This past week, Superman’s cousin Kara joined the parade of DC heroes making the jump to television, when CBS ordered a full season of a Supergirl television series to begin airing next year. From all indications, this is going to be a fully fledged superhero show, not a pre-hero extended origin story like Smallville, which means our girl Kara will be wearing some kind of costume.
Supergirl is a lot like Barbie; she’s tall, blonde, fit, and has seemingly tried her hand at every career known to man (she’s been a TV news anchor, a guidance counselor and a soap opera actress, and that’s just for starters.) And also like Barbie, she’s had a wardrobe filled with many different outfits over the years, some stylish, and some that should have gone the way of Krypton. (Unlike Barbie, Supergirl likely never griped that “math was hard.”) So when the time comes to make her TV debut, Kara will have several outfits to choose from. Here are five she should definitely consider for her television debut, and five that should be used as lining for her pet Streaky the Supercat’s litter box.
5. The “Barbarella Costume”
While I’m all for sexy costumes, this one takes it a bit too far, especially for a seemingly wholesome character like Supergirl. This was a short lived outfit from the early seventies, back when Kara’s teammates in the Legion of Super-Heroes were all getting skimpy costume makeovers. Kara decided to get in on the fun with this number that looked inspired by the movie Barbarella. I’m not sure what’s holding up the front…is it taped to her boobs? And the big lace-up boots feel like they belong with an entirely different outfit. There’s a reason this was one of those “blink and ya missed it” costumes from Supergirl’s career.
4. The ’80s Workout Costume
This is the costume that was so bad, DC Comics decided that Supergirl needed to die because of it. Ok, ok, I kid. But this was the costume Supergirl wore when she was killed off in 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths maxi-series. The funny thing is, this costume would be on the best list, if not for the horrible styling. The Flashdance headband and the Jane Fonda workout video perm that Kara was suddenly wearing were really awful, and just screamed of trying to cash in on a current trend. Which is too bad, because the costume itself that went with it was pretty great.I love the way the “S” shield attaches itself to the cape, for instance.
The reason DC gave her this costume was because the Supergirl movie, which was then beginning production, actually designed this look for actress Helen Slater to wear, until they wisely realized that by the time the movie came out in theaters, the look would probably be dated, so better to go with something more classic. DC decided to keep the look, though, and a year later poor Kara would by the price for this crime against fashion….with her life.
3. The Covered-Up Look
Believe it or not, there was once a time when Supergirl wore a completely covered from head to toe look, just like a male superhero would wear. I know, it seems crazy: a female superhero not showing any skin?!? But it’s something that really happened once.
Actually, much like the previous entry, this would be in the “Best” costumes column, if only they hadn’t made one glaring design error: For some reason, Kara is wearing a giant “S” Shield belt buckle, right underneath her giant “S” shield emblem. If it had been a tiny little s on the buckle, that might have been okay, but the two big “S” Shields are overkill, and totally ruin what would have been an otherwise great costume. Sadly, this look was such a fashion fail that no one ever attempted to give Kara a fully covered costume ever again. I think it’s about time someone tried.
2. The New 52
I’ve gone on before about how I think most of the New 52 costume designs are over-designed or just plain ugly. But to me, Supergirl’s is one of the worst. Not everything about it sucks, mind you…I love the cape, it’s very regal, and I like how Supergirl’s “S” shield has been slightly altered as to not be identical to her cousin’s.
But, then there’s all the stupid piping and lines all over the torso, to give the appearance of armor. Because that’s what invulnerable Kryptonians really need: armor. Ugh. Then there’s the weird “S” shield shape in red that’s strategically placed right on her crotch. Is this supposed to indicate that she also has a super vagina? I mean…really? Finally, there are the weird boots, which come over her knees but then also leave the knees exposed. Why these boots??
Interestingly enough, there was a second new Supergirl costume made for the New 52, which was for the Earth-2 version, who later becomes Power Girl. This one was designed by Kevin Maguire, and is way better. Sadly, it was just used a few times during flashback scenes.
1. The Jack Kirby Wannabe Look
I don’t even know where to start with this one. So in this eyesore from the early seventies, Supergirl is wearing a tank top now, and her belt looks like it has a giant eye emblem on it for some reason. Then she’s got a skirt over the shorts, but a skirt that seems like it has a pair of blue lined pockets. And to top it all off, she’s got some red pirate boots to go with it.
One or two of these pieces might work in another costume, but all together they are the definition of “hot mess.” It looks like the Supergirl artist of the time, Mike Sekowsky, was being inspired by Jack Kirby, who was working at DC during that same period creating the New Gods mythology (that belt looks super Kirby-esque, no pun intended) but Supergirl is not a Kirby character and so it just doesn’t work on her. Supergirl has had a lot of bad looks, but this one is fashion kryptonite.
5. The Kinky Boots Look
I know for a lot of people this costume would end up in the ‘worst’ column, but I kind of love it. I like that the shirt/skirt are one piece, and maybe it’s impractical as hell, but I love the thigh high boots. (And ya know what? ALL superhero costumes are impractical as hell.) I love the red gloves, the red hem on the blue skirt; the whole thing just works for me. With just a few tweaks (the belt looks especially dated, like something Julie Newmar would wear as Catwoman on the old Batman show) I’d have Supergirl wearing this costume now over her New 52 look any day of the week.
4. The Animated Series Look
In the mid ’90s, Bruce Timm decided to introduce Supergirl to the Superman animated series he was producing at the time. Even though the character of Supergirl in the ’90s comics wasn’t Kara anymore (she was dead and “never coming back” according to DC editorial mandate at the time), Timm rejected the comics version, which was a shapeshifting protoplasmic life form that bonded with a dying girl and took over her life and identity. He kept things classic – his Supergirl was Kara once more.
One thing he did change, though, was her costume. Reflecting what was going on in girl’s mall fashion at the time, Timm’s Kara had a baby tee, some “riot grrrl” boots, and a skirt and a head band that would have been totally part of Alicia Silverstone’s Clueless wardrobe. This look was so popular that it carried over into Supergirl’s appearances in Justice League Unlimited and the comic-book version ultimately adopted it too (although the version who wore it was still the whole “protoplasmic alien bonded with the dying human girl” Supergirl, and not Kara Zor-El) In short, this costume was cute enough for two totally different versions of Supergirl to rock it.
3. The Original
As with most superhero costumes, it’s hard to go wrong with the original classic look that fans fell in love with in the first place. This is the costume that Kara was wearing when she made her grand entrance in Action Comics #252 back in 1959, and it was a costume that she would wear in all her comic book appearances for the next twelve years.
So why isn’t this #1? Well, I always felt the skirt was a bit too long the way they drew it back in the day; if you’re going to give her a skirt that long, might as well make it pants and be done with it. I always preferred the skirt being red as well. Her cape also seems small and not as long and flowy and majestic as Superman’s, almost as if she wasn’t allowed to overshadow her cousin. Nevertheless, in many ways this is the template for all future Supergirl looks, as they are all a variation on this costume.
2. Kara Zor-El 2.0
For eighteen years after the original version of Supergirl died, DC editiorial was adamant that Superman had to be the only survivor from Krypton, no “ifs, ands, or buts” about it. Nevertheless, they still slapped the Supergirl image on lunchboxes and shirts and all kinds of merch, so the comics had to introduce a Supergirl of some sort into the comics. So they created a version of the character with the most complicated backstory ever; Supergirl was now a superpowered Lana Lang from an alternate universe, only she wasn’t really Lana, she was a protoplasmic Lifeform created by a heroic version of Lex Luthor, and became the only survivor of her universe. She then bonded with a dying girl named Linda Danvers and as this joint lifeform then became an angel. So much for the simplicity of “Hi! I’m Superman’s cousin!”
Anyway, after eighteen years, DC got the stick out of their butt about the “Superman has no relatives” thing, and a new version of Kara was introduced in 2003, with a costume designed by the late Michael Turner. This was basically the orignal costume updated for today, but with added highlights like a yellow trim on the boots and cape and top, which gives it a little extra flair. Oh, and the other big change from the classic look is the bare midriff. In the early 2000’s, thanks to the popularity of miss Britney Spears, bare midriffs were all the rage, and so Supergirl needed one too. I can take or leave it, but the rest of the look is aces in my book…. even if Michael Turner did make poor Kara look like she had an eating disorder.
1. The Iconic Look
For most people, this is THE iconic look for Supergirl. It’s what we see on retro t-shirts and other kinds of merchandise (usually alongside Wonder Woman and Batgirl) that sell the “classic” version of the DC Comics heroes. The funny thing is, in the comics, Kara has never worn this costume. The only time the Kara Zor-El version of Supergirl ever wore this look…was in the hideous 1984 movie starring Helen Slater and Faye Dunaway. The version of Supergirl in the comics who wore this costume was the convoluted protaplasmic Matrix version, who wore it for about a decade in her own title and various other appearances.
The costume improves on the only two things that were really lacking in the original Supergirl look, which were: she needed a more flattering skirt and red was a better color for it, and she needed a longer cape. Those two simple changes made all the difference.
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HONORABLE MENTION: The Hot Pants Look
As a child of the ’70s, this was the first version of Supergirl I came across, and therefore my absolute favorite to this day. I just love everything about this costume; the low cut blouse with the puffy sleeves, the red choker holding the cape, the hot pants, the pixie shoes, the whole thing is sexy without pushing things into sleazy territory. Yes, this outfit kind of looks like a cocktail waitress uniform at a superhero themed bar more than anything an actual superhero might wear, but I don’t care. This outfit could fall into either the best or worst category, and anything that can be either be considered amazing or hideous is usually something I’m drawn to. So this Supergirl costume gets its own special category as far as I’m concerned. Long live the hot pants!
Previously by Eric Diaz: