Supergirl. Art by Curt Swan, for Superman #123, August 1958. Fair use rationale.

Supergirl first appeared in 1958 as Super-Girl in Superman #123. Wished into existence by Jimmy Olsen, she is fatally injured protecting Superman, and her dying wish is for Jimmy to wish her back out of existence. DC Comics wanted to know how the public felt about a completely new counterpart for Superman, and because of the positive response, Supergirl was introduced to the world in 1959.

Though there have been several “reboots” of the character over the years‚ as is common with comic book characters‚ the original and most common (and popular) version is Kara Zor-El, Superman’s cousin. She shares both Superman’s powers and his vulnerabilities, and even has a similar costume, though Supergirl wears a skirt instead of tights.

Supergirl is drawn to be feminine. She matches Superman’s blue and red outfit, but wears short skirts to show off her legs, and has long blonde hair. Despite her strength being equal to Superman’s, she has smaller muscles, and, in this picture, is gracefully pulling a train, with her knees bent in a modest and ladylike way, while Superman is posed in an almost bodybuilding manner (though to be fair, he is holding up a bridge). And while this image is from 1958, more modern versions feature ever shorter skirts, midriff-baring and/or cleavage exposing tops, and sexier poses‚Äìthough most also feature more prominent muscles, as well. However her personality is written, the way she is illustrated implies the target audience is largely male.

Unlike Superman, Supergirl is a teenager, with all the baggage that comes with being a teen. Although Supergirl is as powerful and strong as Superman, she is hampered by her age and gender. As a teenager, she is given guidance about her life and superhero role, not being of legal age on Earth. Additionally, she is emotional, rebellious, and trying to “fit in” with life on a new planet. In many ways, Kara Zor-El is not in control of her own destiny, despite the many good deeds she does to prove herself worthy of the Supergirl name. As a character, this can make her very relatable to female readers: everyone wants to feel “normal” and be accepted. It does weaken her, however, as Superman makes many of her decisions, under the guise of protecting her. Even the world’s most powerful teenager must accept guidance from a man.

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