Let’s talk about comic books. And boob windows.
Before Scarlett Johanssen became Black Widow; before Jamie Alexander was Sif; before Lynda Carter was Wonder Woman; before Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt, and Lee Merriwether were Catwomen…there was Supergirl.
By the time I was 3.5 years old, I was reading. Two reasons: my mother was ingenious in her own way. And, although I will never know her rationale for doing this, I will always love her for it: she taught me to read using comic books.
I grew up on Casper, and Richie Rich, Little Lotta and Little Dot. The first two tv shows I remember watching were reruns of the Mickey Mouse Club (I’ll always love you, Annette) and the Adventures of Superman, starring George Reeves.
I loved Superman. But the 1966 Adam West Batman I loved even more. I collected comics throughout that period, and well beyond. If it was cool, I liked it.
And in there were many issues of Supergirl, with and without her 1970s costume changes. And with her ’60s pantheon of super-animals–Streaky, Comet and Beppo (Krypto not included)–
–she was a constant in my four-color collection. Yet Kara Zor-El remained only a secondary character in the DC Comics roster…until they killed her in 1985.
As melodramatic and as cheesy as is that cover (and I won’t discuss that early ’80s headband she’s wearing), I wept. I don’t think I’d ever cried reading a comic book before. But I cried. A lot.
It was the writing. It was the art. It was the pacing. It was cinematic. Then I reread the issue, to make sure they killed her. That it was permanent. That her death really was what I read.
And MAN did I cry.
Supergirl had always been only a secondary character…yet this one comic book made her more important, more significant, than ever. Here’s Jason Motes from sciencefiction.com in July 2015:
Thirty years ago this week, DC Comics released what still stands as one of the most shocking and emotional single issues ever, ‘Crisis On Infinite Earths’ #7, featuring the highest-profile super hero death ever at that time; that of Supergirl. One didn’t need to be a comic book fanatic to know who she was! Debuting in 1959, Kara Zor-El was Superman’s cousin, who also escaped the destruction of Krypton to arrive on Earth, now blessed with the same amazing powers he had. The character caught on quickly and soon found herself starring in her own solo tales.
‘Crisis’ was both a celebration of nearly everything DC had published in its 50 year history, but also a closing of that chapter, with big plans in place to overhaul the fictional universe into a more simplified, modern concept that was new reader-friendly. As such, plans were on the table to update its biggest stars, including Superman, shedding the weight of 50 years worth of continuity and starting fresh, taking the character back to basics and hopefully making him more contemporary.
One of the huge changes that architect, writer/artist John Byrne planned was to restore Superman’s uniqueness, making him the sole survivor of Krypton as he was in his creation. This obviously required that Supergirl be taken off the board. That’s where ‘Crisis’ came into play. …Characters that died in ‘Crisis’ were and would remain DEAD. There would be no quick, happy “undos” after the dust had settled. And while the first several issues were filled with death and destruction, as entire populated worlds were wiped out by the Anti-Monitor, it was Supergirl’s that was the most shocking. Sure super heroes had been killed in the past, but none of them appeared on tee-shirts, Underoos and lunchboxes. None of them had their own action figures.
It wasn’t until her character was dead and gone that she was truly missed, and her death became an iconic moment in comic book history. And until then, no one knew how important she really was.
Earlier, though, Supergirl did give birth to the comic book boob window.
Late in 1975, Power Girl made her first appearance in All Star Comics #58 (dated January/February 1976). I bought this issue from Rose’s at Mercury Mall in Hampton, VA, back when there were more local department stores, and they all sold magazines and books. From Wikipedia:
Power Girl is the cousin of DC’s flagship hero Superman, but from an alternate universe in the fictional multiverse in which DC Comics stories are set. Originally hailing from the world of Earth-Two, first envisioned as the home of DC’s wartime heroes as published in 1940s comic books, Power Girl becomes stranded on the main universe where DC stories are set, and becomes acquainted with that world’s Superman and her own counterpart, Supergirl.
Wally Wood, a classic EC Comics artist and good girl illustrator, provided the pencils.
In a famous comics anecdote of unknown veracity, artist Wally Wood reportedly told friends that he planned to draw Power Girl’s breasts larger and larger, issue by issue, until told by his editors to stop. According to the story, no one ever did before Wood left the title. His editors may have thanked Wood had they known, and Wood had never pushed her bust size beyond believability — or at least what’s considered believable in the realm of super-hero comics, accustomed to bulging muscles and beautiful women with enormous tits. Later artists, as if honoring Wood’s intent, would sometimes seem to continue his dastardly plan…
Power Girl proved a winner. And so did the demand for the return of Supergirl. Because of financial and legal reasons, DC would have brought her back anyway. But DC brought back Supergirl, and they figured out to to have a Supergirl who wasn’t the real Supergirl…and another who was…and another…
What brings us to here is the latest incarnation.
Meet Supergirl: Kara Zor-el, Superman’s cousin, with all her back story reattached and retconned for the 21st Century.
Melissa Benoist is the second actress to portray the Last Daughter of Krypton, and Helen Slater, the first Supergirl in the lackluster 1984 enponymous movie, plays her adopted mother on Earth. Even though I thought, before I saw the pilot, that Benoist looked a little bland for the role, she has proved me wrong. She is great as a perky, spunky hero-in-training, trying to make her way in the world just like the rest of us.
Like its tv brothers Arrow and The Flash, this Supergirl is highly structured with a season-long big bad storyline, and each hero gets a team of assistants and a secret lair. Unlike its brothers, this Supergirl does one thing that the others have not yet done: in four shows, it’s already made me cry in three. More than the others, this show is about family. This show is about wonder.
The true legacy of Supergirl is about life and hope and optimism…and the innate strength of womanhood. I’m hooked on Supergirl. Just please stop making me cry.