Not every decision DC made following the rebooting of their universe in CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS was a complete success. Some were just out-and-out bad decisions (like the excising of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman from JLA history), some were editorial miscalculations that degenerated into a continuity nightmare (say, for example, Hawkman), and some were just tough nuts to crack.
What to do with Power Girl was a tough nut to crack.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to where it all started, to the character’s introduction in 1976. Based on years of popular supporting appearances in the pages of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, the Powers That Were at DC decided to give the Justice Society of America their own series once more, even going so far as to revive the title and numbering of their original series from the 1940s, ALL-STAR COMICS. Accordingly, February 1976 saw the publication of ALL-STAR COMICS #58, “All-Star Super Squad,” written by Gerry Conway and drawn by Ric Estrada and the great Wally Wood.
However, it had been decided that certain changes were in order. First off, the Justice Society name was downplayed, especially on the book’s cover, as it was feared that the similarity to the “Justice League” name could confuse readers; instead the JSA members, along with several new recruits, were awkwardly named “the Super-Squad,” a clunky moniker that was hardly ever spoken in the series and certainly didn’t catch on with readers.
New recruits, you ask? Indeed, that was the second big change for the series, as it was thought the team of old-timers (remember, this book took place on Earth-2, so the JSA members, WW II veterans all, were in their late fifties, at least) needed some new blood, and so some younger members were added: the now grown-up and nearing middle age Robin, the Golden Age teen hero the Star-Spangled Kid, recently retrieved from being lost in time for over two decades, and a brand-new character: Power Girl.
Power Girl first appeared on the scene in Peking, China, singlehandedly capping a mysteriously active volcano that was giving Wildcat and Flash Jay Garrick a considerable amount of trouble. Introducing herself to the stunned JSAers as Superman’s cousin, Power Girl, acknowledged in an editorial caption as the Earth-2 version of Supergirl, with the explanation that on Earth-2, Superman kept her existence secret much longer than the Earth-1 Superman did. Apparently, by about a decade or so, which seems a little harsh. This was later rethought by DC editors (probably for exactly that reason, that it seemed unnecessarily cruel for Superman not to allow her in public for that long), and the story was amended, which we’ll get back to in a bit.
Anyway, Power Girl wound up being the breakout star of the new “Super Squad,” for a number of reasons. DC had never had a really aggressive, powerful female character, and Power Girl’s outspoken feminism and assertive, in-your-face interaction and competition with dinosaurs like Wildcat and Hawkman seemed very fresh and unusual at the time.
The readers would often see Kara racing with the Flash or arm-wrestling with Wildcat, constantly trying to prove her superiority over the older, male JSAers. Kara Zor-L’s defiant streak was manifested in her very name and costume, which was purposely different from her cousin’s in an effort to establish an independent identity for herself. Of course, Power Girl’s visual design probably had something to do with her popularity, particularly her, shall we say, attributes. There’s an infamous story about Power Girl that’s been going around for years: reportedly, artist Wally Wood told associates that he intended to draw Power Girl’s breasts bigger with every issue until the editors noticed and told him to stop. Wood left the series before any such editorial edict was issued, but a look at some art from his final issue certainly raises the possibility that the tall tale might have some truth to it:
In an effort to further cement Kara’s credibility in the series, the Earth-2 Superman was brought in for a series of guest appearances, allowing for Kal-L and Kara to bicker in an attempt to further get across Power Girl’s headstrong characterization, and also to give her a sort-of “Super-endorsement” when Superman officially announced his retirement and gave Power Girl his spot in the Justice Society (the goofy “Super Squad” name by that time having been long discarded).
The interactions with Superman also allowed them to elaborate and clear up some the mystery of her arrival on Earth, revealing that her father built a slower rocket than Kal-L’s, taking her much longer to travel from Krypton (or I guess that would be Krypton-2, if you want to be specific) to Earth, with Kara slowly aging inside in suspended animation, resulting on her arriving on Earth decades later than baby Kal-L, and having grown to a young woman on the journey.
But wait a minute, I hear you asking. If Kara was placed in the rocket as an infant and emerged on Earth-2 as a young woman, who raised her? This would be a question to be answered in Power Girl’s short-lived solo feature in the pages of SHOWCASE, DC’s revived anthology series.
In SHOWCASE #97 – 98 (February 1978), written by Paul Levitz and drawn by Joe Staton and Joe Orlando, we got our first real look at Power Girl’s origin, as seen in a dream sequence courtesy of the slumbering Kara. Here we begin to see the differences between Power Girl’s origins and that of her Earth-1 counterpart Supergirl. For starters, Kara’s father Zor-L (brother to Superman’s father Jor-L) had heeded his brother’s warnings about Krypton’s imminent destruction, and had taken Jor-L’s data so as to make his own rocketship to save his family before their planet exploded.
However, Zor-L, whose own scientific specialty involved the study of the brain, had his own modifications he planned to make, resulting in the “symbioship,” which took Kara on a somewhat leisurely journey to the planet Earth. On the way, while Kara slept in suspended animation and slowly aged to about her early twenties, the symbioship projected images and information into her subconscious mind, providing her with the life experiences and education of her Kryptonian background. Of course, the fact that her whole life had been spent in a box and her entire life’s memory came from a DVD might account for why she was so grumpy and anti-social in those early JSA adventures.
Eventually, Kara settled into life on Earth a little easier, creating the civilian identity of Karen Starr for herself and starting her own computer software business, StarrWare. With the cancellation of ALL-STAR COMICS and its successive series in ADVENTURE COMICS, Power Girl and the Justice Society settled into the usual yearly appearances in the pages of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA and the occasional guest-shot throughout the DC Universe. However, they found themselves back in the spotlight in 1984, when writer Roy Thomas, fresh from the success of his WW-II-set ALL-STAR SQUADRON Earth-2 series, introduced INFINITY, INC., a new modern-day team book about the children and successors of the Justice Society, which naturally included the three youngest members introduced in the earlier “Super-Squad” series: Star-Spangled Kid, the Huntress (the daughter of Batman and Catwoman) and Power Girl.
In classic Roy Thomas style, the new series kicked off by re-introducing a story element from the original Golden Age JSA comics: the Stream of Ruthlessness, a mystical waterway which subverts those submerged in it to their worst, most evil instincts. Drowned in the stream by the Ultra-Humanite, the newly evil Justice Society embarks upon a reign of terror across the globe, which the newly formed Infinitors have to contend with.
One of the featured confrontations in the storyline was Power Girl vs. Superman, who had captured Metropolis in order to raze it to the ground and rebuild it in Krypton’s image. The Superman/Power Girl battle was brutal, with Superman pummeling his cousin mercilessly, but Power Girl at least fought the good fight before showing the better part of valor and running off to get a little Green-K equalizer.
After a struggle that lasted through most of the series’ first year, Infinity, Inc., managed to restore the JSA to sanity and defeat the Ultra-Humanite, and after that decided to remain together as a team, with two notable exceptions: Huntress and Power Girl, who elected to remain solo. This was most likely by design, as these were the two to be most directly affected by what was about to come: the CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS.
As discussed and recounted seemingly dozens of times around these parts, the 1985 12-issue miniseries put an end to DC’s parallel Earths and duplicate characters, consolidating all of DC’s heroes, villains and history into a single Earth and a single timeline. This meant that characters like the Earth-2 Superman, the Earth-2 Wonder Woman, the Earth-2 Robin, etc. were officially deemed to have “never existed.” Accordingly, those newer characters directly related to the duplicates, like the Huntress, were also wiped away, officially declared invalid.
And yet Power Girl survived. Why?
From a real-world standpoint, I think it was pretty simple. I think the DC editors and writers liked the character and didn’t want to see her go away, so they just decided not to. Simple as that. It certainly helped that she had her own superhero sobriquet unrelated to Superman, and that her costume, while reminiscent of Kal-L’s, wasn’t simply a knock-off of the original red-and-blue Supersuit. Of course, that left a big problem: if Power Girl was still around but her history no longer happened, how could she even exist?
Come on back next week to find out.