The Many Lives of Supergirl
There’s been a lot of confusion about Supergirl recently. Since her re-introduction by Jeph Loeb in the pages of Superman/Batman, she has had a few conflicting stories concerning her nature and origins. And even then, she (and readers) had to deal with the fact that she wasn’t the first to bear that name. Today, Supergirl #34 was released, featuring the new creative team of writer by Sterling Gates and artist Jamal Igle, who promised they would start a new, interesting direction with the character, clearly establishing who she is and what she’s all about.
People, listen to me. The hype is true. This issue is a fantastic jumping-on point. It is written in a way that if you have never read a Supergirl comic before, you will understand what’s going on and who is up to what. There is a small blurb on the title page explaining that Kara Zor-El is Superman’s teenage cousin who came to Earth and tries to fight for "truth, justice and the Kryptonian way." There is an editor’s foot-note by Matt Idleson telling you exactly when this issue takes place in relation to Supergirl’s appearances in other comics (God bless you, Matt).
And for anyone who hasn’t been reading the comic so far, there are quick conversations characters that bring you up to speed on Kara Zor-El and how, ever since she arrived on Earth not too long ago, she has been making a lot of mistakes and stumbling in her journey to become a hero worthy of the legacy of her cousin Superman. To compliment the impressive writing, Jamal Igle’s art, as always, is clean, pretty and very emotive. You completely understand what’s going through the character’s heads even if you don’t look at the dialogue.
If you have any interest in the character or are curious about a young, fun girl with powers, this issue is a must-read. You even get to learn some Kryptonian insults!
Next month, Supergirl #35 is supposed to recap the basic origin of Supergirl, just to clear up things for anyone who’s still confusing her with the previous incarnations who were running around. As Gates said recently at the Baltimore Comic-Con, "Supergirl should be simple. She’s Superman’s cousin. Boom."
But I know you readers out there are curious about past continuity. Some of you remember a Supergirl who wore a t-shirt and mini-skirt or a Supergirl who had wings of fire and claimed to be an angel. And you’re thinking, "Hey, Jack! What’s the deal here?"
Well, look no further, faithful readers! At ComicMix, we enjoy indulging such questions. So, in the same vein of my Road to a Crisis article, I present to you a rundown of the various Supergirls who have graced the DC Universe. Please note, I will be dealing with the Supergirl characters who actually stayed on through multiple stories. I will not be going into detail about how one time Jimmy Olsen wished a Supergirl into existence, etc.
When Krypton exploded, Argo City survived. Zor-El, brother to Superman’s father Jor-El, had found a way to protect the city by encasing it in an air-tight glass dome. The city floated through space on a chunk of the planet Krypton itself. Since this Kryptonian rock beneath their feet was becoming radioactive, turning into Kryptonite (which happened to all Kryptonian ores as a result of the planet’s destruction), the streets and ground were lined with lead to protect the surviving inhabitants. Zor-El and his wife Alura later had a daughter named Kara. Kara and her parents would watch Earth via a powerful telescopic and saw Kal-El operating on Earth as Clark Kent AKA Superman.
When Kara was a young teenage girl (by which point Superman was now his eternal 29), a meteor shower cracked the dome of Argo City, tearing away the lead-lining and exposing the inhabitants to deadly radiation. Zor-El placed his daughter in a rocketship, wishing to save her. Alura then gave Kara an outfit she had sewn together, modeled after Kal-El’s own Superman garb. This way, Superman would recognize a connection with the girl (strange logic, but we’ll go with it). Kara Zor-El was sent to Earth and, when the Man of Steel found her, she proudly introduced herself as his younger cousin.
In Pre-Crisis continuity, both of Superman’s adopted parents were dead at this point and Clark did not believe he could be counted on to raise a young girl in Metropolis when he was always off on Daily Planet assignments or saving the Earth. So Superman took Kara to live at Midvale Orphanage. Calling herself "Linda Lee", Kara further disguised herself by wearing a brunette wig and became a student at Midvale High School. Superman didn’t wish her to go public as a super-hero until he was done training her in the use of the powers she now possessed under the yellow sun. So, for a couple of years, only Superman and the readers were aware that there was a young girl with identical abilities. Kara would sometimes help out Kal-El as his "secret weapon", only to then disappear before any witnesses could arrive.
Linda Lee was finally adopted by Fred and Edna Danvers. With a stable home and secret identity in place, and recognizing that Kara was now skilled in her powers, Superman announced to the world that there was a new hero in town, his very own cousin, Supergirl.
Kara Zor-El AKA Linda Lee Danvers AKA Supergirl had many adventures, both with Superman and on her own. But it seemed like no one could ever decide what to do with her. She changed jobs constantly, operating as a student counselor, a journalist and a soap opera actress at different times. She altered her costume a few times. And she had different boyfriends, from the mer-boy named Jerro to Brainiac 5 of the Legion of Super-Heroes, descendant of Superman’s arch-enemy Brainiac.
Kara also had a fondness for animals, apparently. Her cat Streaky gained superhuman abilities after being exposed to X-Kryptonite, turning him into a Supercat. And later, Supergirl had frequent team-ups with Comet the Super-Horse. Comet was originally a Centaur who had been turned into an immortal horse with Kryptonian powers by magic (?!). A later spell added the condition that anytime a comet passed through Earth’s solar system, he would briefly change into a full human being, hence his adorable name. Along with Kryptonian powers, Comet had telepathy and "telepathic vision" and in his human form he adopted the identity of buffalo rider Bill Star. As Bill Star, he also briefly dated Supergirl and later Lois Lane.
Not making this up folks. Supergirl and Lois took turns dating a horse.
After a while, Supergirl discovered that her parents had actually survived the destruction of Argo City by teleporting themselves into the Survival Zone (which is like the Phantom Zone but less scary). They later exited the Zone by transporting themselves into the Kryptonian city of Kandor, which had also survived Krypton’s destruction thanks to the villain Brainiac who shrank it and took it away in a bottle. When the Bottle City of Kandor was later re-enlarged, the Kryptonian survivors, including Zor-El and Alura, settled on a new colony they labeled "New Krypton."
In the parallel universe that our heroes labeled "Earth-2", there existed a similar version of Earth and Krypton. When this Krypton exploded, two rockets were sent out. One had baby Kal-L and the other had his cousin Kara Zor-L.
But Kara’s ship was damaged and took many more years to get to Earth. When she arrived, the Earth-2 Superman had been around for decades and was already semi-retired. Kara Zor-L’s "symbioship" was able to provide her with an upbringing and an education through virtual reality. Her aging was slowed so that when she arrived on Earth, she was only about 18 or 20. Earth-2 Superman and his wife Lois took in Kara, delighted to find another survivor of Krypton. When Superman finally retired from his universe’s Justice Society of America team, he had his cousin take his place.
To make sure she wasn’t just seen as "Superman’s cousin", she decided to wear a costume that was her own design rather than one that resembled his and called herself "Power Girl." As tough as Superman, Power Girl was a lot less patient and well-mannered as her older cousin. She was a powerful woman who held her own with the JSA and she’d punch you in the throat if you tried to say otherwise.
SHE’S GONE …
During the Crisis on Infinite Earths, Supergirl personally fought the Anti-Monitor in order to save her cousin Kal-El, who was seriously injured and would have been easy prey for the villain. Kara died during the course of the battle, but not before injuring the Anti-Monitor so greatly that he needed to retreat from his plans for several days in order to create a new body for himself. Superman and the Earth mourned Kara’s passing and the Man of Steel then brought her body to New Krypton so that it could rest there.
At the end of the Crisis, Earth-2 and the universe it inhabited was destroyed. Power Girl was now left in the main DC Universe and her memories concerning where she came from were clouded. She seemed to believe that she was Superman’s cousin, but genetic tests by Batman proved that was impossible (the Kryptonians of her universe had different DNA than those from the main universe). No longer sure who she was or where she’d come from, Kara decided to continue her career as a super-hero, working with the Justice League for a couple of years before going on her own. For a time, she also attempted having a human cover identity under the name "Karen Starr." Although she later gave up this identity, a lot of her friends still call her Karen.
The biggest effect of the Crisis was that the history of the main DC Universe was altered and space and time were rebooted. While some things were the same, others were now drastically different. In the new timeline, Superman was indeed champion of Earth, but as far as he knew he was the only survivor of his home world. He had never met a cousin named Kara Zor-El or an uncle named Zor-El nor had he ever heard of Kryptonian cities called Kandor or Argo.
The reason for the removal of Kara and the other Kryptonian survivors was because DC had decided Superman had been made less special by the existence of Supergirl, the super-pets and the Kandorians. It was decreed that he be the last survivor of Krypton, period. So as far as history was concerned, all those comics that showed Kara Zor-El as Supergilr never happened.
Yet, that didn’t mean there couldn’t still be a new Supergirl. She just wasn’t allowed to be Kryptonian.
WHO IS THE MATRIX?
In John Byrne’s new Superman stories, Superman visited a parallel Earth that existed in a "pocket universe." On this parallel Earth there lived another version of himself, one who had gotten his powers when he was much younger and had begun his career as Superboy. (This story was all done to preserve a portion of continuity concerning the Legion of Super-Heroes, but that’s another discussion all together)
In Byrne’s final story-arc, Superman was approached by a young woman calling herself Supergirl. This new hero explained that she too was from the pocket universe Earth. Superboy had died on an adventure and now the pocket universe Earth was under attack by that reality’s version of the evil Kryptonian General Zod. With that world’s only super-hero gone, the Lex Luthor of this alternate Earth took genetic material from that world’s Lana Lang and created a substance he called protoplasm which could mimic life. He then used this to give birth to an artificial life form, a "Protoplasmic Matrix", whom he then called herself "Supergirl" as he intended her to take Superboy’s place in order to fight General Zod.
But Supergirl (or "Matrix") had been unable to defeat Zod. And so, she had traveled to the main DCU to recruit Superman’s help. But even with the aid of the Last Son of Krypton, the pocket universe version of Zod succeeded in wiping out all life on that alternate Earth (exactly what he hoped to accomplish by literally killing everyone was never explained).
Matrix was left traumatized by her injuries and by the experience of having failed to save her adopted planet. Not wishing to leave her alone on a dead plant, Superman brought her to Earth and took her to the Kent farm where his adopted parents Jonathan and Martha Kent could care for the naive, young girl and help her develop. They cared for her and called her "Mae."
After a period of emotional instability and a couple of crises of identity, Mae cemented her identity as Supergirl and became determined to find her place on Earth. As far as history was concerned, she was the first person to use the name Supergirl.
As a being of "protoplasm", this Supergirl was not a Kryptonian, of course, and didn’t have identical abilities. She was tough to injure and able to shape-shift (though this was an uncomfortable process). She was also gifted with telekinetic abilities, which allowed her fly and throw "teke-punches" or "teke-blasts" against opponents. Telekinesis also increased her strength and speed and could shield her from certain attacks. By enveloping herself in a telekinetic sheathe that bent light and sound, she could also become completely invisible and inaudible if she wished, which occasionally allowed her to be Superman’s "secret weapon" in battle.
Matrix was later taken in by our own version of Lex Luthor (himself a clone of the now deceased original), who tricked her into thinking he was a misunderstood genius and philanthropist. Matrix was both Luthor’s bodyguard and lover until she discovered that not only was he a villain but he had been attempting to clone an entire army of protoplasmic beings from her. She left Luthor, now hardened and more cynical about the world.
EARTH ANGEL, EARTH ANGEL
It was then that Peter David took over the character in the new on-going Supergirl series. In the first story arc, Matrix attempted to save the life of a woman named Linda Danvers from Leesburg, a woman who had been captured by a cult who intended to sacrifice her. Linda was dying from her injuries and Matrix was determined to save her life no matter what. Mae attempted to use her own protoplasmic body to seal the woman’s wounds and heal her damaged body.
This act somehow merged the two into a new being. Matrix was now sharing a body with Linda and each had access to the other’s memories. What’s more, Matrix’s shape-shifting and invisibility powers were now gone. Now she could only shift from her normal body to Linda’s body and back. Weirded out by this at first, Matrix came to believe this was a great way to finally understand humanity, as she had never had a semblance of a normal life before.
As time went on, Matrix learned that there are beings on Earth who are merged with a person they are trying to save the life of and, in doing so, become "Earth-born angels." Matrix had attempted to save Linda’s life, but had in fact caused herself to become the Earth-born angel of fire (one of three Earth-born angels). As such, she now had new abilities. She could summon wings of angelic flame and teleport. She could also now emit angelic fire from her eyes, her own version of "heat-vision."
Supergirl now not only fought super-villains but also demonic entities. She later ran across another Earth-born angel named Comet, a horse-like man who shared existence with a lesbian stand-up comic named Andrea Martinez. Andrea was interested in Linda Danvers and Matrix was interested in Comet, which led to some bizarre romantic complications and personal dramas.
Later on, Matrix was in a life and death struggle with the world’s first vampire and was only able to succeed when an angelic being helped her, a being who called herself "Kara." Matrix’s spirit then left the Earthly plane and Linda regained dominance in her own body.
LINDA’S IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT
As Matrix’s spirit went forth, Linda was no longer part of an Earth-born angel but still had lingering powers due to the time they were merged. Not wishing to be confused with Matrix, she made up her own version of the Supergirl costume with store-bought items. To maintain her secret identity, she now wore a blond wig whenever she was Supergirl in order to hide her own brunette hair.
Linda Danvers continued fighting crime for a while and was much more gung-ho and sarcastic than Matrix had been. She also had a bit of a crush on the younger Jimmy Olsen. Superman welcomed her as a colleague and she helped him out at times when she wasn’t busy with her own life and adventures. But eventually, it was decided that her series had to come to an end.
In Peter David’s final story-arc "Many Happy Returns", a series of events lead Linda Danvers to journey to an alternate universe where she met that world’s version of Superman and the two fell in love and had a daughter. The Spectre, God’s angel of vengeance, later arrived and told Linda that her life in this parallel world was altering space and history. She had to return to her own universe and time. As a result, the life Linda had lived for the past several years would be erased from history. Understanding that this was necessary, Linda agreed, but on one condition. Her daughter would survive, no matter what changes were made to history and time.
Linda returned to the present-day DC Universe and found she could not continue as a super-hero. She was haunted by years of memories of a life that no longer existed, of a husband and daughter whom she could no longer hold in her arms. She wrote a letter to our own version of Superman, explaining about her adventure in the parallel universe and asking that he not try to find her, that she needed to be alone and start a new life.
Recently, Linda Danvers has shown up again in the Reign of Hell miniseries. She’s apparently been living in Gotham City for some time and has regained some of her old powers, such as her wings of flame. How this is so hasn’t been made clear since writer Keith Giffen hasn’t paused to explain what the heck is going on.
WHO’S YOUR DADDY?
For a brief time, a dark-haired young girl in a black suit showed up in Metropolis calling herself Supergirl. She said her name was Cir-El and that she was the daughter of Lois Lane and Clark Kent from the future. She had most of Superman’s abilities, though she wasn’t able to fly, only leap 1/8th of a mile. A unique ability she had was that she could fire "Red Sunbursts" from her hands. These blasts involved red solar radiation, which normally shuts down a Kryptonian’s super-abilities if they’re exposed to it.
Cir-El and Superman later found out that the girl was not his daughter at all. Rather, she was the product of a version of Brainiac from the future. Originally, she had been born a human being named Mia and then had been kidnapped, her biology altered to mimic Kryptonian DNA, all as part of a scheme to bring about Earth’s destruction. The future Brainiac had chosen to fool Mia and Superman into thinking she was the hero’s daughter because this would cause the Man of Steel to protect her long enough for the plan to go into play.
Horrified by this, Cir-El threw herself through a time portal and prevented herself from ever being born. Superman ensured that Brainiac couldn’t repeat the plan with someone else and then returned to the main timeline. Since Cir-El was now never born, neither Superman nor anyone else on Earth remembers this short-lived version of Supergirl.
BACK TO BASICS
By this point, DC had decided to relax its policy of Superman being the only Kryptonian. Even though it had been nearly twenty years since her death, fans still missed Kara and she even made appearances in the animated Superman and Justice League Unlimited TV series. So they decided it was time to re-introduce the original character back to the main DC Universe.
Soon before Cir-El was erased from history, a Kryptonite asteroid had been heading for Earth. It was destroyed, but debris from it fell to the planet, increasing Earth’s quantity of Kryptonite significantly. While recovering several pieces, Batman discovered that the meteor had actually formed around a Kryptonian space-ship. Out of the space-ship came a teenage girl who spoke Kryptonian.
Batman’s tests confirmed the girl was Kryptonian and Superman questioned her. The girl explained that she was Kara Zor-El and had been sent to Earth, hoping to find her baby cousin Kal-El. Apparently, when her rocket was leaving Krypton’s solar system, its gravity had attracted large pieces of Kryptonite onto its hull, forming an asteroid around the ship. The trip was slowed down considerably as a result and so she did not arrive soon after Kal but instead landed on Earth only now, when Clark was in his early thirties. As she was kept in suspended animation this entire time, she hadn’t aged nor had even been aware of time passing. Thus, the older cousin was now the younger cousin.
Superman explained that he was Kal-El and welcomed his cousin to Earth. Kara had some memory loss due to the years spent in suspended animation and was quite taken aback by the strange, savage planet she now found herself on. Clark insisted on keeping her existence secret, not wishing to endanger his young cousin by pushing her into the world and the public too soon. She stayed with Clark and Lois for a while before Batman and Wonder Woman insisted she receive proper training in how to fight and defend herself, taking her to Themyscira, the Paradise Island. Kara trained with the Amazons, but was later captured by the evil New God called Darkseid who, as is his habit, transformed her into a corrupt version of herself. She was later rescued and overcame Darkseid’s influence. Finally, Superman gathered Earth’s heroes together on Paradise Island to announce his cousin to them.
In the new continuity, the S-shield is a Kryptonian symbol for "hope" and part of their planetary flag, not merely a design Superman came up with for his costume. As such, Kara took to wearing a similar costume as a celebration of her Kryptonian heritage. She was called Supergirl and became annoyed though that the public and the media saw her as a sidekick or apprentice to Superman, especially since she was technically older than him. She was also bothered to learn that two previous people had operated under the name Supergirl before her (Matrix and Linda Danvers, since Cir-El was erased from history). She wondered if she had any real place on Earth. An attack by the sinister villain Dark Angel added to Kara’s confusion, as her head was filled with false memories and impressions concerning her father telling her she had actually been sent to Earth to kill Kal-El. Later, Kara realized the deception and Dark Angel was defeated.
Kara also teamed up with Power Girl for a short time, who by now had re-discovered that she was the survivor of a now-dead parallel universe. A later story showed that Supergirl was interested in the fate of a place called Argo City, though why was not explained. She also told Superman that the alien ghetto called Kandor was actually named after Krypton’s own capital, the "one, true Kandor" which had been stolen by Brainiac before the planet’s destruction.
Kara often complained that no one understood her, particularly not her cousin since he had been raised on Earth and had the ridiculous luck of being found and adopted by two of the nicest people who ever lived. What did he know about isolation and frustration? But when she realized that Clark had always felt like an outsider, not just among humans but also among super-heroes who looked up to him rather than saw him as a colleague, and when she learned that he and Lois could not have children together, she began to wonder if she’d been hard on her cousin and others. Recently, she has also realized that her angst and frustration with how her life has turned out has gotten her nowhere and so it seems that her more relaxed, sweeter disposition is becoming dominant, setting the stage for up-coming stories by Sterling Gates.
If you want more on what’s going on with Supergirl now that Sterling Gates is handling her, I will not spoil you but I will again say that you should really pick up Supergirl #34, on the stands this week.
And Power Girl? She’s continued making a career of kicking ass and taking names and was recently made chairman of the Justice Society of America, the first woman to hold the position. She’s also been helping out Superman more often than before, no longer feeling awkward around him since she couldn’t fully explain why they had identical abilities and why she internally felt like they were family.
In recent issues of Action Comics, we have learned that Argo City was Kara’s home which survived Krypton’s destruction. After Brainiac had stolen Kandor and left, Zor-El was able to mimic some of the villain’s technology and protect Argo within a force-field, allowing the inhabitants to drift away on an asteroid when the planet exploded. Brainiac then came back months later and collected the survivors of Argo City, placing them inside the Bottle City of Kandor, adding to his collection of Kryptonian specimens. But before it was too late, Zor-El and Alura were able to send their teenage daughter Kara to follow Kal-El’s flight path to Earth. This was why Kara had been trying to find out if Argo City had somehow survived.
In the upcoming "New Krypton" storyline, the Kryptonian survivors of Argo City and Kandor will be released from their bottle city and so I think we can assume that Kara will be re-united with her parents. What will this mean for the future of the character? We’ve just gotta wait and see.
And if you’re interested in a comic geared towards a younger audience, then might I suggest the up-coming Cosmic Adventures of Supergirl in the Eighth Grade?
I hope you enjoyed this rundown of Supergirl. If you didn’t, why are you still reading?
Until next time, cheers!
Alan "Sizzler" Kistler is waiting for a new Supergirl movie (and maybe Power Girl could show up in the sequel). He has been recognized by Warner Bros. Pictures and mainstream media outlets such as the New York Daily News as a comic book historian, and can be seen in the "Special Features" sections of the Adventures of Aquaman and Justice League: New Frontier DVDs. His personal website can be found at: http://KistlerUniverse.com. One of these days he’d love to write for DC, Marvel or Doctor Who.