Previously, in COMICS 101: We tracked the beginnings of DC’s Earth-2 version of Supergirl, the Justice Society of America’s Power Girl. But how could she exist in a comics continuity without an Earth-2 Superman? Therein hangs a tale…
The question of Power Girl’s now-befuddling origins was addressed in 1987, in issue #11 of DC’s anthology series SECRET ORIGINS, which had its work cut out for itself in those heady post-CRISIS days trying to straighten out everyone’s new backstory.
According to the story by writer Paul Kupperberg and artist Mary Wilshire, Power Girl was not a refugee from Krypton as she’d always believed, but was actually of Atlantean descent, born 45,000 years in the past. This was a tie-in to DC’s ’80s sword-and-sorcery series ARION, LORD OF ATLANTIS, which wasn’t exactly a smash hit to begin with. Anyway, Kara learned form the spirit of her grandfather Arion that she had been threatened by Arion’s evil brother as an infant and sent forward into the future for her own safety, aging to young adulthood along the way and having been given her amazing powers thanks to Arion’s sorcerous tampering with her genetic structure.
So it wasn’t a great origin, but it was something, and at least it provided a reason for the character to still exist. A couple of years later, Power Girl was signed up for Justice League International’s European branch, and found herself regularly appearing in the pages of JUSTICE LEAGUE EUROPE, which would remain her home for much of the next five years. Unfortunately, the character took something of a creative beating at the hands of writers Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Gerard Jones, one of the few missteps in what was otherwise an excellent series. In an effort to further remove her from her Super-past, Power Girl was critically injured in a battle with the mystical entity known as the Gray Man, requiring emergency surgery from Superman (his heat vision being necessary to make the surgical incisions) to save her life, which resulted in dramatically lowering her power levels. While still retaining her superhuman strength, speed and toughness, she was no longer at Superman-class power levels, and her vision and flight powers were gone. Not only that, her classic Joe Orlando-designed costume was discarded, replaced with an awful Bart Sears-designed yellow-and-white full-bodysuit, topped off with an ugly short haircut. Even all of that could be dealt with, though; the real problem was her characterization.
Suddenly Power Girl was a sneering, moody, man-hating shrew, with a fixation on dieting and an addiction to diet soda. JLE artist Bart Sears seemed to go out of his way to draw her as unattractively as possible (although to be fair, drawing women was never Sears’ strong suit). There was also a long-running subplot that went absolutely nowhere about her adopting a stray, mangy cat that turned out to be equipped with surveillance devices from some super-villainish conglomerate. But that wasn’t even the worst of it.
At least in Giffen’s and Jones’ hands, Kara was merely a stereotype of a man-hating strongwoman. There were even lamer ideas in store. In later runs of JLE, not only was Kara given an even uglier costume (complete with a mullet haircut and a headband, for god’s sake), the creatives fell back on the most cliched storyline in genre fiction for a female character: the unexplained pregnancy.
Yes, Kara was knocked up, it turns out thanks to the sorcerous machinations of her grandpappy Arion, who somehow arranged it so she could give birth to the hero who was destined to destroy some all-powerful Atlantean demon. So naturally the kid is born, mystically ages himself to adulthood, vanquishes the demon and disappears, with the whole matter seemingly forgotten in a few months. A wise decision, if you ask me.
After that, Power Girl found herself drafted into Chris Claremont’s creator-owned DC series SOVEREIGN SEVEN, and was possessed by the spirit of the goddess Nike, but since that series ended no one has made any reference to it anywhere in the DC universe, so it’s widely considered to be not “in-continuity” these days.
Another change to the character was attempted not long after in 1997, in the wake of one of DC’s more forgettable crossover events, GENESIS, which was making changes to characters’ powers all over the DCU. Suddenly — get this — Kara was vulnerable to “raw, unprocessed natural material.” So you couldn’t shoot her with a gun or stab her with a knife, but you could clunk her with a rock or jab her with a pointed stick. Whatever.
Luckily, this was another bad Power Girl idea that was swiftly forgotten.
It wasn’t until Geoff Johns rescued Power Girl a few years later in the pages of JSA, using her as a replacement for Black Canary, that the character began to come into her own again.
The Power Girl of the early 2000s felt more like the character originally conceived back in 1976, while incorporating all of the horribly confusing and ill-advised revisions into her character, portraying Power Girl as a character who doesn’t really know who she is or where she comes from, and as a result thinks of the Justice Society as her only real family.
Everything about Kara was again thrown into question, first with her violent reaction to the appearance of Supergirl, her onetime parallel-earth counterpart…
…leading up to her next adventure in the pages of JSA CLASSIFIED, in which she learned of her true origins as a native of Earth-2, thanks to the machinations of the Psycho-Pirate, the only person in the DC Universe to remember all the events of the Crisis and the multiverse that existed before it.
Power Girl’s final major appearance in the DCU before everything went wonky and rebooted with the New 52 was her outstanding solo series from writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray and artist Amanda Conner, which reset Kara as a major player in the DC Universe and did so with a real sense of fun. Their run can be found in trade and is highly recommended.
These days, the New 52 version of Power Girl can be found in the pages of WORLD’S FINEST, and other than an early experiment with a truly terrible costume, she’s pretty much back to her original look and origin. The more things change…