Supergirl is a comicbook superheroine, created by Otto Binder and Al Plastino in 1959 as a Distaff Counterpart of Superman. She has been a member of different incarnations of the Legion of Super-Heroes, the Justice League, the Teen Titans and the Red Lantern Corps
Although there have been different Supergirls, the best known version is Superman's cousin Kara Zor-El who arrived on Earth several years later than Clark Kent. In contrast to her adult and more mature cousin, Kara is a teenager who struggles to fit in her new home and control her new and immense powers as she grows up and matures.
The original Supergirl was killed off during the Crisis on Infinite Earths mega-crossover when DC decided that Superman had to be the sole survivor from Krypton. An extensive analysis of her character and history can be read here. Several different characters took up the Supergirl mantle until Kara Zor-El returned in 2003.
DC's first character named Supergirl was possibly Lucy of Borgonia who made her only appearance in "Superboy" #5 (1949). She had no powers and performed heroic feats helped by Superboy, whom she befriended.
Several years later, as a test DC released Superman #123 "The Three Magic Wishes" (August, 1958), a Jimmy Olsen story where he got three wishes. One wish was for a woman to keep Superman company, but though meaning well, this magical Super-Girl kept messing up her super-feats. Jimmy sadly wished her away when she sacrificed herself to save Superman from kryptonite, and was about to die anyway. (Note that in most later reprintings of this story, Super-Girl was intentionally miscolored to look different from Supergirl; originally, and as seen in DC Archives, she looks identical to Supergirl except that the skirt of her Mini-Dress of Power is red.)
The issue sold well and the DC powers that be decided that Supergirl's time had come. Thus was born Supergirl - a.k.a. Kara Zor-El, Kal-El's cousin. She first appeared in Action Comics #252 (May, 1959). At first, she was "Superman's secret weapon". As Linda Lee, an orphan at the Midvale Orphanage, she hid the existence of Supergirl from the world, secretly doing good and helping those in trouble.
Eventually, as the audience for good female characters increased, Superman judged her ready, and Supergirl was unleashed on the world. She was adopted and became Linda Lee Danvers; she gained her own Smallville-esque supporting cast, becoming an occasional member of the Legion of Super-Heroes and love interest to popular LSH member Brainiac 5. Again in contrast to her cousin and most of DC Silver Age characters -whose different status quos were firmly established and fixed-, Kara was allowed to grow up. She graduated from the high school and college, moved several times and worked as a photographer, student advisor and soap opera actress among other jobs.
Kara Zor-El's adventures were serialized in Action Comics and Adventure Comics before being given her own self-named book in 1972. Her adventures got decent sales, but by the mid Seventies, DC decided to merge the "Supergirl", "Jimmy Olsen" and "Lois Lane" books in an anthology series called "Superman Family" as part of a strategy to support its super-heroes.
Meanwhile, a fateful decision was made: If Superman had a cousin on Earth-1, where Supergirl had long been established to live, why not one for the original Superman, Kal-L of Earth-2? Thus was Power Girl, aka Kara Zor-L of Earth-2, introduced, with an origin much like Supergirl's, except for some Scotch Tape to the effect that her capsule had taken much longer to reach Earth. Power Girl used a very different costume, an all-white costume, which highlighted her breasts, large even by comicbook standards. She was instantly inducted into the Justice Society of America and soon became a fan favorite.
In the early Eighties "Superman Family" was cancelled. However, Supergirl got a new solo book -"The Daring Adventures of Supergirl" or simply "Supergirl"-, which lasted twenty-three issues until DC decided to cancel it with the intention of launching a new magazine, "DC Double Comics", featuring Supergirl and a revamped Superboy.
Unfortunately her big-budget live action film flopped, and the powers that be decided that Supergirl was a symptom of the longstanding decline in the Superman franchise, which had made the books a poor seller for DC Comics. In order to try and bring back Superman's uniqueness, it was decided that Superman should be the only surviving Kryptonian. So in Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 (October, 1985), Supergirl made a Heroic Sacrifice to help stop the villain's plan. But then DC decided to do a full-on reboot of the Superman franchise, resulting in the now dead Supergirl being declared to have never existed. In a bit of major irony though, the copycat Power Girl survived and was given a new origin story, as the granddaughter of an Atlantean sorcerer sent through time to the present day.
Eventually, John Byrne decided to "cheat" his way around the "Superman: Last Son of Krypton For Real" edict to bring Supergirl back, in the form of "Matrix", a shape-shifting purple creature who just so happens to take Supergirl's form. The new version first appeared in Superman vol. 2 #16 (April, 1988). Hailing from a pocket universe where Superboy existed (in order to keep the Legion of Super-Heroes universe from collapsing from the removal of Superboy from canon) and all life was destroyed by escaped Phantom Zone villains, Supergirl followed Superman into the mainstream DC Universe and for a time, things were good even as Supergirl began dating the Post-Crisis Lex Luthor (who was pretending to be his own son, grant you).
However, this Supergirl grew stale, and in a few years, Peter David was called in to Retool her. In Supergirl vol. 4 #1 (September, 1996), Matrix travelled to the town of Leesburg, and meld with a troubled girl who had gotten involved with Satanists, named Linda Danvers, in a nice Call Back Mythology Gag to her Pre Crisis situation. The fusion of the two resulted in an "Earth-Born Angel", a holy being with powers of fire that would serve as the mythology backstory for her new series.
Eventually, the "angel" aspect and the "Linda" aspect separated, with Linda having the powers on her own. This came at the same time that Supergirl was introduced in Superman: The Animated Series, so in a bit of media property alignment, Linda was given the cartoon Supergirl's costume. She operated as Supergirl until the "Many Happy Returns" storyline in where the original Pre Crisis Supergirl showed up, her rocket somehow having detoured to the Post-Crisis universe. Linda, learning Kara was destined to die, traveled to the Pre Crisis universe in her place, marrying Superman and having a daughter. Eventually, Kara was restored to her place in the history of the multiverse, and Linda retired from superheroing.
Shortly after, a new character showed up; the Darker and Edgier Cir-El, who claimed to be Clark and Lois Lane's daughter from the future. She first appeared in Superman the 10 Cent Adventure #1 (March, 2003). However, she was a very unpopular character, and in short order her claims were debunked and she vanished into the timestream.
A couple of years passed and Dan DiDio rose to power at DC Comics. As urban legends goes, DiDio freaked out when he accidentally discovered the current Supergirl's convoluted origin of pocket universes and "earth angels" and made one of his first edicts upon taking over DC Comics to be DC bringing back the real Supergirl. So Matrix and Linda Danvers were Put on a Bus (at first DiDio declared them erased from canon thanks to Infinite Crisis, though this was later rescinded, as the characters have been mentioned in the "Reign in Hell" mini-series and in a later arc in Superman/Batman) and a new Kara Zor-El was introduced, having crash-landed onto Earth just in time to be (re)introduced into DC Universe canon in the Superman/Batman story arc "The Supergirl From Krypton". In a twist, it was revealed that Kara was older than Kal-El when they lived together on Krypton, and had been sent into space in order to care for her baby cousin on Earth; her rocket, however, going off-course (in a re-appropriation of Power Girl's origin) had meant she arrived as a teenager when he was an adult.
Meanwhile, Power Girl had gone through some changes as they tried to figure out what to do with her. Recruited for the Justice League Europe branch, Kara had her powers decreased (due to a Deus Ex Machina lifesaving operation). She developed a new edgy, ultra-feminist attitude to let her serve as the resident shit-disturber on the JLE team (which was briefly retconned as being the result of allergies caused by diet sodas). She was made a businesswoman with her own computer company, mystically pregnant caused by her Atlantean grandpa, and most humiliatingly, was given a short-lived vulnerability to "natural, unprocessed materials" by Chris Claremont, that was so silly and stupid that it was quickly dropped as soon as it was established.
Eventually, she found a home in the ongoing JSA series, and now that she was being focused on by a single writer, she started to gain some consistency. In the series, it was revealed that she wasn't Atlantean after all — but that left the question of what she was.
In the run-up to Infinite Crisis, the surprisingly simple answer was revealed: she was... Kara Zor-L, the cousin of the Superman of Earth-2. As the Earths were being merged, she had somehow fallen through a crack in time, emerging in the Post-Crisis universe unchanged, and the inconsistencies in her powers and origins since then had been side effects of the universe trying to fit her in. (Note: She is specifically from the Earth-2 that existed prior to Crisis of the Infinite Earths. A new Earth-2 thats like the old one appeared after Infinite Crisis but it has its own Power Girl. Much to the original's dismay.)
Since then Supergirl's basic identity in the DC universe has held steady as Kara Zor-el. Confusion didn't end there though as her own named title was prone to retconning Kara's personal backstory on Krypton every few issues under a string of writers until Sterling Gates and Jamal Igle took over writing and art duties respectively. Their run -Supergirl (Volume 5) #34-59- is widely regarded as one of the best eras of the character, clocking in at#69 on The Hollywood Reporter's 100 Best Super-Heroes Comic-Books List. This roughly coincided with being brought into the extended New Krypton storyline with her cousin, dealing with the bottled city of Kandor being unshrunk releasing several hundred Kryptonians on planet Earth, led confusingly enough by Supergirl's parents. The book finally managed to become well regarded and is now a stable part of the Superman Family of comics. Supergirl also appeared in Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes, in which she was stuck a thousand years in the future with the LSH (having apparently made the Time Travel trip during a Time Skip in her own book, and then getting Laser-Guided Amnesia before she returned).
To top it off, 2009 saw a toony-style miniseries aimed at kids, called Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures In the 8th Grade, which was Exactly What It Says on the Tin. The original writer says he had plans to write sequels retelling her pre-Crisis story (her time in the Legion et al), taking her up to the 12th Grade.
In 2011 DC rebooted their entire universe again. Supergirl's origin was being kept simple this time: Supergirl is still Superman's cousin from Krypton who crashed to Earth much later and only remembers her cousin as a baby. Under the reboot Supergirl experienced some personality shifts emphasizing she's an alien in contrast to her cousin. Meanwhile, on Earth 2, Power Girl is also Superman's cousin from Krypton, only her Superman is dead and she's wound up stranded on Earth 1 for several years. She co-starred in Worlds' Finest with her best friend, Huntress, before being returned to Earth 2.
In 2016 Supergirl's book was revamped as part of the "DC Rebirth" relaunch which revealed New Earth (Post-Crisis continuity) and Earth 0 (Post-Flashpoint universe) are one and the same. At the end of the year, "Supergirl: Being Super" -a mini-series written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Joelle Jones- started publication, narrating an Elseworlds origin tale.
In other media 2007 had Supergirl becoming a regular character on Smallville as Clark's cousin Kara from Krypton, using a variation of the origin where she is older than him and, as is typical in that series, Not Wearing Tights or using a code name. (There had earlier been a fake "Kara from Krypton" who turned out to be neither. It was a plan by an AI made in Jor-El's image, and from the way she was hitting on him, she wasn't supposed to be Clark's cousin unless Kryptonian social mores are
very different from pretty much the same as modern human ones.)
Supergirl was a main character in the "Superman: The Animated Series" and Justice League Unlimited cartoons, and a lead character in "Super Best Friends Forever" and "DC Super Hero Girls". She also turns up in "Justice League Action" and was meant to join the cast of "Legion of Super-Heroes" and "Young Justice" cartoons. She also starred in two animated movies: Superman/Batman: Apocalypse" and "Superman: Unbound".
In fall 2015, a new Supergirl series starring Melissa Benoist in the title role premiered on CBS. Six months earlier, a trailer had been released, with the entire pilot episode leaked to the internet almost immediately afterward. The unwatermarked HD print fueled rumors that it was an intentional leak by CBS to drum up interest in the series. It briefly worked, but exceptionally bad writing caused it viewership to quickly drop off and be dropped by CBS after the first season. It was Un Cancelled by being renewed on CW with a fraction of its budget. There it became an alternate Earth (38) in the canon of Arrow, The Flash and DC's Legends of Tomorrow and occasionally had crossovers with the three.
Supergirl has also been a playable character in several video games such like "Injustice 2".
- Action Girl: Kara is possibly the world's most powerful woman and heroine. She has fought and beaten countless thugs, super-villains, wizards, aliens, monsters and eldritch abominations during her long career.
- All Girls Like Ponies: Kara's pony Comet could fly! He was secretly a cursed centaur.
- Bare Your Midriff: The Justice League, Peter David, and modern versions.
- Bash Brothers: She and her cousin Superman often fight together.
- Between My Legs: The first post-Crisis Supergirl, aka Matrix, was introduced with this, which also served to hide her face.
- Canon Immigrant: The Kryptonian headband Supergirl was wearing when she died in Crisis on Infinite Earths. It was added at the request of the producers of the 1984 Supergirl movie... who then decided to ditch the headband themselves. The headband was explained in the comic as honoring her Kryptonian heritage, but in fact only male Kryptonians wore headbands before that.
- Cape Wings
- Cloning Blues: A notable Bronze Age story involved Kara getting an Evil Clone who was then depowered and just wanted to live a normal life. Kara promised to help her establish a new identity for herself.
- Depending on the Artist: Much more than her Spear Counterpart cousin, the size of her skirt can vary frequently, how big her breasts can be, to how old she actually looks.
- Distaff Counterpart: Take a wild guess as to who.
- Domed Hometown: Argo City
- Doomed Hometown: ditto
- Enemy Without: Thanks to black kryptonite. She managed to pull herself back together.
- Fan Service Pack: She started out in a modest Mini-Dress of Power. She eventually had costume changes with varying levels of fanservice, with the one from Adventure Comics #409 being particularly Stripperiffic. Here's a look at the different costumes she had over the years.
- Flying Brick
- Gendered Outfit: Quite possibly the Trope Codifier. Every outfit Supergirl has worn has, in some way, been tailored to her femininity. While the Mini-Dress of Power is the most frequent (and obvious) change, she's also had a low neckline, short shorts, an exposed midriff, a leotard, high heels and various combinations thereof.
- God Test: During Peter David's run, with the "angel" version of the character, she meets a little boy who claims to be a god, come to speak to her. She asks for proof, and he asks what sort of miracle would prove anything in an age of superheroes who can fly, transmute elements, etc.; so she's just going to have to take it on faith.
- Girl Next Door: Kara/Linda's personality in the Silver Age.
- Hair of Gold: But as Linda, she wore a brunette wig.
- Heartwarming Orphan: Linda Lee eventually gets adopted, becoming Linda Danvers.
- Heroic Sacrifice
- Kindhearted Cat Lover: Streaky the Super-Cat, in fact. He got powers in a lab accident. Yes, he was a cat who could shove the planet out of orbit if he liked; just repeat the MST3K Mantra and enjoy it for the Silver Age fun it was.
- Legion of Super-Heroes
- Leotard of Power: Post the Flashpoint reboot for the DC Universe. Although other versions of Supergirl had used it before.
- Long Runners: Supergirl first appeared in May 1959, and has been an important part of the DC universe since. The character has starred in solo books and anthologies, and shows up in movies, TV shows, and cartoons.
- Magic Skirt: Some artists draw it so short, but so short that you will need a massive Willing Suspension of Disbelief to accept something so short not allowing Panty Shots free of charge.
- Mini-Dress of Power
- Modesty Shorts: Used more recently as an alternative to her Skirt.
- Most Common Superpower: Although smaller than a lot of heroines, she would still be above average in real life.
- Pietà Plagiarism: The famous cover image of Crisis on Infinite Earths when she dies.
- Pink Product Ploy: A clothing line.
- Plot-Relevant Age-Up: Along with Dick Grayson, the original Kara was allowed to grow up, even if it took thirty years. She started out as a cute little teenybopper, and became a beautiful young woman. There's a huge Tear Jerker in "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, when time-travelling young Kara asks Superman if she grows up to be pretty. This is after Kara's own death, and Supes can't tell her that; but he does tell her, as they pass a statue of her adult self in the Fortress, "You grew up beautiful, Kara."
- Positive Discrimination:
- With her reintroduction in the Superman/Batman series, many efforts were made suggest that Kara was possibly a greater Flying Brick than her cousin. Many stories written soon after her introduction as Supergirl had other heroes saying that she might be faster than Superman, might be stronger than Superman, etc. Overall, characters seemed to believe Kara would eventually surpass Clark in all parameters. Later these cheap compliments and expectations simply vanished, and the more traditional "as strong as Superman, but maybe slightly less so because she's smaller" interpretation again prevailed.
- In the lengthy 1959 story arc about Supergirl's secret apprenticeship and training, Kara had a power outage. Then she briefly got everything back—along with invulnerability to Green Kryptonite. (Mr. Multiplex was responsible.) Superman seriously regarded her as superior to him, and wondered if he should become her assistant.
- Print Long Runners: DC has published Supergirl's adventures intermittently since 1959.
- Retcon: Just look at the description above!
- Ret-Gone: For a long while, Kara Zor-El was retconned out of existence by the Crisis on Infinite Earths - until a storyline with the Linda Danvers Supergirl had Pre Crisis Kara entering the Post-Crisis timestream by accident. Later, a Post-Crisis Kara was reintroduced, replacing Linda.
- Rogues Gallery: Her enemies' gallery includes Lesla-Lar -a Kryptonian mad scientist and body-surfer-, Blackflame -Lesla's best friend and lover of convoluted plans and death traps-, Nightflame -a sword-wielding sorceress born from Supergirl's dark side-, Blackstarr -a Nazi reality-warper-, Reactron -a murderous, ruthless, Kryptonite-empowered thug-, Starfire -a mob ringleader-, The Gang -a gang of super sentai expies-, Bizarro-Girl -her Bizarro counterpart-, Kraken -an alien that uses sufficiently advanced technology to pretend to be a wizard-, Psi -an Esper- Lobo -a mass-murderer bounty hunter-, the worldkillers -a group of Kryptonian biological weapons-, Cyborg Superman and more.
- Superheroes Wear Capes
- Teach Me How to Fight: Pre Crisis Kara was trained by Superman. Post-Crisis/Pre-New 52 Kara was trained chiefly by Wonder Woman.
- Thigh-High Boots: In her New 52 costume.
- This has given rise to the urban myth that her original artist, Wally Wood, increased her bust size with every issue. It's a funny story, but it's not true.