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The Full Story Behind Supergirl’s (Non-Gooey) DCAU Debut

by  in CBR Exclusives, Comic News, TV News Comment
The Full Story Behind Supergirl’s (Non-Gooey) DCAU Debut

Welcome to the seventh installment of Adventure(s) Time, where we take a look at a classic episode of an animated series and an issue of its comics tie-in. This time, we return to the city of Metropolis, where Superman encounters a Super…girl?

RELATED: Will Neil Patrick Harris Revive Music Meister For Supergirl/Flash Crossover?

Supergirl made her animated debut on May 2, 1998, in episode twenty-seven of “Superman: The Animated Series.” It’s a two-parter entitled “Little Girl Lost” (directed by Curt Geda and written by Evan Dorkin & Sarah Dyer, in addition to Paul Dini, Alan Burnett and Rich Fogel.) This was after months of negotiation between the producers, who wanted to feature Supergirl on the series, and DC Comics, which was adamant at the time that Superman should be the sole surviving Kryptonian. The producers were free to use the existing interpretation of the character, “a man-made lifeform made of synthetic protoplasm created by a pocket universe version of Lex Luthor”, but they wanted to stick to Supergirl Classic (gee, I wonder why…)  Kenner’s decision to produce to a Supergirl action figure seems to have been the final push needed to add her to the series.

supergirl-debuts

The first chapter of “Little Girl Lost” opens with Superman exploring the solar system that once housed his birth planet, Krypton. He finds no signs of life, but he does detect a distress signal that’s being beamed from the seemingly abandoned planet Argo. (Superman, whose power levels are closer to the re-imagined John Byrne version in the series, can’t fly independently into space during long journeys, so he travels in a space craft that, as luck would have it, was also a toy vehicle made available by Kenner at the time.) Superman arrives on the frozen, barren remains of Argo and learns that the message was sent by the scientist Kala In-Ze before she placed her remaining family members into stasis tubes. Unfortunately, the ice that accumulated on the planet, which we later learn was knocked out of orbit by Krypton’s destruction, destroyed the tubes and caused the death of the family…with one exception. The tube containing Kara In-Ze, Kala’s daughter, remained intact. When we next we see Kara, she’s living in Superman’s hometown of Smallville, with his adoptive parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent.

The revised origin turns out to be a fairly traditional take on Supergirl. She’s Superman’s “cousin” again, but not in the sense that she’s a direct family member. (Instead, it’s a part of her cover identity on Earth.)  Kara is an Argoan, a species that evolved from the Kryptonians, so while the yellow sun does grant her powers, she doesn’t share a bloodline with Superman. This technicality was enough to please DC’s editorial staff, and even though Supergirl’s altered origin was intended to play a role in future stories, nothing really came of it. Eventually the character was viewed as Supergirl’s relative, and any talk of differing bloodlines was ignored.

Increasingly restless living on the farm, Kara travels to Metropolis after she learns that Intergang is recruiting teenagers as members. Offering to help Superman on the case, her cousin informs her to stay in his apartment and keep her nose out of trouble. Meanwhile, Jimmy Olsen is eager to obtain his first big scoop on the Intergang story, but Lois is quick to dismiss his efforts. Soon, Jimmy and Kara have a chance meeting, and during a run-in with Intergang, Kara unveils her new Supergirl outfit. In this continuity, it’s Jimmy Olsen who provides Kara her superhero alias, a name she quickly adopts with pride.

supergirl-arrives

The story eventually reveals that Intergang is working as a front for Granny Goodness and her Female Furies. Superman (who puts up a rather pathetic showing) is defeated by the Furies after he arrives on the scene, and taken to their home in Apokolips. Supergirl follows, evades an army of Parademons, kills more than a few of them, and eventually rescues her cousin. Granny’s master, Darkseid, soon unveils his plan. Due to a treaty, he isn’t allowed to directly interfere in Earth affairs, but under the assumption that he can’t be blamed for a natural disaster, he’s conspired for a Doomsday Magnet on Earth to draw a comet to the planet. Back on Earth, Jimmy and a reformed Intergang teen named Amy try to disconnect the Doomsday Magnet, but fail. Superman and Supergirl return to Earth, and in her zeal, she destroys the Magnet before Superman has a chance to reprogram it and send the comet away from Earth’s orbit. Oops. Superman flies into space to physically push the comet out of orbit, and a piece  breaks off and flies towards Metropolis. Supergirl flies through the comet piece, destroying it. She falls unconscious, however, and is rescued by Superman.

Later, Jimmy is admiring the byline he’s received for writing the Intergang story (Not bad for a teenager working as a freelance photographer. I hope the Planet’s writing staff isn’t unionized.), while the perpetually cheerful Supergirl flies over the skyline of Metropolis.

You might’ve noticed that five separate writers have credits on this two-part episode. Writing partners Evan Dorkin & Sarah Dyer have revealed that their initial script saw heavy rewrites, after one of the producers changed his mind about the story. Specifically, the conclusion, and the details of Darkseid’s plan, were quite different from what audiences witnessed. (You can read a Toonzone interview with the duo here.) The element of teens fighting against adults that’s so prevalent in the opening chapter just drops out of the story, but was initially an important aspect of the conclusion, which also revealed the origin of Darkseid’s Parademons.

Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer saw less interference with their next Supergirl story, which was conceived as a special edition of the “Adventures” comic. Due to the long delays in the debut of “Little Girl Lost,” DC held the comic for months. Instead of being released as a “Supergirl Adventures” special (in the same vein as 1997’s “Batgirl Adventures” one-shot), it appeared as a double-sized issue of the monthly comic.

supergirl-comic-special

“Superman Adventures” #21, written by Evan Dorkin & Sarah Dyer and penciled by Bret Blevins, brings us the sequel to the cartoon, in addition to several pages of material that was cut from Supergirl’s origin story. The opening of the story takes place decades before the first act of “Little Girl Lost,” as we’re offered a glimpse into Kara’s life before the destruction of Krypton. Her father has traveled from Argo to Krypton without her, leaving Kara behind with her mother, uncle, and cousins. Following the destruction of Krypton, and Argo’s journey away from its sun, we witness the brave efforts of Kara’s mother to save the family, and the brutal circumstances that force them to risk their lives inside the cold sleep chambers first seen in the opening of “Little Girl Lost.”

supergirl-comic

supergirl-comic

supergirl-comic

Superman’s discovery of Kara is left off-panel, with a footnote pointing readers towards the appropriate episodes of the cartoon, but the reader does witness much more of her early days on Earth. We actually see Kara’s awakening inside S.T.A.R. Labs, and her first meeting with Emil Hamilton (a relationship that leads to important developments in the “Justice League Unlimited” animated series.) And while the animated series might’ve left you with the impression that Kara was only in Smallville for a few weeks before becoming Supergirl, we learn now that she’s had several months to adjust to life on Earth, making friends with the other kids and even attending the prom.

After skipping past Kara’s first adventure as Supergirl, the story moves ahead to the next time Kara visits Metropolis. Superman is going to be away on Justice League business, and Kara is more than willing to volunteer as Metropolis’ hero during his absence. She dons the brown wig and glasses she first wore while visiting the city and tries to play tourist with Martha Kent. Unbeknownst to her, Granny Goodness is implementing a new plan that she hopes will redeem herself in Darkseid’s eyes. Soon, Granny is traveling into the Phantom Zone to retrieve Kryptonian criminals Jax-ur and Mala, who debuted on the series back in Season One’s “Blasts From the Past” (how they escaped the “no other Kryptonians except Superman” rule is unknown to me.)

supergirl-comic

supergirl-comic

supergirl-comic

She doesn’t realize that they’re actually being held as tiny prisoners back in Metropolis’ S.T.A.R. Labs, thanks to events in the eighth issue of “Superman Adventures.” Instead, she meets General Zod, a character that was surprisingly missing from the DC Animated Universe, outside of a fantasy appearance in the “Justice League Unlimited” episode “For the Man Who Has Everything.” This version of Zod was designed by Evan Dorkin to evoke Terence Stamp’s appearance in “Superman II,” and he behaves pretty much as you’d expect General Zod to act in any version of the canon.

Soon, Zod is on Earth, he’s restored Jax-ur and Mala to their proper size inside S.T.A.R. Labs, and Supergirl must face the three deadly Kryptonians with no help from her cousin. Kara obtains a sample of Kryptonite and brazenly uses it against her foes — after all, she isn’t Kryptonian, so it has no effect on her. Unfortunately, she learns that Zod is also Argoan, and just as immune as she is. With no other options, Supergirl flies to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, in the hopes of using the Brainiac Globe to learn some weakness to use against Zod. This also requires her to face her fear of cold environments, which has plagued her ever since Argo fell into a perpetual winter. After the Brainiac Globe provides her with a helpful recap of Zod’s backstory, she’s confronted by the real thing. Zod followed her the entire way, and their ensuing battle destroys much of the Fortress. Eventually, Kara is inspired to force Zod into the pen of an Argoan creature, which must be kept under red sunlight. Zod is powerless without yellow sun, and unable to defend himself from the ghastly beast inside the pen (which is rendered in lovely detail by Blevins, who also did work on the animated DC cartoons of this era.)

supergirl-comic

supergirl-comic

Kara saves Zod’s life by using Superman’s Phantom Zone Projector to send him back to his ethereal prison, and within a few panels, she’s back in Metropolis to send Jax-ur and Mala to the Phantom Zone. This leaves Jax-ur and Mala back to their status quo from the animated series, although it does ignore Superman’s reasoning for keeping them out of the Phantom Zone — he viewed it as a form of torture and wanted Jax-ur and Mala to experience America’s more humane justice. There’s only one page left in the story, however, and no time left to explore the issue. Instead, we see Granny punished by Darkseid for failing him, a terrified Zod’s return to the Phantom Zone, and Superman back home in time to see the “Supergirl Saves City” headline from the Daily Planet, all as Kara enjoys her first winter since arriving on Earth.

The Wrap-Up

Design-y

“Little Girl Lost” is the introduction of Bruce Timm’s Supergirl design, which was later adopted by the comics and served as her standard look in the animated universe for years. Towards the end of “Justice League Unlimited,” Bruce Timm stated a desire to alter her “belly-tee/Doc Martens ‘riot grrrl’ outfit” following a conversation on the Toonzone forums, which convinced him that the look was too rooted in 1990s’ fashion.

Continuity Notes

“Superman Adventures” #21 explicitly states that the Justice League is already active in this continuity (in a comic published three years before their animated debut), with Supergirl even making specific references to the Flash and Aquaman. I know what many of you are thinking — this is a reference to the short-lived (and often reviled) “Adventures in the DC Universe” series, which is assuredly not DCAU canon. Possibly, but also consider that the “Justice League Unlimited” episode “Chaos at the Earth’s Core” reveals that Kara actually spent three years living on the Kents’ farm before making her debut as Supergirl. “Little Girl Lost” never gives you a specific time period, but the flashbacks in “Superman Adventures” #21 certainly could take place over the course of three years. And since it is canon that three years passed between Superman discovering Kara and her becoming Supergirl, that leaves three years of “Superman: The Animated Series” continuity that has to take place in-between the first and second scenes of “Little Girl Lost.”

My theory is that the entire first season of “Justice League” took place during those three years, simultaneously with the majority of “Superman: The Animated Series” episodes. Not only does this explain the occasional references to other heroes in the “Superman Adventures” comic, but also Lois Lane’s reference to Wonder Woman in a first season “Superman: The Animated Series” episode. They know about these characters because Superman has already helped form the Justice League — the audience just didn’t learn of this until after the run of his series was over. Since specific “Superman” continuity wasn’t referenced until after Season One of “Justice League,” I think it’s possible to make most “Superman” episodes occur in-between the first season of “Justice League.” All we need is for someone to explain away that Green Lantern episode, and everything is perfect.

Another continuity issue that you’re likely to notice is Supergirl’s immunity to Kryptonite. This was intended as a unique element of her character in this canon, but was forgotten by the time “Justice League Unlimited” debuted. The official description of the character had her “more resistant” to Kryptonite than Superman, but not nearly as immune as Dorkin/Dyer portray her.

supergirl-kryptonite

I Love the ‘90s

“Little Girl Lost” attempts to capture a typical “youth” hangout of the era, so Intergang is recruiting at a video arcade.

“Huh?” Moment

Kara’s secret identity really makes no sense in this continuity, and I believe the producers have acknowledged this. She lives for three years with no disguise at all in Smallville, wears a brown wig and glasses when visiting Metropolis for the first time, becomes famous as Supergirl without the wig and glasses, and then goes back to her life in Smallville without the disguise. Why wouldn’t anyone recognize her as Supergirl now? She doesn’t even have a pair of Clark Kent glasses as a disguise. Are we to assume that no one in Smallville has access to media reports from outside the town?

Over the Kiddies’ Heads

The “Fleischer’s Comet” that’s hurtling towards Earth in “Little Girl Lost” is an homage to the Fleischer “Superman” cartoons of the 1940s. Specifically, the episode “The Magnetic Telescope,” which featured a similar climax.

Battle of the Dorkin/Dyer Scripts

Dorkin and Dyer have stated their disappointment with how “Little Girl Lost” turned out, given the heavy rewrites that gutted much of Supergirl’s backstory and totally altered the ending. The finished version offers little payoff to the “kids vs. adults” theme of the first chapter, and doesn’t even allow Supergirl to have a clear victory on her own. She causes a screw-up that Superman must fix, and he ends up rescuing her in the end after she passes out during her big heroic act. “Superman Adventures” #21 (“Last Daughter of Argo”) is a much more coherent story, with a clear arc for Kara, as she overcomes a personal fear and finds peace on her adopted planet. Throughout both stories, Kara is written as a likeable young heroine, and I think we’re all lucky that she escaped the cliched ’90s attempts to give teenage characters “attitude.” Kara’s upbeat and friendly, but still has enough personality to stir up some trouble and have fun. It’s an entertaining take on the character, and a testament to how strong the original concept was…and just how foolish DC was to abandon it for so many years.

That’s all for now.  If you have any suggestions for future installments, or wish to yell at me about DCAU continuity, contact me on Twitter, or leave a comment here.

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