One of DC’s smartest and most powerful heroes, Supergirl is perhaps best known for her portrayal by Melissa Benoist in the television series Supergirl. Despite this, the Kryptonian hero has been a presence in DC comics for more than 60 years, saving the Earth on countless occasions as part of her legacy as a member of the House of El. Sadly, one hero can’t save a world from itself, and there came a time when Supergirl had to recreate her own origins to give her daughter a fighting chance.
Created in 1959’s Action Comics #252, Supergirl is a far stranger character than she appears. A teenage refugee from the planet Krypton, Kara Zor-El was launched on the same trajectory as her younger cousin but was waylaid for several years. Thanks to being held in stasis by her escape rocket, Supergirl eventually arrives on Earth to find her baby cousin landed long ago, now older than her and enjoying a reputation as Superman, Earth’s greatest hero. Supergirl’s arrival puts her in a strange position. A teenager raised in an alien culture, she nevertheless awakes to the highest possible expectations. Tragically, it’s an experience she’d have to recreate for her daughter.
DC’s Nuclear Winter Special contains “10 cataclysmic carols” set on an Earth devastated by nuclear fallout. Recounted by time traveler Rip Hunter, the stories take place in a world of mutated animals, irradiated wastes, and ruined cities – a world beyond truly saving, but one which might still be escaped. Hunter’s story finds an older Supergirl in Alaska with her adopted daughter, Lucy. Her parents murdered by marauders and her health increasingly worsened by a poisoned Earth, Lucy has been with Kara for two years, with the two adopting a close parent-child relationship. Cut off from Earth’s sun, Supergirl is severely depowered, unable to fly and far more susceptible to injury. That’s why the two have come to Denali, the highest mountain in North America, where – according to the dying words of a masked man – the peak breaks above the radioactive cloud, offering Supergirl a chance to reclaim her powers.
The climb is hard, and Kara collapses before the peak, able to rise only when her first glimpse of sunlight in years reinvigorates her with hope. Growing in power, Supergirl finally takes flight, taking Lucy to Superman’s long-abandoned Fortress of Solitude, where she finally has the strength to gain entry. Knowing that Superman’s escape capsule is still inside, Kara plots a course and prepares to send Lucy off-world for a fresh start. Reflecting on her own origins, Supergirl has a change of heart, resolving that Lucy shouldn’t have to suffer through the experience alone.
I know this is risky. But I will not abandon you to uncertainty. I will not trust strangers with your future. You face the unknown, but I will be beside you. You are mine. My responsibility. My child.
It’s a heart-warming ending to a potentially pessimistic story. By rejecting the mistakes of the past, Supergirl makes it possible to believe that while Krypton’s destruction is echoed by the fall of Earth, this isn’t a pattern that has to play out into infinity. Lessons can be learned, different choices can be made, and the next generation can write its own story. Despite taking place in a world where the worst has already happened, Supergirl manages to remain a bastion of hope for a better tomorrow.