters. Brooks voiced Oracle in the Batman: Arkham video game series, Lightning and Mari McCabe in the previous DC Super Hero Girls, and Batgirl in the Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham video game. Strong often voices Harley in projects as varied as the earlier DC Super Hero Girls, Batman: Arkham City, and an infamous scene on Arrow ( for which she’s credited as “Deranged Squad Female”). She is also well known for voicing Raven in the Teen Titans and Teen Titans GO! animated series. Wahlgren has voiced Starfire in the DC Animated Universe direct-to-video features, Saturn Girl, and Zatanna once before in the Justice League Heroes video game.
The three stars agreed that the new DC Super Hero Girls is a particularly special project. Each time they return to a character, as they do here, it requires bringing something new or different to the role depending on whether the tone of the project is dark or silly or crazy or anything else.
“When we go in to audition or we meet the team, they’ll say, you know, ‘This is really dark,’ or, ‘This is really silly,’ or, ‘This is really crazy,’” Strong said. “You have to tweak it a little bit to match the world that you’re performing in.
“We become these characters in our minds, we envision ourselves,” she continued. “You could ask these girls anything about their characters, and they’ll be able to tell you from a very organic place what they’re all about.”
With their understanding of the characters, they said the key appeal of the new DC Super Hero Girls series is their camaraderie and sense of fun.
“[They’re] these kick-ass chicks doing some pretty incredible things together,” Strong said. “Navigating friendship and superhero and teenager all wrapped up in this fun, beautiful package.”
In addition to inspiring feelings of empowerment, it also sparks nostalgia for the stars.
“This show, I think, is so much fun because we get to tap into our youth — at least that’s important to me, anyway,” Brooks said, adding, “I love that all of those different types that you went to school with in high school are represented. Everything from the more hippie, environmentally conscious to the overly theatrical girly girl, to the really shy, studious smart kid. I just feel like everybody’s going to be able to see themselves in at least one of the characters.”
DC Super Hero Girls airs Sundays at 4 p.m. on Cartoon Network.