The Strange Shared History of the Flash and Supergirl

Both the Barry Allen version of the Flash and the Kara Zor-El version of Supergirl helped usher in DC Comics’ Silver Age. An argument can be made that no two heroes exemplify the Atomic Age vibes of DC in the late ’50s/early ’60s more than this pair, except for maybe Green Lantern. But the Flash and Supergirl’s debuts, separated by only 2.5 years, did not result in the two heroes becoming friends or partners. Yet elements outside the story in the comic book pages have always tied them together long before they became allies on TV, or co-stars in films like The Flash.

The Flash and Supergirl, as drawn by DC's Jim Lee.
DC Comics

The circumstances that led to these two characters happened at the same time. The mid-’50s was a tough time for comics. Congressional hearings were held on the dangers of comic books, several publishers folded, and those that survived, like DC Comics, held on by the skin of their teeth. When the dust cleared, DC knew it had to rethink things to survive. So even though the most popular comics of the day were horror and crime related, they leaned into superheroes once again. It paid off and the Flash and Supergirl were the headliners of this new DC era.

The Flash and Supergirl Usher in DC’s Silver Age

In Showcase #4 in 1956, DC decided to revive an old popular hero from the Golden Age, the speedster called the Flash. It had been four years since DC published a Flash story, and editor Julius Schwartz believed the character needed a reboot, long before that term was coined. He ditched the old costume, the old origin story, and even the old secret identity of Jay Garrick. Now, the Flash was police scientist Barry Allen, who gained his powers when lightning struck his chemical lab. Wearing a sleek red costume, he became the new Flash and the comic became an instant hit. Thanks to the Flash, superheroes were officially popular again.

1956's Showcase #4, which introduced Barry Allen as the Flash, and 1959's Action Comics #252, which introduced Supergirl.
DC Comics

In 1959, as sales of The Flash soared, DC pulled the same trick with Green Lantern, another World War II-era hero who got a total modern-age revamp. That same year, DC introduced a new addition to the Superman family in the form of Supergirl. She was Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El, rocketed to Earth from Krypton just as her cousin was. Arriving on Earth, Superman set her up in an orphanage under the name Linda Lee. She became his secret helper for years. Eventually, Superman reveals her to the world with much fanfare. Supergirl became one of DC’s most popular characters overnight.

Running Super Fast, But Always Missing Each Other

The only two times the Flash and Supergirl appeared together in a panel, in two 1967 issues of Superman.
DC Comics

The Flash and Supergirl were arguably DC Comics’ biggest new hits of the Silver Age, with arguably Green Lantern as third. There were other reboots of old characters, like Hawkman and the Atom. Not to mention entirely new ones like the Doom Patrol. However, the Flash and Supergirl were the ones fans seemed to take to the most. In fact, the Flash became an anchor for the new Justice League of America series, while Supergirl became a prominent member of the Legion of Super-Heroes in Adventure Comics.

The Flash and Supergirl finally team up in Super Team Family #1 from 1977.
DC Comics

And yet, during the entire Silver Age and much of the Bronze Age (1970-1984), the two heroes barely interacted. The two shared a panel together in Superman in 1967, in a scenario where Superman seemingly died. Then later that year, Supergirl was among the crowd when Superman and the Flash ran their famous race. Did anyone introduce them? We don’t know. But the Flash and Supergirl would not have a proper team-up until 1977’s Super Team Family #11. Nearly two full decades after their debuts. Ultimately, the thing that would ultimately bond these two together in a meaningful way would be their deaths.

Crisis on Infinite Earths Kills Both Supergirl and the Flash

The deaths of Supergirl and the Flash, from Crisis on Infinite Earths issues 7 and 8 from 1985.
DC Comics

In 1985, DC decided to clean house. Totally dominated by rival Marvel Comics in sales, they felt that comics readers viewed them as old-fashioned and stuck in a particular era. So with the maxi-series Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC destroyed the old Multiverse to start fresh with modern takes on beloved characters. But the two characters who most symbolized the DC of old had to go. And those were the Flash and Supergirl. Kara heroically sacrificed her life to save the Multiverse in Crisis #7 and the Flash did the same in the following issue. The two iconic heroes who helped usher in one age of DC also ushered it out. And for decades, these deaths actually stuck.

21st Century Resurrections of Supergirl and the Flash

2004 return of Kara Zor-El as Supergirl (story by Jeph Loeb and Michael Turner) and the return of Barry Allen in Grant Morrison's Final Crisis in 2008.
DC Comics

Although there would be new heroes named the Flash and Supergirl almost as soon as the old ones died, Barry and Kara remained dead for decades. But in 2004, DC decided it was time to reintroduce a new version of Kara to comics. Four years later, DC did the same with Barry Allen. These resurrections were a big deal, as Barry and Kara were considered some of the few sacred deaths left in comics. But their returns resulted in big sales and the long-dead characters were suddenly popular again. So would these two finally become friends after having such similar journeys? Well, aside from a brief flashback showing how the Flash showed Kara some super speed trick, not really.

The Flash and Supergirl meet and come to blows in the New 52 era of DC Comics.
DC Comics

In 2011, DC rebooted its universe once again, thanks to the series Flashpoint. That event comic is largely what inspired the story behind The Flash movie. This new universe and publishing initiative was referred to as “The New 52.” And finally, in 2013, Barry and Kara met and had an adventure, in Supergirl #16. It took one death and one resurrection, but the Flash and Supergirl met properly for the first time in decades. Were they friends this time? Actually, they spent much of this first meeting beating the crap out of each other. It would take another medium to make these two friends at last.

TV Finally Makes the Flash and Supergirl a Dynamic Duo

Melissa Benoist as Supergirl (Kara Zor-El) and Grant Gustin as the Flash (Barry Allen) in the Arrowverse.
Warner Bros./CW

What really cemented these two heroes in the minds of fans as a duo like Superman and Batman was television. With the success of Arrow and The Flash, producer Greg Berlanti kept expanding his stable of DC series, now called the Arrowverse. While most of them were on the CW, one series landed on CBS. That show was Supergirl. Which, although produced by Berlanti, took place on a separate Earth from the one on Arrow and The Flash. After all, Supergirl’s existence required there to be a Superman. And both Green Arrow and the Flash lived in a world where there was no Man of Steel. Besides, they were on separate networks. That alone was a hurdle.

But Greg Berlanti overcame those hurdles and one of the first big multiverse crossovers of modern superhero TV happened when the Flash appeared on Supergirl in 2016. In the episode, the Flash (Grant Gustin) ran so fast that he vibrated into a parallel universe, where he met Kara Zor-El (Melissa Benoist). The two became fast friends, no pun intended. Their fun, playful banter was in stark contrast to how Superman and Batman interacted on the big screen at the same time. When Supergirl moved to the CW in season two, the crossovers came with frequency. Barry and Kara become best buds, and even shared a musical crossover episode together.

Barry and Kara Share the Silver Screen

Now, the Flash is getting a movie all his own at last. Although “all his own” is a bit of a stretch, since he’ll be sharing the screen with two Batmans. Not to mention the first big screens Supergirl since 1984. Once again, in public perception, the characters of Barry Allen and Kara Zor-El will be inextricably linked in the eyes of the public. In the end, it’s only fitting. Barry and Kara were “born” around the same time in comics, and “died” at just the same time too. And their resurrections were also concurrent. Oh, and they both can run really, really fast. It feels like these two should have always been friends. It just took until the modern era for the folks that write their stories to realize it.

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