Thanks to her CW show, Supergirl is finally getting as well-known as her cousin Superman. While often cast as Kal-El’s less experienced cousin, Kara Zor-El has become a very powerful hero in her own right. In fact, several stories in the comics and television series show that Kara may actually be stronger than Superman!
Wait, how can this be? Isn’t Superman – in Kara’s own words – the “most powerful man in the universe”? Well, yes – but Kara has shown that she can tap into some pretty insane amounts of power as well – and has even taken down Superman in a fist fight when he was, in his own words, “at full power.” This has led to some confusion among fans on who the stronger Kryptonian really is – Superman or Supergirl. As it turns out, the answer is a bit complicated.
The first thing fans need to know about measuring the strength levels of Superman and Supergirl is that, when it comes to Kryptonians, size and muscle mass don’t really matter. While Clark and Kara both have super-dense muscle tissue that grants them superhuman strength, at a certain point, super strong muscle fiber stops being a factor in many of their more extreme feats of strength. After all, when Supergirl and Superman start lifting things like buildings and spaceships while flying, things like leverage and regular physics don’t mean as much.
This is because, like all Kryptonians, Supergirl and Superman receive the bulk of their powers by absorbing solar radiation from a yellow sun (or blue sun in some cases). This radiation gets metabolized by Kryptonians in such a way that their senses, speed, durability, and physical strength all becomes enhanced. Moreover, the sun also grants them more exotic powers like flight, heat vision, and cold breath that are activated more by force of will than muscle control.
Interestingly, Superman even remarked how heavy objects actually felt much lighter to him when he was flying. This indicates that both Superman and Supergirl’s flying abilities might be affecting the objects they’re holding in much the same way that Superman’s clone Kon-El (aka Superboy) extends his “tactile telekinesis” around heavy objects to lift them.
All of this basically means that the bulk of Superman and Supergirl’s strength is determined by how much solar energy their bodies have absorbed. So, which one of the two has more solar power? During the Silver Age, the answer was Superman. Kal-El did come to Earth as a baby, after all, which means his body had been absorbing solar radiation for over twenty years when he began his career as Superman. By contrast, Kara came to Earth in her teens and only absorbed solar energy for a few years before she went public as Supergirl. That said, by Silver Age standards, Kara still had the power of a god and when she briefly came to the modern era, few heroes could match her abilities.
This changed, however, in some of the modern reworkings of Supergirl’s origin. Where the Silver Age Kara was born after Kal-El in the domed community of Argo City, the modern Kara was actually born before Kal and grew to a teenager on Krypton. She was subsequently sent to Earth in a rocket ship of her own, but spent years in suspended animation, absorbing yellow sun radiation in outer space. It’s also worth noting that since Kara grew up on Krypton in the modern era, her muscles also developed under Krypton’s higher gravity. This would potentially give her stronger muscles than Kal-El (who grew up under Earth’s lighter gravity). Lighter gravity is one of the explanations for Superman and Supergirl’s powers – however most modern comics place a higher emphasis on solar energy absorption.
Regardless, Kara certainly seemed more powerful than Superman in her initial appearances. Not only did she appear much stronger, she was so fast that Superman couldn’t keep up with her. Batman had several theories for this apparent disparity in power, including the idea that Supergirl had simply absorbed so much solar radiation during her extended trip to Earth that she was just naturally stronger.
Later, however, fans got a different explanation for the power difference. Superman stated that since he had been absorbing solar radiation constantly since he arrived on Earth, he had to deal with being much stronger and faster than other humans for his entire life. As a result, he began unconsciously suppressing much of his power to avoid accidentally hurting people. Thus, while he had access to even greater amounts of power, he refused to let himself display his full strength or speed out of fear that he could cause damage to the planet and its inhabitants. (Later, he learned to remove many of these mental blocks and showed he was much stronger than he ever let on).
Kara, by contrast, grew up on Krypton and was used to using her full strength (even when it was infinitely magnified on Earth). Thus, she simply used her powers to their full extent and didn’t try to restrain herself the way Superman did (although, thankfully, she had enough self-control to the point where she didn’t kill or cripple people by accidentally using too much force).
It should also be noted that Superman now has a “Solar Flare” power that allows him to expel all the solar energy in his body in one intense burst. This effectively makes him a living bomb – but it also depletes him of his superpowers for twenty-four hours until his body has sufficient time to recharge with more yellow sun energy. During this time, Clark Kent is effectively an ordinary mortal and Supergirl would naturally be much stronger than him. Given that it only takes twenty-four hours to bring Superman back up to regular power, however, one has to ask if the thirty years Clark spent absorbing solar energy the first time is even a factor anymore in strength comparison.
In the end, Superman and Supergirl’s strength levels will continue to rise and fall depending on their writers and the needs of the plot. While fans may want a more definitive answer on if Supergirl is truly stronger than Superman, from a storytelling perspective, it really doesn’t matter. Supergirl will always push herself to her limits (and beyond) to battle any foe on a physical, mental, or emotional level. Having greater or fewer solar reserves than Superman might make the job easier or harder at times – but regardless of the circumstances, Kara Zor-El will find a way to overcome any odds.
Next: Superman Is Immune To Kryptonite When He’s [SPOILER]