Whether as Kara Zor-El, cousin of Superman, or otherwise, some form of Supergirl has existed in the DC Universe with very few breaks in publication since her first appearance in 1958 (though her actual debut is debated due to several prototypes having appeared in the early days of Action Comics). There are hundreds of Supergirl stories out there, and that makes it a little intimidating for new readers to find an issue to pick up and run with.
While the vast number of Supergirl stories may seem daunting, you, dear reader, are in luck — this list provides some of the best of every era and all the incarnations of SG. Although there are always more comics to track down, these are some of the must-reads for one of our very favorite Kryptonians.
Supergirl: The Silver Age
For many years, if you wanted to read the beginning Supergirl stories from Action Comics, you were pretty much stuck hunting them down issue by issue and paying an arm and a leg for it. More recently, DC gave fans a break and collected the early Supergirl stories in a massive volume, recolored to look even better than the originals.
There are so many highlights in this volume that it’s impossible to name them all, but personal favorites include her first appearance, the introduction of Streaky the Supercat, “Linda Lee’s” adventures at the orphanage her cousin paradoxically drops her off at, and, of course, the many issues featuring Comet the Superhorse, one of the strangest, most disturbing, and somehow most entertaining characters of the Silver Age.
These comics came out in the ‘50s and ‘60s so they’re definitely dated, their gender politics are just not there yet, and the storylines tend to defy any sense of logic, but there is one important thing to remember: they are very fun to read.
Supergirl: Reign of Tomorrow
The Matrix version of Supergirl isn’t most people’s favorite take on the character. Introduced in 1988, shortly after Kara Zor-El had tragically died in Superman’s arms in Crisis on Infinite Earths, Matrix was a shapeshifter that appeared to have been created by Lex Luthor. In contrast to Kara Zor-El, Matrix bore no blood relation to Superman, and her origin remained mysterious throughout her run as Supergirl. Leading into this storyline, she had been dating Lex for some time, albeit a younger, bearded Lex that claimed to be the son of Luthor. It turned out he’d been lying and had merely transported his consciousness into a younger, cloned body.
Intended as something of a test run to see if Supergirl was popular enough to warrant her own series, Supergirl: Reign of Tomorrow is where the Matrix finally starts to parse it out that maybe Lex Luthor isn’t the greatest guy in the world. This story has a lot of interesting if convoluted science fiction elements in the suggestion of the existence of hundreds of clones of Supergirl, but it gives us a few glances of the fun, sometimes silly Supergirl audiences had loved in the Silver Age. By the end of the series, Matrix wasn’t viewing the world through the same rose-colored glasses anymore.
These issues are at present incredibly hard to find, but the June Brigman pencils alone make it well worth the effort to do so. The covers of this book are iconic. The Matrix might have been a somewhat ill-advised plotline overall, but after a few years of her showing up mostly to fawn over Lex, the issues where her personality started to finally show through for real are highly satisfying, even though they meant the end for this incarnation of Supergirl.
Supergirl Volume 4 #1-9
As the saga of the Matrix drew to a close, there was a great deal of speculation how to revitalize Supergirl, without Lex Luthor or Superman calling the shots, in a stand-alone solo book. The answer turned out to be: decide Matrix is actually an angel from Heaven, and have her persona merge with that of a troubled young cult member and drug addict named Linda Danvers. OK.
The series turned out to be a lot better than it sounded. In the first arc, Matrix attempts to rebuild Linda’s damaged relationship with her suburban parents while trying to figure out what exactly had happened to Linda to make her go so bad. The truth was revealed to be an actual demon who had taken human form, looked like a member of the band Blur, and called himself Buzz. The ‘90s were strong with this comic.
This run of SG stories went all the way to issue eighty, making it the longest-running Supergirl series to date. It was also consistently good, although less so the longer it went on and the more and more convoluted it grew to be (it had already started out pretty darn complicated). Though the follow-up artists were all great, the pencils on the first storyline by long-time Superman artist Gary Frank were truly something to behold.
Supergirl: Who is Superwoman?
Supergirl had been reintroduced to DC with her appearances in The Supergirl From Krypton, a story that went on to be the basis for the animated film Doom. After Jeph Loeb and Michael Turner left the book, writer Sterling Gates took Kara in a new direction. His run ran from issues #34-59 and is considered one of the best Supergirl arcs ever by many critics and fans. Of his many issues of Supergirl, the most intriguing came with the introduction of Superwoman.
The story began with a brutal fight to the death between Kara and her main nemesis, Silver Banshee. Banshee is a favorite, and her appearance here shows her to be more ruthless than ever before. Supergirl finds herself to be the subject of ire from newspapers and public alike due to the many mistakes she had made in recent months. More importantly, a mysterious character known as Superwoman appeared to drive home all of Kara’s nagging insecurities and questions about her origins while posing a very real threat.
After over a decade, Gates’ Supergirl gave us a return to the Kara Zor-El we had known and loved in the Silver Age but modernized her in ways that improved the story significantly. Pairing her with Superman’s ex Lana Lang as a mentor and giving Kara the self-doubt of trying to figure out why the world would even need a Supergirl turned out an epic tale of heroism.
Supergirl & The Legion: Strange Visitor From Another Century
The Legion of Super-Heroes is a team of many dozens of members set in the far-off future. Still, they have interacted with the Superfamily often, as the time-traveling possibilities of DC are many. In 2006 the series and team were reimagined by Mark Waid and Bernie Kitson. The Legion franchise had been in limbo for a few years, and fans welcomed the new take.
As of issue 16, Supergirl joined the team, and she stayed for quite some time. In her first arc, she shows up on accident and is baffled and amused by the Legion insisting that she’s actually in the 31st century. Convince that it’s all simply a dream, she uses dream logic against very real threats. Supergirl’s best stories are the ones in which her perception of the world simply doesn’t match reality, and this arc takes it even one step further.
Even though she wasn’t long for the series, it was still really great to see the Legion teaming up with Supergirl for the first time since the ‘80s. For Supergirl fans, this arc will be fulfilling due to its exploration of Kara’s comedic presence and the pure idolization the Legion views her with. Legends of Supergirl in the 31st century inspired many of them to be heroes in the first place, and Kara’s graciousness in response to their admiration of her is amusing.
Supergirl: Being Super
While most stories about Supergirl try to identify what it is about Kara that makes her unique and set her apart from her cousin as much as possible, Being Super does the exact opposite by telling us how Kara and her cousin are very much the same. Planting her right in the middle of Smallville, this story follows Supergirl as she tries to navigate life as a teenager in small-town America.
Interestingly, Being Super avoids a classic superhero narrative by opting to focus Kara’s energy on relationships, feeling like an outcast, earthquakes, and hidden memories resurfacing at debilitating moments. Of all the books on this list, this is perhaps the most personal and prioritizes her emotional core over action scenes and supervillain fights.
Being Super keeps things short and sweet, and by the end of the saga, it feels like you’ve really gotten to know another side of Kara. Typically, she is written as missing Krypton more than her cousin, having grown up there while Kal escaped when he was only a baby. In this story, Kara is given a chance to establish herself in a new environment, develop new friendships, and accept her new life on Earth in a way she never had before.
Adventures of Supergirl
This story took place in the universe of the TV show rather than DC proper. Written by Sterling Gates, who appeared earlier on this list with Who Is Superwoman?, this story was specifically made to be read online, so the formatting is a little different. That said, the story is pretty neat, and it was printed alongside the last days of the notoriously grim New 52 leading into the Rebirth era, which made it seem all the more lively and comparatively uncomplicated as it was coming out.
The plots for this series are brief and not especially unique, but that doesn't mean they aren't exciting. In the first story, Kara is pitted against a prisoner escaped from Fort Rozz, who she unwillingly fights at a football game. A very uncomfortable take on Vril Dox, or Brainiac 2, shows up in the next, grinning like a creep during fights with Supergirl and attempting to control her via targeted harassment. After that, she takes on some zombies.
Perhaps because it took place out of regular comic book continuity, and the concept was specifically formatted to appeal to new readers by utilizing online avenues for sales, Adventures of Supergirl reads as better than expected. Comics based on television series tend to toe the line with their plots, afraid to make a strong move one way or the other lest the comic contradict the show. With AoS, Gates took the opportunity to help reconnect readers with the more playful side of Kara Zor-El, and to delve a bit more into the relationship between her and adoptive sister Alex Danvers.
Escape From the Phantom Zone
Of all the characters in DC, New 52 was perhaps hardest on Kara Zor-El. Redefining her as a bratty kid with a terrible attitude problem and having her beaten in a fight against Superboy in her first very appearance, the hits really just kept coming for our girl. She was betrayed by her boyfriend, she was lost in space and dying, she became a Red Lantern for a hot second… it was not great. When Rebirth came around, it was a relief for a lot of readers who were beyond tired of grimdark from DC, but no one benefited more from the reboot than Kara.
After reintroducing her in the first story arc in which she battled the deadly Cyborg Superman, Escape From the Phantom Zone gave us a Batgirl/Supergirl team-up for the ages. The two characters had seldom interacted in the past, memorably in Crisis leading up to Supergirl’s death but not often enough outside of that. That dynamic of darkness and light in their characters is reflective of Superman and Batman, but it is still different, and the friendship had been sorely missed by readers.
Rebirth helped bring Kara back to her roots as being caring, trusting, and even naive, and her flaw of arrogance comes across as more endearingly than it did in New 52. The dynamic between Barbara and Kara is great, and when a baffled Supergirl realizes her powers won’t work in the Phantom Zone, she assumes that naturally, Batgirl will be the one to save them. Barbara is more skeptical of her abilities than Kara, but she does indeed save them nonetheless.