When DC debuted a monthly Supergirl series in 1996, readers learned that writer Peter Allen David (known colloquially as PAD) was taking a different approach to Superman’s female counterpart. She was now a teen runaway mixed up in petty crime who’d been rescued from an early grave by Matrix Supergirl, the act of which somehow fused the two women together; two distinct personalities now sharing the same body like a female version of Firestorm:
Fair enough. This new origin was a lot more interesting than Matrix’s simple “protoplasmic shape-shifter from a dead alternate universe” backstory. Instead of being another generic, selfless do-gooder, Supergirl was now a character with a troubled past on a quest for redemption, a screw-up who’d been given a second chance at life and was choosing to do things right this time. (The fact that a younger version of Supergirl would appeal to a younger audience didn’t hurt either.)
But even from the beginning there were…problems.
One of the bigger ones: the name Linda Lee Danvers. It works as a wink-wink to the original Supergirl, since it was Kara Zor-El’s secret identity on Earth, but it doesn’t work in terms of plausible continuity. I mean, really? The girl who Matrix fuses with just happens to be named Linda Lee Danvers? Technically, the name had been wiped from existence along with any memory of Kara herself, but…let’s pause to consider this moment in Supergirl #16:
That would be Power Girl acknowledging the original Kara Zor-El, a character that, as far as anyone in the DCU was concerned, had never existed. “It’s complicated,” indeed.
To elaborate: Power Girl is from Earth-2, cousin to Earth-2’s Superman, which makes her Earth-2’s Supergirl. Earth-2, and any memory of it, was destroyed when the multiverse became a universe at the end of 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths. Power Girl spent many years not knowing where she came from. She believed herself to be an Atlantean, which later proved false, and then 2005’s Infinite Crisis happened, in which the changes made by Crisis on Infinite Earths were officially undone, the multiverse was re-introduced, and Power Girl suddenly remembered her Earth-2 origins. So the dialogue in the above panels doesn’t make any sense, unless Power Girl spent 20 years faking the whole amnesia thing.
And then there was the series-ending “Many Happy Returns” arc several years later:
Yep, that’s the original Kara Zor-El, flipping the bird at Crisis on Infinite Earths and two decades of continuity changes to the DCU. The name thing is ironed out in Supergirl‘s final issue, but it’s insane that it took the entire series to get to this twee afterthought explanation:
The idea that the editors at DC would allow the original Kara Zor-El to make a canonical posthumous appearance in the first place is bit strange, because it required the pre-Crisis DCU to still exist (the original Kara Zor-El couldn’t stumble out of a time stream that had been erased).
Another sticking point for many readers: the religious overtones. Matrix and Linda didn’t just fuse together, they became the Earth-Born Angel of Fire, a concept that’s as ludicrous as it sounds. There were other Earth-Born Angels, all ridiculous, and PAD weaved Linda’s entire 80-issue, nearly seven-year run into a complex tapestry of demons, angels, and little boys with baseball bats who claim to be the reincarnation of God:
I guess Wally’s presence means Nietzsche was right.
There were also the convoluted machinations of PAD’s plotting. Around issue #50, Matrix and Linda separated, ceasing to be the Earth-Born Angel of Fire, and leaving Linda with drastically reduced powers and abilities. And her signature costume:
Linda’s two romantic interests during the series were Superman and a horse. The horse’s name was Comet (the name of pre-Crisis Supergirl’s horse) and Comet was actually a bisexual female comedian who could change into a male centaur that was once a male jockey and holy crap PAD cannot just have a simple explanation for anything. As for the Superman romance, it was acceptable because Linda wasn’t actually related to Superman, but it still managed to play out as creepy and incestuous, especially in light of the fact that it occurred while Linda was filling in for Kara Zor-El in the past:
So there’s that.
Despite my complaints, Linda Danvers was a popular character, the lengthy run of her series being perhaps the biggest testament to her appeal. And she set a couple of notable precedents during her career by doing battle with Power Girl and Mary Marvel, incidents later mined by Joe Kelly in the newest Supergirl series and Grant Morrison in Final Crisis, respectively:
The Linda Danvers Supergirl was as popular with readers as the Cassandra Cain Batgirl, fitting considering both characters were essentially dumped from the DCU never to be picked up again. Cain made sporadic (and for the most part terrible) appearances after the end of her Batgirl series, while Danvers has shown up fleetingly in Superman/Batman #24 and the unofficial Final Crisis tie-in, Reign in Hell.
Fans expected Reign in Hell to be Danver’s triumphant return to comics, but it ended up being insulting to the point where readers were convinced writer Keith Giffen was intentionally tarnishing any memories they may have had of the character. Things went wrong right off the bat – with Danvers displaying her Earth-Born Angel of Fire powers (which she no longer possessed) and being “recalled” to Hell for “debts owed”:
Factor in that Danvers was now a blonde (she always had short brunette hair in her own book) and was threatening to kill people, and you’ve got somebody who bore no resemblance to her past self. It didn’t stop there, however. After a five-issue wait, readers were once again graced by Linda’s presence in Reign in Hell #6 and #7:
So we’re meant to understand that Danvers was now a murdering, anti-demon snob in denial about her homicidal ways and doomed to wander hell for all eternity. Forget that her victims were demons and already dead; she’d finally been confronted with her true self. Also, she still had blonde hair. In life she may have worn a wig, but in death she certainly would have gone back to her natural colour.
Reign in Hell‘s depiction of Linda Danvers was a colossal screw-up on Giffen’s part…or was it?
After Supergirl was cancelled, PAD wrote a series called Fallen Angel for DC, which featured a protagonist named Lee who may or may not have been Linda Lee Danvers (it was heavily implied she was). When Fallen Angel was cancelled and PAD took the property to publisher IDW, he made it clear (for legal reasons) Lee was not Supergirl in disguise. If Fallen Angel had continued at DC, PAD had the option of someday revealing Lee had been Linda Danvers the whole time. Moving to IDW eliminated that possibility.
Which didn’t stop him from introducing a character named Lin. While it’s never said outright in the comic that this was Linda Danvers back from oblivion, PAD made it pretty clear in an interview with Comic Book Resources that this was, in fact, the case. Here’s Lin in action, foreshadowing her Reign in Hell appearance:
So we can take Reign in Hell two ways: a) either Giffen was being a comic nerd and staying true to the character’s Fallen Angel appearances, or b) DC as a company was letting PAD know that they, and only they, had final say when it came to their characters. I would lean toward mostly a) with a little bit of b) on the side. Either way, the character was sent to hell never to return. Ouch.