Supergirl cavorts through the cosmos. Artist: Jim Mooney.


Medium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1959
Creators: Otto Binder (writer) and Al Plastino (artist)
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The moment DC Comics realized what a huge success it had with Superman, who hit the stands in 1938, the company …

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… registered trademarks for a variety of possible spin-off characters. But it was slow to move on actually using those properties. Superboy didn't debut until 1944, and no ongoing Superwoman character ever did succeed. Supergirl finally turned up, but not before Supes was well into his second generation of fans.

"The Supergirl from Krypton", which introduced the Girl of Steel, appeared in Action Comics #252 (May, 1959). It was written by Otto Binder, who had been working on Superman and his offshoots since the demise of Captain Marvel, six years earlier. The artist was Al Plastino, also a Superman regular, whose other credits include assisting or ghosting many newspaper comics, e.g., Nancy, Ferd'nand and Terry & the Pirates. But the artist most associated with Supergirl's series in the back pages of Action Comics is Jim Mooney, who made a specialty of female characters (such as Marvel Comics' Pussycat (no relation) and Ms. Marvel), but who also drew DC's "Dial H for Hero."

Supergirl's real name was Kara. She was the daughter of Superman's uncle, Zor-El, and Zor-El's wife, Allura. Since the planet Krypton, which the entire family hailed from, exploded years before she was born, Binder (never one to let implausibility get in the way of a good story) contrived a tale in which one tiny segment of Krypton, containing Zor-El's home town, Argo City, survived several years through a freak set of circumstances. Just before Argo City joined the rest of the planet in oblivion, Zor-El, in a reprise of Superman's own origin, placed Kara in a rocket and sent her to Earth, to be cared for by Cousin Superman.

At first, Superman didn't quite know what to do with her, so he kept her existence secret from the world while he trained her as a superhero. That way, she could function as a "secret weapon" to be used against bad guys who thought they had only one super-powered Kryptonian to deal with. He put together an earthly disguise for her, complete with mousey brown wig, and placed her in an orphanage under the name "Linda Lee". Later, she was adopted by a couple named Danvers, so "Linda Lee Danvers" functioned as her secret identity. Superman finally revealed her existence in Action Comics #285 (February, 1962).

Over the next few years, she functioned partly as a minor superhero in her own right, but mostly as a very close-fitting knock-off of Superboy, whose own series was a knock-off of his older self. Like Superboy, she lived with foster parents, who helped her maintain her secret identity. She wore a female version of Superboy's costume. She had a super-powered cat, as counterpart to Superboy's dog, Krypto. She met the sister of Superboy's arch-enemy, Luthor. She had a boyfriend, Dick Malverne, whose goal in life was to reveal her secret identity, just like Lana Lang was constantly trying to do to Superboy. And of course, she became a member of The Legion of Super Heroes, just like Superboy.

This continued until Action Comics #376 (May, 1969). With the June issue, the Legion took over her slot in the back pages, and she got their book-length, cover-featured gig in Adventure Comics (tho back-up series, such as Vigilante and Zatanna, were soon added). There, a succession of new editors (Mort Weisinger, who had run the "Superman Family" titles for years, had recently retired) tried a succession of new directions for her, and it took a couple of years for things to stabilize. When they did, circulation started climbing, so DC moved her out into her own comic. The first issue had a cover date of November, 1972.

But editorial roulette wasn't over. Dorothy Woolfolk (who handled DC's romance line), followed by Robert Kanigher (whose approach to Wonder Woman and Metal Men was decidedly quirky by superhero standards) took her off in directions hitherto unknown. She even had an adventure with Prez Rickard, who starred in his own comic as the first teen president of the U.S., in Prez's only contemporary crossover into the mainstream DC Universe. Supergirl's comic came to a screeching halt after ten issues. For nearly a decade after that, she was only an occasional supporting character and guest star.

She was back in her own comic in 1982, and made a better success of it this time — but not a very great one. Even a feature-length movie in 1984 (with Helen Slater in the title role) couldn't create enough interest to keep it running, and it ended with that year's September issue (#23).

In 1985, DC celebrated its 50th anniversary by reorganizing its entire line. As part of the festivities, Supergirl was killed off. The axe fell in the seventh issue (October, 1985) of Crisis on Infinite Earths, the company's first major crossover series.

Unlike many deaths in comic books, Supergirl's seems to be permanent — in fact, in a retcon shortly after killing her, the company actually erased her from its universe's history (tho a sort of alternate version, Power Girl, remained). But DC is reluctant to turn loose of that trademark, so there have been several characters named Supergirl in DC comics during the years since. In fact, the current one has much in common with the one who filled the back pages of Action Comics through most of the 1960s, leading readers to wonder why they ever bother to kill off comic book characters at all.


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