NOTE: This article MAY contain minor SPOILERS for Supergirl
Since the series first began adapting classic DC characters to television for CBs in its first season, it was clear how literally the showrunners took their promise of classic Superman action in Supergirl. Beyond incorporating new roles for classics like Jimmy Olsen, Martian Manhunter, and too many weekly villains to count, the show won fans by offering a re-imagined life story for Kara Zor-El (Melissa Benoist) much closer to that of Clark Kent. And now, one of Superman’s zaniest villains is making a similar debut – similarly re-imagined.
Ask an older Superman fan, and they’ll speak of Mr. Mxyzptlk (“Mix-YEZ-pitt-lick”) with nostalgia… a longing for a simpler time, when Fifth Dimensional imps could terrorize DC’s greatest hero with little complaint from fans. We’ll have to wait some time before judging how well Supergirl‘s version will measure up, but with a comic book backstory as strange and lengthy as that of Mxyzptlk, we thought a breakdown was in order.
The Original Imp
The trickster first debuted in the pages of Action Comics #40 back in 1945, as an impish little man in a three-piece suit and bowler hat. Hailing from the fifth dimension (no more specifics are really given on how it exist in conjunction with our own), the man named Mxyztplk at first, relies on technology most Earthlings can only dream of. As a result, his tricks are interpreted as absolute magic, making his apparent goal of annoying Superman seem even less ambitious. His hopes of exploring our world with intent to conquer it are set aside when he realizes just how good he is at being a frustration to superheroes… and how satisfying it is to get Superman’s blood boiling.
The popularity of the character (or the potential for fun, one-off storytelling) led to his addition to the Superman universe, and the refinements and expansions that come with the promotion. The writers adjusted the fiction by clarifying that the line between technology and magic was further blurred than most had thought. That meant the amazing feats Mxyzptlk (name now the modern variant) could achieve were capable of harming Superman due to their magic origins – since Kryptonians are just as vulnerable to magic as humans. This newer version also adjusted his costume to reflect such otherworldly origins, giving him a futuristic/astro costume – but keeping the small bowler hat – and introducing characters like his girlfriend, Ms. Gsptlsnz.
Every time, it was Superman’s ability to get Mxyzptlk to pronounce or write his own name backwards that banished him back to the fifth dimension, allowing Earth’s physics and laws to go back to their original state.
The Modern Mxyzptlk
The real, lasting version of the hero was introduced in the Silver Age, in the pages of Superman #11 (1987), and in some ways, may be the most influential on Supergirl‘s version. The story actually began without Mr. Mxyzptlk once again established in the post-Crisis continuity – meaning Clark Kent was completely dumbfounded when a man named “Ben DeRoy” showed up at the Daily Planet to ask Lois Lane on a date. What’s weirder, Lois accepted, and readers saw firsthand how reality twisted itself into practical jokes all around them. Finally, when Ben DeRoy confronted Superman, the truth was revealed (fun fact: even the name “Ben DeRoy” is a play on Marvel’s Beyonder, introduced a year or two earlier and upon whom DeRoy was styled).
Mr. Mxyzptlk revealed his true form, and his magical powers were shown capable of… well, practically anything at all. Literally. In this version of the story, Mxyzptlk chose the name at random, claiming his true name, like his true form and his homeworld, would simply be beyond the average third dimensional dweller’s comprehension. In later stories, the young heroes Robin, Superboy, and Impulse would encounter a younger version of Mxyzptlk. Knowing that the timeline needed the imp to be a troublemaker, not the studious time explorer he is at this point, the three stars of Young Justice decide to teach him his trademark sense of slapstick humor (in case fans were wondering who was to blame for it all).
In the versions since, Mxyzptlk and his girlfriend/wife have seen the details of their story change, from a fifth dimension jester to a king, to a mortal man trying to get by as a magician on Earth. But his love of trouble-making has never stopped, and while his powers could make him the master of all creation… it’s his love of a good prank, and the inability to risk everything on a game of chance that usually does him in.
What Supergirl Will Be Changing
The true intention of Supergirl‘s version of Mxyzptlk was made abundantly clear in the first promo, attempting to woo Kara into becoming his new, third-dimensional wife (and just in time for Valentine’s Day!). But the differences in this portrayal are obvious, with Mxyzptlk (played by Peter Gadiot) clearly a far cry from the short, old, grey-haired, bowler-hatted space imp. That being said, Ben DeRoy put on a pretty exterior to woo Lois Lane, so perhaps this version is no different. And once again, his desire to make mockery of Superman carries over even to Supergirl, as evidenced by his M-emblazoned Supersuit.
This time around, Mxyzptlk – or “Mxy,” for short – caught a glimpse of Supergirl as she made her way across the galaxy from the dying Krypton to the thriving Earth. Where the comic version was made curious by Metropolis’s flying protector, it’s the Girl of Steel who will have Mxy changing reality with a snap of his fingers. He’s not the first live-action version adapted, nor the first for The CW, either. But where ‘Mikhail Mxyzptlk’ was trimmed down to a master of luck for The CW’s Smallville, Gadiot’s version looks to be donright invincible thanks to his extra-dimensional magic.
That being said, he’ll also have his usual romantic rival for Kara’s affection in Mon-El… certainly no Superman, but not to be trifled with, either (do we consider stripping him down to his underwear in public ‘trifling’?).
Supergirl airs Mondays at 8 p.m. EST on The CW.