Four Color Television - Supergirl: Comics vs. Show Comparisons
In the last few weeks we have been exploring how similar the characters on the DC/CW TV series are to their comic book counterparts. We’ve explored how far away from Green Arrow the series Arrow truly is; how uniquely Legends of Tomorrow straddles the line between direct adaptation and complete invention; and how true to the comics The Flash truly is. That leaves us with just the Maid of Might, so just how much like Supergirl is Supergirl?
LINDA LEE DANVERS VS. KAREN STARR VS. THE MATRIX VS. KARA ZOR-EL VS KARA DANVERS
We’ve discussed some complex characters in this series so far, but I doubt any of them will be as overwrought as Supergirl. The first thing we need to take note of are that there are actually six different versions of the character in mainline DC Comics.
The original Supergirl made her debut in Action Comics #252 in 1959, and was introduced as a member of a group of Kryptonians who had managed to avoid the destruction of their planet by creating a large dome to shield their home of Argo City. Just as Kal-El had before her, Kara traveled to Earth from the doomed Argo City in a rocket ship created by her father so that she could be raised by her older cousin. Kara landed on Earth and immediately met Kal-El, the two agreed she would try to blend in on Earth just as he had so that she could have a normal life. Taking the name Linda Lee, Kara was placed in the Midvale Orphanage and ultimately was adopted by Fred and Edna Danvers. Kara spent a great deal of time in secret preparing to be the “secret weapon” of Superman, and while she did eventually join the Legion of Superheroes – her adventures were few and far between. Supergirl at the time was very much seen as just a “girl’s book” and Kara’s adventures often reflected this by focusing on her relationships with boys in Midvale, or her growing collection of superpowered pets. In the 70’s there was an attempt to push Supergirl in a more active direction, but it didn’t really take and the character just kind of limped along until the universe was ready to change. Crisis on Infinite Earths came along and just as Barry Allen sacrificed himself to warn the multiverse of the threat that was coming, Supergirl sacrificed herself to stop the machinations of the Anti-Monitor and save the multiverse.
Prior to DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline, every character in the main titles on Earth One had a doppelganger on Earth Two. This meant that if the Silver Age Superman had a cousin named Kara, then the Golden Age Superman must have as well. Taking the name Karen Starr this alternate Kara is more commonly known to comic fans by the name Power Girl. Power Girl was a member of the JSA and worked extensively with the Earth Two hero known as Huntress who was the daughter of the Earth Two Batman and Catwoman. Unlike the Earth One Supergirl, Power Girl survived into the new Post Crisis continuity, but she found that her cousin had no memory of her whatsoever, and so she left on a quest of self-discovery to determine why she had memories of a life no one else could remember. This left the Post Crisis world without a Last Daughter of Krypton, and it would be a long time before Kara Zor-El returned to the pages of DC Comics.
Supergirl would return to publication a little sooner though. The Crisis on Infinite Earths may have destroyed all of the alternate earths, but there were some lingering effects for years afterwards – one of which was the first appearance of a new Supergirl in 1988’s Superman #21. An alternate reality Lex Luthor created the ultimate being to protect his dying world, a shapeshifting protoplasmic matrix with all the memories of Lana Lang that he sent across the barrier between realities to request the aid of Superman. After working with Superman, Supergirl tried to return to her original Earth and discovered it had been completely destroyed. Matrix Supergirl, as she is known to fans, remained on Earth and eventually entered into a romantic relationship with Lex Luthor and even stood in for Superman when he was killed by the alien creature known as Doomsday. Supergirl’s relationship with Lex soured when she discovered that he had attempted to clone her for some nefarious purposes. Brokenhearted and questioning her very existence she found her way to a dying girl named Linda Danvers, and the two merged and became a unique entity known as the Earth Angel of Fire. Eventually Matrix and Linda were split apart and Linda retained all of the classic Krpytonian powers that Matrix had given to her.
In 2004, almost 20 years after Crisis, the Kara Zor-El Supergirl finally returned to the comics with a slightly tweaked origin wherein she was now a teenage girl when Kal-El was a baby, and they were both launched at the same time with the intention being that Kara would help raise Kal-El on their new home of Earth. Kara’s ship was caught in the gravity well of a large chunk of Kryptonite meteor which slowed her progress and made it so she arrived on Earth after Clark Kent had already become Superman. This version of Supergirl was treated as a fish out of water who was gradually exploring what it must mean to become human, she even took the identity of Linda Lang to live among humans. This version of Supergirl’s exploration of humanity was cut short by Flashpoint and the New 52 reboot.
Barry Allen reset the timeline and it did not go back together quite the way it had before he meddled. Rather than having been trapped in a Kryptonite meteor, this new version of Kara’s pod landed at the same time as the one carrying baby Kal-El – only her pod lay trapped in the ice in Siberia while Clark was growing up in Smallville. Thinking she had only been traveling for a few days, Kara was pissed to find that Clark had grown up without her, she left Earth in search of Argo City and found it dead and empty. Being young and angry over the destruction of her home and the lack of control of her life Kara became a Red Lantern (like the Green Lantern only fueled by the power of anger. Eventually this Kara returned to Earth and decided that she needed a more settled live and she joined the D.E.O in an attempt to form human connections and protect the Earth.
Melissa Benoist’s Kara arrived on Earth after Superman did just as in the two most recent versions – and dealing with her survivor’s guilt and anger was a theme in Season One. Other than those two main points, and having been adopted by two people named Danvers, there is very little connection between the Kara of the comics and the Kara on television. The comics always went out of their way to try to make Kara different than Superman, so that she wouldn’t feel like she was just a carbon copy of the Man of Steel. She was almost always portrayed as a teenager, she was almost always shown as having a more difficult time adapting to life on Earth. The CW Supergirl series threw all of that out the window and strengthened the connections to Superman, in fact Benoist’s Supergirl bears more in common with Christopher Reeve’s Superman than any comic book incarnation of the character. Surprisingly, making Kara more like Clark works like gangbusters. It also helps that Benoist is an incredibly charming actress and pulls of a likeable duality between her Supergirl and Kara personas, often playing Kara as an insider who wants to be different than she is, wants to stand out from the crowd and be herself publicly -effectively the opposite of Clark Kent. Many of the changes implemented on the show are working their way into the current run on the comic book. Comic Supergirl now lives with Eliza and Jeremiah Danvers, she is an agent of the DEO and has a day job at Catco in National City – none of which were part of the character’s story before.
JIMMY OLSEN VS JAMES OLSEN/CAT GRANT VS CAT GRANT
Once we’ve gotten the Supergirl conundrum out of the way, almost all of the other DC Comics characters on the show end up being incredibly faithful to their comic book counterparts. Despite his desire to seek out greener pastures in National City so that he can spread his wings without being in the shadow of the Man of Steel, James Olsen is very much a natural extension of the Jimmy Olsen character who has been Superman’s best pal for the past 76 years. In Season Two James took on the mantle of “Guardian” who is an established DC Comics hero, but this is definitely in keeping with the character’s heroic turns as Elastic Lad and Flamebird.
Cat Grant was established as a reporter attempting to prove to the team at The Daily Planet that she had the same chops they did, and she did so with a tough as nails expose of a powerful cabal known as Intergang. Coming out of that hugely exciting expose, Cat became one of the most sought after journalists in the DC Universe and she parlayed that into a form of celebrity access the likes of which made her the pre-eminent gossip columnist in Metropolis. It’s easy to believe that all of that established comic book canon easily serves as the backstory to the Calista Flockhart Cat Grant who is every bit as feisty and tough as her comic counterpart.
HANK HENSHAW VS. MARTIAN MANHUNTER VS CYBORG SUPERMAN
When the series premiered and we were introduced to David Harewood’s Hank Henshaw with glowing red eyes, it seemed obvious that eventually he would make a heel turn and become a villain for Supergirl. Particularly since Hank Henshaw is one of Superman’s most dangerous villains: The Cyborg Superman. In the comics Henshaw was created in a spacefaring accident that killed every member of his crew and left him disembodied but with the power to take control of electronics devices, eventually Henshaw created a cyborg body for himself which he designed to look identical to Superman – and pretended to be the returned from the dead Man of Steel after Superman’s death at the hands of Doomsday. Ultimately the real Superman returned and defeated Henshaw.
Just as it seemed that we would get a very different origin for Henshaw, the rug was yanked out from under us and we learned we were getting an AMAZINGLY different origin. Hank Henshaw was an agent of the DEO, and he was an asshole who was hunting aliens on earth to extinction until he was hunting a very sophisticated telepath and shapeshifter named J’onn J’onnz – the last Green Martian. Supergirl’s adopted father risked his life to protect J’onnz and threw Henshaw off a cliff. With his dying words (don’t worry, he survived to be a Season Two twist) Jeremiah Danvers asked the shapeshifting J’onnz to pose as the dead (also alive as revealed in Season Two) Henshaw to protect Supergirl.
So rather than being the evil Hank Henshaw, the director of the D.E.O. with the glowing red eyes is actually the DC Comics hero: The Martian Manhunter – and a rather faithful adaptation at that.
So then what became of Henshaw: the real flesh and blood evil version? He was revived by the anti-alien Project Cadmus and rebuilt as a cyborg who for unknown reasons calls himself “The Cyborg Superman.” For all the myriad ways that DEO Henshaw/J’onnz is comics accurate, Cadmus Henshaw/Cyborg is not. Unfortunately, they wasted the Cyborg Superman name on this version of the character, because in the comics there is a second Cyborg Superman who is in fact Kara Zor-El’s father rebuilt as a murderous cyborg by Brainiac which could have made for an incredibly powerful story.
Thank you for sticking with us as we compared and contrasted these DC Comics characters with their CW Television versions to see who is the same and who is different. If you have any questions about any of the characters we talked about, feel free to let us know in the comments below.
NEXT WEEK: THE MARVEL TAKEOVER. All Marvel, All Week Long as we count down to THE DEFENDERS
IN TWO WEEKS: A Special Look at Flashpoint.
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