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It may surprise some of you, but there was a time when Superman was more popular than any other superhero, even Batman. Superman was so popular that for forty years Supes and his supporting cast regularly appeared in at least nine separate series. From Action Comics to World’s Finest, comic fans couldn’t get enough of the Man of Steel and his family.
And these books covered the gamut for fans. Superman showcased the adventures of the big guy himself while Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen followed the life of the boy photographer. Superboy let readers see the teen years of Superman and Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane put the most famous reporter in comics front and center. These books sold like hotcakes - at one time, Superman, Superboy, and Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane were the three biggest selling comics in the world, and DC was looking for a way to build on that success. They looked at the three books and decided to test out combining them into one character.
The first attempt was in Action Comics issue 60 with a story titled "Lois Lane - Superwoman". In the story, an injured Lois finds herself stuck in a hospital recovering. Laying in the hospital bed, she drifts off to sleep where she dreams that Superman gave her a blood transfusion using his own blood and giving her super powers. Lois takes on the name Superwoman and fights some crime in her own version of Superman’s costume before waking up.
Continuing the ‘woke’ idea, the next test happened in Superboy issue 78 with the story ‘Claire Kent, Alias Super-Sister’. Here, Superboy gets turned into a girl by an alien who telepathically hears Superboy goofing on women drivers. Superboy, now called Super-Sister, is stuck in his new body until he learns just how hard women have it. Remember this the next time someone tells you SJWs are ruining comics. Writers today are way less SJW than they were back in the day.
The third attempt, a story in Superman issue 123 titled "The Three Magic Wishes" has Jimmy Olsen use a magical item to create a Super-Girl to help Superman out. By the end of the story, the wish created Super-Girl dies saving Superman. Fans loved it; they went gaga over Super-Girl and were kinda pissed that she was dead, so DC did what any good comic publisher does, they brought her back.
In Action Comics issue 252 writer Otto Binder and artist Al Plastino introduced readers to Superman’s cousin, Kara Zor-El with an origin that would stretch reality to its furthest limits. When Krypton exploded, a single city managed to survive by flying away on a chunk of the planet. Adding to the luck of the people on this chunk of the doomed planet, an air bubble came along for the ride. I’m not making this sound goofier than it was…
So the people of this city, later named Argo (making it Ben Affleck’s favorite Krytonian city) were pretty happy, despite literally every other person on Krypton having just died a horrible death. That happiness started to fade away when the chunk of Krypton they were on turned into kryptonite, poisoning them. As luck would have it, a scientist named Zor-El had enough sheet metal to cover the ground of the air-bubble surviving chunk of Krypton, shielding everyone from the kryptonite.
Years later, a meteor shower went all Rick James on the couch that was the sheet metal keeping the remaining Kryptonians alive, ripping it apart and releasing the poisonous kryptonite underneath. Thinking fast, Zor-El built a rocket for his daughter Kara and sent her off to Earth so she could be with her cousin. Supes was real happy to see another Kryptonian, but not happy enough to help Kara all that much. Fast as he could, Supes set up his cousin with a secret identity and dropped her off at an orphanage. Kara chose her own human name, Linda Lee, which really freaked out Superman, who has a long list of romantic relationships with women whose initials are LL.
For a little over 25 years, Kara Zor-El had her own adventures. She would travel a thousand years into the future and join the Legion of Superheroes, she would team up with other iconic heroes like Wonder Woman, and she would get adopted by the Danvers family.
Then came Crisis on Infinite Earths, the story that changed the DCU. DC had a goal with Crisis, clean up the universe continuity by getting rid of all the Earths, and getting back to the days when Superman was the only Kryptonian (since Supergirl showed up, a whole planet’s worth of Kryptonians had come along, including Kara’s parents who weren’t dead! I’m not exaggerating, they lived on New Krypton and DC wanted them all dead). So it came that in Crisis on Infinite Earths issue 7, Supergirl gave her life to save her cousin. Superman, who we call the Man of Steel, not the Man of Breaking Bad News Gently, did the worst job possible in telling Kara’s parents about their daughter’s tragic death.
This being comics, the concept of Supergirl wouldn’t be gone for long. In 1988, DC still wanted to keep Superman as the only Kryptonian but they also wanted to bring back Supergirl. The story they chose pissed off a lot of old school DC fans but I think it made for a good bit of comics. Ready to get confused? Here we go!
In a pocket universe, three evil Kryptonians were working on conquering Earth. This pocket universe Earth didn’t have a Superman because he had died when he was a kid, so there was no one to stand against the Kryptonians. Lex Luthor, who was good in this reality, took an artificial life-form called protoplasmic matrix and shaped it into a red-haired woman he named Matrix. Lex filled Matrix’s mind with the memories of his dead love, Lana Lang (who Matrix also resembled) and gave her the powers of Superman who he knew about because he had invented a device that let him see other realities.
Matrix, who along with Superman’s powers could shapeshift, changed her hair to blonde and took the name Supergirl. She went off to fight the evil Kryptonians and got her butt handed to her, so Lex quickly built a device that would send Matrix to the true reality where she could get Superman to help defeat the baddies. Matrix succeeded in getting Supes to come to the pocket universe, but by the time they arrived, all life on Earth had been destroyed. Superman brought the orphaned Matrix back to the true reality and dropped her off with Ma and Pa Kent cause if there’s one thing these septuagenarians wanted to do with the little time they had left together, it was raise another damn alien.
Matrix kept playing Supergirl and even fell in love with Lex Luthor who, at this point, was pretending to be his own son when he had actually had his brain put into a clone of himself after he got cancer from wearing a kryptonite ring all the time.
Matrix Supergirl hung around for a while, briefly joining the Teen Titans after realizing that Lex Luthor was a jerk who had made clones of her for his own uses. As an artificial life-form, Matrix questioned if she had a soul, a question that was kind of answered when she held the hand of a dying girl named Linda Danvers. As Linda died, she and Matrix became one being. Supergirl was now… this is just straight dumb… an angel. More to it, she was the Earth Angel of Fire. While some fans loved this new version, the angel Supergirl was written out of the comics a few years later.
Not long after the angel Supergirl was gone, Kara Zor-El came back with a new origin. In this post-Crisis origin, Kara was a teen when Krypton exploded. Her father sent her in a rocket that would follow the path that her baby cousin Kal-El would be traveling, but Kara’s ship ended up trapped in a meteor, leaving her in suspended animation for decades. When she finally arrived on Earth, Kara found that her younger cousin was now older than her.
This Kara’s career followed the path of the original for the most part; she even went off and joined the Legion of Superheroes for a while. Then, as so many of these articles go, Flashpoint came and everything changed for the worse, including her costume.
In the New 52 universe, Supergirl was unable to deal with the destruction of Krypton and almost destroys the Earth trying to bring it back. Her attempt left her with Kryptonite poisoning, so Kara took off to die in space where she was captured by Brainiac and the Cyborg Superman (an evil robot Superman). She escaped and headed back to Earth where she was sent back in time alongside Superman and Superboy to make sure that Krypton blows up. Back in the current timeline, Supergirl then killed Lobo and became a Red Lantern. Kara spends some time as a Red Lantern before she is thrown out of the gang. At that point, she gets infected with an evil alien being and gives herself kryptonite poisoning to try and kill it. When that didn’t seem to be working, Kara flew into a sun to kill herself and the parasite alien. The parasite alien died, but Kara learned that she is immortal.
With Rebirth, DC took the opportunity to get Supergirl back on track and remodeled her to resemble her TV version. Teenaged Kara lives with her adoptive parents who work for the DEO. Kara splits her time saving the world as Supergirl, going to high school, and interning for Cat Grant. They also gave her a costume that is soooooo much better than her New 52 one.
I’m a diehard fan of the Supergirl show. Season one wasn’t great, but Calista Flockhart as Cat Grant made it more than worth watching. When they announced that Flockhart wouldn’t be coming back, I was positive that the second season would be terrible. I am so happy I was wrong. If you aren’t watching Supergirl, you’re seriously missing out. The show is fun, exciting, and filled with so much heart it hurts sometimes. The cast, lead by the endlessly charming and strong Melissa Benoist, work great together, and I would be foolish not to mention the amazing work by Chyler Leigh who’s character, Alex Danvers, has become an icon to so many in the LGBTQ community who needed a hero. If the world were fair, we would be talking Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for Leigh.