Before there was Supergirl, there was Super-Girl! In 1958’s Superman #123, DC took the concept of Supergirl out for a test flight in a one-off tale that featured Jimmy Olsen using a mystical object to wish Super-Girl into existence as a companion and partner for Superman.
It’s important to note that this was not the Supergirl who would later appear in the comics, but she did have blonde hair and a costume with similar design to Superman’s. As for the story idea, this one isn’t even on the top 50 weirdest Superman tales.
Super-Girl didn’t survive her initial appearance, and Olsen wished her out of reality (at her request) when she was fatally injured protecting Superman. But the fan response gave DC the willingness to commit to Supergirl as a full time character.
Almost a year after the Super-Girl issue of Superman was published, DC released Action Comics #252 in May 1959, which featured the debut appearance of Kara Zor-El as Supergirl. This time, Supergirl was an actual survivor of Krypton and Superman’s cousin, which gave him a living relative for the first time.
Fan response to Supergirl was through the roof. She wasn’t the first teenage girl version of an established superhero, but she was by far the most popular.
Supergirl’s origin story differed slightly from Superman’s backstory. Kara and her parents initially survived the destruction of Krypton in Argo City, which drifted out into space. When the residents of Krypton’s last city fell to Kryptonite poisoning, Kara’s father, Zor-El placed her on a spaceship heading to Earth in a costume nearly identical to her cousin’s so he would recognize her.
On Earth, Supergirl was adopted by Fred and Edna Danvers, and she took on the name Linda Lee Danvers as her secret identity. Superman initially hid Supergirl’s existence from the world, but when he decided that she was ready to reveal herself, her coming out party was a parade.
Because Superman had a superpowered canine named Krypto, it was decided that Supergirl would also have a pet with superpowers. And thus Streaky the Supercat debuted in 1960 from Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel and artist Jim Mooney.
While Krypto was actually from Krypton, Streaky was an ordinary house cat who gained his superpowers and intellect from his exposure to X-Kryptonite.
Streaky only lasted about a decade in his initial comics run, before he was written out of Supergirl’s life and depowered. But different versions of Streaky have popped up from time to time in the comics.
Now here’s a taste of comics strangeness straight out of the ‘60s. Comet the Superhorse was another superpowered animal tied to Supergirl who loved her. Yes, in that way.
As part of Comet’s backstory, he was established as a former centaur who was accidentally trapped in the form of a horse before he was given superpowers and immortality.
When Comet was given the ability to occasionally transform into a human, he wooed Supergirl as rodeo star "Bronco" Bill Starr, and he also dated her.
But even when he was a horse, Comet had lustful feelings for Supergirl, which sometimes led to some very weird moments when his thoughts were revealed to the readers.
Ten years after her debut, Supergirl graduated from supporting character to a leading character in Adventure Comics #381 after previously starring in backup stories in Action Comics.
For the next three years, Supergirl headlined one of DC’s longest running comic book series until she was finally given her own comic book series.
After keeping Supergirl in the same costume for over a decade, DC started taking reader submissions for new costumes. One of the resulting designs was this ensemble, with a shortened skirt, gloves, and much longer boots.
But it was far from the worst fan design to come from this experiment.
In 1972, Supergirl finally got an ongoing series of her own. But while she managed to keep her Adventure Comics slot for several years, Supergirl’s first eponymous comic book series only lasted ten issues before her adventures were dropped into the anthology series, The Superman Family.
It would be another eight years before Supergirl received another ongoing title.
During her first ongoing title, Supergirl adopted a new costume that minimized the iconic Superman “S” on her top and swapped out her skirt for a pair of red shorts.
Some commentators have suggested that this makes Supergirl look like a cocktail waitress. But this costume had some staying power in the ‘70s,
Supergirl received her second ongoing comic book series in 1982, It was called The Daring New Adventures of Supergirl. After issue 13, the title was shortened to Supergirl.
But once again, Supergirl’s run as a headliner came to an early end after only 23 issues.
Long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Superman producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind attempted to expand their movie franchise by adding Supergirl to the mix. The 1984 Supergirl film is technically in continuity with the four Superman films, but Supergirl is ignored by Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, which was the only Superman film to come after it. Only Marc McClure reprised his role as Jimmy Olsen for Supergirl.
Helen Slater had the honor of being the first actress to portray Supergirl in live-action. Her costume for the film was actually a great design that eventually made its way into the comics. But the Supergirl film itself is a huge mess, with a plot that doesn’t make any sense, and Faye Dunaway co-starring as an evil witch. This movie is basically DC’s Howard the Duck.
A new decade meant a new look for Supergirl. The comics appropriated aspects of Supergirl’s movie costume even before it came out in theaters.
For the most part, it’s a pretty solid design. But that headband though... that was probably a mistake. It’s by far the most dated aspect of this costume.
In 1985, DC made its first attempt at a line-wide reboot with the Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline that was designed to be an endpoint for decades of continuity and the springboard for an entirely new DC Universe. As part of the storyline, DC’s multiverse was threatened by an entity called the Anti-Monitor.
During the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths #7, Supergirl sacrificed her life to temporarily defeat the Anti-Monitor. But in the reality shuffling that followed, Kara Zor-El was wiped from existence and the world simply forgot about her.
In the real world, it had been decided that Superman should be the only survivor of Krypton, and there was no room for a “Supergirl.”
While Kara Zor-El was out of the picture, Supergirl didn’t stay away for long. A new version of the character was introduced in 1988. Matrix was an artificial created from “synthetic protoplasm” by a heroic version of Lex Luthor from a pocket continuum. All of that convoluted junk was simply because DC didn’t want Supergirl to be from Krypton.
Technically, this Supergirl had no gender and she could appear as a man if she decided to, but she identified herself as female and even thought she was Lana Lang for a time. Her costume also greatly resembled the Supergirl costume from the movie.
As part of her life on Earth, Supergirl met Lex Luthor II and fell in love with him because he reminded her of her Lex from the alternate pocket timeline.
Here’s where things get really comic booky. Lex Luthor II was really Lex Luthor I in a brand new body that allowed him to assume the identity of his own biological son. There were some indications that Lex really did love Supergirl, but he was always seeking to control her and use her to his advantage.
In 1994’s Supergirl miniseries, the title character finally discovered Lex’s real nature and learned that he had commissioned several clones based on her. This led Supergirl to angrily break off their relationship and go off on her own.
In 1995, the Superman/Aliens crossover played an unexpected role in the history of Supergirl. While investigating a Kryptonian distress call, Superman encountered Kara, a young woman who appeared to be a new version of Supergirl from Argo City. She even spoke the language of Krypton. But in the end, this Kara was revealed to be from Odiline, a planet with cultural ties with Krypton.
Superman regarded this version of Kara as a sister, despite sharing no relation with her. And he was unaware that she survived the events of the miniseries before departing into space.
Supergirl was once again given her own ongoing series in 1996. And at 80 issues total, it still remains her longest stint as a headlining character.
Writer Peter David took the Matrix Supergirl and combined her with a troubled young woman named Linda Danvers to create a much more human and vulnerable Supergirl.
Somewhat controversially, David also introduced the idea of Supergirl as an “Earth-born Angel” and used the book to explore the faith of Supergirl and her newfound human family, Fred and Sylvia Danvers.
Linda Danvers was inspired by Supergirl’s original secret identity, Linda Lee Danvers. But in the ‘90s, Linda Danvers was a separate character from Supergirl prior to merging with Matrix.
Linda had been corrupted and drawn into darkness by her boyfriend, Buzz when he attempted to sacrifice her to a demon. Matrix saved Linda’s life by joining with her, and over time, she saved Linda’s soul by allowing her to redeem herself.
When Matrix and Linda were split apart, Linda retained a fraction of her powers and continued to be the DCU’s Supergirl for the next few years.
In the second season of "Superman: The Animated Series," Kara In-Ze was introduced as the new Supergirl. In keeping with DC’s desire to make Superman the lone Kryptonian, this Supergirl was neither his cousin nor a survivor of Krypton. But she came from a planet called Argos, whose natives had a similar physiology to Kryptonians, which gave her superpowers on Earth.
Superman brought Kara back to Earth, and she lived with his adoptive parents, the Kents while adjusting to her new life. Kara also took on the identity of Supergirl, because she was inspired by Clark's example.
The White T-Shirt Supergirl costume designed by Bruce Timm soon made its way into the DC comic book universe.
That is the Linda Danvers Supergirl in that outfit, after she was separated from Matrix. Linda wore this costume into battle until the final issues of the series, in which she briefly replaced Kara Zor-El in the original DC timeline and she subsequently relinquished the role when her daughter from that timeline, Ariella (with Silver Age Superman as her father!) was lost to her.
After Linda Danvers stepped down from the role of Supergirl, the next character to claim the mantle was Cir-El, a woman who claimed to be the daughter of Clark Kent and Lois Lane. Eventually, Cir-El was exposed as Brainiac’s Trojan Horse against Superman. Her real name was Mia, and Superman’s DNA had been grafted onto hers in order to empower her.
Rather than be used against Superman and Lois, Cir-El sacrificed her own existence.
Supergirl returned to animation in "Justice League Unlimited," where she played a large role in the third season of "Justice League" (or the first season of "JLU," if you prefer). Nicholle Tom reprised her role as Supergirl from "Superman: The Animated Series."
Bruce Timm eventually gave Supergirl a new costume that made her look older, but she was written out of the show when Supergirl decided to stay in the 31st century with the Legion of Superheroes.
During a 2004 storyline in Superman/Batman, Jeph Loeb and the late Michael Turner reintroduced Kara Zor-El into the main DC universe for the first time in nearly 20 years.
This version of the character was actually biologically older than Kal-El/Superman, but she had been placed in hibernation and did not age on the trip to Earth.
The new incarnation of Supergirl quickly proved to be popular, and she was once again given her own comic book series.
Loeb wrote the new Supergirl’s ongoing series, but the darker elements that he introduced (including revelations that Supergirl’s father was evil and her own complicity in murder) were very quickly retconned away by other writers.
Once that happened, the modern Supergirl behaved and acted more like the classic Supergirl,
In the aftermath of the Infinite Crisis event, Mark Waid and artist Barry Kitson brought Supergirl into their Legion of Superheroes reboot series as the new lead character. The classic Supergirl had also been a member of the Legion of Superheroes, so the precedent had already been established.
However, adding Supergirl to the mix didn’t save the title, and Supergirl and the Legion of Superheroes was cancelled 21 issues after she joined the book.
Adrianne Palicki has perhaps the best comic book cred of any actress. She’s played Wonder Woman (in an otherwise unwatchable NBC pilot), Mockingbird on "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.", Lady Jaye in G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Nadia on the "Aquaman" pilot, and Jessica Moore, Sam Winchester’s doomed girlfriend in "Supernatural."
On top of all of that, Palicki played Kara on the third season finale of "Smallville." The audience was led to believe that Palicki’s character was Kara Zor-El, but it turned out to be a fake out.
She was actually Lindsey Harrison, a young woman who had been modified into believing she was Kryptonian. So, it’s not quite Supergirl. But pretty close!
Eventually, "Smallville" got around to introducing a full-fledged version of Supergirl. This time, Laura Vandervoort got the role, and her version of Supergirl was Clark Kent’s cousin for the first time in live-action since the Supergirl movie.
Vandervoort co-starred in the seventh season of "Smallville," and she made occasional guest appearances after that.
Jeph Loeb and Michael Turner’s “The Supergirl From Krypton” story from 2004 was adapted as an animated film six years later in Superman/Batman: Apocalypse.
Former "Firefly" star, Summer Glau voiced Supergirl alongside returning DC voiceover artists Tim Daly as Superman, Kevin Conroy as Batman, and Susan Eisenberg as Wonder Woman.
DC launched another line-wide reboot in 2011, and a sixth Supergirl series was part of its initial New 52 lineup.
The new series completely revamped the character and her history, leaving a much angrier and erratic Supergirl than before. She even joined the Red Lanterns at one point!
This Supergirl title was cancelled this year, but DC may soon launch Supergirl Volume 7 to capitalize on the upcoming TV series.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t point out how weird Supergirl’s current costume is.
Suddenly, those outfits she had in the ‘70s don’t look so bad.
On Monday, October 26, "Supergirl" is getting her own TV series on CBS, with Melissa Benoist in the title role.
Mehcad Brooks is playing an older, jock version of James Olsen, with Calista Flockhart as Cat Grant, Chyler Leigh as Alex Danvers, David Harewood as Hank Henshaw, and
Jeremy Jordan as Winslow "Winn" Schott.
The pilot episode of "Supergirl" leaked months ago, and it remains to be seen how it will perform on television. Greg Berlanti has done well with "The Flash," but can "Supergirl" recapture that tone and bring in a sizable audience?
We’ll know the answer to that question very soon.