Power Girl is the Earth 2 counterpart of Supergirl, hailing from a parallel universe that was once home to the Golden Age DC superheroes and their children.
Power Girl was introduced in 1976 in the pages of ALL-STAR COMICS #58, which revived the Golden Age’s Justice Society of America. Kara Zor-L (note the spelling) escaped from her universe’s version of Krypton at the same time as her cousin, the Golden Age Superman, but her spaceship took many more decades to arrive. Kara’s unique costume and superhero name were deliberately chosen to avoid modelling herself after Superman. Her “punch first, ask questions later” attitude suits her membership in the Justice Society of America, a superhero team created during World War II.
Power Girl’s parents, Allura and Zor-L, sent their daughter to Earth as an infant at the same as her cousin Kal-L but her ship took a much longer time to reach its destination. Kara grew to adulthood during her journey while in suspended animation and arrived on Earth about twenty years old. She quickly adopted a unique costume and superhero identity intended to distinguish her from her famous cousin. Power Girl is nobody’s “secret emergency weapon”.
Power Girl’s universe was destroyed in the Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985) and all its inhabitants, including her cousin Superman and Lois Lane Kent, were erased from history. Power Girl survived and now resides in the primary DC universe.
Power Girl is one of the top fighters in the JSA, a rough and tumble brawler who embodies the spirit of the Golden Age. Noted for her gung-ho attitude, she likes to kick ass and takes no guff from anyone. She works equally well with both the older heroes of the JSA and younger heroes close to her own age: she has been a member of the JSA in (All-Star Comics #58-74, 1976-1978), the junior super-team Infinity Inc. (1984-85), the Justice League Europe/Justice League International (1989-1994), and the JSA again from 2002-2011.
Bronze Age (1976-1985)
Power Girl’s first appearance was in All-Star Comics #58 (Jan-Feb 1976), the issue which revived the Justice Society of America on Earth 2. Earth 2 was the alternate reality in which DC Comics Golden Age heroes were deemed to exist after the company reinvented many of its characters in the 1950s. Earth 1 was the mainstream universe with all the modern day heroes.
When Power Girl first appeared, literally from the sky, she would only reveal that her cousin was Superman and that she’d been training with him. For her first two years on Earth, Power Girl did not have a secret identity or base of operations. She would make an appearance whenever she was needed and then fly off again, avoiding the inquiries of nosy reporters and others who were curious as to her story. Readers would be kept in the dark about Power Girl’s origins until her origin story was told in Showcase #97-98 (1978). In this universe, unbeknownst to Superman, both Kal-L and his cousin Kara had been rocketed to Earth 2 just as their home planet was being destroyed. However Kara’s ship ship took a longer route that led it to arrive many years after Superman had begun his adventures, and her baby cousin was a middle aged man when she arrived. Power Girl’s specially built Symbioship kept her in suspended animation that slowed her growth, while the experience simulator provided her with a virtual reality life and full Kryptonian education. Showcase #99 had Power Girl take on the secret identity of Karen Starr and gave her a position as a software expert, thanks to the training of Wonder Woman’s “memory teacher” and her own keen Kryptonian intellect. She would later start her own software firm called StarrWare, Inc.
Power Girl’s origin was changed by DC Comics after Crisis on Infinite Earths due to an editorial mandate that Superman be the sole survivor of Krypton. Like Supergirl (Matrix), so Power Girl could would no longer be Kryptonian or related in any way to Superman. Her origin story was retold in Secret Origins #11 (1987). Power Girl tells the reader in a flashback how she arrived with amnesia and fuzzy memories of growing up on an alien world that was now gone. Her ship was programmed with the command to “seek out family” and it honed in on the one Kryptonian on Earth: Superman. Due to their identical powers, Power Girl and Superman assumed they were related. However, in this timeline, DNA tests revealed Power Girl and Superman to be of different species. This blow to her self-identity wrought a fundamental change in the strong, self-assured hero readers had known and loved. The Power Girl of the Post-Crisis universe was insecure in her place in the world and plagued with self-doubt.
Secret Origins #11 continues as the Symbioship which brought Kara to Earth suddenly starts glowing, and the spirit of a long dead Atlantean magician named Arion begins speaking to her. (Arion was a character from DC’s fantasy comics of the 1970’s). He tells Power Girl that she is his grand-daughter, born many thousands of years ago and given magical powers as a toddler. Arion had sent her forward thru time in her Symbioship (which suddenly reveals itself to be a magical time travel device) to escape the clutches of his evil wizard brother. Power Girl and the spirit of Arion hug, and then the magician disappears, his sole purpose of telling us the new origin for Power Girl complete.
The fantastic story feels unconvincing and fits Power Girl poorly. The new origin could have been used to strengthen Power Girl, but she was never actually given any new magical powers to go along with it. Just the opposite: in Justice League Europe, written by Keith Giffen, Power Girl was vastly depowered so that she was no longer a threat to Superman’s special status (similar to the reinvention of Supergirl as Matrix). Giffen portrayed her as a clichéd “man-hating feminist” and began a tradition, escalated by Gerard Jones in follow-up Justice League International series, of making sexist jokes at her expense. The Justice League years (1989-1996) saw Power Girl systematically stripped of her Kryptonian powers, her personality radically altered, and generally treated in a misogynistic manner. After the Justice League books were cancelled after seven years, Power Girl drifted from book to book for a number of years, her powers fluctuating depending on the creative team. Her fans were eager to see Power Girl restored to her former glory, but how?
After Power Girl joined the reformed JSA in 2002, hints began being dropped that her Atlantean origin might be untrue. In JSA #32 Dr. Mid-Nite’s tests revealed that her powers were not magical in origin. In JSA #52 Arion’s spirit appeared and informed her that he was not her grandfather and she would soon learn the truth from her “mother”. By JSA Classified #1-4, Power Girl’s powers are fluctuating wildly and Dr. Mid-Nite confirms that they are not actually magic based. She experiences a series of hallucinations created by the Psycho-Pirate which present her with multiple possible origins. Finally Psycho-Pirate tells Power Girl that the two of them are refugees of Earth 2. In some way she is tethered to this world and survived, but why? Power Girl feels deep down that this story is, finally, the truth: she is a survivor from the multiverse. The daughter of Kryptonians, she was the cousin of her world’s Superman and a close friend of the Earth 2 Huntress.
In Infinite Crisis #2 (2006) Power Girl is reunited with the aged Superman and Lois Lane Kent of Earth 2. Upon touching Lois, Power Girl regains her memories and understands finally who she is. Sadly this reunion is temporary; Superman and Lois both die during the course of the Infinite Crisis. Now Power Girl truly is the sole survivor of her universe. Infinite Crisis is a bittersweet conclusion to Power Girl’s long and convoluted journey of self-discovery, as Earth 2’s Kara rediscovers her place in the world only to lose the family she never knew she had.
JSA Membership and Solo Series
Power Girl rejoined the JSA in 2002 and became chairwoman in 2007. When the JSA split into two teams in 2009, Power Girl led the junior team known as the JSA All-Stars. In 2009 she gained her first solo title, which gave readers the best portrayal of Power Girl to-date. The series ran for 27 issues until DC Comics relaunched their universe.
In the New 52 universe Power Girl’s backstory has been revised: she is the former Supergirl of Earth 2. She is teamed with the rebooted Huntress (Helena Wayne, former Robin of Earth 2) in the series Worlds’ Finest as they struggle to find their way back to Earth 2.