THE AMAZING OUTFITS OF
(A Continuing Saga)
Supergirl. Last Daughter of Krypton. Well, okay, as it turns out - not so much. At least not any more than Superman was the Last Son of Krypton. Be that as it may, she was, for many years, the sole comfort to Superman/Kal-El, that he was not alone in the world, as well as having been his partner in making the world a better place.
During the course of her career, she's been more of a fashion plate than probably any heroine in comics history this side of Marvel's Janet Van Dyne (The Wasp), although Ms. Van Dyne is not of the same caliber of visibility as Supergirl, by any stretch.
The idea of a female counterpart to Superman was considered as early as 1944, when National Periodical Publications published a black and white "Ashcan" copy of a titular comic (a simple redux of the Superman title logo with art from Boy Commandos #1) in order to secure the rights to the name. But they didn't follow up on the character itself until 1949 in Superboy #5, when a character named "Queen Lucy" was called "Super-Girl" during a demonstration in which Superboy faked her powers.
Almost 10 years later, in Superman #123, Jimmy Olsen used a magic totem to wish a "Super-Girl" into existence.
The Supergirl we all know and love - Kara Zor-El/Linda Lee Danvers - first appeared in Action Comics #252 (1959). She was rocketed to Earth by her parents from their dying colony of Argo City, a domed community which survived the explosion of Krypton partially due to the enclosure and partially due to chance - that this particular chunk of planet would be blown clear of the overall planetary explosion... Okay, well, I'm not defending Silver Age physics or anything - I'm just the messenger, okay?
Supergirl was a sort of side-line-character at the beginning of her career being one of many in the "Superman Family" cast, but managed to garner a spot in Action Comics as a backup feature, then in Adventure Comics as a lead feature before graduating to her own title in 1972.
As a celebration of Kara's costumes, many Original Art collectors (see Contributor Index) have graciously contributed pieces from their collections to make this page possible. While I've colored some examples in order to clarify the overall look of the costume, I've also made a point of ensuring viewing of every Original Art page is available simply by clicking on the referenced image.
Here's how Supergirl appeared for the first 10-11 years of her existence:
About 10 years later, however, Editor Joe Orlando and Editor/Writer /Artist Mike Sekowsky came up with the idea of giving Supergirl a more "hip" or "groovy" look. In the wake of the 60s, pop culture and fashion were the interest of every young girl coming of age and they sought to obtain a portion of this audience by lending an aspect of their stories to the development of Linda Lee/Kara's interest in wearing something different for a change.
It didn't hurt that Sekowsky had already changed Wonder Woman/ Diana Prince into a more "hip" character, leaning towards a bit more of a feminist (a rather adventurous Diana Rigg/Ms. Peele-type character), retaining much of her kick-butt attitude while managing a free-spirited entrepreneur side by running her own fashion boutique. This set the stage for a slight crossover in which Diana helps Supergirl obtains a new "look".
Interestingly, Supergirl also loses her powers (to an extent - more of an "on again, off again" effect).
Many Supergirl fans had sent in designs for new Supergirl costumes, as evidenced on this cover from Adventure #397 (cover date September, 1970), featuring a story in which Supergirl didn't really choose any of the costumes featured on the cover...
...and the next two pages, from Supergirl Super DC Giant #S-24 (cover dated May-June 1971), illustrate the wide variance on the theme provided from the minds of young Supergirl enthusiasts (third page is also from S-24 & re-colored for clarity, but isn't based on a piece of original art).
Over the course of the next 3 years, Supergirl would wear a myriad of different costumes. Probably the most short-lived (and perhaps oddest) was a gown worn in Adventure Comics #402. Shown below is a personal edit that I performed on a Tom Grummett drawing of the Silver-Age Supergirl. This is Supergirl's Gown, which she only wears for a few panels on her date with Derek, the boy du jour of that issue:
This next one was apparently a favorite of Sekowsky's to draw, as it was utilized for a number of issues.
The next most favorite was this costume, which was very trendy and truly found success in execution of Orlando & Sekowsky's idea. My favorite version was when it was drawn by Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson, but that only occurred on less than a handful of occasions (Action Comics #402 is likely the best example - Layouts by Bob Brown, finished Pencils by Swan and inks by Anderson - sadly, no truly solid shot of Supergirl's costume in those few short pages). Here's a recent iteration of that costume drawn by Gene Gonzales:
While short-lived (one backup story), this costume was a personal favorite. It truly updated the previous costume with a few very well-considered modifications and some extremely hip accessories (hip-hugger belt, hot pants, lace-up boots with tassles - these trends were the very height of cool at the time):
Here, in the first issue of Supergirl (first series, 1972-1974, 10 issues published before being folded into "Superman Family") we see Supergirl in her most well-known costume of this era. While referred to - I must admit, rather aptly - by my daughter as "the cocktail waitress uniform", it remains a treasured memory and becomes the next theme upon which others make variations.
This next number, a full-body spandex tunic, was somewhat reminiscent of Superman's costume, sans briefs and with the addition of a redundant "S" symbol on the belt and chest (sadly, the upper symbol is obfuscated by her arms in this shot - as well as in most of the panels in this issue), as well as gloves (which I've always felt she and Superman should wear). Definitely super-hero-ish, but not nearly as chic as they were initially attempting and not the most attractive of her ensembles:
In the upper left hand corner of these issues, you can see that DC changed their "Character Logo" to reflect what would be Supergirls' "uniform" for most of the coming years - as if they'd settled on this for the long haul. Here's a high-resolution representation of that particular "DC Bullet" - more to come as I build a new page dedicated to that particular era of DC logos:
Supergirl's "Battlesuit". A much better use of the gloves, a not-so-effective use of buckaneer boots, lots of yellow trim & a larger belt (again, more super-hero-y than stylish - one could say, a bit "clunky"- looking in comparison with others):
Then, we see slight variations on the most well-known costume of this era. Initially featured with sandal-laced shoes, then morphing to simple slippers, then to boots during her run in Superman Family, in which her briefs become culottes.
Later, the next iteration of the Supergirl title (Volume 2) changes to the "Daring New Adventures of Supergirl", featuring a new costume with an 80s, uh, "flair"... but not really. This is not truly a good representation of 1980s fashion. Apparently, someone was paying more attention to music videos from 1981 than actual fashion during that time period - and apparently that someone was involved in design for Supergirl: the Movie.
Seeing as Helen Slater has taken screen tests in a "head-banded" version of the costume (complete with Hollywood-ized poofy hair) and this is not seen in the actual production version of the film, there may have been pressure for DC to co-opt the look, as the finished version in the comics certainly resembles the Helen Slater look... though her film version is certainly a darn sight better looking - here's what we saw in the film:
Apparently Hollywood figured out, rather quickly, that unless a woman were in competitive sports or dance, you wouldn't typically see her sporting a headband. As purely a super-hero costume, the (as I like to call it) Olivia Newton-John-version of her costume isn't even close to being among the worst designs of those times. For better or worse (the latter, in my humble opinion), this is the costume, that she will appear in until her untimely, forgotten death in late 1985. I can think of more than one fashion maven that would have wanted to kill her simply for wearing this outfit - hence the now-iconic cover of Crisis #7, and the only shot I can bear to allow on this page:
Shortly after the completion of Crisis on Infinite Earths (or, Crisis, for short), we get a new version of Supergirl. This one is from another, "pocket" dimension in which Superboy existed and Luthor was a good guy. This Supergirl was the result of Luthor's successful invention of protoplasm that could replicate other life forms. She was also known as "Matrix". Note that her color scheme and design is extremely similar to that of the first Super-Girl (as imagined by Jimmy Olsen) as well as taking cues from the last few iterations of the Supergirl costume, but in an elegant, simplified manner.
In the early 1990s, Superman, The Animated Series, featured the return of Supergirl/Kara from Argo City. But this Supergirl had quite a different look. A mid-rift t-shirt and micro-mini-skirt - a considerable departure from the traditional color scheme and something a girl her age might actually wear at times.
Back in the comics, in 1996, Peter David later merged Matrix with Linda Danvers of Leesburg, hearkening back to the original Supergirl. This Supergirl was lovingly rendered by such luminaries as Gary Frank and Leonard Kirk and remains a personal favorite over the current version. This version had two costumes, essentially. First, the (Post-Crisis) original, as designed by John Byrne, taking notes from the one rendered by Curt Swan in 1958 from Superman #123:
Later in the series, she had a variation on the theme originated by Superman, the Animated Series (as mentioned above):
Then, DC decided to bring back Kara in 2003. With the departure of Matrix (although, I have no idea where she actually went, since she was apparently taken to another dimension, but was conspicuously absent from the pocket universe where Superman & Lois Lane of Earth-2, Alexander Luthor of Earth-3 and Superboy of Earth Prime were "stored") we were provided with a different version of Kara Zor-El.
Currently, Kara, Superman's cousin, has resurfaced to become well-hallowed once again. The mid-rift has been preserved and her costume reflects a more traditional color scheme with some slight variations. And variations exist in even her current costume from artist to artist. It was a little rough going for her at the beginning, but she became just as lovable as ever. That said, Peter David's version of Matrix continues to sell extremely well in collected and Comixology editions.
Just 7 years into this iteration's existence, though, the New 52 came along and rewrote the history of the entire DC Universe. Supergirl, included. They changed her look to match the Superman of the New 52. While the cape treatment is pretty nice, the boot extensions seem unnecessary and the highlighting of her, um, pelvical region seems a bit awkward.
One should expect, though, that it's only a matter of time before we begin to see Supergirl giving up her current look, the moment she (or the book's artist) feels it's "outdated" in any way.
I'm pleased that the upcoming CBS television version of Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) has retained a semblance of Supergirl's classic costume. Also, check out how many signature items this costume shares with the Helen Slater version (belt, panel in front of skirt, red skirt, blue top, etc.). I will admit I'm only mildly bothered that this version doesn't share the stylized "S" shield of the current Superman (Man of Steel, Henry Cavill) - but check out those boots - super cool!
Again, I hope you enjoyed this complete waste of time - I sure did!
Brian G. Philbin
Special thanks, again to all of the Original Art Contributors:
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Text is property of Brian G. Philbin, 2010.