Hero History: Supergirl

by

Or – “Making The World Safe For Skin-Tight Red Hotpants… Thank Rao!”

In the 70 years since the advent of Superman, there have been a great many superheroes, with varying raisons d’etre. Some came to cash in on trends, some to break new ground, some to irritate, some to ingratiate, and some to infiltrate. But today’s entrant seemingly comes from the basest of all creative wells: protection of copyright. Like Jessica Drew, Carol Danvers, Kathy Kane, and others, our hero du jour is a female version of an existing hero. Unlike any of those others, she managed to carrying her own book on at least FIVE occasions (though that does raise the point that it was cancelled FOUR times) and was a fixture of the DC Universe for decades. Many of the Legionnaires possessed powers on her level, but few matched her for sheer tenacity and dedication. Though her beauty was legendary, her mind was a match for Brainiac 5 himself, and her dedication to protecting innocents led to one of the most tragic moments in comic history. This, then, is your Major Spoilers Hero History of Kara Zor-El of Argo City… Supergirl!

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In the 1960′s, most of the stories were written with the assumption that the children who read it would be entertained for a while, and then move on. It was a known fact (or at least was repeated as one) that the readership turned over every 18 to 24 months, and thus certain story beats, or plot twists, or, indeed, entire PLOTS were recycled whole cloth. So it was that, a few years after Adventure Comics #247, in which three teenagers came from the future to mess with the head of the Silver Age Tom Welling, that the same thing happened to his cousin Kara.

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Note how, in panel two, Lightning Lad indicates that the three of them are the CHILDREN of the original Legionnaires, a concept which didn’t last past this particular story, even though other plot points became canonical Legion history. Being a pre-Crisis Kryptonian, Kara has no problem flying forward in time, to join the teens in some very Silver Age sight-seeing followed by some space-age treats…

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And, here we go again! It’s “The Panel,” back by popular demand! And don’t Gim, Reep, and Lyle look smashing in their Disco Suits by Donna Ka-Ran of Kandor? In any case, Kara watches as the three new Legionnaires display their powers, and then decides to show off a bit for her own initiation, digging into the Earth at superhuman speeds, cutting an underground tunnel (sort of like a Panama Canal) to allow some of the endless traffic a short-cut. Unfortunately, when she returns, she’s several inches taller and seemingly much more mature. (Get your minds out of the gutter!)

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“It’s a good thing my super- costume can stretch to any size!” Yes. Because a grown woman in a Supergirl costume would be a terrible thing to see. Yep. Terrible. It sure would. In any case, Kara didn’t spend long disappointed, as less than nine months later, she heard a strange telepathic call, compelling her to a hidden location not far from the orphanage she called home.

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Suddenly, a third girl jumps out, turns into THREE girls, and they all reveal themselves to be… THE JACKSON FIVE! A-B-C! Easy as– Oh, wait. Nevermind. No, you guessed it, folks, this is our first eyeful of Phantom and Triplicate Girls, as once again, it’s time for the Legionnaires to hold their tryouts for new members…

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You loved “The Panel” the first three times, and now you get an homage to it with three familiar faces in those legendary chairs! The surprise applicant is a striking young green lad, whose features seem eerily familiar to Kara, until she realizes she’s looking at a near-dead-ringer for Brainiac, one of her cousins greatest foes! He reveals himself to be Brainiac 5, the great-great-great-grandson of the original… who was a robot. But, hey, man, don’t worry about that, it’s the 30th Century, we’ve moved past that. As the tryouts begin, Kara goes back to an old standby, cutting into the ground beneath her with windmilling arms of steel, but this time it goes a little better…

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The spark of romance is obvious between the two applicants, even with their warring family members, like a space-age Capulet versus Montague saga. “Oh, Brainiac, Brainiac… Whyfore art thou a verdant Coluan?” “Lo, what light through yonder window doth break? It is a certainly a collection of luminous radiative energies whose nature on the quantum level is uncertain until we witness them, thus collapsing from wave to particles, though a poetic metaphor might equate Kara herself with the ball of flammable hydrogen from which they sprang.” Heh… Supergirl returns to the 20th century, a full-fledged member of the Legion of Super-Heroes, bringing forth a bit of Legion minutiae that I’ve touched on before. It is part of the rules that each Legionnaire must have a UNIQUE ability that another Legionnaire does not possess. Ultra Boy, f’rinstance, can see through lead, and Mon-El possesses no Kryptonite weakness, keeping them from duplicating Tom Welling’s powers. Although somewhat older than her cousin, the only difference in their makeup is chromosomal, leading to the interesting assumption that Kara’s unique super-power is the theoretical ability to reproduce super-powered offspring. And don’t feel too bad for rejected members Sun Boy, Bouncing Boy, and Shrinking Violet, as by the time Kara returns to the future they’ve all made full membership in the LSH. Kara arrives just in time to defeat a pair of cosmic creatures, and help her teammates deal with the fallout…

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“Yay! What a great mission! Let me fire a couple billion gigawatts into the overcrowded skies of Metropolis in celebration, and hope I don’t kill anyone!” And we wonder why Lightning Lad was the LAST founder to achieve leadership? Luckily for the Legionnaires, Kara is every bit the equal of her more famous cousin, and uses her Kryptonian arsenal of super-abilities to simulate THEIR powers and keep the underworld at bay, with a little help from her cat. (No, I’m not making this up.) Technically, though, it’s not her cat, Streaky, but Streaky’s 30th century descendant WHIZZY, who covers the teams bases. (Really, I’m NOT…)

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I am terrified by the giant freaky eyes of Kryptonian felines, and not just the fact that they can spit lasers, either. Much like this man, they possess eyes of virulent madness that threaten to drag us all to some strange Machiavellian Hades, where we’ll be poked repeatedly by invulnerable claws as we are forced to change the litterboxes of steel for eternity… Brrr. Supergirl next appeared in the Legion,

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The male Legionnaires are stricken to find that their distaff members have been attacked by an evil creature in a black suit, calling herself “Satan Girl,” and even Substitute Legionnaire Night Girl (who shows up to help) is infected. The female Legionnaires are sent to Quarantine world, a healing planet run by robots, to recuperate, as the boys call in the one member who has a chance of beating the seemingly-all-powerful Satan Girl…

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Um… Since, by this point, the entire Legion is aware of the existence of Daxamites, and since Ultra Boy has powers that mimic those of her people, I’d say that Kara’s making a bit of a stretch here, but we’ll forgive her, since it moves the plot along. Kara retreats to the Puppet Planetoid, a world which only SHE is aware of (which is strange, given that she’s not even a native to this century) but Satan Girl quickly finds the Legionnaires, and attacks. Supergirl clashes with the black-clad beeeeyotch, unsuccessfully, but has her fat pulled out of the fire by her cat. (Why do you keep asking if I’m making this up?) This time, though, it IS her cat, as well as a super-dog, a super-monkey, and her boyfriend who is also a horse. Kind of. It’s complicated… In any case, Satan Girl is unmasked as… Kara Zor-El!

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I have a theory that Krypton was not a planet at ALL, but in fact was a super-compacted black hole that only looked like a planet, because that’s the only way to justify the sheer amount of Kryptonite in the Silver Age DC Universe. By my calculations, Kal-El and his various hangers-on encounter eleventy quintillion #&@#tons of Kryptonite. That’s over 75 quintillion metric @$$loads, for our European Spoilerites. Head Spoilerite Stephen has repeatedly mentioned how the Silver Age Legion stories are full of mean-spiritedness and flat-out cruelty, and I’m sad to note that even noble Supergirl is not immune…

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Thankfully, this “Legion of Super-Bitches” is under the telepathic control of an alien, Queen Azura of the planet Femnaz, who hates men (but loves flannel, sensible shoes, and ‘Sex And The City.’) All the male Legionnaires are returned to normal (as if that word means anything in the Silver Age) and Supergirl returns to the past. Some months later, we see what I meant about repeating plotlines, as a mysterious masked agent with Kryptonian powers appears, interfering with the Legion’s daily business. The team has found that they’ve been infiltrated by shape-shifting aliens (a proto-Skrullapalooza!) when a mysterious hero arrives on the scene to save their bacon!

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Mon-El and Ultra Boy are, strangely, off on a double-secret mission together, and the LSHer’s present are unable to see through lead. With Protean shifters on the loose, the Legionnaires suspect they may be being led into an ambush, U.B. shows that he has the full-range of Kryptonian powers, a strong code against killing, and a heroic nature. His ability to use more than one power at a time proves that he’s not Ultra Boy, and so Tom Welling confidently figures out that the man in the suit is none other than his ‘big brother’ Mon-El! And of course, since I’m not covering this story three weeks ago, he’s wrong…

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The Proteans, it turns out, are being manipulated, and are not evil at all, and our man Kal-El finally puts two and two together, carries the one, and figures out that there’s only one man who could pull off all those feats of power, and “he” looks quite good in a flirty blue minidress…

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If you think the reference to Kal looking at his cousin’s flirt-skirt was creepy, just be glad I don’t recount the story of ‘Super-Inbred-Time-Paradox Lad,” folks. Not long after Supergirl’s THIRD run-in with Deus Ex Machina Magic Dust Red Kryptonite, the last scions of the House of El once again have a run-in with radioactive fragments of their former home, this time of a much more earth-tone variety…

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Good lord! *Choke* That means that we’ll only have THREE members with the power to lob suns around just because they’re bored! Oh, the humanity! Still, when you’re a teenager, having your friends move away is a pretty horrible thing to have happen, and nearly every team member is completely broken up, wanting to show their support and affection for the Teen Supreme and the Cutie from Krypton…

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“Here, Superboy! Take this tiny representation of the man who murdered one of me. Tee hee!” Apparently, she also has the HORMONES of three separate teenage girls, as well. Luckily, as we have seen before, the Super-family is quickly replaced by the mysterious Sir Prize and Miss Terious, and the Kryptonite cloud’s threat is reversed by a heroic member of the Legion of Substitute Heroes (a long story which I’ll get to later.) But a far more sinister foe threatens to splinter the Legion not long after, this one not radioactive but bureaucratic in nature, as obscure United Planets regulations stated that any group with membership above 25 members had to pay sky-high taxes, and thus one of the members had to quit. When Brainiac 5 rigs the test to prove that his super-power is least useful, Kara steps up with a better reason to eject HER…

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Brainiac manages to pull one out of his hat, and the member that leaves is none other than Silver Age Tom Welling, but the relationship between Brainiac and Supergirl heated up in the way that only a teenage romance can, and even though the Girl of Steel’s membership remains active, she disappears from the Legion for long months. Such is the intensity of Brainy’s love, that he (unconsciously) builds a robotic duplicate of her to reciprocate his seemingly unrequited love. Star Boy realizes that B-5 has popped his cork, and calls for backup, only to have their bacon saved by the real Supergirl!

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Kara’s promise to Brainy goes unfulfilled for loooong months, which stretch into years, during which she headlines her own title and goes through a frightening array of bizarre costumes and even more bizarre boyfriends before (more than EIGHTY issues later) a threat so huge, so incredible arises, that Legion leader Dream Girl is forced to call in ALL the reserves to face it… a threat called Darkseid.

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Supergirl joins the team during one of their darkest hours, a series of battles known as ‘The Great Darkness Saga,’ and fought valiantly with them. When the evil Lord of Apokalips turns every man, woman and child on the planet Daxam into a superhuman, she fights alongside the most powerful heroes to protect the one thing that can defeat Darkseid: a child who bears the power of Izaya the Highfather. Though the battle goes badly, Izaya does the one thing he can, imbuing all the Legionnaires with some of his power, his “light,” to beat back the darkness…

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This sequence is interesting to me, as it both informs the future, and illuminates the past. Supergirl has always come from a point further forward in time than her cousin, and was paradoxically older than him at the time they shared Legion membership together. Here, young Kal seems to be in his late teens, while Kara is a grown Kryptonian woman, and the difference between them (in power and battle savvy) really shows. Inexperienced Kal is quickly dropped with a power beam from the eyes of the big “D,” while Kara dodges, and then shatters a boulder across Darkseid’s shoulders. Even on Apokalips, he’s seldom been hit so hard…

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If you know what happens later, this scene is chillingly familiar, and it always sets a chill down my spine… Of course, Kara’s determination carries the day, allowing the Legion to rally and defeat Darkseid (with the help of a few million super-powered Daxamites, Dev-Em, the Legion of Substitute Heroes, the Wanderers, and even the Heroes of Lallor) saving their world and century from the taste of evil. After the battle, Supergirl gets a little overdue ‘me-time’ with her 30th century squeeze…

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The Darkness Saga led to Supergirl’s return to sporadic duty with the Legion, but in a very specific sort of way. Rather than traveling forward for the camaraderie, she seems intent on spending time with a certain green-skinned man, who has absolutely no idea how to deal with the attention of a beautiful, bulletproof, confident Kara…

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The Legionnaires find themselves in the midst of a plot by the Dark Circle, and attempting to assist a United Planets spy named Ontiir who had infiltrated the Circle from within. Kara’s life in the 20th century was getting very complicated, and she enjoyed her “time off” in the bright and shiny future. As an aside, I’ve always thought that the red choker and hotpants version of Supergirl’s costume was one of the cutest outfits in her arsenal (of which I can find few examples online without being inundated with pictures of nearly-naked women who need attention) of 1970′s atrocities. When next she returned to the future, to follow up on the Dark Circle mission, she was wearing her movie-inspired uniform with the oh-so-Flashdance headband…

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The mission goes badly, as espionage is hardly the forte of any of the three Legionnaires present, given that Brainiac can’t lie, Supergirl can’t sneak, and Sun Boy is too busy wishing Kara still had the costume with the cleavage to notice anything else…

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Though she treats the entire mission as a lark, just hangin’ out with her old ‘school friends,’ the mission leads to Ontiir’s seeming death, and Supergirl blames herself for the death of an innocent. The saddest part of it all? She and Brainiac had finally achieved the closest thing they’ve ever had to a stable relationship, only to have Supergirl’s own insecurities and her guilt tear them apart.

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Still, even though she might have been able to put the Legion out of her mind, a 12th level intellect isn’t as easily distracted. While Supergirl continued with her life in Chicago, even flirting with Justice League membership a time or two, portions of Brainiac’s mind were always on Kara and her invulnerable short-shorts. Having the advantage of foreknowledge and years of history aren’t always a plus, though, as a trip through the historical archive brings an unhappy bit of historical context…

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Unfortunately for Brainiac, history has a way of unfolding however the hell it wants to, as waves of antimatter begin destroying universe after universe. The alien Monitor gathers heroes (including hand-picking Kara ((and fellow Legionnaire Blok)) for a tenuous mission) to fight his counterpart, the anti-matter powered Anti-Monitor. When the heroes realize they can no longer fight the war as a purely defensive battle, a force of the most seasoned and powerful heroes enters the antimatter universe, and at the forefront, are those stalwart survivors of Krypton, Superman and ‘Girl.

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Once again, it’s Kara who turns the tide, using her super-breath to scatter the creatures, rather than continue battling, showing once again that she is much more creative in the use of her genetic potential than her cousin, who has a tendency to lead with his invulnerable face just because MOST things can’t hurt him. Case in point?

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As the other heroes are sidetracked by attacking monsters, Supergirl rushes to her cousin’s side, racing through a gauntlet of living stone, hearing her cousin’s impending death as the Anti-Monitor beats him senseless. Kara rushes in, staggering the giant alien for the first time, repeatedly beating him down, keeping him from killing Kal-El, if only by seconds. Anti-Monitor’s energies grow, and Kara realizes there’s only one chance to save the matter universes from the oncoming storm…

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See what I meant about the chills? Kara fights on, punching through the anti-matter energies, as the purple energy damages even her invulnerable form. Doctor Light hesitates, wanting to help her, and Kara screams once again to get Superman free, as the Anti-Monitor reaches out, dealing her a shattering blow of pure energy. But Kara has brought him to the edge of defeat, and he is forced to flee, leaving behind a stunned cadre of heroes, and a gravely wounded Supergirl…

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Knowing that she has saved her cousin, Kara Zor-El dies, and the horrible prophecy that Brainiac foresaw came true. The heroes return home, and the entire world mourns the loss of one of their greatest (and most under-estimated) heroes, while Superman deals with his grief in a much more personal manner…

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Y’know what? If the sight of the Man of Steel in tears doesn’t move you a little, you are a bastard, and I command you to leave the halls of Stately Spoilers Manner and find your entertainment at “MeanSpiritedComics” or by watching kitties fall off roofs or something…

Are they gone? Good. Because I haven’t teared up like this since they killed Blok. In any case, Kara’s death was, miraculously, not undermined immediately by a silly resurrection. Indeed, it was several years before a new Supergirl (this one an alien from the Pocket Universe ((a loooong story which I’ll get to at some point))) appeared. Though she had no interactions with the rebooted Legion, there was a hint that the “Archie Legion” version of Brainiac 5 had a historical crush on her. Indeed, the Legion’s history was remarkably Big Red S free until the W/KRP (Waid/Kitson Reboot Period) Legion appeared. This “Threeboot” version of the Legion was unable to stop an oncoming asteroid that threatened to destroy Metropolis, until it was destroyed by a red-and-blue blur…

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The blonde bombshell is strangely confused, and Legion leader Cosmic Boy doesn’t quite understand, until she pulls him aside for a tete a tete. Cosmic Boy wants to know if she is whom she seems to be, and Kara both assures and frightens him with her response…

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Oh, goody. The invulnerable woman is bug-&*^# crazy. That’s refreshing. The Legionnaires aren’t entirely sure how to take her, with Cos being creeped out, Light Lass hating her on principle, Ultra Boy jealous of her power, and the people of Earth completely enchanted by the historical heroine. The Legion returns her to the Kryptonian colony world of Rokyn, where Kara finds her people, and finds that she still doesn’t fit in. The Legionnaires bid her farewell, and in a recursion of the “Mean-Spirited Heroes Messing With Each Other’s Heads” paradigm that Stephen so loved in the Silver Age, don’t tell her until the last second that she’s welcome to…

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Supergirl proves invaluable to the Legion, holding off a lead-poisoning-crazed Mon-El, fighting alongside them with the Wanderers, even trying to keep Cosmic Boy from making a horrible mistake and killing a whole planet of Dominators. Her popularity continues to skyrocket, leading to the most interesting development of all…

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I completely and utterly hate that midriff-revealing costume, too, not simply because it’s ‘Soo Five Minutes Ago,” but because it’s just not Supergirl to me, it feels like something a castoff member of Youngblood might have worn to get on a reality TV show or something. In either case, Supergirl’s first act as Legion leader is to initiate a search for previous leader Cosmic Boy (who I STILL maintain has been happily recruited into a future superteam and not kidnapped by psychos from the 41st century.) Unfortunately, she takes her advice from Brainiac 5, who leads her (and the entire Legion) into a series of unwise confrontations, and puts her in a position to remove herself as a threat to his ability to manipulate the Legion, as she finds Evolvo Lad’s time portal…

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Kara throws herself into the portal, and returns home to join the Teen Titans and cameo in every third issue DC has published in the last year and a half, proving that sometimes a micro-mini and a half-shirt really DO make you popular. Still, no matter the time period, no matter the costume, Kara Zor-El proved herself easily the equal of any of her Legion partners, using her powers more creatively than her cousin or Mon-El, and showing as much determination as any of the Lads or Lasses, and giving her life to save her only living family and five worlds worth of strangers… A far, far better thing she did, indeed, even if I do sometimes miss the crimson choker and hotpants.

**If you’ve enjoyed this Hero History, you might want to ‘Read All About It’ at your Local Major Spoilers! Our previous Major Spoilers Hero Histories include:

Blok
Bouncing Boy
Brainiac 5
Chameleon Boy
Colossal Boy
Dawnstar
Dream Girl
Element Lad
Ferro Lad
Gates
Invisible Kid
Karate Kid
Kent Shakespeare
Lightning Lass
Matter-Eater Lad
Mon-El
Sensor Girl
Star Boy
Thunder
Timber Wolf
Tyroc
Ultra Boy
Wildfire
XS

Or you can just click “Hero History” in the “What We Are Writing About” section on the main page… Collect ‘em all! Next time out, we’ll head back to the SECOND future, with a spotlight on one of the Reboots unique LSHer’s as we go in-depth with… Kinetix!