Not until a couple of years ago did Kara Zor-El/Supergirl make her way into the mainstream conscious. This is due in no small part to The CW’s Supergirl, starring Melissa Benoist. For instance, the show is undoubtedly to thank for her being a playable character in Injustice 2. However, the Last Daughter of Krypton is no stranger to the limelight, despite often having to experience it from behind Superman’s shadow. With on-screen history dating back several decades, starting with the Helen Slater-starring 1984 film, there are a fair amount of cross-media Supergirl adventures to examine.
Because she’s so similar to Superman, many of the trials and tribulations she has undergone mirror those of the Man of Steel. Even taking that into account, there remains a number of other challenges Supergirl faces that her more famous cousin is unlikely to encounter. Considering her limited appearances outside of comics, and the minimal character development involved in such ventures, the vast majority of Supergirl’s more trying circumstances take place on her currently running CW series. But Supergirl has had her fair share of difficulties across the other appearances she has made. Here are 15 of the worst things to happen to the Maiden of Might on-screen.
Spoilers follow for Supergirl season three.
15 FIGHTING SUPERMAN
Superman returns in Supergirl’s second season during the finale, but their reunion isn’t favorable, not to Kara at least. Instead of getting to fight alongside her cousin again, she’s forced to battle him. A dose of Silver Kryptonite, strategically given to him by Mon-El’s mother, Rhea, causes the Man of Steel to hallucinate he’s at odds with General Zod. Therefore, according to Superman himself, he gives Supergirl all he’s got, fighting at full-strength.
Their battle is indeed trying as she, too, must give it her all, while also not wanting to hurt him too badly. The difficulty of fighting him cements her as the stronger of the two. It simultaneously sets Supergirl up for the even tougher bouts ahead (i.e., Reign in season three).
14 IMPRISONMENT IN THE PHANTOM ZONE
Supergirl’s history, as her origins are more commonly depicted, never strays far from the Phantom Zone. Kara Zor-El comes to Earth years after her parents intended, as she inadvertently spends several years in the Phantom Zone. Being imprisoned in the extra-dimensional void is another thing entirely, though. This very form of confinement is one of the harsher struggles inflicted on Helen Slater’s Supergirl in the 1984 film.
To neutralize Supergirl, the film’s antagonist -- a witch named Selena, uses sorcery to entrap the hero in the Phantom Zone. While there, Supergirl encounters additional adverse circumstances, including having to survive without her powers and almost drowning. Is it the worst thing that could have happened to her? No, not necessarily. However, as a character’s cinematic debut, the Phantom Zone is quite the first major obstacle to face.
13 WITNESSING THE DESTRUCTION OF KRYPTON
For the character’s debut in the Injustice universe, Supergirl’s origins are relayed via flashbacks. Audiences bear witness to the destruction of Krypton, experiencing the planet’s fall to the Coluans through Kara Zor-El’s perspective. She watches in horror as her home-world succumbs to the threat of Braniac and his Coluan forces.
Even more devastating is Kara witnessing her mother being overtaken by Coluans as she reluctantly escapes in a pod. None of the scenes are particularly graphic, but the sheer destruction on display, as well as the emotional toll it takes on a terrified Kara, is explicit enough. This is all made more poignant by Braniac’s invasion of Earth later in the Injustice 2 narrative. It’s especially sad when considering Kara is forced to see her home and its people face catastrophe for a second time.
12 ASTRA DIES IN SUPERGIRL'S ARMS
Supergirl’s pilot season had a Kryptonian at the center of both its heroic arcs and villainous ones. Thus, Kara’s aunt Astra debuts early on. Astra’s plan to subject the people of Earth to Kryptonian rule, in an effort to allegedly protect the world from ruin, immediately puts her at odds with the titular character. Over time, though, Astra beings to show signs of being swayed to a moral way of thinking. To Kara, if there’s even a sliver of a chance that she can redeem her aunt, then trying is well worth the effort.
Unfortunately, Astra doesn’t receive a redemptive arc, since Alex has to kill her during a fight to save J’onn’s life. Besides Clark, Astra represents Kara’s sole connection to life before arriving on Earth, making her death especially traumatic for Supergirl.
11 NEARLY KILLED BY METALLO
With the advent of Supergirl’s Superman came the arrival of one of his more famous foes, Metallo. During season two’s first couple of episodes, Superman and Supergirl were tasked with battling Lillian Luthor’s Kryptonite-wielding ally. Their first run-in with him after his transformation nearly cost the Girl of Steel her life.
Neither one of the heroes were primed to deal with such a threat, but Supergirl evidently suffered the most. It seems this caliber of danger was necessary to pay homage to the iconic imagery that follows her death in 1985’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths” storyline. Supergirl doesn’t die on the show, of course, but she is weakened enough that Superman needs to carry her. And while almost being killed by Metallo isn’t the worst of Supergirl’s problems, she faces far more competent adversaries who’ve accomplished much less.
10 ATTACKED BY ALIENS
During the third and final season of Superman: The Animated Series, an alien threat beings encroaching on Smallville. Supergirl, who’s living with the Kent family, is tasked with helping Superman release the aliens’ hold on the town’s citizenry. In the process of monitoring a mind-controlled Martha Kent, Supergirl is seized by the tentacles of the alien menace.
In the seconds in which she struggles, there’s an instance of her giving into their demands. Brief though it may be, the near defeat is rather alarming. Supergirl’s practically suffocated. The tentacles cover almost the entirety of her body; tears well while she fights, before ultimately giving in. The scene isn’t long with the Man of Steel arriving in the nick of time to rescue her. However, Supergirl’s part in “Unity” is nothing if not unnerving.
9 RED KRYPTONITE SUPERGIRL
Something about evil Supergirl, particularly the way Melissa Benoist plays her, is endlessly fascinating. The Arrowverse initially flirts with the change in characterization in Supergirl season one’s “Falling” episode. Inadvertently stumbling across Red Kryptonite while aiding firefighters, the Girl of Steel develops symptoms making irritable and eventually outright malicious. Exposure to Red K turns the happy-go-lucky hero of the people into a public menace. She insults friends and family, allows deadly criminals to walk free, and throws Cat Grant off the roof of CatCo.
The devastation of her actions isn’t fully unveiled until she’s cured, though. Supergirl awakes in tears, recalling her horrid behavior and how she was unable to stop herself. It’s moving, to say the least, and made even more so by National City’s slowly warming up to her again.
8 INJUSTICE 2'S ABSOLUTE POWER ENDING
Injustice 2 allows players to select one of two endings, Batman’s "Absolute Justice" ending (good) or Superman’s "Absolute Power" (bad). Superman’s ending has the Man of Steel bonded with Braniac and once again running the world as a despot. Supergirl, who throughout the game is torn between doing right or standing by family, is caught in the middle. Her cousin offers an ultimatum; either she takes her rightful place at his side, or he forces her to do so with the help of Braniac’s technology.
Moreover, Superman presents Supergirl with these equally immoral options all the while detaining her in red sun cell. The move is irredeemably cruel. She’s left with no power nor an opportunity to even opt out of his plans for another regime. Especially unsettling is her continued belief that he could change, and her horror when finally realizing he’s a lost cause.
7 SENDING MON-EL AWAY
To ensure mankind’s safety and survival, Supergirl is forced to make a difficult choice, a choice she later argues no one else could’ve made. Reconfiguring technology left by Lex Luthor, Lena, Lillian, and Winn develop a way to rid the world of Daxamites. They design a lead bomb; lead being the Daxamites’ Kryptonite means the invaders will either flee or be killed. Despite having lived on Earth for several months, developing a minimal immunity to the element, Mon-El must also depart.
Ultimately, it’s Kara’s call to make -- sacrificing one for the many, even if that one is a lover. The torture she feels at choosing such a route, though there were no other options, isn’t fully realized until Supergirl’s third run. Before learning his fate, Supergirl considers her actions a death sentence for Mon-El. It breaks her in a way, shutting the hero off from her humanity.
6 TAKEN BY THE AMAZONS
When considering the story of Superman/Batman: Apocalypse as a whole, Kara’s being taken by the Amazons isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, the young Kryptonian’s removal from the rest of the world happens against her will. Upon questioning whether or not she could return to the world of man several months later, she’s her own personal thoughts on the matter are not taken into a account. She especially laments the decision due to Batman and Wonder Woman’s insistence and Superman’s apparent uncertainty.
Being new to Earth, the overwhelming confusion about her past, and minimal control over her powers maker Supergirl’s lack of agency in this instance more problematic. Additionally, it later becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy on the part of Batman and Wonder Woman, as their attempt to thwart impending danger leads to the danger’s occurrence.
5 OVERGIRL'S DEATH
The "Crisis on Earth-X" event introduces the Arrowverse’s take on the heroes’ Nazi doppelgängers. Supergirl’s Earth-X counterpart is Overgirl, who invades Earth-1 in an effort to steal the heart of Supergirl as hers is failing. Apparently, her ambitions led her “too close to the sun,” resulting in an overexposure to solar radiation.
Unsurprisingly, the heroes won’t give up without a fight. A plan to eliminate the upper echelon of Earth-X’s Nazi regime pits Supergirl against Overgirl. All the former has to do is endure a battle in the skies long enough to ensure the evil double goes nuclear. Once the deed is done, Supergirl flies her doppelgänger into space; Overgirl explodes shortly thereafter. If nothing else, Overgirl’s death serves as a cautionary tale for the Girl of Steel -- absolute power does corrupt absolutely.
4 SUPERGIRL'S EMOTIONAL BREAKDOWN
Another moving performance by Melissa Benoist comes as Supergirl battles Psi early in season three. Psi, a psychic powerful enough to stop Martian Manhunter in his tracks, launches Supergirl into an emotional state that brings the Girl of Steel to her knees. Ready to give up the fight and sink into the depths of her own pain, Supergirl shares her regret about shipping Mon-El off-world. As she expresses her feelings to Alex, the audience finally learns the extent of Supergirl’s guilt. She believes she killed Mon-El, casting him out to an unknown fate with unconscionable consequences.
It’s not very often that superheroes are shown on-screen in such a mentally unstable light. Supergirl in this instance isn’t physically weak or inept, she’s emotionally broken. This brokenness takes a toll that even the most powerful being on Earth is, for a time, unable to withstand.
3 KARA'S ABDUCTION BY DARKSEID'S FORCES
Kara overcomes a number of obstacles in Superman/Batman: Apocalypse; one trying challenge is seen on Apokolips. During a stay on Paradise Lost, where the Amazons train her, Granny Goodness and the Furies trek to Earth to capture the Superman’s cousin. On Darkseid’s orders, the younger Kryptonian is to become a captain of his guard. Unfortunately for Kara, Granny and the Furies succeed, taking her to Apokolips where Darkseid apparently subjects her to his authority via hypnosis.
Inevitably, while under the tyrant’s thumb, she’s forced to fight Superman. But the real tragedy presents itself in her thoughts after she’s liberated from the hell of Apokolips. Thought it’s only brief, Kara question whether the “darkness” that consumed her on Apokolips was solely Darkseid’s doing, or if it rests somewhere deep within her. By the film’s end, it seems the answer is no; however, her curiosity is still thought-provoking.
2 LOSING LIVEWIRE ON A MISSION
Since Supergirl season one, the Girl of Steel and Livewire have had a complicated relationship. As far as Kara is concerned, Leslie Willis was once her greatest nemesis. Yet, a belief in Leslie’s potential redemption encourages Supergirl to give the villain another chance. In season three, that chance culminates in Supergirl recruiting Livewire for a mission to Fort Rozz.
The two share a bond of sorts, offering and taking advice from one another, while simultaneously working together on battlefield. They’re an interesting pair; Livewire even refers to Supergirl as a friend. The character’s path to redemption regrettably too soon, though. She’s killed by Reign, while trying to save a downed Supergirl. Despite reconnecting Livewire with her humanity, Supergirl considers her death a failure. It’s hard to imagine Livewire’s passing as anything else, but there’s victory to be found in converting the villainous, even if only for a short time.
1 REIGN DEFEATS SUPERGIRL
To put it bluntly, the midseason finale of Supergirl’s third run has Reign bodying the Girl of Steel. From the first punch, Supergirl seems incapable of enduring for long against the Worldkiller. This is especially intriguing when taking the revelations of the season two finale into account. A fight with Superman establishes Supergirl as the stronger of the two, making the Kara the most powerful being on Earth. How is Reign capable of being even more formidable?
The fight, while brilliantly shot and well-choreographed, is difficult to watch. Throughout it, Supergirl shows signs of a comeback, only to be continuously knocked down. Ultimately, Reign bloodies and breaks the Girl of Steel to a point of defeat. The villain’s victory culminates in her dropped Supergirl from a skyscraper, whereupon hitting the ground she’s rushed to receive medical attention. Their battle, and as those that are yet to occur, is harrowing.