Karen is the Earth-2 counterpart of Supergirl, first cousin to Superman. When her universe’s Krypton (Krypton-2?) exploded, Karen, like Superman, was placed in a rocket to Earth. However, hers took years to arrive, and so unlike Supergirl, who debuted as a docile teenager in the 1950s, Power Girl debuted as an adult woman in the liberated 1970s. In her very first appearance, she defies Superman’s orders to keep her powers hidden and helps the Justice Society save a village by singlehandedly putting out a volcano. It’s great.
Karen served as a member of the JSA until the Crisis in 1985. In the new continuity, Earth-2 and Supergirl no longer existed, but somehow Karen squeaked through. Now she was the granddaughter of the ancient Atlantean sorcerer Arion, sent 1000 years into the future to protect her from his enemies. Her powers became magic-based and were also severely downgraded, thanks to an injury. She became vulnerable to ‘organic material’ (so, like…sticks), gave birth to a magical immaculately conceived baby who thankfully quickly aged to adulthood and disappeared forever, and discovered that drinking diet soda made her irrational and temperamental (read: ‘bitchy’). It wasn’t a good time for her.
In the late 1990s, Karen joined the reformed Justice Society, and has been a major player on that team ever since. In 2006 the multiverse was restored, as well as Karen’s origin as a survivor of Krypton-2 and her Kyrptonian powers. With her superheroic identity settled, she moved to New York, reopened her software company Starr Enterprises, and is now working on her civilian identity as well in her very first ongoing series.
So What’s So Great About Her?
DC’s attempts at writing feminism in the 1970s were often awkward. (Hell, they’re often awkward now there’s a reason this site exists.) ‘Feminist’ characters were often written as crazed, overly-strident harridans, shrieking about the hapless men on the team opening doors for them. Karen was a feminist right from the get-go, butting heads with cranky old Wildcat and demanding her rightful place in the JSA’s boys’ club, and her combative attitude often put her firmly in the ‘harridan’ category.
The thing is, though, while characters like Wonder Woman and Lois Lane eventually stopped being vilified for demanding equality, Karen’s aggression and self-confidence meant that she was constantly being taken to task for her ‘bad attitude.’ One Earth-2 she was patronized by her cousin and her teammates; during her tenure in the JLE she spent her time being depowered, impregnated by wizards, subjected to ever more offensive theories about what was ‘wrong’ with her, and leered at by Wally West. And that’s not even getting into all the grief she’s received about her costume, on-panel and off.
A lesser woman would have caved under all that pressure, but not Power Girl. Karen remains the same aggressive, independent, shitkicking vocal feminist she was in 1976. In recent years a lot has been done to make her a more complex and well-rounded character; she’s gained a sense of fun, built stronger relationships with other characters in the DCU, and found a steady home with the JSA. Her mentor/protégé relationship with the current Terra, her reclaiming of Starr Enterprises, and the sheer magic that occurs when Amanda Conner draws her have done a lot to broaden the character’s appeal.
But at the end of the day, the shitkicking feminist is the core of Power Girl’s character. She’s tough and she’s unafraid to speak her mind and she knows she deserves every bit of respect the men around her get. Yes, she’s got a big rack. Yes, there have been numerous stumbly explanations for the boob window that only make things worse. Who cares? What’s important is that she kicks ass, and that she knows that she kicks ass. So here’s to Power Girl, the shitkickingest Kryptonian of them all.
All-Star Comics #58-74
Infinity, Inc. v1 #1-12
Secret Origins v2 #11 first post-Crisis origin
Power Girl v1 #1-4
Justice League Europe #1-50
Justice League International v2 #51-67
Justice League America #105-108 the…sigh…mystical pregnancy
Justice Society of America v3 #1-33
JSA Classified #1-4
Infinite Crisis #2-6
Karen is currently starring in Power Girl v2 and JSA All-Stars #1-18, though the latter is scheduled to be canceled in a couple of months. If you read nothing else with the character, pick up the trades Power Girl: A New Beginning and Power Girl: Aliens and Apes, which collect the delightful Jimmy Palmiotti/Justin Gray/Amanda Conner arc that kicked off her ongoing series. The trade Power Girl is a good overview of the post-Crisis, pre-Infinite Crisis Karen.