Anyone who’s studied Supergirl’s history can’t blame her for being angry. When she first came to Earth, back in the 1950s, Superman did not always treat his cousin kindly. You would think he would be delighted to finally have another Kryptonian around, but no. He parked her in an orphange, where she had to wear a dowdy disguise and fend off potential adopters. (Mike Madrid’s The Supergirls compares her to a Victorian heroine, whose fate rests in the hands of an adult guardian.)
Despite this, she finally does manage to find a family to take her in, and enjoys the sort of stable, loving family that Clark Kent had. (When you look at Superman’s treatment of Lois and Kara through the 1950s, you have to assume he was mainlining Red Kryptonite the whole decade.)
Like Mary Marvel, Supergirl is a blood relative of a super-powered hero, and her costume reflects his, only with a skirt, just her name copies his, but gendered feminine. They meet up with their family in similar circumstances, too. Both Billy Batson and Clark Kent start out as orphans, but then they discover they have a cousin who shares their power (either by birth or through an act of generosity).
Whereas Batgirl (who came along in the 1960s) had an identity of her own, the two super-powered heroines found it harder to break out their cousins’ orbit. (Otto Binder created both, interestingly.)
Supergirl did get to hang out with a group of other super-powered teens, the Legion of Super-Heroes. She even found love, in the form of Braniac 5, a super-intelligent alien. Perhaps her oddest boyfriend was actually her horse, Comet. He became human when a comet passed through the solar system, but luckily he changed back before things went too far for a G-rated comic.
Supergirl continued to follow in her cousin’s wake, even on to the big screen in the 1984 movie Supergirl. Helen Slater was the heroine, but unfortunately the movie did poorly. The Supergirl comic faltered and was cancelled soon after. (In retrospect, the 80s look they gave Supergirl in the comic didn’t help.)
Then came the Crisis, and Supergirl died. The cover, with a weeping Superman holding his cousin, became instantly iconic.
And that was it for Supergirl, who was written out of continuity for a long time thereafter. She didn’t really come back unti 2004, with a rejigged origin story that had her come to Earth as an older teenager, still younger than Superman, but less likely to knuckle under to him.
Since then, she has continued to have a rebellious attitude and a lot of anger towards what she sees as Superman’s condescending attitude. In the beginning, this was a lot less tolerable as she began acting out in a late-teenage way that seemed pretty self-induglent. But then, as The Supergirls points out, “Truthfully, if there had existed a 16-year-old girl who could fly, move continents, and travel to the far side of the sun, there’s a good chance that she would stay out all night and do whatever she wanted. Because, no one would be able to stop her.” (99).
Fast-forward to the New 52, and she’s still pissed off with Superman, but she has more of a life, and friends, of her own. Her pent-up anger takes an interesting turn when she gets a Red Lantern ring. (For those of you in the back: there aren’t just Green Lanterns any more. Each colour has a group of lanterns with appropriate rings, each symbolizing an emotion, with red being anger.) Take a super-powered teenager and give her a ring that drives its recipients insane with anger, and stand well back.
There’s a very funny exchange between Guy Gardner, head of the Reds, and Superman in Red Lanterns #29. Neither party is really sure what to do with Kara, who suddenly has become a hot potato for them both. Still, Clark’s family feelings come to the fore as he warns Gardner that if it all goes wrong, Kara isn’t just a superhero, she’s family. The Reds respond that they are a famliy. It ends with Kara telling them “I’m not a piece of luggage. I’m not a problem for the grownups to solve.”
Unsurprisingly, she finally manages to get the ring off, although that was supposed to be impossible. In her latest adventures, she has joined an intergalactic school for young superheroes, where all was going well until a clone of Superboy showed up in Supergirl #39. (You can see why she gets cross about her relatives.) She has also turned up in several issues of Justice League United, to my everlasting joy.
And now, of course, Supergirl is going to have her own TV show. There have already been sneak peeks at the costume, and hopes are high since Arrow and The Flash have done so well. Let’s hope that it’s an interesting show, since it’ll be the first with a major female super-hero since Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman.
I could say a million things about how I think they could do the show, but it’s filmed, so it seems pointless. All I can say is that I’m looking forward to it, and to seeing how they translate a comic character that has sometimes struggled to the small screen. May she find a home there.
Madrid, Mike 2009: The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines, Exterminating Angel Press.
If you like the image at top, click here.