Sunday, March 31, 2024

It's Supergirl's Birthday - 65th Anniversary of Supergirl's First Appearance

Today marks the 65th Anniversary of the first appearance of Supergirl - or as us actual nerds know her, Kara Zor-El of Argo City, Krypton.  Yup, Supergirl hit newsstands on March 31, 1959!

Prior to Kara's arrival, DC had played with a few variations of what Supergirl might be - from giving Lois powers for an issue or two to a sorta magical helper friend for Clark for an issue.  But eventually DC just said "teen-age cousin" and a superhero was born.  

Created by Otto Binder and Al Plastino, Kara Zor-El appeared in Action Comics 252.  It's not an epically long story, mostly there to set the table for whatever they'd try next with the newest toy in the DC toybox.  Enough for an origin and a status quo set-up, and out.

And, I am happy to say, I do actually have a copy of this comic.

After about 20 years as the semi-sole-survivor of Krypton (minus Krypto, Beppo and a few stray villains in the Phantom Zone), we learn that a chunk of Krypton has been hurtling through space for decades, with the city of Argo attached.  Living in that city, Superman's Uncle and Aunt - Zor-El and Alura - have given birth to Kal-El's couson, Kara.  

As things go from "this seems bad" to "oh no" during a meteor storm threatening Argo City, Zor-El puts Kara in a rocket and shoots her at Earth.  Superman finds her, decides she's his new secret weapon and places the traumatized youth into an orphanage in Midvale.  Because he's a swinging bachelor and he has no time for kids, I guess.

Supergirl would swiftly become a core part of Superman's world, appearing frequently in Action Comics, Superman, and Adventure Comics.  She joined the Legion, she accidentally was responsible for the creation of Streaky the Supercat.  She was the humanoid love interest of Comet the Superhorse (it's maybe one of DC's nuttiest stories) and Jimmy Olsen from time-to-time (she'd do better with the horse).  And she'd have her own mini rogues gallery.  

She had her own title once or twice before Crisis on Infinite Earths, and was the lead on Adventure for a minute or two.  

When I was getting into comics, a peculiar pair of things happened.  1) Helen Slater brought Kara Zor-El to life on screen (and was great in a movie with other issues) and 2)  During Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC Comics killed Kara.  Killed her dead.  Which meant getting familiar with Supergirl in the comics was just not happening.

DC futzed around post-Crisis, but was just not going to do the sensible thing and give us Kara.  Instead, they tried everything in the book, settling on a weird, trans-dimensional alient/ Earth-Angel concept that was very timely in the 1990's Judeo-Christian mythology boom after Spawn but was an odd fit with the super-science of the Superman titles.  (Despite a small but strong fan base and years of comics, the character is mostly now a footnote.)

I wasn't really reading Superman yet when Superman: The Animated Series added a pretty classic take on Kara Zor-El.  And that made me wonder why on Earth DC didn't have a Kara in the current comics - just this odd Earth Angel thing.

Around 2003, DC was releasing one of the best ideas they ever had - their Showcase Presents black and white, newsprint collections of comics that were impossible to get.  So, Jamie lost me in the pages of these phonebook-sized books just plowing my way through years of comics at a time.  And, so I caught up on a lot of what happened with Supergirl in her initial years.  

Around this same time, DC brought back Kara Zor-El in the popular Batman/ Superman title.  

I can't say I loved what they did either with the return story (it was fine) or the subsequent series, which was weird and misogynistic and led to one of the worst columns I've ever read anywhere - where the editor literally told the readers they were wrong for not liking his version of Kara, who was an absolute trainwreck and not fun to read (it's a whole story around this guy).

Since her reintroduction, she's had about three different titles over the years, and DC just seems hellbent on making sure she remains a second tier character in comics, usually bringing top writers for brief stints - who often seem to not know what to do with her.  She recently enjoyed a prestige mini-series that was good, but never quite felt like what I think a lot of folks are looking for in Kara.  Since 2003, there's been this odd push to make Kara angry or emo and as unlike the first decades of her existence as possible.  

The most recent appearance of Supergirl you might know was in the DC film The Flash.  To me, it certainly felt like the reaction to the film should be a signal to DC to understand:  literally no one cared when you introduced the very angry version of this character and (spoilers) killed her shortly thereafter.  The character is 100% not one of the things people talk about around this movie.  That's actually kind of hard to do as she's very important to the film's plot.  And yet.

What's odd is that about a decade ago, the TV division went classic with a perky, makin'-the-best of it Supergirl that felt more like her original appearances, and that show ran for six full seasons.  At 22 episodes per season, that's way over 100 episodes, which is far, far more sustained Supergirl in any medium than had previously existed in any one location.  

In addition, Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade sold a bajillion copies to school kids and featured a relatable but chipper Kara.

And even odder - DC seems to keep wanting to make Power Girl (Kara's transdimensional twin) a sweetheart when, literally, Power Girl's whole thing is that she's grumpy and doesn't have time for anyone's nonsense.*

Still, I tend to think of Supergirl as a great character, and I wish (a) DC would just do right by her and let her be someone at least putting up a good front and (b) would invest in the character with writing and art on her own title again.  If the grumpy, sad thing isn't working - we have a model for something that does.

It would be nice if we saw her more in mainstream comics as something more than just Superman's mop-up crew in Metropolis, which is what she's been relegated to for a bit.  Let's see if DC can't giver her room to fly.

*DC may have been experiencing some issues in editorial the past, oh, twenty years

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