Super Girls, Girls, Girls?

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Just like they say there’s a girl for every boy, there’s also a Supergirl for every comic fan. Supergirl’s new series is set to debut this week from DC Comics, but the lead heroine is only the latest in a long lineage of characters to bare the name “Supergirl.”

Super-Girl (1958) - Notwithstanding countless imaginary tales (or wacky adventures involving Lois or Lana gaining superpowers), the first Super-Girl debuted in Superman #123 (August 1958, a full 14 years after DC trademarked the name). Magically created from Jimmy Olsen’s imagination, this Super-Girl was supposed to be a companion for the Man of Steel. Unfortunately, the two mighty heroes proved incompatible (frequently getting in each other’s way), and Super-Girl faded back into Olsen’s imagination.

Pre-Crisis Kara Zor-El (1959-1985) – Action Comics #252 (May 1959) introduced Superman’s cousin, Kara Zor-El. As it would turn out, a Kryptonian City (Argo City) survived the planet’s destruction by being flung into outer space. When Kryptonite threatened Argo City, Kara was sent to Earth to join her cousin, Superman. The Man of Steel arranged for Kara to adopt the identity of Linda Lee, mild-mannered orphan. He then made her promise to keep her existence as Supergirl a secret until she learned how to control her abilities properly. In 1962’s Action Comics #285, Supergirl’s existence finally became public knowledge, the same issue that the Danvers family adopted her.  

During the 1960s, Kara was a regular cast member in Action Comics, frequently adventuring alongside her cousin, as well as the Legion of Super-Heroes, Comet the Superhorse and Streaky the Supercat. As the 60s turned to the 70s, Supergirl was shifted to Adventure Comics, and later, her own short-lived series (1972-1974). During this time, Supergirl adopted several different costumes, often borrowing the Katy Keene tradition of having readers send in their own costume designs for the Maid of Might to model (her most frequent costume during this period however, was a blue blouse with a small “S-Shield”, along with red hot pants, a cape and shoes).

With plans afoot for a Supergirl motion picture, the Maid of Might returned with “The Daring New Adventures of Supergirl” in 1982. In the 1983, the book was re-titled “Supergirl,” and featured a new costume (with a larger “S-Shield” that was incorporated into her cape, red boots, a mini-skirt and headband). The costume never made it to the big screen however, and the series was cancelled after 23 issues. Not long after, Kara Zor-El’s story came to an end in Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 (October 1985). During a cosmic battle against an unstoppable evil, Kara heroically gave her life to save the heroes of the DC Universe. Supergirl’s death was mourned through the DC Universe for several months, before all of reality came to an end, clearing the way for DC Comics’ complete reboot of continuity in 1986.

Helen Slater (1984) - Producer Ilya Salkind and director Jeannot Szwarc set about trying to re-capture the magic of the first Superman movie. At a glance, the pre-production for Supergirl was eerily similar to that of Superman: The Motion Picture. Faye Dunaway and Peter O’Toole were signed on, giving the creative team the star power to draw together the necessary support and assemble the rest of the cast. As they had with the casting for Superman, Salkind looked for an unknown actor for the lead, eventually casting Helen Slater as Kara Zor-El/Supergirl. It was around this point that things began to fall apart for the filmmakers. Despite Christopher Reeves’ statement that he would never play Superman again, the filmmakers were counting on him making a cameo appearance in Supergirl. When Reeves declined, they were forced to find another character to bridge the two movie franchises (which would end up being Marc McClure as Jimmy Olsen – the only actor to appear in all 5 Super-Family films).

Supergirl hit the big screen in 1984 and was almost universally panned by critics and fans alike. While Slater provided a decent performance, she was unable to overcome the many flaws of this project. The first major problem was a silly script involving magic, sorcery, the Phantom Zone and two of the most powerful women in the world fighting over the love of a gardener. Adding to this were problems with poor editing, painful overacting from Dunnaway, a limited release and a Japanese video version of the movie hitting the shelves within weeks of the premiere.

Matrix/Linda Danvers (1988-2003) – A new Supergirl made a surprise cameo in Superman Volume II #16 (April 1988). After several of such cameos, she finally confronted the Man of Steel in Superman #21. In that issue, Superman learned that the strange girl was actually a protoplasmic shape shifter from an alternate dimension. Sent to Superman’s world to seek out his aid, the two heroes returned to the parallel dimension where three rogues had declared war on Earth. Ultimately, the villains were defeated, but only after they wiped out all life on Earth and critically injured Supergirl. As the only authority left on the planet, Superman was left with the difficult decision of what to do with the rogues. Unwilling to risk the possibility that they may find their way to “our” reality, Superman exposed the rouges to kryptonite, killing them. Superman brought this new Supergirl – who for a time called herself “Matrix” - to the Kents, who helped the strange visitor adapt to life on Earth. Eventually, the new Supergirl struck out on her own, starring in several one-shot comics, a four-issue mini series and finally a new ongoing series in 1996. At the beginning of this series, Supergirl’s protoplasmic body merged with that of a dying teenager named Linda Danvers, creating an “Earth Born Angel” that continued the legacy of Supergirl.

In the final issues of the series (#75-80), writer Peter David reintroduced Kara Zor-El into modern DC continuity. Crossing over to “our” reality from before she ever landed on Earth, a teenaged Kara teamed with the modern Supergirl for several issues, before returning to her own timeline. The events in these final issues led Linda Danvers to set aside her “S-shield”, retiring from superheroics on a journey of self-discovery.

Kara In-Ze (1998-present) – In the episode of Superman: The Animated Series titled “Little Girl Lost,” another version of Supergirl was introduced. The sole survivor of Krypton’s sister planet, Argo, Kara arrived on Earth and was discovered by Superman. Under the tutelage of Superman, Kara adopted a costume (a midriff revealing white shirt with “S-shield,” red mini skirt, boots and gloves – a costume that was also adopted by the Linda Danvers Supergirl in the comics) and became the Mightiest Girl on Earth. The character, in addition to appearing in several episodes of the Superman animated series, has also been a semi-regular character on the Justice League Unlimited cartoon.

Cir-El (2003-2004) – The next Supergirl to arrive in the comics was a young woman from the future, claiming to be the daughter of Lois Lane and Superman. Cir-El, who lived a dual life as a streetperson named Mia, later turned out to be a clone created by villains from the future.  In an effort to prevent the ascent of Brainiac 13, Cir-El gave her life, ending her brief career.  Cir-El’s costume was the biggest variant from the traditional pattern, being a black leotard with a stylized “S”, long gloves and a grey/blue cape. 

Post-Crisis Kara Zor-El (2004-present) – In the pages of Superman/Batman #8, Kara Zor-El was reintroduced into modern DC continuity.  A teenager during the final days of Krypton, Kara was placed into suspended animation by her father (Superman’s uncle) and rocketed to Earth, following baby Superman’s rocket. When Krypton exploded however, Kara’s ship was encased in a large Kryptonite asteroid, delaying her journey. As a result, Kara arrived on Earth years after Superman, and while she was still a teenager, the Man of Steel was already the greatest hero of Earth. Despite misgivings from Batman, Supergirl has been welcomed into the pantheon of Earth’s heroes and into a new self-titled comic – which debuts this week. 

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