Call her the Girl of Steel, call her the Maid of Might, call her what you like but you can’t deny that Melissa Benoist is killing it on the CW’s Supergirl show right now. While the DC shows on the CW are not without their shortcomings, they consistently attract talented actors and compelling screen presences that will the iconic roles of our favorite DC characters with aplomb. Ms. Benoist brings a combination of refined acting talent and raw charm to the role of Supergirl that have made her a household name. The fact that Kara has yet to be introduced in the DCEU is a travesty of justice that needs to be remedied as soon as possible.
Yet, while few have any complaints on how the former Glee star is doing a great job playing the Last Daughter of Krypton, there are some fans who are still less than happy with the suit. Many have complained that it’s too dark, that the familiar logo doesn’t pop without the yellow behind it and that it’s high time we saw the S shield on the cape too. In the hopes of gaining a little context, let’s look at some of Kara’s looks which were better… and some which were way worse.
15. BETTER: SILVER AGE
Great guns! While female representation is becoming increasingly important in comics, and across the pop culture spectrum, Big Blue’s cousin Supergirl made her first appearance way back in May of 1959 in Action Comics #252. Like Superman, she came to Earth in a rocket from the doomed planet, but unlike Supes she got to know her parents and lived a life on Krypton. Though her origin has had many reboots and revisions over the decades since, this simple version has never been beaten.
Her original, classic costume may be simple and even conservative by today’s standards with a long sleeved blue tunic, and red cape and boots and yellow belt. However, the short blue skirt was an indicator that the super conservative ’50s were ending and the swinging ’60s were just around the corner.
14. WORSE: THE NEW 52
Those familiar with the world of DC comics will know that the New 52 was a mixed bag. While it brought with it an interesting re-imagining of Superman’s early years, a phenomenal revival for Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl and one of the best sustained runs on the Batman title in living memory, it also brought some extremely contentious costume designs upon which fans were bitterly divided.
Kara’s costume embodies the design excess that plagued so many relaunched characters (including her cousin). There are way too many arbitrary lines on the suit and while the collar is less egregious than Kal’s it still doesn’t quite look right. The variation on the House of El’s crest suits this fierier and angstier iteration of the character as does the slightly irreverent, almost punk aesthetic, but for many fans this costume represented one deviation too many.
13. BETTER: SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES
This is likely to be controversial, but while this design deviates from the ‘classic’ look in several ways there’s a homespun appeal to this version of the costume that’s perfect for this iteration of the character. Not only does the design have the same intrinsic charm that characterizes most of the designs in the DCAU (apart from the Joker redesign that we do not speak of) there’s something humble and improvised about the costume that adds to its sense of propriety.
There’s a neatness to this design that’s hard to fault. The S logo looks great on the white tee with black trim, and even though the white gloves are an unnecessary flourish they do add to the sense that this is a young hero finding her way in the world without the polish and finesse of her cousin’s finery.
12. WORSE: ’70S HOT PANTS
Who likes short shorts? Kara likes short shorts!… Okay somebody out there must have got that reference. While many associate the ’80s with the “growing up” of superhero comics, there was a lot of interesting stuff going on in the ’70s too including some seminal work on Batman, the integration of a social conscience into the Green Lantern/Green Arrow title and the first spark of romance between The Vision and Scarlet Witch. Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of stuff that’s better off forgotten.
This iteration of Kara’s costume screams ’70s in a lot of ways that dated it almost instantly. We can handle the shorts, the choker and the belt with the additional yellow hoops. But the bishop sleeves, plunging neckline and off-centre logo?!? Fashion Kryptonite, honey!
11. BETTER: SUPERMAN/BATMAN
Believe it or not, while Supergirl has remained a staple of DC Comics since her inception in 1959, Kara Zor-El spent decades written out of existence by 1985-1986’s Crisis on Infinite Earths. We all know, however, that nobody stays dead (or erased from existence) for long in comics. Kara would return in the pages of 2004’s Superman/Batman #8. This costume, designed by the late, great Michael Turner stayed true to the classic original making only a few subtle variations.
Like in the Superman animated series, the tunic was a crop top, showing Kara’s midriff, but this time it had long sleeves with nice yellow trim around the neckline, sleeves and hem. The skirt is blue instead of red with a yellow belt that looks more Forever 21 than superhero couture. It all comes together to imply Kara’s heroism but also her inexperience and teen naivete.
10. WORSE: CIR-EL
What’s the point in wearing the world’s most iconic logo on your chest if your time travelling teenage daughter doesn’t know a design classic when she sees one? Cir-El was a Supergirl from the future who claimed to be the daughter of Superman and Lois Lane but was later revealed to be a genetically altered human. She’s since been written out of DC continuity, along with her frankly generic and uninspired look.
The classic yellow and blue are gone in favor of a black leotard, boots and gloves with a baby blue cape and a jagged red S emblazoned on the torso. It’s not exactly a horrible look, but it falls pretty short of what we’d expect from a supposed descendant of comics’ greatest icon.
9. BETTER: ’90S MATRIX
What is The Matrix? The Matrix (or just Matrix) was a shape shifting alien who spent almost a decade and a half as the post-crisis Supergirl. Although she was not Kryptonian she was able to approximate many of the Man of Steel’s abilities while having a few nifty ones of her own. She was naive and often gullible. She spent a goodly part of the ’90s in the thrall of Lex Luthor (who was at the time masquerading as his own son in a clone body) but at least she knew a design classic when she saw one.
Although this look differs little from the pre-crisis version (aside from the prerequisite ’90s big hair) it adds some welcome elements like the long sleeves and the occasional red chevrons on the belt.
8. WORSE: RED LANTERN
The New 52 Supergirl was not the poster child for truth and justice that many would expect. In fact, she took teen angst to a whole new level, eventually joining the angriest bunch in the galaxy, the Red Lantern Corps in Supergirl #26. Though she eventually grew out of her angry phase after seven issues it was nonetheless jarring to see her look so corrupted.
Of course this was not the first time a Super had been inducted into a Lantern Corps. Superman himself became a Black Lantern in the “Blackest Night” arc and Cyborg Superman was a key member of the Sinestro Corps. In any event, this deviation was not one of Kara’s strongest looks. Red and black with your coloring, Kara? Seriously, girl!
7. BETTER: 1984 MOVIE
Okay, so poking fun at 1984’s Supergirl movie is like shooting fish in a barrel. The script is hammy, the effects are ropey, the plot has no idea where it’s going, Peter Cook, Faye Dunaway spend the entire run time clearly wishing she was somewhere else, Peter O’Toole is almost always drunk and the best part of the film is close up of a poster of Christopher Reeve’s Superman. However, it’s not without a sense of fun and Helen Slater’s endearingly earnest performance is worth the price of admission alone.
Despite the haphazard production design, the costume was a home run. The shades of red and blue work well together, the logo looks great, the boots look good and the yellow trim sets them nicely apart from Superman’s. Apart from Helen Slater’s winsome performance, the costume is probably the best thing about the movie.
6. WORSE: ’80S HEADBAND
The ’80s have a lot to answer for, including Reaganomics, mullets, Twisted Sister and the Sinclair C5. However, they also gave us a whole lot of awesome comics from Maus to Watchmen. Unfortunately, Supergirl’s oh-so-’80s look cannot be listed among the era’s great comics achievements.
To be fair, not everything about it is terrible, and on balance it’s probably better than what she had going on in the ’70s. The skirt, belt and boots look fine and even the red on the chest and shoulders extending out from the logo doesn’t look too bad. It’s just that headband, combined with what we can only assume is an acid perm, that makes it look like Kara’s channeling her inner Olivia Newton John. Unfortunately, this iteration of Kara met her end in 1986’s Crisis on Infinite Earths only to be reborn in the 21st century with a much better outfit.
5. BETTER: INJUSTICE 2
Anyone who saw the intro video to last year’s Injustice 2 saw a fantastic introduction to the character of Kara which makes us wonder why Warner Bros. aren’t making a Supergirl movie a priority. While the game did a great job with her characterization, the design of her costume wasn’t too shabby either. Despite having a lot of the same issues as the New 52 version, the look comes together here in a way that didn’t work so well on the page.
The costume looks ceremonial rather than armored and the interplay of colors and textures adds a real sense of grandeur that we haven’t really seen before. The inverted red and gold on the logo make for an interesting variant and while not everyone will appreciate the addition of long pants, short sleeves and elbow length gloves, this remains a great spin on a classic.
4. WORSE: QUEEN LUCY
Believe it or not, Kara Zor El was not the first to don the mantle of Supergirl. That honorary goes to Queen Lucy of the fictional South American Country of Borgonia, who was introduced in the pages of 1949’s Superboy #5. This prototype Supergirl was a visiting monarch who was befriended by Clark Kent and after aiding Superboy in the apprehension of a criminal was given the name Supergirl. Clark even helped her to fake some extraordinary powers to help her pass as Kryptonian.
Her costume is fairly uninspiring, consisting mainly of an orange dress lined with fur to denote her royal heritage. Her boots were similar in design to Superboy’s and the same orange as her dress. The ensemble was topped off with a red cape and belt and of course the S logo on the chest.
3. BETTER: REBIRTH
While they have their cheerleaders, the New 52 redesigns for most DC characters were (to put it mildly) contentious among fans. But nobody appeared to like Supergirl’s redesign, not even key personnel at DC Comics. The subsequent redesign for the Rebirth reboot (that we were all told not to call a reboot) managed to walk the fine line between respecting the past and embracing the future.
While again, the logo is different to Kal’s here the difference is a little subtler. There are some additional lines on the new bodysuit but they’re far less excessive and arbitrary than the New 52 version. Some readers aren’t crazy about the length of the sleeves or that in some renditions they form fingerless gloves but we dig this flourish just as we dig the thigh length boots.
2. WORSE: SMALLVILLE VERSION
They say that you should always leave your audience wanting more, and this was certainly a tenet that the people behind the Smallville TV show lived by. It took 10 seasons, 218 episodes and around 9,808 minutes until we finally got to see Clark Kent (sort of) in the Superman costume. While Kara, played by Laura Vandervoort was one of the highlights of the series, her wardrobe was similarly reminiscent of Clark’s in the early seasons.
Like Clark, Kara dressed in a several combinations of street clothes incorporating the familiar red, yellow and blue motifs, with her appearance in the season three episode “Covenant”, she resembled the iconic Supergirl costume sans the red cape and, of course, with the logo. While Kara’s look is consistent with the show’s stringent “no tights, no flights” policy, it led many to speculate as to what she’d look like in the suit.
1. BETTER: DC SUPERHERO GIRLS VERSION
After decades upon decades halfheartedly trying to engage with a young female audience, it seems that DC have finally embraced the importance of creating content aimed at young girls. Hopefully, this younger generation of fans will grow up to bring more much needed gender balance to the world of mainstream superhero media.
Though this version of Kara’s costume will not appeal to purists…it was never really trying to. The polo shirt with the S logo, the baseball shoes and wristbands all lend the character a sense of humility and youth similar to her appearance in the Superman animated series that contribute to her endearing presence on the animated shorts and related media. If Kara had come to Earth as a tween, we’d like to think that this is what she’d wear.
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