Supergirl made her comic book debut in the 1959 story “The Supergirl From Krypton!”, published in Action Comics #252. Superman’s teenage cousin Kara Zor-El was born on Argo City, a chunk of Krypton that survived the planet’s destruction. When the city’s inhabitants began to fall prey to the deadly Kryptonite radiation emanating from their planetoid, Kara’s father, Zor-El, constructed a rocket for his teenage daughter to escape their city’s doom and her mother, Alura, crafted a Supergirl costume for her so that Superman would recognize her as family. Kara united with her cousin on Earth and took on the mantle of Supergirl. In time Kara reunited with her parents after discovering they were still alive, having escaped into an alternate dimension called the Survival Zone. Alura and Zor-El chose to live as unpowered Kryptonians with their fellow survivors in the bottle city of Kandor, hidden away in the Fortress of Solitude.
A theatrical film based on this version of Supergirl was released in 1984 starring Helen Slater.
Arriving on Earth at the young age of 15, Supergirl matured into a young adult over 25 years in print, acquiring a wide variety of life experiences. Although she began her career as a teenager, she was never a teenage sidekick. Her adventures were her own. Superman was a distant authority figure who would visit from time to time during her high school years (while keeping obsessive tabs on her every move for many years). But once she graduated and went off to college, she lived on her own with almost no adult supervision and operated independently.
Supergirl’s early adventures in Action Comics are short, simple, and formulaic. The stories started becoming more complex and interesting during her college years, especially once she moved into her own book in Adventure Comics. The late sixties and early seventies marked a time of increased focus on character development and social issues in DC Comics, and while the results were mixed depending on the creative team, there was nothing dull about Supergirl’s 70’s run in Adventure, her own 10-issue Supergirl series, and her eight-year tenure in Superman Family.
Kara had a very full career as Linda Lee Danvers: after graduating from Stanhope University with an unspecified degree, she took a job as a camera operator and part-time journalist at a San Francisco TV station. Her relationships at that job were certainly a challenge, especially with Lex Luthor’s niece Nasthalthia “Nasty” Luthor as a coworker! A year later she went back to school as a grad student to study drama. Her next and longest position was as a student counsellor at a progressive high school (no credentials necessary in the 1970s, apparently). She made use of her drama training when she quit that job too, upon receiving an offer to star in daytime television. (She always quit her jobs suddenly due to poor working relations when a new writer took over.)
Supergirl’s last series sent Kara/Linda back to college as a graduate student in Chicago. The Daring New Adventures of Supergirl ran from Nov 1982 to Sep 1984. The series changed its title to Supergirl in the Nov 1983 issue #13 and gave Kara a new costume in anticipation of the Supergirl feature film released in 1984.
After 23 issues the series was cancelled, with the final issue coming out in the same month as the movie. DC intended to launch a new title starring Supergirl and possibly Superboy. The final page features an epilogue in which Dick Malverne makes a surprise return, with promise of romance to come. An editorial note promises the reappearance of Supergirl in a new series, but sadly this was not to be.
Kara was slated to be one of the big character deaths in the universe-resetting event series Crisis on Infinite Earths (which permanently ended the stories of numerous female heroes). Certain key members of DC editorial disliked the character, and those in charge of writing the new Superman origin story following Crisis wanted to eliminate Supergirl and any other Kryptonian survivors from the Superman mythos. At the end of Crisis the multiple Earths were merged into one and many characters died and memories of them erased in the minds of the survivors. History was retroactively rewritten, and while some characters who died were remembered by those who survived the Crisis, all memories of Supergirl’s existence were erased.
But Kara would not be forgotten by fans.
- Action Comics #252 (May 1959) – Supergirl lands on Earth. Placed in Midvale Orphanage by Superman under strict orders not to reveal her superpowers or secret identity. She adopts the identity of Linda Lee and hides her blonde hair beneath a pig-tailed, brunette wig.
- Action Comics #276 (May 1961) – Supergirl joins the Legion of Super-Heroes. She would leave at age 21 (the normal age limit for members is 18).
- Action Comics #279 (Aug 1961) – Kara’s superpowers are stolen by her evil double Lesla-Lar, a scientist from Kandor who is actually Kara’s counterpart from the Earth-Three universe and cousin to Ultraman. No longer needing to protect her secret identity, she allows herself to be adopted (permanently this time) by Edna and Fred Danvers, becoming Linda Lee Danvers. She also changes her hair style in this issue.
- Action Comics #280 – becomes a student at Midvale High School.
- Action Comics #283 – regains her powers thru magic by Mr. Mxyzptlk. Her powers permanently returned on their own by the end of Action Comics #284.
- Action Comics #285 (Feb 1962) – Kara’s secret identity as Supergirl is revealed to her foster parents, and then to the world.
- Action Comics #309-310 (Feb-March 1964) – Discovers her Kryptonian parents are still alive in the “Survival Zone” and builds a machine with the help of Fred Danvers to bring them back safely. Alura and Zor-El settle in Kandor, a bottled city that Superman keeps in the Fortress of Solitude. When the city in the bottle is later enlarged, they resettle on New Krypton/Rokyn.
- Action Comics #318 (Nov 1964) – Graduates from Midvale High School, winning a four-year scholarship to Stanhope College. She leaves home to study at Stanhope, joining the Alpha Lambda sorority soon after she arrives. Her major is never revealed.
- In 1969 Supergirl “graduates” from her back-up strip in Action Comics (final appearance in issue #376, May ’69) and takes over top billing in Adventure Comics #381 (June 1969). With more pages to work with, and a company-wide move towards more character development, Adventure marked the beginning of more complex Supergirl stories.
- Adventure Comics #379 (Nov 1970) – Supergirl changes her costume for the first time, when her uniform is damaged. She will switch costumes a number of times over the next year and a half, before settling upon the classic 1970’s costume (later with boots and altered shorts).
- Adventure Comics #404 (March 1971) – Supergirl is given a pill that is meant to render her powerless, but instead her powers begin to malfunction intermittently, leaving her powerless at the most inopportune moments. Supergirl’s problem with her “come-and-go powers” would continue for the next two years.
- Adventure Comics #406 (May 1971) – graduates Stanhope College and moves to San Francisco to take a job at KSF-TV as a camerawoman and freelance journalist. Quits in her final appearance in Adventure (#424, Oct 1972).
- Nov 1972 – Supergirl gets her first self-titled series (with Zatanna starring in a back-up strip). In Supergirl #1 she leaves San Fran, after quitting her job, to enroll in nearby Vandyre University (which is stated as being 10 miles away) as a graduate student in drama. Takes up residence in the Delta-Zan dorm.
- The Superman Family series debuts in May 1974, continuing the number from Jimmy Olson with the first issue being #164. Reprints of Silver Age Supergirl appear in the book; Supergirl appears in new stories starting with issue #165, June-July 1974. This takes place between Supergirl #9 (Jan 1975) and Supergirl #10 (Sep-Oct 1975), which would be the final issue of that series.
- Superman Family #165 (June-July 1974) – completes her drama course at Vandyre and moves to Florida to begin her new job as student advisor at the New Athens Experimental School.
- Superman Family #208 (July 1981) – Supergirl quits her position at New Athens to become an actress in the TV soap Secret Hearts, in New York City.
- Sep 1982 – Superman Family is cancelled to make way for Supergirl’s second series, Daring New Adventures of Supergirl. Lois Lane appears in a back-up strip.
- Nov 1982 – Supergirl begins her second self-titled series, Daring New Adventures of Supergirl, by going back to college in Chicago to enroll in the psychology department at Lake Shore University. The series is retitled Supergirl with issue #13.
- Sep 1984 – Supergirl vol. 2 is cancelled with issue #23.
- 1985 – DC Comics publishes the 12 part series Crisis on Infinite Earths. Supergirl heroically sacrifices her life to save Superman and, by extension, all of existence in Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 (Oct 1985).
From The Essential Superman Encyclopedia (Robert Greenberger and Martin Pasko, Del Rey (USA) and Titan Books (UK), 2010).
When KAL-EL was an adult and operated as SUPERMAN, his pal JIMMY OLSEN sought a companion for his superpowered friend. Making a wish upon a Native American totem pole, he conjured up a blond superpowered woman wearing a red cape, miniskirt, and high-heeled boots, with a red lettter S on a yellow field emblazoned on her chest. While attractive and eager to help her intended mate, she lacked his years of experience in using her abilities and wound up complicating the Man of Steel’s efforts. She redeemed herself when she sacrificed her existence by overexposing herself to KRYPTONITE, saving Superman. Severely weakened, she asked Jimmy to undo the magic and send her away (Superman [first series] #123, Aug 1958).
Just a few months later, Superman was surprised by the arrival of a rocket. Out burst a young teen girl in an outfit similar to his own. She greeted him as a cousin and told him that she was Kara Zor-El, daughter of his uncle ZOR-EL. Kara explained that ARGO CITY, where her family lived, had been hurled into space intact when KRYPTON exploded. As chief scientist, Zor-El quickly oversaw the construction of a dome to retain oxygen until they could find a place to settle. Things remained peaceful for a time, but slowly the remains of Krypton that the city was built atop began to alter into deadly kryptonite. Zor-El ordered the land lined with lead to shield them, a temporary solution at best. Sure enough, when Kara was fifteen, meteors tore through the dome and ripped the lead, causing the city to lose atmosphere and residents to weaken from the radiation. ALURA and Kara began using a “super-space telescope” to find a suitable world. They found not only Earth, but its most famous resident.
Kara was thrilled to be reunited with family, and Superman was overjoyed to have someone from his homeworld who would be an ally—unlike the PHANTOM ZONE criminals he had been dealing with since he was a youth. Cognizant of his most recent encounter with a Supergirl, he was determined to train her in the proper use of her powers and give her a chance to acclimate to life on Earth. He convinced her to live at an orphanage in MIDVALE, not far from METROPOLIS. She would adopt a human identity and learn about life on the planet while training in the use of her powers. Kal-El asked Kara to select a human name, and she chose LINDA LEE, uncannily becoming another of the people in his life to have the initials LL. Superman took Kara, now hiding her blond curls under a brunette pigtailed wig, to MIDVALE ORPHANAGE. There he explained to Mr. Dixon that her parents had died in a natural disaster and vouched for her, cutting through the red tape and paperwork that would otherwise have slowed her admission (Action Comics #252, May 1959).
Dixon welcomed Linda to the orphanage. There she met Dick Wilson, who would become her first boyfriend after he was adopted and took the name DICK MALVERNE. She studied under Headmistress Miss Hart, later identified as Mrs. Henry Hart (Action Comics #271, Dec 1960).
Dubbing her his secret weapon, Superman was cautious in letting Supergirl operate in sight of others; he was slow to tell even his closest friends and fellow heroes about her. At first, only Superman knew her secret identity. Over time, Superman introduced her to the president of the United States and other costumed champions. Before her debut, she was entrusted with the knowledge of BATMAN and ROBIN’S true names (Action Comics #270, November 1960).
Superman built her a series of SUPERGIRL ROBOTS in addition to a Linda Lee robot to help protect her secret (Action Comics #276, May 1961). On the orphanage grounds was a hollowed-out tree where they were stored; after her adoption, they were hidden within the Danvers home. In one instance, computer tapes from a SUPERBOY ROBOT were used for a Supergirl model, which caused it to perform oddly, trying to act as the Smallville Sentinel (Adventure Comics #396, August 1970).
While she often trained together with Superman, Kara began covertly performing feats on her own, keeping herself out of sight. She had the full array of super-abilities like her cousin, but proportionate to a teenage girl, still making her one of the most powerful beings on Earth. Like any Kryptonian, she derived her amazing abilities from the combination of Sol’s yellow radiation and Earth’s lighter gravity. She was therefore also vulnerable to power fluctuations under other stars, including losing her powers under a red sun. She could be harmed by kryptonite and was susceptible to magic.
Superman dedicated a room to her in his FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE (Superman [first series] #142, January 1961).
When the time was right, Superman made a public announcement of her existence, introducing her to the president and the citizens of Metropolis. Linda’s foster parents EDNA and FRED DANVERS learned of their adopted daughter’s secret only the day before the announcement, when she saved their car from plunging off a cliff. At the United Nations in New York City, Supergirl was given a special “golden certificate,” matching one they had previously given the World’s Greatest Super Hero, granting her unfettered access to enter and leave member countries without a visa. She was also authorized to make arrests (Action Comics #285, February 1962).
Even before the world at large knew of Supergirl, residents of the future did. In time, she was visited by the members of the thirtieth century’s LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES (Action Comics #267, August 1960). Much as COSMIC BOY, LIGHTNING LAD, and SATURN GIRL appeared before SUPERBOY, they visited Supergirl in Midvale. Unfortunately, her membership offer was revoked when red kryptonite temporarily turned her into an adult. A year later, they returned and said she could join after retrieving King Arthur’s sword, Excalibur (Action Comics #276, May 1961). Supergirl happily accepted despite the oddity of sharing missions with her teenage cousin Superboy. To protect the secret of her existence, he used super-hypnosis to erase any memory of her. Supergirl happily joined powerful peers and flirted with BRAINIAC 5, who harbored far deeper feelings for her. Her Legion activities gradually tapered off and she finally resigned from the team, citing the demands of her twentieth-century life (Superboy [first series] #204, September-October 1974).
At one point, Supergirl brought Superman to a period ten years after they normally visited the Legion, hoping to fix her cousin up with Saturn Woman. She was disappointed but ultimately pleased to learn the Legionnaire married her teen love LIGHTNING-MAN (Action Comics #289, June 1962).
Supergirl joined Jimmy Olsen to combat the LEGION OF SUPER-VILLAINS (Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #63, September 1962), an example of the friendship between the similarly aged members of Superman’s inner circle.
The Legionnaires helped stage a prank on Superman and Supergirl as their way of celebrating the anniversary of Supergirl’s arrival on Earth (Superman [first series] #152, April 1962).
Linda enjoyed a nurturing environment in the Danvers home plus the idyllic life offered by the suburb of Midvale. While still at the orphanage, she adopted STREAKY, a playful cat who occasionally gained superpowers after exposure to a synthetic form of kryptonite that Supergirl created while trying to find a cure for its deadly radiation. She first attended Midvale High School with Dick Malverne, who became her boyfriend. After graduation, she matriculated at nearby STANHOPE COLLEGE, which offered her a scholarship to attend (Action Comics #318, November 1964).
Her exploits as Supergirl meant she made many friends, gained many allies, and battled various villains. COMET entered the life of Supergirl as a horse possessing human intelligence, some superpowers similar to her own, and the ability to communicate telepathically (Adventure Comics #293, February 1962). She first saw him in a dream in which a kryptonite ray from an invading alien spacecraft caused her to plummet from the sky, and a flying white stallion broke her fall. In her dream, she named the horse Comet because of a mark on his back that resembled a shooting star.
The horse turned out to be a magical man named Biron, who became Supergirl’s equine companion as Comet the Super-Horse, accompanying her on her adventures clad in a red cape, attached to a blue harness, that bore a yellow low S-shield (Action Comics #293, October 1962). The spell allowed Comet to become a centaur in a brief transitional phase, and then to assume fully human form, whenever a comet passed Earth or entered its atmosphere and Comet was within sight of it. At such times, the super-stallion adopted the human identity of “Bronco” Bill Starr, a rodeo trick rider, with whom Supergirl fell. Starr was briefly the Maid of Might’s boyfriend and the chief rival for her affections of Dick Malverne, Linda Lee Danvers’s love interest. In his human guise, Comet also had a brief romance with LOIS LANE.
Early on, Supergirl’s greatest nemesis was LESLA-LAR, who lived in KANDOR and had an uncanny resemblance to Kara Zor-El. Lesla-Lar was jealous of her look-alike’s freedom on Earth and devised a weapon that robbed the Maid of Steel of her powers (Action Comics #279, 1961). Defenseless, she decided to remain Linda Lee on a full-time basis, leading to her adoption by Fred and Edna Danvers. Lesla-Lar then used her invention to swap places with Linda, using her superpowers to masquerade as Supergirl. She approached LEX LUTHOR about laying a trap for Superman, but KRYPTO the Super-Dog realized she was an impostor and exposed the Kandorian. She was returned to the bottle city, where her equipment was destroyed and she was imprisoned. Linda regained her powers thanks to MR. MXYZPTLK (Action Comics #282, November 1961).
Soon after, Lesla-Lar regained her freedom and rebuilt her machine, this time swapping places with Luthor’ sister LENA THORUL, who also resembled Supergirl. She then released three criminals from the Phantom Zone and used them to uncover a cache of forbidden Kryptonian weapons. Kru-El used one of them on her, disintegrating her body (Action Comics #297, Feb 1963).
Supergirl was often called on to help Superman and Krypto handle numerous threats and began joining Superman on missions across the galaxy. She eventually joined him on cases with Batman and Robin, where she first met BATGIRL (World’s Finest Comics #169, Sep 1967). In a short time, the heroines became close friends, a bond that would endure until the destruction of Earth-1.
Supergirl was shocked to discover that her parents had survived Argo City’s destruction by finding a realm called the SURVIVAL ZONE, similar to the Phantom Zone but lacking that realm’s projector to allow them their freedom. After an awkward attempt at coexistence on Earth with the Danverses, Zor-El and Alura decided that they’d be happier off in the city of Kandor. The bottle city subsequently became a wonderful home away from home for the Girl of Steel (Action Comics #309-310, Feb-Mar 1964). She also promised the Kandorians that, like her cousin, she would make every effort to find a way to enlarge them and locate a world they could call their own (Action Comics 286, Mar 1962).
There were also BIZARRO duplicates made of the Girl of Steel, the first of whom died tragically after exposure to blue kryptonite (Superman [first series] #140, Oct 1960). The real heroine more than her share of wacky encounters with artificial life-forms, including a meeting with the second Bizarro Supergirl (Action Comics #336, Apr 1966).
While Linda Lee Danvers dated Dick Malverne, Supergirl was also drawn to Jerro, a mer-teen who resided in ATLANTIS (Action Comics #269, Oct 1960; others).
While attending college, Supergirl began to experiment with wearing modified versions of her costume, preserving the S-shield and color scheme but following fashion trends and carving out her own identity (Adventure Comics #397, Oct 1970; others). Soon after, she battled a villain named Starfire who altered her physiology and led to a period when her powers fluctuated. During this period, she graduated with a liberal arts degree and decided to relocate to San Francisco, working at local television station KSF and leaving Streaky with her adoptive parents. While on the West Coast, she dated her boss Geoff Anderson and encountered Lex Luthor’s niece Nasthalia, beginning a rivalry between the Maid of Might and “Nasty” (Adventure Comics #406, May 1971). Wearying of Nasty’s attacks on her, Linda quit her TV job (Adventure Comics #424, Oct 1972) to study acting at VANDYRE UNIVERSITY (Supergirl [first series] #1, Nov 1972). There she struck up a friendship with the magician ZATANNA, which soured briefly when they were both interested in the same man (Supergirl [first series] #7, Oct 1973).
Linda left Vandyre to become a teaching assistant and student adviser at New Athens Experimental School in Florida (Superman Family #165, June-July 1974), the next in a series of moves that demonstrated a certain restlessness on her part, as Supergirl sought a lifestyle she could call her own and a place in America where she would not always be in her big cousin’s shadow. She used an argument with the school administration to leave Florida and return to the Northeast, settling in New York City and landing a part on the television soap opera Secret Hearts. For a while, her character, Margo Hatton, was more popular than Supergirl, and Linda was comfortable with that (Superman Family #208, July 1981).
She lost interest in the role and New York, heading to the Midwest and finding a home at 1537 West Fargo Avenue in Chicago, enrolling as a psychology grad student at Lake Shore University (The Daring New Adventures of Supergirl #1, Nov 1982). She found an entirely new series of villains to battle, including Blackstarr (The Daring New Adventures of Supergirl #13, Nov 1983) and Reactron (The Daring New Adventures of Supergirl #8-9, June-July 1983). University professor Drake performed illegal radiation experiments that once more had deleterious effects on her superpowers.
Superman and Supergirl kept their promise and restored Kandor to its proper size on the planet renamed ROKYN. Kara was delighted to see her parents once more have options for their future (Superman [first series] #338, August 1979).
It was around this time that Supergirl was in space and inadvertently collided with a kryptonite meteor. SALKOR, the champion from Makkor, found her floating in the void and took her to his world, where he nursed her back to health. As she re-gained consciousness, it was clear that she had temporary amnesia, so neither she nor Salkor knew her true identity. He named her Jasma; over time, they fell in love, married, and protected Makkor from the invading Naxx. Eventually, her memories returned, supplanting her new persona, and she traveled back to Earth (Superman [first series] #415, Jan 1986).
Then came the CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. The Multiverse was being eradicated by the ANTI-MONITOR who wanted to rule a single anti-matter universe and was concluding an ages-old battle with his doppelganger, the Monitor. It took the combined heroic efforts of the heroes from the remaining five parallel Earths to forestall total devastation. Supergirl was among those who sought to take the battle to the Anti-Monitor. After seeing her cousin easily knocked aside, she battered the armored entity in a rage, actually causing him pain while he unleashed beam after beam of energy that slowly hurt her. With a final blast of energy, he mortally wounded the Maid of Might. She died in her cousin’s arms. Batgirl gave her eulogy in Chicago, proclaiming that Kara was a hero and would not be forgotten (Crisis on Infinite Earths #7, Oct 1985). It took the Man of Steel some time to finish mourning her on his own, at which point he encountered Salkor, who’d come to the Fortress to pay his final respects to his wife. Soon after, Superman took her remains to Rokyn, the world where the Kandorians were finally free, and he shared Zor-El and Alura’s grief (Superman [first series] #414, December 1985).
Just a short time later, Supergirl’s spirit was seen by Boston Brand, a fellow dead hero, during the Christmas season (Christmas with the Super-Heroes #2, 1989).
In an Earth-1 time line where the Crisis on Infinite Earths apparently did not take place, Linda Danvers eventually became the governor of Florida and changed her alter ego to SUPERWOMAN (Superman Family #200, Mar-Apr 1980). Her legacy would extend at least to the 5020th century, when Louise-L operated as that era’s Supergirl (Superman Family #215-216, Feb-Mar 1982).