Supergirl Origin Story Revisions

Supergirl’s origin story has been retold a number of times during her series. Some significant details needed to be tweaked in order to fit in with the six-part “Brainiac” story, published in Superman comics in the fall of 2008, which retold the story of Krypton’s destruction for the modern timeline in order to bring it more in line with Silver Age canon.

The timing of Supergirl’s escape from Krypton was shifted in order to allow for the survival of some of its inhabitants, but this does not materially change the veracity of the scenes we saw in her original introduction (other than her father not being creepy and evil!). In the Supergirl from Krypton story published way back in 2004, we were told that Kara escaped Krypton at the point of its destruction, as shown here in SUPERMAN/BATMAN #9 (April 2004) and again in SUPERGIRL #1 (Aug 2005):

But in ACTION COMICS #869 (Nov 2008) we learn Kara and her parents survived the destruction of Krypton, living on a chunk of the planet (Argo City) for a number of months before Brainiac showed up again. This is exactly the same story as Silver Age Kara. It’s in this second attack, on what was left of Krypton, that her parents launched her escape pod to Earth:

The change in timing is a direct retcon to SUPERGIRL #1, but I’m happy enough to handwave certain details because of everything it gives us: Kara’s parents surviving, Kandor and Argo, and the chilling Brainiac story. The stories that have come out of New Krypton since have been full of depth and complexity for Kara. Supergirl’s origin story remains the same in its essence. Like Superman, Kara escaped their doomed world at its (second) point of destruction, and thought her parents and everything she knew to be lost. She’s still sent after Kal-El, whom she expects to find as a baby she will need to take care of. Her story is still as tragic: she survived the destruction and lived in the floating city of Argo, but only for a few months; whereas in the Silver Age Kara was born on Argo and knew nothing of the trauma of Krypton and Brainiac.

The changes to the story affect the other Kryptonian survivors more than they do Kara, because she was still in suspended animation for three decades while life went on, painfully, for the survivors in Kandor and Argo.

The Brainiac/New Krypton storyline is a reworking of a similar development of Supergirl’s Silver Age history that was no doubt just as monumental at the time, but in hindsight seems like such an integral part of the Silver Age canon that now we can’t imagine it being otherwise.

Some questions arise with this retelling of Supergirl’s escape.

If Kara didn’t escape Krypton when the planet destroyed, but escaped from Argo an unknown number of months later, then what about the Kryptonite asteroid that trapped her ship? Was there enough left of Krypton’s (irradiated) crust under Argo when Brainiac attacked a second time and integrated the Argonian population into his bottled Kandor? This chunk of Kryptonite is vital to Supergirl’s origin story:

1) It slowed her journey so that she arrived when did, three decades after Superman (and in the real world, years after his reboot in 1985).

2) It was later used in SUPERGIRL #35 (Jan 2009), following the Brainiac storyline, to explain story inconsistencies in her series to that point: her proximity to the Kryptonite for all those years caused her to develop Kryptonite poisoning which causes such story-convenient symptoms as hallucinations, memory loss, and all around misperceptions of reality. (How this disease was known if Kryptonite only turns “bad” once the planet explodes is a plot hole common to many Superman stories!) In other words: anything that doesn’t quite “fit” in the SUPERGIRL issues can be handwaved internally as “kryptonite poisoning” rather than bad storytelling/poor continuity control between writers. This explanation is clunky but necessary, and I like that it’s a “soft” retcon that tries to honor the previous issues and readers’ experience of them. Everything that happened still happened, just not necessarily the way Kara (and the reader) remember.

In the depiction of Argo’s destruction in ACTION #869, Kara’s ship is once again shown escaping as Argo blows up behind her in a fiery red explosion. No glowing green planetary chunks are visible like they were in SUPERGIRL #1. However, a year later in SUPERGIRL #35, we see more clearly what happened. SUPERGIRL #35 is the definitive retelling of Supergirl’s origin story for this series, and it beautifully reconciles Supergirl’s oft-tweaked origin story with the way events are portrayed in the Brainiac story.

Supergirl’s origin story still works, almost exactly as we knew it before, but now it’s so much richer because we know more of Krypton survived. (Also, points for keeping the ship design consistent!)

I still need to fill in the blanks by discussing the smaller changes to Supergirl’s origin story that were inserted by the various writers between SUPERGIRL #1 and SUPERGIRL #35. There’s some nice bits like the stronger role Alura is shown playing in SUPERGIRL #24.

Brainiac’s pivotal role in Krypton’s destruction is written into the story very nicely, but I’m still niggled by what it does to Jor-El’s theory about Krypton’s impending doom. So much hinges on Jor-El’s warnings and the Kryptonian science council’s refusal to accept them. The whole point of the Brainiac story is that Brainiac caused the destruction of Krypton by triggering the explosion of its sun after abducting Kandor. So was Jor-El wrong? Would Krypton never have exploded had Brainiac not come along? Or did Brainiac show up to strip Krypton’s culture and knowledge precisely because he sensed the planet was on the brink of destruction? I think this is an important plot point that was missed and should have been followed up on. I want to see some in-story confirmation that Brainiac prematurely triggered Krypton’s destruction, and have Jor-El’s predictions be validated.

Michelle Bacon

Michelle loves comics and code. A lifelong Superfamily fan, she's been collecting comics for 20 years, and running Supergirl: Maid of Might since 2000.

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