The TV series Supergirl is a key part of the CW lineup, bring to the small screen the first live-action work about the life and adventures of the title heroine since the movie of the same name in 1984. There was a prototype Supergirl in Smallville (2001-2011), but there she was a guest star; in the modern series, she is the anchor of the show. Supergirl the comics character gives the show producers a long history to draw on since she first came on the scene nearly 60 years ago.
Over that time, Supergirl's fortunes have waxed and waned. She's been a backup character in Action Comics, the lead in Adventure Comics, and headlined her own title. But things slumped enough for her to become a high-profile casualty in 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths, leading to a confusing mash of reboots and revivals. With that, the TV show producers needed to pick and choose what elements they wanted to make a successful TV series. Even so, they drew from Superman's mythos and made several big and little changes to Kara Zor-El's story to make it all work. Most worked quite well, but at least one doesn't fly. Here are the 19 biggest changes The CW made to Supergirl, and one that is unforgivable.
20 STRANGE VISITOR
There were a few test runs at a superpowered female in the Superman titles before the Girl of Steel was introduced. Lois Lane fantasized about having superpowers in "Lois Lane -- Superwoman!" in Action Comics (Volume 1) #60 (May 1943). In Superboy (Volume 1) #78 (January 1960), an alien turns Superboy into a girl; while transformed, he goes by "Super-Sister." And in Superman (Volume 1) #123 (August 1958), Jimmy Olsen magically conjures up a "Super-Girl."
But Action Comics (Volume 1) #252 (May 1959), Kara debuted. She was sole survivor of Argo City, a portion of Krypton that escaped intact. She took on the name "Linda Lee Danvers" in her secret identity. TV's Supergirl uses the first name "Kara" in both her guises.
19 ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING
In "The Supergirl from Krypton" in Action Comics #252, life continued on Argo City for several years after Krypton's end. It was within an air bubble, and the land covered with lead sheets to protect people as it turned into kryptonite. But a meteor shower punctured the lead, and Kara's parents Zor-El and Alura sent their teenage daughter to Earth after observing Superman. They do not know Jor-El, Superman's father, is Zor-El's brother.
In the Supergirl TV pilot, Kara is about 12 years old and was sent to Earth in a space pod moments after the infant Kal-El. She is to look after her baby cousin, although it is not clear how, or even how she was supposed to locate him.
18 TIME AFTER TIME
How is Superman older than Supergirl, when Kara was a tween and he was a baby when they were sent to Earth mere moments apart? As the Supergirl pilot episode explains, a shockwave from the Krypton explosion knocks her space pod into the Phantom Zone. As time works differently in the Zone, Kara aged physically only about a year while she was inside. But when she makes it to Earth, her cousin Kal-El has grown to adulthood and established his Superman career.
In the comics, there's a simpler reason why Superman is older: He is older. Kara's parents Zor-El and Alura didn't even meet each other until well after Argo City became isolated, during which time Kal-El grew up on Earth.
17 HOME SWEET HOME
In Action Comics #252, Superman warmly embraces Kara: "We may be orphans, but we have each other now! I'll take care of you like a big brother, Cousin Kara!" She responds, "Thanks, Cousin Superman! *choke* You mean I'll come and live with you?" He responds, "Hmm ... no, that wouldn't work! You see, I've adopted a secret identity on Earth which might be jeopardized!" This being the Silver Age, Superman enrolls Kara in the Midvale Orphanage.
On TV, Superman leaves Kara with Jeremiah and Eliza Danvers, who are retired scientists. They had helped Superman learn how to wield his powers, so he trusted them to help Kara. And they had a daughter, Alex, who became Kara's adoptive sister.
16 SISTER, SISTER
Kara, now with the secret identity "Linda Lee," stayed in the Midvale Orphanage until Action Comics (Volume 1) #279 (August 1961), when she is adopted by Fred and Edna Danvers. She does not share her secret with them, however. Fred and Edna had a son, Jan, a soldier who was a casualty in the Korean War. His loss and their inability to have more children, led the Danverses to the orphanage.
TV's Jeremiah and Eliza Danvers had a teenage daughter, Alex, who is about a year or so older than Kara. Alex sometimes resented having to be Kara's guide through life, but over time they bonded and fully accept each other as sisters.
15 TAKING A BOW
Supergirl worked under the radar for a few years as "Superman's secret weapon," having adventures while staying out of the public eye. In Action Comics (Volume 1) #285 (February 1962), Superman declares she has sufficient training and experience to be revealed to the world. There are global and even intergalactic celebrations at the news.
In the Supergirl pilot, however, Kara lives in National City and hasn't used her powers in years. But her sister Alex goes on a flight to Geneva for a conference. Kara sees a news report that the plane is about to crash and springs into action! She saves the plane and soon after takes on the Supergirl guise.
14 THE MAN OF STEEL
The Superman comics made him a significant part of Supergirl's life, with them having adventures as a team and with the Legion of Super-Heroes. But the TV show made pains to establish Supergirl as an independent hero. In the first few episodes, the show avoided even saying Superman's name, with James Olsen referring to him as "the big guy."
Superman showed up only in glimpses in Season 1 (he spends one episode flat on his back, with only his boots shown), but finally appeared on screen in the Season 2 pilot episode and in four episodes since, including the 2019 Arrowverse crossover. In his last appearance, he told Kara he and Lois Lane are expecting a child and will move to Argo City.
13 NATIONAL CITY
One distinct feature of DC Comics and the DC Extended Universe are their fictional cities modeled on real places. Metropolis is based on Manhattan; Gotham City is also New York, or Jersey City, N.J., or Chicago; Midway City is Chicago; Central City is either Athens, Ohio or Kansas City, Mo.; Coast City is Los Angeles; Star City is Seattle, and so on.
National City is a new addition to the DC roster, and appears to be in California. Season 1 of Supergirl was filmed in Los Angeles, and establishing shots showed that her employer, CatCo Worldwide Media, is in a lookalike for the Los Angeles landmark Citigroup Center. In Season 2, the show moved production to Vancouver.
12 CAT GRANT
Cat Grant first appeared in comics in Adventures of Superman #424 (January 1987), as the Daily Planet's gossip columnist. She was a divorced single mother moving from Los Angeles to Metropolis for a fresh start. She moves from print to TV, working for WGBS, rising to station manager and president and CEO of Galaxy Broadcasting after charging her predecessor, Vinny Edge, with sexual harassment.
On TV, Cat Grant is founder and CEO of CatCo Worldwide Media, which she established after working at the Daily Planet as an assistant to editor-in-chief Perry White and then gossip columnist. Grant takes a leave of absence from her company in Season 2 and becomes the White House press secretary in Season 3.
11 THE D.E.O.
The Department of Extranormal Operations is a super-secret agency charged with keeping tabs on metahumans and preventing those with ill intent from committing crimes or attacks. The D.E.O. first appeared in Batman (Volume 1) #550 (January 1998), under Amanda Waller, then U.S. Secretary of Metahuman Affairs and had no tie to Supergirl.
Supergirl's sister Alex is a field agent for the D.E.O., under the direct tutelage of director Hank Henshaw when the TV series began. We later learn that Henshaw is really a guise for J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter. Lucy Lane served as D.E.O. acting director after J'onzz's identity is exposed, but he was reinstated by President Olivia Marsdin. Currently, Alex Danvers is director.
10 SNAPPER CARR
The Justice League of America first appeared in The Brave and The Bold (Volume 1) #28 (February-March 1960), with an inaugural lineup of Superman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, the Martian Manhunter -- and teenager Snapper Carr, the one civilian on the team. Carr helps the JLA defeat their first menace, Starro the Conqueror, and becomes the team's mascot.
In Season 2 of Supergirl, a far different Snapper Carr is introduced as editor-in-chief of CatCo Magazine. He is far older, bald, grouchy, but is a top-flight editor. A stickler for journalistic ethics, he fires rookie reporter Kara for posting a story on a blog that he wouldn't publish in the magazine. Carr hasn't been seen since Season 2.
9 JAMES (NOT JIMMY) OLSEN
Jimmy Olsen headlined Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen for nearly 30 years, from October 1954 to March 1974. He first appeared in Action Comics (Volume 1) #6 (November 1938) as a Daily Planet copy boy. He became a cub reporter and award-winning photographer, and had many adventures with Superman and on his own. His signature look is bright red hair, green plaid jacket and bow tie.
TV's Jimmy Olsen on Supergirl does not bear that signature look. He's tall, burly, Black, has a shaved head and wants to be known as "James." In the series pilot, he has moved from Metropolis and the Daily Planet to be CatCo's art director. Cat Grant names him acting CEO when she takes a leave of absence from the company.
8 THE GUARDIAN
In Season 2 of Supergirl, James Olsen feels restless and unfulfilled, and works with Winn Schott to create body armor and a shield so he can act as a vigilante and take down the Parasite. Fully suited up, he adopts the codename "Guardian." Schott directs his actions when Olsen goes into the field.
In the comics, Guardian was the alter ego of police officer Jim Harper, who patrols Suicide Slum in Metropolis. He first appeared in Star-Spangled Comics #7 (April 1942), with a costume in bright yellow and blue. Guardian was aided by a band of hooligans known as the Newsboy Legion, pledging to watch over them. The Newsboy Legion hasn't appeared on Supergirl.
7 WINN SCHOTT
The go-to person to solve tech problems on Supergirl, through the first three seasons, is Winn Schott. Not only did he make the Guardian body armor and shield for James Olsen, he created the indestructible costume for Supergirl herself. Schott was the IT guy for CatCo Worldwide Media, and was recruited away to the D.E.O. to work his magic in the service of his country.
Schott comes by his skills through family connections: His father, also named Winslow Schott, is longtime Superman antagonist The Toyman. The Toyman first appeared in Action Comics (Volume 1) #64 (September 1943). His son Winn, however, is unique to TV. But he was written out of the series at the end of Season 3.
6 THE MARTIAN MANHUNTER
J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter, first appeared in comics in a backup story in Detective Comics (Volume 1) #225 (November 1955). He is accidentally drawn to Earth by a communications beam operated by Dr. Saul Erdel. The comics character has little association with the comics Supergirl.
On Supergirl, J'onzz is introduced to viewers as Hank Henshaw, director of the D.E.O. It is later revealed that J'onzz escaped to Earth from Mars after the White Martians moved to eliminate all Green Martians. The real Henshaw led a D.E.O. team to capture him in Peru, fought with Jeremiah Danvers and disappeared over a cliff. J'onzz impersonated Henshaw after that, but later was outed and jailed. He got a presidential pardon and was reinstated as D.E.O. chief.
5 LENA LUTHOR
The first version of Lena Luthor debuted in Superman's Girl Friend Lois eLane #23 (February 1961). She was Lex Luthor's younger sister but didn't know it. Embarrassed that their son had become Superman's foremost villain, her parents went into hiding and changed their family name to "Thorul." Lex Luthor himself also kept her in the dark.
TV's Lena Luthor was adopted by Lex Luthor's parents, Lionel and Lillian, but it was later revealed that Lionel Luthor is her true father. A brilliant scientist and inventor in her own right, Lena Luthor works to improve the family's reputation. She rebrands its company as "L-Corp," buys CatCo Worldwide Media and becomes a friend to Supergirl.
4 MAGGIE SAWYER
Supergirl's Season 2 introduces Maggie Sawyer, a detective with the Science Police in the National City Police Department. Over the season, she and Alex Danvers become lovers, and then become engaged, but break up in Season 3 because they cannot agree on having children. Maggie Sawyer first appeared in Superman (Volume 2) #4 (April 1987) as leader of the Metropolis Police Special Crimes Unit. For a time, she moved to Gotham City and joined that city's police force.
However, TV's Maggie Sawyer resembles Reneé Montoya, a Gotham City Police detective who first appeared in Batman: The Animated Series in 1992 and was added to the DC Universe in Batman (Volume 1) #475 (March 1992). Montoya eventually adopted the superhero guise The Question.
Mon-El's story in Superboy was adapted for the Supergirl TV series. In Superboy (Volume 1) #89 (June 1961), he was Lar Gand, a space traveler from Daxam who met Superman's father Jor-El on Krypton. Jor-El sent him to Earth. There, he met Superboy, who mistakenly concluded Mon-El was his brother. Superboy accidentally poisoned Mon-El with lead and, to save his life, sent him into the Phantom Zone. He was freed a thousand years later and had adventures with the Legion of Super-Heroes.
On TV, Mon-El became stranded on Earth in Season 2. His efforts to return to Daxam indirectly led to his people invading Earth. A L-Corp lead bomb poisoned the Daxamites but made it impossible for Mon-El to stay.
2 THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES
Mon-El's flight to safety went off-course almost immediately when a wormhole opened in the path of his space pod. He landed in the 31st Century, where L-Corp had developed a cure for his lead poisoning. His experiences with Supergirl led him to form a team of heroes inspired by her example, called The Legion. An effort to save a dying world inadvertently brought The Legion to the 21st Century. Only three members -- Mon-El, Brainiac and Imra Ardeen -- have appeared on TV.
In the comics, the Legion of Super-Heroes first surfaced in Adventure Comics #247 (April 1958). A trio of time travelers from the future -- Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy -- came to the past to recruit Superboy into the group.
1 UNFORGIVABLE: WHERE'S JEREMIAH DANVERS?
In Season 1, it is revealed that D.E.O. Director Hank Henshaw came to the Danvers home to capture Kara. Under duress, Jeremiah Danvers was forced to work for the agency. On another mission in Peru, Danvers met J'onn J'onzz and fought a crazed Henshaw over him. Henshaw mortally wounded Danvers, who threw him off a cliff.
But Henshaw's and Danvers's bodies were recovered by Project Cadmus, which revived them and turned them into its agents. Danvers was rescued and reunited with Alex and Kara, but it was a ruse to infiltrate the D.E.O. Danvers turned against Cadmus and is in hiding. Alex and Kara are supposed to be searching for Danvers, but the show dropped the ball; he hasn't been seen since Season 2.