The Maiden of Might! A Birthday Tribute to Supergirl
On March 31 1959, Supergirl made her debut in the pages of Action Comics #252. There were precursors to the character – the most famous was Super-Girl, created by occasional audience proxy Jimmy Olsen in 1958 thanks to a wish and a magic totem --- but it was the strong response to that story that persuaded series writer Otto Binder and artist Al Plastino to create Supergirl for real, as a permanent addition to Superman’s supporting cast.
In her first appearance, Supergirl bore no small resemblance to Mary Marvel – a worthwhile comparison since Otto Binder created both. Kara Zor-El, as she is called, explains that her home of Argo City was blasted free of Krypton but remained intact, and was subsequently protected from the destruction of Krypton by lead sheeting, which created a chain reaction that caused chunks of the planet to become Kryptonite.
When a meteor shower tore through the lead sheeting, Kara was put into a rocket and sent to Earth to escape Argo City’s destruction, much like her cousin. All of this makes sense and is completely scientifically accurate, so don’t bother looking any of it up. It checks out.
Like the Legion of Super-Heroes --- of which Kara became a member alongside Superboy – Kara was allowed to have a character arc and to change and grow, in contrast to the perpetual reset button of Silver Age Superman. She was revealed to the world in Action Comics #285, as a capstone to three years of stories that saw her operating in secret.
In subsequent years, DC struggled to figure out what to do with her, and much like Kandor, the Phantom Zone criminals, and Krypto the Superdog, DC seemed to sometimes feel that Supergirl’s presence diminished Superman’s status as the lonely last survivor of a dead world. When Crisis on Infinite Earths came around, Supergirl was killed off by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, in one of the most shocking deaths in comics history.
A Supergirl proxy, in the form of a liquid metal shapeshifting alien from an alternate universe (there’s a sentence you don’t type every day) showed up in the subsequent John Byrne revamp, not two years after Crisis. This version of Supergirl became a fixture at DC throughout the late '80s and 1990s, eventually merging with a human being called Linda Danvers and becoming a mystical angel in a long-running series created by Peter David and Gary Frank.
In the 2000s, it was eventually felt that Supergirl’s backstory had become too complex, so she was reintroduced as Superman’s cousin in the pages of Superman/Batman #7, by Jeph Loeb and Michael Turner.
This version of Supergirl has endured, remaining to this day --- and despite series cancellations and reboots, Kara Zor-El has stayed in the popular consciousness for decades, guest-starring in several Superman adaptations and starring in a movie with Helen Slater and a CBS superhero drama starring Melissa Benoist.
Supergirl is too good an idea to stay away from, and the Superman family is too hopeful an endeavor to leave at just one super-survivor of Krypton for too long. No matter how often she leaves us, Kara Zor-El will always come back; an enduring symbol of hope.
Happy birthday, Supergirl!