Monday, October 11, 2004

Looking To The Stars: Powerful Headaches - The Twisted History of Power Girl

So last week, while briefly (in so far as I can call one-page of a seven-page column briefly) trying to explain the troubled history of Supergirl, I said these words…

Power Girl had been a version of Supergirl from an alternate Earth BEFORE "The Crisis of Infinite Earths" and was now… well, even more confusing to explain than everything that came before this sentence.

This caused some of you to write back and demand an explanation for how the heck ANYTHING can be more confusing than the current history of Supergirl.

You people have obviously never read Hawkman…

Regardless, the fact remains that Power Girl's background is pretty confusing stuff and has got to be SOMEWHERE on the list of the top ten most convoluted back-stories of all time. What makes her all the more confounding is that more frequent exposure recently has made her origins, her strength levels and even her very powers suspect. Still, rather than turn this over to the folks over at Who's Who In The DCU , I will try and cover this in as complete and yet as simple a fashion as possible.

Power Girl Before The Crisis

Power Girl was Superman's cousin on the parallel Earth known as Earth 2.

Her name was Kara Zor-El and she was originally from the city Kandor on Krypton. Saved from the planet's destruction like her cousin was, the ship took a less direct route to the planet Earth. Arriving some 60 years after her cousin Kal-El's had, her ship had also been retrofitted with computers that slowed her ageing as well as giving her a basic Kryptonian education.

Unlike Kal, who had been found as a baby and raised as an Earthling, Kara landed on Earth as a fully-grown and educated, 20 year old Kryptonian woman. She took the name Power Girl so as to keep herself out of the shadow of Superman, who helped to get her into the Justice Society of America, the greatest superhero team of this Earth.

She would later develop a secret identity, thanks to a reporter named Andrew Vinson and Wonder Woman. The former would help her establish the identity of Karen Starr and secure her a "no questions asked" job with a computer company. The later would given Kara the knowledge of how Earth's computers worked by way of an Amazonian teaching device. This would all be covered in Showcase #97-99.

"Karen" would briefly team up with Infinity Inc, a superhero group made up of the children of the original JSA members. She would also partner up several times with The Huntress; a superheroine who was the daughter of Batman and Catwoman in this Earth's reality.

In short, she was Superman's cousin as well as his replacement in the later days of Earth II before The Crisis of Infinite Earths caused all the alternate realities to collapse into a single Earth. She was easily Superman's equal in terms of power level and versatility, having the super-speed, super-strength, super-invulnerability and super senses that made her su, er… powerful!

Power Girl After The Crisis

After Crisis, everything changed for Power Girl. She was no longer Kryptonian. She was no longer Superman's cousin. She had never been a member of the JSA. This was because in the new timeline of this Earth, the JSA existed during WWII, fighting Nazis and other menaces to America back in the Golden Age of heroism. And the editors of the Superman comics decreed that in an effort to reduce the number of Kryptonians in the universe (who were becoming more and more commonplace as having "miraculously" survived the explosion of their home planet) that Kal-El was to be the definitive only survivor. So where did Kara/Karen come from?

The short answer is Atlantis, some 45,000 years in the past.

Okay. Pick your jaw up off the floor and I'll give you the long answer of how she went from alien to Atlantean.

Secret Origins #11, published in 1987, would give us this origin. In the days when Atlantis was the most powerful of nations and still stood above the sea, it was ruled over by a wise and powerful magician named Arion. His granddaughter was Kara, a beautiful newborn blonde girl.

Sadly, Kara was to be denied the privileged life of an Atlantean princess. Arion's brother, the evil wizard Garn Daanuth threatened to possess Kara's body and use her as a tool for his own ends. To protect her, Arion used his magics to send Kara forward to modern times. He also tampered with her genetic structure, aging her from infancy to her late teens in route as well as giving her powers on-par and equal to those of Superman. This left her with a spotty memory of her past life, as she had no real past to remember.

Curiously, in the years following the Crisis, many writers seemed to forget the new origins. In some stories, Kara had flashbacks to life on Krypton and had memories of being cousin to a middle-aged Superman. Her entries in the 1987 and 1990 editions of DC Comics "Who's Who?" suggested that she actually did think she was Superman's cousin. Indeed, some of Gerard Jones' issues of Justice League Europe (which Kara joined) had throw-away references to this.

It would not be until sometime later that writer Roger Stern, then working on Superman, would point out that Superman started out ignorant of his Kryptonian heritage, not learning of his alien origins until well-into adulthood and certainly after Power Girl would have made her first appearance.

Stern tried to fix this in Action Comics #650, where Kara told her teammates of how she first met Superman on her way to a JLA/JSA meeting and how she was "a sort-of second generation member of the Justice Society". This story took place before Superman learned of his Kryptonian heritage and confirmed Kara's being an established heroine before that point. This issue only served to raise another problem: how was it possible for her to be a JSA member?

I have heard from others that a new explanation for this was given in the book JLA/JSA Secret Files #1, but I have yet to find a copy of said book for myself to verify this. Still, other problems remain besides how she came to become a hero and quite a well-connected one at that. We still have yet to learn exactly how Kara came to become Karen Starr, but we do know that she was on the path of heroism long before she discovered her Atlantean roots.

More recent issues, such as JSA #38, note that Kara founded a computer company called Starrware, but that she was not much of a computer whiz herself and just knew how to hire the right people. She sold the company and now runs a Starr Foundation that helps abandoned children. Her identity as a hero is public and she answers to Karen, instead of Kara. She is also, as of the events of JLE #9, much less powerful than she once was after a magical attack by The Gray Man. While she no longer seems to have the cosmic levels she once did, she is still "faster than a speeding bullet… more powerful than a locomotive" and able to fly.

Still, it is worth wondering just how much of the Justice League Europe days we want to hold as being a serious part of the past. It was in this same comic that it was discovered that Kara had a weakness much more serious than Kryptonite. According to then team member Dr. Light (the good Asian female one, not the evil Caucasian male one), paranormal powers could trigger certain rare allergies in superwomen. In this case, Kara developed a short temper due to an allergy to the artificial preservatives in her diet soda. (Justice League Europe #40)

I know… I know… just ignore it and it'll go away.

Even more perplexing is Kara's sudden pregnancy and birth of a newborn son during the pain-in-the-neck story that is known as "Zero Hour". This was later explained away as more interference by the wizard Arion and some other magicians. It seems that the Atlanteans had a prophecy that a great demon named Scarabus would threaten the world and that it could only be slain by the great-grandson of Arion.

Using genetic material from Scarabus himself, Arion magically impregnated his own granddaughter and used his magic to instantly age his grandson into the being known as Equinox. With the demon defeated, Equinoxed informed his mother (who now looked younger than him) that her purpose was fulfilled, her life her own and then he disappeared into Comics Limbo where he has not been seen since. (Justice League of America #107-111)

She rejoined the Justice League as a permanent member after that and remained a reserve member even after leaving the team. She later joined the superhero group Sovereign Seven, in Issue #31 of that book. However, issue #36 of that title suggests that the whole series was, in fact, a story within a story and not a part of the official history of the DC Comics Universe.

One issue later, in S7 #37, it was suggested that Power Girl's invulnerability was limited to certain forms of energy. To confuse things even further, she would team up with Supergirl (Issue #16) and get impaled upon an uprooted tree. Kara would declare here that her powers did not protect her from "any raw unprocessed natural material." So sticks and stones could break her bones, but high-grade American steel could do nothing?

I know… I know. Peter David has written a LOT better.

Thankfully, none of these stories have been referenced in any of Karen's appearances since then. She is currently a member of the JSA and most of her recent exposure has been at the pen of Geoff Johns. Recent stories suggest that her powers are once again the same as Superman's, even if she not as powerful as he is. Her past, such as it is, is made up more of blank spaces than bad memories of being manipulated by a grandfather she never really knew. Yet even with the last ten years or so being ignored, there is still quite a bit of mystery to Karen Starr.

For one thing, she made an appearance in Superman #189 helping Superman fight an element-controlling villain who was able to change himself into Kryptonite. For some reason, the green rock made Kara feel ill and unable to fight as well as Superman! Additionally, the results of her physical with JSA team doctor Dr. Midnite suggested that her powers were entirely physical, not magical as she had always believed.

Finally, in JSA #50, it fell to Karen along with the heroines Dove and Hawkgirl, to free the imprisoned soul of Arion. The wizard had been captured and used by the black wizard Mordru. Before passing onto the afterlife, Arion told Karen that he was not her grandfather and that what he had done for her was a favor for her mother. He passed on before Karen could ask more, but he told her that

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