Since her first appearance in Superman #123 in 1958, Supergirl has been a beacon of hope and strength for women everywhere. Her popularity resulted in multiple multimedia appearances, from the TV show Smallville in 2001 to most recently Supergirl on The CW in 2015. The most recent iteration finds Supergirl, otherwise known as Kara Zor-El, making her initial journey to Earth after her home planet Krypton is destroyed. Traveling in a kryptonian pod, she was sent to Earth to follow and protect her then younger cousin Kal-El, who would later be known as Superman. However, her pod was knocked off course and she found herself trapped in the Phantom Zone, only to emerge seemingly years later to her cousin all grown up on Earth. Found by Superman, she was taken to the Danvers family, who adopted her as she assumed her new persona as Kara Danvers. The show picks up a couple decades later, with Kara in her late twenties living a normal life, until an accident forced her to reveal her powers to the world and become Supergirl. The main plot of the TV show focuses on Kara’s life as Supergirl and Kara Danvers, balancing the needs of the world with the needs of her alter-ego. As Supergirl, she works with the DEO, or The Department of Extra-Normal Operations, to fight crime and stop aliens from terrorizing her city. As Kara Danvers, Kara started out as the personal assistant to the CEO of CatCo Worldwide Media, until later becoming a reporter.
Part of the difficulty of being a superhero is not just balancing their double lives but maintaining the “status-quo” of being a hero. With this comes expectations; always doing the right thing, providing hope to others and always being there to help. To have someone that can do all of this healthily without losing sight of themselves is inspiring, and that inspiration can be found in Supergirl. Supergirl is a show that emphasizes the power women have in society, whose plot contains multiple powerful women constantly debating how to exercise their considerable abilities. These women, however, are centered around Supergirl and her ever-growing influence on everyone she touches. She went from losing her home world, to being lost in space, only to come crashing down on a new one where she had already failed her mission to protect her cousin, and still managed to get back on her feet and grow up to become Supergirl. This plays into feminist criticism, with Supergirl filling the role of a “traditional male hero” so seamlessly while inspiring those on and off screen. A great example of this can be found in Episode 20 of Supergirl’s first season, where the citizens of National City had their free will taken by alien invaders. Supergirl broadcasts a speech to the city, where her strength and optimism bring new hope to those lost in their own minds. The mere sound of her voice and sight of her symbol, along with memories of all the heroism she had performed, snap the citizens out of their trances and rejuvenated their optimism to fight back. Supergirl never gave up, even when everyone else did, and never lost faith in humanity. This show of strength in the past has mostly been attributed to male heroes, such as her cousin Superman. However, Supergirl proves that you don’t need to be a man to create change. She proves that women can have just as much or even more power than men have, and is a source of hope to women in the world who may have doubts.
Another major theoretical framework that Supergirl addresses is post-humanism, specifically the ethical and moral implications of subjectivities beyond the human species. Naturally, Supergirl goes beyond humanity as she is an alien to Earth, with supernatural powers that humans don’t possess. In the context of the TV show, her cousin Superman had already been around for a couple years, and the world was already desensitized to the idea of “alien heroes” flying around saving the day. This was especially true for his home city of Metropolis; however, Kara’s home city of National City didn’t suffer from the immediate effects of aliens flying around. Until the introduction of Supergirl, National City only heard about such occurrences on TV or in the paper. This resulted in a plethora of questions being raised, like what it meant to be human and just how much freedom they should give Supergirl. She was the immediate embodiment of a “god-like” entity staring them straight in the face, and to some it was unnerving. An example of this can be seen in the pilot episode of Supergirl, in which she saves the plane her sister, Alex Danvers, was on from going down. Kara uses her powers in public for the first time, and everything was captured by the news media within National City. Dubbing her the “mysterious woman,” National City went in a frenzy, with media giants such as CatCo trying to get the first story and figure out who this heroine is. Along with this press came some doubt, with the episode flashing various news articles and interviews of those questioning whether they even want a superheroine in the city. There were citizens seen asking why there is a need for another hero, and what that would be mean for those living in National City in the future. After all, cities that house heroes have been seen to have an influx in the number of catastrophes they endure. The question was also raised about how many more aliens there might be, which was addressed throughout Supergirl’s second season. In the beginning of the season, people were alienating any form of extraterrestrials, and there was a struggle to find a way to live together. The solution only came when the president signed into a law an act to protect aliens from discrimination, and promoting equality for all. Eventually, humans came to terms with their humanity and the fact that there are aliens among them, and started to accept them for who they are. This newfound harmony is a staple for post-humanism, as they were finally able to think beyond their existence into an “unknown realm,” taking that real next step to unity.
Supergirl is culturally significant as she is not only a signal of strength and hope, but can be used as a role model for anyone struggling to find themselves. Kara never asked for her home world to be destroyed, or even to be shipped to another planet, however she didn’t quit and accepted her circumstances and made the best of them. She grew up, made a life for herself, and now takes on the responsibilities of a hero as Supergirl of her own free will. Supergirl always tries to stand up for her beliefs and what she thinks is right, empowered by her role as the embodiment of truth, justice, and the American way. For women, they can look to Supergirl as a role model as much as we learned they look to Wonder Woman, finding inspiration in their seemingly endless strength and optimism. Supergirl also gives the world strength when it comes to current events as well. In the case of the recent election, many Americans find themselves struggling between standing up for their beliefs, and tend to be more divisive about important issues. With Supergirl being a symbol for courage, hope, help and even compassion, it can help those who feel confused or lost find common ground. It’s amazing to think how a comic book character could be so influential, and extend its reach beyond its initial intent. Supergirl is the embodiment of such a feat, and I hope to continue to watch her influence make both the fictional and real world a better place.