Supergirl has been around for quite some time — about 60 years, in fact! In that time, she’s died and been written out of continuity almost more times than you could count, but probably about as many times as any other DC character. There’s been some highs and lows, but through it all, Supergirl has remained an icon.
With a Supergirl movie slated for production, a hit television series, and an anniversary this month, there’s a lot of talk about our girl Kara. Here’s a look at some of our favorite incarnations, retcons, and reboots of one of DC’s best-beloved characters.
Although this Super-girl was hyphenated and she is 100% wished into non-existence by Superboy by the end of the story, Superman #123’s “Three Magic Wishes” did nonetheless introduce us to an early incarnation of SG. Editorial was testing the waters to see how fans would react to a female addition to the Super-Family, and it apparently did well enough to introduce her to continuity full-time the following year in Action Comics #252.
This story begins with an archeologist digging around in a cave, discovering a loosely defined “Native American totem" and then just handing it over to Jimmy Olsen. Olsen and the archeologist and the creative team for the book all seem pretty okay with desecrating and robbing the cave, so Olsen goes home and wishes for a lady friend for Superman, and that’s Super-Girl!
Super-Girl’s job is to be bad at said job, and she keeps getting in Superman’s way and tripping him up. However, when a bad guy throws a chunk of Kryptonite at him, she heroically jumps in its path and saves Superman from death. She asks Jimmy to wish her out of existence, and he goes right ahead and does that. Pretty harsh, but so is most of the Silver Age.
Kara Zor-El - Linda Lee
The most popular take on Supergirl, Kal-El's cousin Kara Zor-El (who likewise miraculously survived Krypton) first showed up in a story called “The Supergirl from Krypton!” She crash lands on Earth in a purple rocketship, because, from day one, Kara has known how to make an entrance.
This story takes place in the late ‘50s when Superman was still a jerk, so there are some unintentionally hilarious moments when he tells Kara point blank that even though he thinks it’s awesome to see his cousin, he isn’t about to open up his bachelor pad to her. She asks, “Will I be staying with you?” and his response is, “Hm… no!” and he drops her off at an orphanage. Kara hangs out waiting for the day when she gets to leave her house and be Supergirl. It’s… actually really sad.
This version of Supergirl died in the maxi-series Crisis on Infinite Earths, but not before saving her cousin’s life and that of the multiverse. Although it’s a bummer to watch Kara die, and the iconic cover image of her cousin carrying her body in his arms and sobbing is heart-wrenching, one of the best parts of Crisis is when Batgirl is expressing her depression and her feeling of helplessness and Supergirl optimistically insists that regular people are out on the streets risking their lives. She flies off, determined to keep trying. Ultimately the heroes succeed, but unfortunately, this was the last appearance of Supergirl for some time.
Originally from Earth-2, Power Girl is the Supergirl of that world who became trapped between dimensions and stranded on Earth-1. Her sense of displacement led her to leave the “S” symbol off of her uniform, wearing nothing where the symbol would usually be. She appears as an older, more aggressive, but more mature version of Supergirl.
Taking on the secret identity of Karen Starr, Power Girl is a character usually marked by her view of herself as an outsider. Despite this, she serves as chairperson of the JSA for some time and even takes on former Titan Terra as a sidekick.
Power Girl suffers from some of the most intense imposter syndrome you’ve ever seen, but it’s pretty justified in her case, and she never lets it get her down. One of the best things about this version of Supergirl is that she is completely open and honest, to the point of occasionally alienating potential allies. When Oracle asks her to join Birds of Prey, Power Girl scoffs, saying, “when Hell freezes over” and flies away. I like her.
In 1988, only a few years after Kara’s death in Crisis, we were introduced to Matrix Supergirl, who was not Kryptonian or related to Superman in any way. In fact, she was a synthetic protoplasm that had Lana Lang’s memories implanted into her psyche by a supposedly heroic Lex Luthor in another pocket dimension.
Matrix isn’t exactly what one would call a fan-favorite, and there is definitely some problematic stuff in there. She dates a Lex Luthor that turns out to be a younger clone of himself, and their relationship is pretty disturbing. On the plus side, though, Matrix had different powers than Superman and could shapeshift and become invisible.
Although Matrix Supergirl is mostly looked back on as a missed opportunity for greatness, there is still enough to admire in this take on the character. One of the greatest moments of Superman comics of the ‘90s was the issue in which Supergirl shows up in Superboy, tells him to his face that he’s an embarrassment, rips the “S” symbol right off of his chest, and tells him to grow up. Wow! Go, Supergirl!
OK. Bear with me. Matrix Supergirl merges with a human girl named Linda Danvers, who was apparently “beyond saving,” and thus when the pure soul of Matrix merges with hers they create an “earth-born angel,” because... I don’t know why. It’s confusing. What matters is now Matrix Supergirl switches between her form and Linda’s, and is stuck dealing with all of Linda Danvers’ old drama, including parents who absolutely do not understand and a pretty random guy named Buzz that quotes the bible and is probably a demon.
It gets into some pretty intense biblical stuff as the two personas are separated and Linda attempts to relocate the angelic part of herself. The comic also featured a version of Comet the Superhorse that was a weird manga-inspired variant of the character in the middle of an otherwise standard ‘90s Superfamily book. Comet and Supergirl kind of dated, but we've all been reading comics for so long we barely bat an eye. Danvers ends up traveling back to a pre-Crisis era and falls in love with Earth-2’s Superman, choosing to die in the original Supergirl’s place. She and Superman have a child named Ariella Kent, who then travels to the 853rd century and causes all kinds of chaos. Linda Danvers is baffling.
This version of Supergirl had its downsides, but it also introduced a lot of readers to really scary villains like the Female Furies and Silver Banshee for the first time. Although it was off the rails more often than on, it was a mostly fun ride, and disaffected teenager Linda Danvers got pretty interesting as the series progressed — not to mention the supporting cast is one of the best of its era.
Ah, Cir-El, the Rachel Summers of the Superfam. When she first showed up on the scene, she insisted she was the daughter of Superman and Lois Lane from a post-apocalyptic future. They have to have a few tests run to determine that she is not, in fact, the child of Lois Lane, oh no. She’s a human genetically altered to resemble a Kryptonian by Brainiac! Dang it, Brainiac, you got us again, you old so-and-so!
It turns out Cir-El was sent by Brainiac as a trick, as was a nano-virus that infected Lois via bags of coffee, which is the lowest blow ever and what I would expect from an evil robot. Cir-El is horrified and throws herself into a timestream to prevent herself from ever being born. Girl! Superman beats Brainiac every other Tuesday! Just chill for five minutes and you’d have been fine!
In the end, Cir-El was erased from existence. I’m starting to see a pattern. She wasn’t really around long enough for us to grow to love her, but I do feel bad for anyone that had to deal with Brainiac and his endless logic puzzles for any amount of time at all, so here’s to you, Cir-El.
Generally speaking, New 52 consisted of all the same DC characters with one difference: if each character was 20% more of a jerk. New 52 Supergirl was no different, and when she emerged from her felled rocketship, she came out swinging at Superman. Kara refused to believe that Superman was her cousin or that Krypton was gone. This left her wide open to the manipulations of another surviving Kryptonian, who nearly caused her to destroy Earth. She stabbed him through the heart with Kryptonite, fatally poisoned herself in the process, and left Earth to die a tragic, lonely death. It turns out Kryptonians are actually pretty emo for a civilization that supposedly rejected public displays of emotion.
While wandering space, she encounters a series of villains and ends up being forced to return to Earth when she doesn’t die from Kryptonite poisoning. She’s not stoked on it and ends up murdering Lobo. The main man! Come on, SG! Anyway, a Red Lantern ring bonds with her causing her to become a terrible rage monster. It’s pretty cool because she just wanders around space getting into fights with random aliens who are like, “god, what is your problem?”
Eventually, the Green Lanterns help Kara detach from the Red Lantern, but the downside is she’s stuck getting mentored by Guy Gardner after that. She is at one point hurled into the heart of the sun, but it turns out she’s immortal, no big whoop. She survives and lives to be rebooted another day in Rebirth.