The Superman Family grew again in February 1960, with the introduction of Streaky, the Super-Cat in “Supergirl’s Super-Pet!” from ACTION COMICS #261, by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Jim Mooney. Here Kara discovers a marble-sized Kryptonite meteor, and resolves to take it back to the chem lab in the orphanage’s school and try to devise an antidote. After exposing it to every chemical combination she can think of, she finds that it’s still lethal, and chucks it into the woods. Little did Kara know that she had accidentally created X-Kryptonite, a new element that can grant Kryptonian powers to anyone exposed to its radiation, Anyone, say, like Kara’s pet cat Streaky.
When Streaky suddenly becomes super, on his first flight he collides with a nearby Superman doll, with the doll’s cape conveniently landing around Streaky’s neck. Naturally, Streaky’s first act as a supercat is to help his fellow cats, upending a milk truck and feeding a group of starving alley cats.
Next up, Streaky faces off against a Doberman Pinscher, pelting him with apples from above, and letting loose with a triumphant Super-meow. Kara hears the Super-meow and flies off in pursuit, tracking down her runaway super-pet. The two are reunited and play together at 30,000 feet, with Streaky getting tangled up in a giant spool of cable. Unfortunately, the radiation from the X-Kryptonite wears off at that moment, and Supergirl has to fly to the kitty’s rescue.
However, it wouldn’t be the last time we’d see the flyin’ cat, as Streaky would find the X-Kryptonite in the woods time and time again.
Kara would finally get to enjoy some company from super-types her own age in ACTION COMICS #267 (August 1960), when she finds herself recruited by the far-future Legion of Super-Heroes in “The Three Super-Heroes,” by writer Siegel and artist Mooney. When Kara finds her Linda Lee identity repeatedly saved thanks to the assistance of three mysterious super-powered teens, she’s stunned to eventually learn that the trio is Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl, superpowered teenagers from the 30th century, who have come to the past to invite her to join their team of super-teens.
Delighted to finally have super-friends, Kara agrees, and heads to the 30th century to audition for the team. Too bad for Supergirl that, on her tryout, she stumbles across some Red Kryptonite, that offshoot of the deadly rock that has a different effect on Kryptonians with every exposure. This time, the Red K ages her to a fully grown woman, and since the Legion has a strict policy forbidding members from being over the age of 18, Kara is rejected and sent back to her own era.
As always, the Red K’s effects soon wear off, and Kara is left wondering if she’ll get a second chance with the Legion.
Although there aren’t many opportunities for love at the orphanage, Supergirl found herself involved with a handsome young merman in “Supergirl’s First Romance,” from ACTION COMICS #269 (October 1960), when she helps the Atlanteans fight off a protoplasm monster. Jerro, the son of one of Atlantis’ leading scientists, soon has eyes for Kara, and takes her to a spot where Atlantis has arranged to show their gratitude. With fish.
On a tour of Atlantis, Kara and Jerro get better acquainted, and soon have their first kiss. Too bad for Kara that she forgot that Atlanteans communicate by telepathy, and her thoughts about Jerro has been transmitted to everyone in the area. Humiliated, Supergirl takes her leave, leaving a heartbroken Jerro behind.
Again, Weisinger and Binder find a clever way to target the series to more of a female audience with a bit of romance (and even symbolically work in the notion of how awkward teenagers feel when first dealing with tricky things like relationships).
Kara got another chance at Legion membership in ACTION COMICS #276 (May 1961), in “Supergirl’s Three Super Girl-Friends!”, by Siegel and Mooney, in which Saturn Girl and two other recent female Legion recruits, Triplicate Girl and Phantom Girl, come back to the past to give Kara another chance to make the team. While at Legion HQ, she meets another hopeful Legion applicant, Brainiac 5, the great-great-great-great-grandson of Superman’s arch-enemy Brainiac.
Naturally, Supergirl is suspicious of the green-skinned computer-brained teen, and resolves to keep an eye on him. After Supergirl performs her Legion audition, the teens are taken by surprise by the sudden arrival of a Green Kryptonite meteor hurtling toward Legion HQ. Putting his own life on the line, Brainiac 5 removes his force-field belt and quickly gives it to Supergirl, allowing her to safely destroy the meteor.
Supergirl and Brainiac 5 are chosen to be the newest Legion inductees, and the now-lovestruck Brainiac asks Supergirl to stay in the future:
Naturally, she refuses, due to her commitment to being Superman’s secret weapon, but now Kara has two long-distance boyfriends to moon over…
Kara’s days at the orphanage come to an end in ACTION COMICS #279, in “Supergirl’s Secret Enemy!” (August 1961), when she’s adopted by Fred and Edna Danvers, during a period when her powers had been stolen by Lesla-Lar, an evil Kryptonian scientist from the Bottle City of Kandor, a Kryptonian city shrunk to miniature size by Brainiac and kept in Superman’s Fortress of Solitude for safekeeping. Presuming she’d never be super again, Kara agrees to the adoption, and actually finds herself happy with her new parents, staying with them instead of trying to trick herself back to the orphanage like so many times before.
Kara now finds herself in the tricky position of having to keep her Super-secret from her new parents. But not for long.
In February 1962, Superman finally decided it was time to let the world know about Supergirl, in ACTION COMICS #285, “The World’s Greatest Heroine!”, written by Jerry Siegel and drawn by Jim Mooney.
First, Superman and Kara tell her new parents the good news: their daughter was a superhero, so they probably didn’t have to worry about saving for college…
Next, Superman unilaterally takes control of all the world’s television broadcasts to introduce Kara to the globe.
A little heavy-handed, granted but hey, the guy’s proud of his cousin, and he’s saved the world, what, a zillion times by now? Cut him some slack. Then the two embark on a whirlwind tour to give the world a glimpse of the new Supergirl…
Followed by a quick trip to the United Nations, to greet the world’s leaders and receive her certificate authorizing her to visit any UN country without a passport, and to make arrests worldwide. (I had no idea there was so much paperwork involved…) Next comes a stop at the Fortress of Solitude to see the salute from the Bottle City of Kandor…
And finally, Superman does what he should have done three years earlier: he adds a wing to the Fortress of Solitude, just for Kara. About damn time.
A curious thing about the way DC used Supergirl: she was allowed to do what so many kid superheroes in comics never do: grow up. By 1964, Kara had graduated high school, and by 1971, she had graduated college as well, presumably making her a grown woman in her early twenties. It didn’t make a lot of sense if you think about it, since Superman always stayed eternally twenty-nine, and Dick Grayson remained a teenager for about 10 more years, but they didn’t worry about that sort of thing too much in the ’70s. Personally, I think it was because DC’s writers and editors liked the character and the flexibility it gave them as opposed to the more structured Superman, and wanted to see Kara develop. Accordingly, Kara worked on a news camera crew after college, then studied acting for a while (in steady appearances in ACTION COMICS and SUPERMAN FAMILY). Along the way, as Kara grew into a woman, she was given a more stylish, sexy costume, with red short-shorts replacing the skirt, a v-neck blouse with puffy sleeves and a smaller ‘S’ shield, a funky ’70s-style loop belt and a groovy ’70s neck collar.
Supergirl was given a new locale and cast of supporting characters in her series in SUPERMAN FAMILY in 1974, courtesy of writer Elliot S! Maggin and artist Artie Saaf, starting with issue #165. Here Kara, now disillusioned and tired of life in the saving-the-world business, has resolved to refocus her attentions on her life as Linda Danvers, and accepts a new job as student advisor as the New Athens Experimental School, a prototype educational complex that “serves students from kindergarten through college.” The new position, by the way, comes with its own male secretary, a fellow named Martin Hamilton who looked so ’70s, it’s as if the Village People had a seventh member nicknamed “Office Worker.”
Anyway, while Kara still begrudgingly finds herself using her powers as Supergirl, she gets more satisfaction from helping her students in hew new role as counselor. However, this job didn’t last long, and by 1981 Kara had moved on to yet another career, as an actress on the popular television soap opera SECRET HEARTS, where Kara gets to contend not only with learning her lines, but also with sleazy come-ons from co-workers. Ah, show biz…
Supergirl got a big push from the company in 1982 with the debut of her own solo series, THE DARING NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERGIRL.
Written by Paul Kupperberg and drawn by the great Carmine Infantino, the series relocated Kara to Chicago, and curiously, rolled back the last few years of the character’s continuity, returning her to a college setting, and even going so far in the letters page as to say that Kara was only 19 years old, an age that certainly doesn’t jibe with someone who’d attended college and graduate school, and had several careers already. They later backtracked on the age issue, but no mention was made of any of Kara’s various past jobs, and why precisely she was back in college again was never made clear.
DARING NEW ADVENTURES never quite came together as a series, despite the introduction of a bunch of new foes for Supergirl like Decay, Psi and Blackstarr. Part of the problem was for the first year, the series had an 8-page LOIS LANE backup story, leaving only 15 pages for the main feature, so it seemed like the story never had the room to sufficiently get going.
An attempt was made to rectify the problem with issue #13, booting out the LOIS LANE backup and giving Kara a new costume (one which would later include a headband, a change mandated by the producers of the then-upcoming movie, who would then themselves decide it was a dumb idea and abandon it), but sales never really followed through, and the series was cancelled with issue #23.
It was strictly guest appearances for Kara for the next year or so, until the events of CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS in 1985. Kara first appeared in issue #4 of the company-spanning crossover series (written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by George Perez), in this poignant moment, as she discusses with a despondent Batgirl the need to keep fighting, and keep helping people, even when it seems all is lost.
Although it’s not obvious at the time, it’s a bit of foreshadowing, a preface to Kara’s eventual sacrifice, which would come three months later.
When a collection of the most powerful superheroes from five Earths journey into the anti-matter universe in an attempt to destroy the Anti-Monitor (the nearly all-powerful despot behind the wiping out of the multiverse), Supergirl is among them, and discovers that, just like the other Kryptonians along for the trip, her powers function differently there: while she retains her strength and ability to fly, her invulnerability has vanished.
When Kara hears her cousin Superman being physically decimated by the Anti-Monitor, she flies to his aid, and engages the Anti-Monitor in devastating hand-to-hand combat.
Kara brings it to the Anti-Monitor like no one ever has, and for a moment, it looks like she has the advantage.
But his near-limitless power is too much. Realizing the end is near, Supergirl makes sure her cousin is safe, then plunges back into battle.
Kara manages to destroy the Anti-Monitor’s machines, saving the lives of the countless inhabitants of five universes, but not without a cost:
Kara lasts long enough to say goodbye to her cousin…
…and then she’s gone.
Kal-El is enraged and shattered, but his Earth-2 counterpart tries to counsel him:
Back on Earth-1, the world learns of Supergirl’s sacrifice, and her friends, family and thousands of grateful citizens gather in Chicago to remember her.
And elsewhere, Kal-El of Krypton says goodbye to the only real family he has left:
So why did DC Comics kill Kara? Well, aside from wanting to signal to readers that the stakes were high, and nothing was to be taken for granted, the powers that be at DC also stated that they felt it was important to return Superman’s status as the lone survivor of Krypton — so important that, when CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS ended and the John Byrne SUPERMAN run began, it was decreed that not only was Supergirl dead, but she had “never existed” in the first place.
And it was so important that they waited a whole 35 months to bring her back.