Supergirl has seen only a handful of live action treatments of the character. Some of which were not very good -- the Helen Slater version -- but we at least have two very noteworthy versions of the character -- both that come from television shows. The first being from Smallville, when the character was played by Laura Vandervoort. The second and most recent being from The CW's show, Supergirl, where the character is being played by Melissa Benoist. For many people, Benoist is pitch perfect in the role and may just be the best version of Supergirl we have seen on any screen yet.
The bigger fans of Smallville would beg to differ as some of those fans would argue that the Laura Vandervoort character is the most quintessential version of the character. The truth is that both characters have their flaws and neither is perfect, but they both also have a fair share of terrific qualities and moments to their interpretations. Particularly the Smallville version who, while most fans would prefer for nostalgia purposes, has a fair share of character issues. To break it down once and for all, we are going to talk about why Smallville's Supergirl was better than The CW version and why she was worse.
15 BETTER: SHE'S STRONGER
One of the more disappointing aspects to The CW version of Supergirl is that the character rarely feels as strong as she should be. For an all powerful being who should have all the strength and might of her cousin (if not more), she sure does struggle a lot with defeating standard villains. Every week, Supergirl tends to get easily overpowered by basic low level monsters of the week. Not only does it make her harder to buy into as a super strong super heroine, but it makes all of the action scenes come off as lame.
We never got that vibe from Smallville. In fact, from the moment that she stepped foot on Earth, we got the impression that this version of Supergirl might be more powerful than Clark since she knew how to use all of her powers, whereas Clark did not at the time.
14 WORSE: LACKS CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT
If there was only one thing that The CW version of Supergirl has over the Smallville version is that The CW show always gives its title character some solid character development. On the show, Kara is always in the midst of a captivating storyline that emotionally changes her by time the arc reaches its climactic finish. The same cannot be said for the Laura Vandervoort version of the character.
It happened way too often on Smallville where a promising storyline was teased for the character of Kara, only for it to be dropped suddenly with no mention of it again. On the off chance that the tease did go somewhere, it would usually end with Kara not growing as a character and just being same ole Kara.
13 BETTER: SHE'S MORE INTERESTING
There are a lot of things that are great about The CW TV show Supergirl, and there are also a lot of things that are not so great. Arguably, one of those not so great things happen to be the main character. We try to love Kara, but more often than not, she feels kind of boring. Performance wise, Melissa Benoist is excellent, but on occasion, the writing for her character fails to match the excellence which she puts into the role.
More often than not, Kara's personality feels far too vanilla and plain to make us want to invest one hour of our time to, let alone a whole season. With Smallville's Kara, for all of the issues that character has, the writers put her in enough interesting scenarios to keep us coming back for more, even if these scenarios never went anywhere in the long run.
12 WORSE: ADDS TO CLARK'S STORY, NOT VICE VERSA
We mentioned earlier that the Smallville version of Kara lacked any significant amount of character development, and perhaps there is a reason for that, although it isn't a very good reason. The reason we came up with is that Kara was never treated as a character independent of her own storylines. She was always there with the purpose of adding to Clark's road to becoming Superman, rather than Clark ever helping Kara grow as a character.
A key example is in Season 7 when Kara lost her memory and rather than focus on how this development would affect Kara in the long run, the show focused on how it affected Clark. Then, when she finally regained her memory, Jor-El gave her memory back solely to help Clark. Even worse, nothing changed afterwards and Kara went back to being the same ole Kara, of course.
11 BETTER: MORE THAN JUST A GENDERBENT SUPERMAN
The biggest issue with The CW's version of Supergirl is that the main character feels like a genderbent version of Superman rather than the Kara resembling her comic book counterpart. After all, she rocks glasses and a reporting job just like Clark Kent does. If you want to genderbend the origin story of Superman, then fine, be our guest, but call her Claudia Kent or something.
The character of Kara has too much of a rich history and backstory to basically make her a female version of Clark Kent. On the other side of the coin, we can criticize the Smallville Kara for being many things, but one thing that we cannot accuse her of being is a Clark Kent clone. In fact, in many ways, Supergirl is the spitting image of her comic book counterpart.
10 WORSE: THE PERFORMANCE
Ok, let us make one thing perfectly clear: we do not think the Laura Vandervoort version of Supergirl is a terrible character. Not completely. The Laura Vandervoort version had some of the character's better onscreen moments from either show. However, much of the reasons why the Laura Vandervoort version of Supergirl did not work on occasion was because of the actress playing her. To put it lightly, Vandervoort is the furthest from being the best actress in the world and it was her lackluster performance which often hurt vital moments in Supergirl's storylines.
The Melissa Benoist version may have its flaws, but Benoist continually and consistently gives stellar performances every time. Whether the material itself was stellar or not, Benoist makes it work every time. We cannot say the same for Laura Vandervoort's tenure on Smallville.
9 BETTER: SHE LOOKED MORE INTIMIDATING...
Character wise, the Smallville version of Supergirl is far from perfect, but in the aesthetic sense -- if we are talking purely about her look alone -- it could not be more perfect. There is something about the way that Laura Vandervoort looked as Supergirl, from her defiant posture to her gnarly grimace that always appeared menacingly intimidating, that always came off as pretty intimidating.
And we mean in the sense that she made Supergirl look like the kind of superhero who could lay you out without even having to use her powers. She looks like the lady no one would even try to mess with. The CW version of Supergirl, on the other hand, does not have that same appeal. Don't get us wrong, it works for Melissa Benoist and she feels like a warmhearted hero we can trust, but we prefer the strong look on Laura Vandervoort.
8 WORSE: ...BUT DOESN'T FEEL RELATABLE
Much like Superman, a great quality about Supergirl is that superpowers is the least important thing about her. Sure, of course it is essential that both these heroes come equipped with the same powers and perks that brought them to the big dance. Super breath, super speed, heat ray vision, flight, etc. However, those powers don't make Clark "Superman" or Kara "Supergirl."
What makes these characters so great is that when we peel back these powers, we get some amazingly kindhearted good guys who just happen to be superheroes and want to use their gifts to make the world a better place. These are qualities we should either aspire to have or we can relate to. These are the qualities that exist in The CW version of the character, but sadly, not so much on the Smallville version.
7 BETTER: DOESN'T FEEL LIKE SHE'S IN A ROM-COM
One thing we could appreciate about the Smallville version of Supergirl is that while the show itself was directed with a teenage audience in mind, the character was always treated with the utmost gusto in a way that older audiences could still enjoy. The CW's Supergirl (the character and the show itself) on the other hand is pretty difficult to enjoy unless you are a tweenage girl. At least that is the case when Kara is still bemoaning about issues like relationships, work, etc, when the world is still at stake.
It is important for a character like that to have aspirations for normal things that we can relate to, but more often than not, it feels as though the show is in favor of highlighting these aspects of the character more than the action centric parts.
6 WORSE: HER DYNAMIC WITH SUPERMAN
For a lot of fans of the comic books, the best thing about the relationship between Superman and Supergirl is their dynamic. The dynamic that begins with Superman basically trying to teach Supergirl how to understand humanity before fighting crime together. That is the common dynamic among most illustrations shared between the characters. On Supergirl, that dynamic is altered, but somehow, it still manages to be great because this time, Supergirl and Superman are treated as equals.
On Smallville, the dynamic is sacrificed for one where Kara is teaching Clark how to hone his skills, which unfortunately does more harm than good. More than anything else, it really cheapens the character of Clark by not only making him less unique, but weak in seeing how Kara easily masters powers that Clark struggles with perfecting after 10 years.
5 BETTER: NOT HELD BACK BY A BAD RELATIONSHIP
If there was ever one thing that held down Kara on Supergirl more than anything else, it was her relationship with Mon-El. Ever since he was introduced in Season 2 as Kara's eventual beau, he felt like a nuisance of a character that bordered on being unbearable to sit through. Mon-El was always, for lack of a better term, a Mary Sue. We know the term Mary Sue inspires the ire of many, but if there was ever a more opportune time to use it, it's now.
Mon-El was portrayed as an annoyingly perfect character who was great at doing everything except being an interesting character worthy of as much screen time as he got. Fans have gotten so sick of him that he tends to bring down whatever intrigue fans have in the title character herself.
4 WORSE: OVERSHADOWED BY SUPERMAN
One thing that always leaves us upset when trying to recollect Kara's role on the show is the fact that she was always overshadowed by Clark Kent. We get it, Clark Kent was the star of the show so, naturally, he would get a little bit more screen time than his supporting player of a cousin, but the least the showrunners could have done was throw Kara a bone every once and a while.
Give the lady her own storyline arc that was independent of Clark, or at the very least give her something else to do on the other show other stand adjacent to Clark Kent's shadow. There were times where we would forget that Kara even existed until it came time in the episode when she had to help Clark out of a sticky jam.
3 BETTER: SHE'S RUTHLESS
One thing that can be occasionally disappointing about The CW's version of Supergirl is that she can be overly merciful and forgiving. She is just as much of a boy scout as her cousin is. Yes, we get it, being way too kind and benevolent kind of comes with the territory of being a superhero, but it is one of those things that bothers us because it highlights how Kara is way too much like Superman when it comes to everything.
Thankfully, on Smallville, there was never an issue when it came to trying to differentiate Clark from Kara. While she did gain some morals in later seasons, the fact that her morals laid on the more questionable side of the fence helped Kara stand out as a character. The fact that she was so ruthless is what made her interesting.
2 WORSE: NEVER REALIZES HER FULL POTENTIAL
We mentioned early on this list that Supergirl always gets overshadowed by Clark and is only ever there to contribute to Clark's overall story on Smallville. Thankfully, The CW knew while designing their Supergirl TV show that what Smallville did to the character was a hunk of baloney and sought to rectify it. On The CW, Supergirl is there to live up to her full potential as a character.
Even with the issues she does have as a character, at least she is able to grow as a character, we see her grow, we see the obstacles in her arc, and we see how Kara becomes a multi-faceted three dimensional character with interesting complexities without ever having to take a backseat to any of her costars. If only the Smallville version could be nearly as captivating in that sense.
1 BETTER: MORE FAITHFUL TO THE COMICS
Aside from the fact that Smallville really screwed up the canonized dynamic between Superman and Supergirl, the show had a really comic book faithful interpretation of the character. Similar to the comics, Kara crash lands to Earth in her spacecraft, finds her cousin, becomes a superhero, and navigates through the planet struggling to understand the customs that Earthlings share among each other.
The CW version basically crafts a brand new origin story where Kara has been living on Earth for most of her life since childhood following the destruction of Krypton and grows up to be a female Clark Kent. It is not a completely awful origin, but those comic enthusiasts who are in favor of a canon friendly version of Supergirl, Smallville is the way to go.