NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for Supergirl Season 2 Episode 2
The shift from CBS to The CW isn’t slowing Supergirl down one bit, kicking off her second season by introducing a brand new Superman, giving Kara a new career as a CatCo reporter, and even planting seeds of more DC characters on the horizon. But as entertaining as monsters of the week or Man of Steel team-ups might be, the real big bad of the season, if not the series, is already working its way across the lips of the show’s cast: Project Cadmus.
Already tied to the death(?) of Kara’s adoptive father as well as unknown alien research and surveillance, the clandestine organization is now taking explicit shots at Kara and her D.E.O. allies. But before fans think that the group is just your run of the mill villain cabal, the truth is Project Cadmus’ place in DC Comics history is a bit more complicated – and directly tied to one character’s coming ascent to superheroics.
For those unfamiliar with this corner of the DCU, or TV fans hoping to get an inside scoop on the stories to come, here’s a helpful dose of Supergirl Explained: What is Project Cadmus?
Cadmus in The Comics
Thanks to The CW’s Flash, the average comic book TV fan now knows of the unique role played in the DCU by the famous S.T.A.R. Labs. In short: if there is cutting edge science or theoretical breakthroughs happening, they’re almost certainly happening at S.T.A.R. Labs. But for every good doctor, there’s an evil one– or, at the very least, a morally irresponsible one. That wasn’t how Project Cadmus (or simply “Cadmus”) was created, but before long the brilliant minds it employed started pushing even the boundaries of decency.
Originally created by legendary Jack Kirby in 1970, Cadmus began as “The DNA Project,” founded by a grown up group of wartime newsies known as the Newsboy Legion (really). It was in this incarnation that the laboratory produced arguably its most famous experiment: the Guardian, also known as Jim Harper. Harper had originally taken care of the Newsboys in their youth (hence the “guardian” moniker), and when their years brought wisdom and scientific breakthroughs, the group – with help from the eventually-villainous Dabney Donovan – cloned their old pal, and transferred his consciousness into its body. Taking a golden helmet and shield, Harper returned to the world as the physically fit and courageous ‘Guardian’… but the experiments didn’t stop.
Over the years, the group became officially known as Project Cadmus, and made genetic research, hybridization, and exploration their specialty. The result was a number of superpowered ‘DNAliens’, but the lab cemented their place in mainline DC history when they combined the DNA of Superman himself with that of Lex Luthor – giving birth to a brand new Superboy. Little would change in the following years, which means fans can pick up the basics: Cadmus researches where they shouldn’t, monitors or analyzes alien physiology at (possibly) any price, and operates in secret even to the military groups overseeing them.
Cadmus in Supergirl So Far
If the name Cadmus or ‘Jim Harper’ ring a bell, they definitely should, since both featured prominently in the first season of Supergirl. The show didn’t exactly tackle the group with subtlety in their depiction of Harper (Eddie McClintock) as a xenophobic, stubborn and vindictive alien-hater. Even so, fans didn’t get a clear idea of just how expansive or advanced Cadmus itself really was. There were teases of their work into alien autopsies or experiments – not to mention a direct link to the Danvers family – but the true level of their villainy was made clear by James, explaining that Superman wanted nothing to do with them.
As the storyline surrounding Cadmus and Hank Henshaw played out, the lines were sketched in: whether truthful or not, Harper boasted that Cadmus would essentially dissect the friendly Martian at their leisure, performing tests on alien stowaways that could only be conducted under a veil of secrecy. Hank was rescued before he could reach Cadmus proper, and the standoff between not just humans and aliens, but the D.E.O. and its fellow covert government agency was established.
Season 2 doubled down on things significantly.
The production team has taken liberties with the implied sophistication or budget of Cadmus, foregoing a laboratory for an underground, metal-chain-filled torture chamber giving the group a distinct ‘Dr. Frankenstein’ feel. It’s not inaccurate, since the group’s track record of cloning and genetic manipulation has created plenty of Frankenstein’s monsters. With the new location came a new face for the group, too: an unnamed doctor (played by Brenda Strong).
In her introductory scene, The Doctor lays out a comprehensive foundation: Cadmus (or her part of it, at least) is charged with protecting Earth from “alien menace” – creating technology and soldiers capable of tracking and killing superpowered alien ‘threats.’ That includes deciphering Kryptonite’s risk to Kryptonian physiology, and developing the connections within groups like the D.E.O. to attain it for themselves. When one ‘Metallo’ won’t work, two are deployed, with The Doctor twirling her non-existent moustache, and dreaming of a world free from aliens all the while.
And it’s clear that the failure of Metallo won’t be slowing down Cadmus’ plans to put Supergirl – and her cousin – out of the picture.
What Comes Next?
The most obvious evidence of more Cadmus in Supergirl‘s future is the official announcement that this season will see James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) cast off the limitations of high-powered office life and embrace a superhero identity of his own. The costumers may have traded shimmering gold for battle-worn silver metal, but this take on the Guardian is hard to miss. Now the only questions surround James’ actual path towards the role… and do Cadmus’ evil plans mean this transformation will be against his will?
Again, it’s all in keeping with the shifting (or completely absent) moral compass of Cadmus as a whole. In the comics stories have shown the original Jim Harper being killed in order to give his new clone life, or conditioned in ways that aren’t entirely approved. But if a more upstanding branch of Cadmus (say, one with actual tables and lights?) is looking to test out new armors or combat technology, they could pick worse candidates than James Olsen. But it seems unlikely that James would embrace a group his close friend Superman has sworn off. Who knows, maybe an undercover mission winds up giving James a lot more of an inside scoop than he had planned.
Sure, audiences have yet to see James exhibit any fighting prowess or martial arts know-how, but a faithful origin story of Guardian seems more likely than the birth of a brand new Superboy.
The million dollar question, however, isn’t what’s going to happen to James, but what has already happened to Kara and Alex’s father, Jeremiah Danvers (Dean Cain). Before making his escape from Cadmus custody, Martian Manhunter a.k.a. J’onn J’onzz a.k.a. Hank Henshaw peered inside of Harper’s mind, and learned that Jeremiah hadn’t died in the jungle as everyone had assumed. Instead he was recruited into Cadmus – but the few glimpses of his ‘recruitment’ imply it, too, may have been against his will.
The details are intentionally cagey both in and behind the scenes, with the showrunners and writers keeping the cast as ‘in the dark’ as their characters when it comes to the current state of Jeremiah Danvers. We would wager our money on a strange Jeremiah-alien hybrid Cadmus couldn’t resist making, but at this point almost anything is possible.
Supergirl continues Monday, October 24 with “Welcome to Earth” @8pm on The CW.