Given that comic books and their various multi-media spinoffs— cartoons, movies, graphic novels, etc… have traditionally been seen as the near exclusive purview of adolescent and preadolescent males, it shouldn’t be all that surprising that Superman’s cousin, Supergirl, is almost unknown to most females in today’s culture. So, being a longtime fan of the character I thought I’d attempt to spotlight her and encourage my female friends to look into Supergirl in hopes of generating a few more fans for her.
Supergirl debuted in issue #252 (May 1959) as Superman’s cousin, Kara Zor-El, from the planet Krypton, and more specifically from the doomed city of Argo. The city miraculously survived the immediate destruction of Krypton by being blown intact out into space. The city had a protective dome that ultimately failed to withstand a meteor shower composed of kryptonite. However, just as Kal-El’s (Superman’s) father had saved his infant son from destruction by launching him earthward in a rocket so also was teen-aged Kara able to avoid death.
Initially, Supergirl was cringe-worthy as an independent hero. In fact, she was decidedly submissive to the will of her older yet paradoxically younger cousin, Superman (a manifestation of “Relativity” within the space-time continuum as she was a teen back on Krypton while Superman was an infant). Supergirl’s early adventures represent little more than an interesting reminder of how women and specifically girls, were viewed by society at the time.
Superman created a secret identity for Supergirl similar to the one he possessed as mild-mannered reporter, Clark Kent. Kara’s secret identity was that of an orphaned girl named Linda Lee. Her early adventures witnessed the introduction of her pet cat, “Streaky” and later, the rather interesting, “Super Horse”. Romance, pets, independence, and alienation were common themes in Supergirl comics during the first few decades of her existence.
Supergirl’s initial run at DC (Detective Comics) reached an end albeit on a high note in “Crisis on Infinite Earths”. The brain trust at DC decided after years of various Kryptonian survivors Superman, Supergirl, Kandor (the bottled city) etc… it was time to simplify things and reduce Krypton’s survivors down to one–Superman. So in 1985, a 12-part series was released to facilitate the simplification of all things DC culminating in the death of Kara Zor-El in issue #7.
Following Kara’s death various other characters took on the identity of Supergirl but for old-timers like myself, Kara remains the one true incarnation of Supergirl. Fortunately, others have felt as I do in that regard and Kara Zor-El as Supergirl was reintroduced to DC continuity in 2004 by the talented team of Jeph Loeb (writer) and the late Michael Turner (artist).
Superman-Batman witnessed a new millennial take on the classic “World’s Finest” team up of DC’s two most iconic characters. In issues numbers 8 through 13 Supergirl was re-introduced with basically the same origins story as she had in 1957. However, gone was the submissive “good-girl” we knew from 1957 and in her place stood a passionate, strong-willed, stubborn, and assertive personality embodied in the form of a scantily clad sex-bomb as only Michael Turner could envisage. While I am not a fan of seeing Kara overly sexualized— I definitely liked the take on her re-defined personality.
Since then, Kara as Supergirl has appeared in a number of series bearing her eponymous title. Thankfully, the overt sexualization has been toned down since 2004 as well. Sales for Supergirl have been respectable for the month of April, 2013 she ranked 72nd out of 300 titles that include both Marvel and DC releases. Significantly, she even out sold some of the secondary X-Men and Batman titles.
The Loeb-Turner new origins story is a favorite of mine and I highly recommend it as first-rate story telling. You can purchase volumes 8-13 of Superman-Batman in a DC collections edition:
Recently, I purchased a copy of the Blu-ray animated adaptation of “Superman Unbound”. Much like Superman-Batman Apocalypse (Blu-ray version of the Loeb-Turner Supergirl story arc) which also relegated Supergirl to near invisible status in its marketing, this release also features Supergirl in an important albeit unheralded co-starring role. As Scott Mendelson noted in an excellent article he provided for Forbes online:
The other one was a Wonder Woman film, which is the best of the bunch and yet its “disappointing” sales figures caused the cancellation of any future female-centric DVD movies, to the point where the 2010 Supergirl feature was titled Superman/Batman: Apocalypse and barely mentioned Supergirl in the marketing. If you happen to be a fan of the DC universe, you can probably see the problem that I’m getting at.
I think Supergirl when handled properly can be a valuable and empowering symbol for females just as Superman can be for males. She is not simply a female version of Superman as some of her critics have claimed. Kara has her own personality and her own demons to face–unique to herself. DC’s animation marketing arm may shy away from mentioning her directly or showcasing female superheroes at all but I argue that’s all the more reason for girls and women to claim these characters as their own. Just as Gloria Steinem did years ago in claiming Wonder Woman as a feminist icon; so much so that Wonder Woman graced the very first cover of Ms. Magazine back in 1972; so also, I urge other females to embrace Supergirl. Women are still under-represented in the comic book industry. It would be wonderful to see more creative and inventive women enter that field.
Below: An interesting promotional piece for Supergirl’s return in Superman-Batman Apocalypse