Random Musings: Flying high with Supergirl

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Supergirl #1
Tonight Supergirl debuts on CBS. It marks the first time the character has ever had her own network TV series.

The character of Supergirl has appeared in different incarnations over the decades. She was introduced in Action Comics #252 (1959) as Kara Zor-El, Superman’s teenage cousin. Overjoyed to find that a family member had also survived the destruction of Krypton, Superman immediately put her in an orphanage and had her wear an unnecessary brown wig. Since he was keeping her existence as Supergirl a secret, why would anyone care about her hair color? It’s not like she needed a secret identity. In fact, she remained his “secret weapon” until Action Comics #285.

As both a character and a title, Supergirl never seemed to have a clearly-defined purpose until Peter David’s 80 issue run from 1996 to 2003. It was also the longest run any incarnation of the character has had.

To set the scene for David’s run on Supergirl, I need to provide a brief recap of DC Comics history. In 1985, DC commemorated its 50th anniversary by publishing the 12 issue maxi series Crisis on Infinite Earths, which (unnecessarily, in my opinion) merged the “multiverse” of several alternate Earths (created to explain, among other things, why characters like Superman and Batman, who’d been around since the 30s were still young) into one Earth, with a single history. Kara died during the Crisis and Superman’s origin was reset so that he was the only survivor of Krypton (as he had been in 1938).

In the years that followed, various aspects of the “Superman family” were reintroduced, though in different ways. Writer John Byrne established that Supergirl had been created in a pocket universe out of shape shifting protoplasm. She later came to the main DC universe, but had no direct connection— biological or otherwise— to Superman. This version, known as Matrix (Mae for short), appeared in various titles over the next few years. But when David began his run, he had the Matrix Supergirl merge with a dying girl named Linda Danvers.

Supergirl merges with Linda Danvers.

Supergirl merges with Linda Danvers.

In an interview in Wizard #63, he explained why:

“I had trouble connecting, on an emotional and creative level, with a character who is essentially a blob of protoplasm that coincidentally is in the shape of a human female… I felt I would he able to connect better with the character if she had some sort of personal stake in humanity…”

This merging— which may not have been a conscious decision on Supergirl’s part— led to all sorts of complications for both women. Linda had been the intended sacrifice in a cult ritual, but it turned out she wasn’t just some random, hapless victim. She’d been a member of that same cult and participated (or at the very least had been an accomplice) in a number of atrocities, including at least two murders. In short, she was as far removed from the naive, innocent Kara Zor-El as you could get.

Supergirl became more human through her merger with Linda, while Linda began to rebuild her life and make amends for her past and reconnect with her parents. This incarnation of Supergirl was, according to David, an earth-born angel (a reference to Kara’s vow to act as a guardian angel at the orphanage and the surrounding town) because the Matrix Supergirl sacrificed herself to save Linda, who was beyond saving.

In Supergirl #50, Linda and Matrix are separated, but Linda retains some super powers. Specifically those Superman had when he was introduced in 1938. She can’t fly, but she can leap 1/8 a mile, for instance. Later, Linda would regain her powers of flight and telekinesis.

In Supergirl #75, David began a popular storyline which ran through the end of the book (though it was hoped at the time that it would serve to revitalize the title; he goes into detail in his introduction to the trade paperback “Many Happy Returns.”) That story line has Linda meeting a pre-Crisis Kara Zor-El prior to her landing on Earth One.

Linda Danvers meets Kara Zor-El.

Linda Danvers meets Kara Zor-El.

In the original comics, Kara took the name Linda Lee and was later adopted by a family named Danvers. David set his series in a small town named Leesburg and named Supergirl’s human half Linda Danvers as nods to the original. What’s more, in his last storyline he established that Kara’s decision to call herself Linda Lee came from vague recollections of her encounter with Linda Danvers in Leesburg before being sent back to her proper timeline.

By the way, it’s interesting to note that more recent incarnations of Supergirl, including her appearances in Smallville and the new series, has her using “Kara” as her “civilian name. Since it’s a common enough name and doesn’t sound the least bit Kryptonian, there’s no reason why she couldn’t use it.

Peter David’s run on Supergirl was more than a superhero book. It also explored themes of forgiveness and redemption and showed how anyone, under the right circumstances, could be a hero. The entire run should be collected in trade paperback. It’s a travesty that DC has only collected the first nine and the last six issues. Still, the back issues are well worth seeking out.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating.

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