Saturday, September 13, 2008

Episode #38: Happy Birthday, Kara Zor-El aka Supergirl!

Kara Zor-El (Supergirl), Superman's Kryptonian cousin, has a birthday that is traditionally accepted as September 22. Her father, Zor-El, was Jor-El's brother. She made her first appearance in Action Comics #252, the May 1959 issue, released on the newsstands around March 31, 1959. She was co-created by writer Otto Binder and artist Al Plastino, who created this first Supergirl story, The Supergirl from Krypton.
Supergirl stories have been reprinted in the following editions:
Supergirl Archives vol. I hardcover, published on November 1, 2002
Superman In the Fifties trade paperback, October 1, 2002
Superman: The Man of Tomorrow Archives vol. I hardcover, May 1, 2005
Showcase Presents: Superman vol. I trade paperback, October 1, 2005
Showcase Presents: Supergirl vol. I trade paperback, November 28, 2007
Before Kara Zor-El made her first appearance, there were a number of comic book stories published that contained earlier versions of a Supergirl. The first appeared back in Action Comics #60, the May 1943 issue, released around March 16, 1943. Lois Lane - Superwoman was written by Jerry Siegel and drawn by George Russos, under the editorship of Jack Schiff. In this story, Lois Lane is injured in a car accident. While unconscious in the hospital, Lois dreams that Superman gave her a blood transfusion which gives her superpowers. Later in the story, "Super-Lois" rescues Superman from a criminal scientist who had captured him. She awakens post-surgery.
A similar plot was used in Superman #125, November 1958, released September 18, 1958, in a story titled Lois Lane's Super Dream, written by Jerry Coleman and drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger (NOTE: During this podcast episode I incorrectly identified the artist as Curt Swan.)
Claire Kent, Alias Super Sister, from Superboy #78, January 1960, published on November 19, 1959, was another version of Supergirl. Superboy rescues an alien woman whose spaceship was about to crash on Earth. After making a remark about women drivers, Superboy is changed into a girl by a zap from the alien woman's ring. Superboy returns to Smallville as Claire Kent, a visiting relative of Clark's. He patrols as Super-Sister, hearing chauvanistic remarks from Smallville's men. At the end of the story it is revealed that the events were illusions induced from "mento" rays from the alien's ring. She forgives Superboy, who learns to think before he speaks. The only reprint for this story I could find was in 80 Page Giant #1, August 1964, June 4 1964.
About a year before Kara Zor-El appeared, a "magical" Supergirl appeared in Superman #123, August 1958, on sale June 17, 1958. The story was written by Otto Binder, pencilled by Dick Sprang and inked by Stan Kaye. Even though the story was titled The Girl of Steel, this Supergirl only appeared in part one of a three part story. Jimmy Olsen received a magic totem, and his first wish was for Superman to have a super powered female companion. Unfortunately, she became a bane instead of a boon to Superman. They kept getting in each other's way until Supergirl saved Superman from a piece of kryptonite, which affected her as it would Superman. Somehow she crawled back to Jimmy and begged him to rub the totem so she would vanish, which he did.
The next year Kara Zor-El premiered in Action Comics #252. In The Supergirl From Krypton Superman found his cousin when he investigated an alien rocket that had crashed. Kara Zor-El lived in Argo City, which somehow survived the destruction of Krypton when the large piece of the planet's crust was thrown into space with a "bubble" of atmosphere. Like the rest of Krypton the ground under Argo City was turning green as it changed to kryptonite. To save themselves the people of Argo City covered the ground with lead sheeting to block the radioactivity. The citizens of Argo City were later threatened by kryptonite poisoning when a meteor shower punched holes in the lead shielding. Kara's father followed his brother's example by building a rocket for his daughter. Kara's mother made a super costume similar to her super cousin's, because they could watch him on Earth through telescopes.
Instead of taking her to Metropolis to live with him, because it would threaten his secret identity, Superman took her to Midvale Orphanage. He created a secret identity for her, complete with a dark wig, and Kara chose Linda Lee as her secret identity name, another addition to the lore of L L names in Superman history. Superman does not reveal Supergirl's existence to the world, but keeps her as his "secret weapon", until he trains her to the point where he feels she has enough control over her super powers. Linda Lee is eventually adopted by the Danvers family.
Supergirl makes her world premiere in Action Comics #285, February 1962, published on December 28, 1961, in the story The World's Greatest Super Heroine, written by Jerry Siegel and drawn by Jim Mooney, who would be Supergirl's most famous artist. At the beginning of the story Superman informs Supergirl that she is skilled enough to reveal to the world. She returns to her adoptive parents until the scheduled time Superman planned to make his announcement. On a trip to Metropolis to see a movie, a bridge collapses under the Danvers' car. Linda Lee flies out of the car and carries it to safety, rescuing her parents. At first Supergirl was afraid that Superman would be mad at her for revealing her secret identity to her parents. Superman appears immediately to allay her fears. He saw the incident with his telescopic vision and commended Supergirl for her quick action. Superman then admonished her parents to keep her identity secret, to which they readily agreed. Back at the Danvers' home, Supergirl digs a tunnel from the basement into the nearby woods to protect her identity, similar to Superboy in Smallville. While the Danvers celebrated having a "super" daughter, Superman had a melancholy moment, wishing he could hug his late adoptive parents again. The next day at the Fortress of Solitude Superman beamed a television signal around the world introducing his cousin, Supergirl.
Supergirl eventually became a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes, and fell in love with Brainiac 5, but that is a subject for a future episode. Supergirl continued in mostly solo adventures in the back of Action Comics and in Adventure Comics.
Kara's Kryptonian parents reappeared in Supergirl's life in a two part story in the back of Action Comics issues #309 and #310, February / March 1964 issues, on sale December 26, 1963 and January 30, 1964 respectively. Part I was titled The Untold Story of Argo City, and part II was titled Supergirl's Rival Parents (The cover story for Action Comics #310 was The Secret of Kryptonite Six). Kara's adoptive father uses his engineering skilly to help Supergirl rescue her kryptonian parents from a "survival zone", similar to the Phantom Zone, they escaped to during Argo City's destruction. They were the city's only survivors. That is why years later, in Superman #338, when Superman restores Kandor to its normal size, Kara's kryptonian parents are there to greet her.
Supergirl did have several short lived comic book series in the years before Crisis On Infinite Earths. Her first solo series premiered on September 19, 1972 with the November 1972 issue of Supergirl #1. The editor on this first issue was Dorothy Woolfolk, and the cover artist was Bob Oksner. Trail of the Madman was written by Cary Bates, pencilled by Art Saaf and inked by Vince Colletta. The villain in the story was Nasthalia Luthor, neice of Lex Luthor (who made an appearance in All-Star Superman issues #5 and #11). Robert Kanigher was the editor of the remaining nine issues, through #10, the September/October 1974 issue. Supergirl would reappear in The Daring New Adventures of SUPERGIRL, the November 1982 issue #1 appearing on August 5, 1982. It would run for thirteen issues and be edited by Julius Schwartz. (NOTE: I also missed this series during this episode.) Supergirl reappeared with #14, the December 1983 issue, continuing the numbering of the previous series, and was edited by Julius Schwartz as well.
The silver age Supergirl met her demise in the famous mimi series Crisis On Infinite Earths, issue #7, October 1985, released on July 4, 1985. She was killed by an anti-matter blast from the villain Anti-Monitor, as she battled to save her cousin. Her death was mandated by DC Comics editorial staff, in preperation to the upcoming revamp of Superman. They wanted to return Superman to the status of sole survivor of Krypton.
Her death had an epilogue in Superman #415, the January 1986 issue, published on October 10, 1985. In the story Supergirl: Bride of - X? written by Cary Bates, drawn by Curt Swan and inked by Al Williamson, Superman discovers a previously unknown chapter of her life. This was among the last ten issues of the pre-Crisis continuity of Superman. He discovers an alien man at the Fortress of Solitude, cluthcing an unknown trinket near a statue of his deceased cousin. After a brief battle the alien, named Salkor, gives Superman a flashback through a mental link. Salkor finds an unconscious Supergirl floating in space. He brings her into his spaceship and returns to his home planet. In his lab he cures her of the effects from a "strange green radiation", with the only after effect being amnesia. She begins patrolling Salkor's home planet with him, taking the name Jasma. They fall in love and marry, and he gives her the object that is seen at the beginning of the story. She is weakened during a battle with a villain. Salkor takes her home, but finds her gone the next morning. He follows the signal from the trinket to the Fortress of Solitude. After a battle with a villain that had followed Salkor from his planet, Salkor and Superman watch a message Supergirl recorded to the two men she loved the most. She had left Salkor's planet when her memories returned, but she forgot her life on his planet. Her memories returned after a later battle, and she recorded the message to be activated when the two men were both near the trinket. Salkor returns to his home planet as a friend of Superman.
There have been several post-crisis versions of Supergirl, but the classic cousin from Krypton returned in Superman/Batman #8, the May 2004 issue, released on March 24, 2004. Similar to the Kara Zor-El of the tv show Smallville, she was sent in a rocket to Earth to watch over the infant Kal-El. But her rocket was caught in kryptonite and she was stuck in suspended animation while her cousin grew up. When her rocket was freed and she reached Earth, she found her cousin was now older than she was, and it was he who watched over her.
There is a lot more to the history of Supergirl, but we will have to hold the rest for a future episode.
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Thanks for listening to Superman Fan Podcast, and as always, thanks to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

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