Last week, the pilot for CBS’s Supergirl TV show “leaked”. Why do I put that in quotation marks? Because there’s a very good chance that it was intentionally leaked to build buzz for the show which is still about six months away. There are no watermarks that would normally indicate that it’s a screener. Also, the same thing happened to producer Greg Berlanti’s Flash show around this time last year and that went on to be a breakout hit for the CW.
Either way, I watched it. And if you have, too (it’s not hard to find), there were some VERY obscure references to DC Comics history in it. Let’s take a look at them. Obviously this has spoilers if you haven’t watched the show, but I’m not going to talk about plot. Just locations and characters that appeared in the episode and where they came from.
In the episode, we see Kara Zor-El was sent by her parents moments after Kal-El (Superman)’s ship launches from doomed Krypton. Kara was a young girl, maybe 8 or so, while Kal-El is a baby. Her duty was intended to be her cousin’s protector when they landed on Earth. The continuity this is closest to is writer Jeph Loeb’s take on Supergirl from the Batman/Superman comic book around 2004. In that version, Kara is Superman’s biological cousin and was sent to Earth to watch over him but her ship was trapped in a Kryptonite meteorite which kept her in suspended animation and when she arrived on Earth, Superman was older than her. On the TV show, Krypton’s explosion knocks her into the Phantom Zone where “time does not move forward” and she lands on Earth 24 years later. Supergirl has had MANY different origin stories in the comics – coming from the city Kandor which was shrunken by Brainiac, pre-Krypton exploding, being an otherdimensional being called Matrix who could shapeshift, and even an angel once. Actress Laura Benanti plays Alura Zor-El, Supergirl’s mother. That was the character’s name in the comics as well.
We’re shown that Superman (never named as such or seen clearly – he’s always seen in shadow or at a distance and called Kal-El or “The Big Guy”) found her and introduced her to the Danvers family to raise her, just like he was raised by the Kents. On the show, Fred is played by Dean Cain, who played Superman on Lois and Clark and Sylvia is played by Helen Slater who played Supergirl in the 1984 movie. In the comics, her parents’ names were Fred and Edna. Her adoptive sister, Alexandra, played by Chyler Leigh, is a new character created for the show. In the comics, Supergirl goes by Linda Lee Danvers most frequently but on the show she is simply Kara Danvers.
Cat Grant and Jimmy Olsen
On the show, adult Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist) works for Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart)’s media company. Cat Grant was first introduced in Adventures of Superman #424 (January 1987) as the gossip columnist for the Daily Planet and a potential love interest for Clark Kent. James “Jimmy” Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) joins the company in the first episode and is referred to as Superman’s pal. Jimmy was first named in Action Comics #13 from 1941 and has been the photographer at Daily Planet and a friend of both Superman and Clark Kent. On the show, he goes by James and is portrayed as older (which makes sense since at least ten years have passed since Kara landed and Superman is in his mid-30s at least. Jimmy supposedly won a Pulitzer for taking the first photograph of Superman. The photo is very reminiscent of the painting for Superman: The Movie by Bob Peak.
On the show, Kara lives and works in National City. This is a reference to DC Comics original publishing name, National Comics.
Kara’s first superheroic adventure involves saving an airplane from crashing. Olsen comments that that’s what Superman did the first time he was seen by the public. In the comics, Superman saves an experimental plane as his first heroic act in Man of Steel #1 (1986) when writer/artist rebooted Superman. Superman also saves Lois Lane from a crashing helicopter in Superman: The Movie (1978) and an experimental plane in Superman Returns (2006).
Supergirl is first referred to as a “guardian angel” for saving the plane. This refers to Peter David’s 1996 comic book run on Supergirl when Supergirl (the shapeshifting Matrix version) saved the life of Linda Danvers and they merged with the soul of an angel. It was weird.
The villains on Supergirl seem to be Phantom Zone prisoners from a prison called Fort Rozz. Fort Rozz was first introduced in Krypton Chronicles #1 (1981) by writer E. Nelson Bridwell and artist Curt Swan. The Phantom Zone first appeared in Adventure Comics #283 (April 1961), and was created by Robert Bernstein and George Papp.
Supergirl/Kara’s best friend at CatCo is Winn Schott (Jeremy Jordan). In the comics, supervillain Toyman’s real name is Winslow Schott. Toyman first appeared in Action Comics # 64 (1943) and was created by Don Cameron and Ed Dobrotka. In the comics, he murders Cat Grant’s son, but there’s no evidence, yet, that the Cat Grant in the TV show has a son.
Vartox is the Phantom Zone escapee villain that Supergirl battles in the pilot. In the comics, Vartox first appeared in Superman #281, (November 1974) by Carry Bates and Curt Swan. He was obviously designed to look like Sean Connery from the sci-fi movie Zardoz (1974). He was an alien superhero like Superman. But the character on the TV show more closely resembles the supervillain Lumberjack who carried an ax (and looked like a traditional lumberjack). He only appeared once, in Wonder Woman #268 (1980) by Gerry Conway and Jose Delbo. As a superstrong misogynist, I suppose he’s an okay disposable villain for Supergirl.
By the end of the episode, we learn that there is a Commander (Taran Fahir, who previously appeared in Iron Man as a terrorist leader) and a General (also played by Laura Benanti), who claims she is Kara’s aunt. In the comics Kara never has an aunt that is a supervillain but she does have a recurring enemy who calls herself Black Flame. Black Flame is a female villain from Krypton named Zora Vi-Lar. She first appeared in Action Comics #304 (1963) by Leo Dorfman and Curt Swan. Changing that character to have a more personal connection is most likely a TV conceit/take on Supergirl’s most popular enemy.
Costume and Powers
When Kara first debuts in costume, there is a montage set to Carl Carlton’s 1982 R&B hit. The subtitle of the song is “She’s Built. She’s Stacked” which seems accurate for Supergirl. She refers to the S symbol as the House of El symbol. That actually was first created as an idea in Superman: The Movie. Before that it was “S” for Superman or Supergirl. She is later given Kal-El’s baby blanket to make an unbreakable cape, just like Superman did in the comics. Her powers are quickly introduced: flight, invulnerability, super strength, heat vision, x-ray vision, telescopic vision are all used. Her weakness to Kryptonite and inability to see through lead are also quickly introduced.
We learn that Alex Danvers works for Hank Henshaw (David Harewood) at the Department of Extra-Normal Operations (DEO), tasked with tracking aliens. In the comics, Hank Henshaw was introduced in The Adventures of Superman #465 (April 1990) by John Byrne. He was originally a parody of Reed Richards, from Marvel’s Fantastic Four. Hank took three others in an experimental Luthorcorp space shuttle but a solar flare causes things to go awry. He eventually has his body deteriorate and he uploads his consciousness to a computer, later forming a body and becoming known as the Cyborg Superman, a supervillain with powers equal to Superman. On the Supergirl TV show, he just appears to be a jerk that doesn’t like aliens.