Supergirl once donned an awesome suit of armor and the title Flamebird and the change has a surprising link to Dick Grayson’s Nightwing.
While Supergirl may be associated with Clark Kent, her rare and flamboyant Flamebird armor gives her an unlikely connection to Bat-Family member Nightwing. Anyone familiar with the history of Dick Grayson knows that after leaving his position as Batman’s sidekick, he took on the Nightwing alias to establish himself as his own hero. But fewer people may be aware that Dick’s choice of name references a Kryptonian legend and that his namesake has a lesser-known, but equally important partner.
Featured in Supergirl Vol. 5 #6 by Greg Rucka and Ed Benes, Kara Zor-El takes on the new Flamebird costume and identity while living in Kandor during the gap year of “One Year Later” following the events of “Infinite Crisis.” Ultraman, posing as Kal-El, is imposing his fascist will on the bottled city, and Kara is drafted to fight back by her multiversal doppelganger Kara Zor-L, aka Power Girl. In an attempt to inspire hope to all Kandorians, the two don the identities of Kryptonian religious figures Nightwing and Flamebird.
So what exactly does Dick Grayson have to do with Kryptonian mythology? The names of Nightwing and Flamebird actually originate in Superman #158, which saw Superman travel to Kandor with Jimmy Olsen and the two adopting new heroic monikers to fight crime as vigilantes similar to Batman and Robin. The name was taken on by Dick years later and a subsequent retcon would have Superman be the inspiration for Dick’s change by telling him a Kryptonian folktale of a hero dedicated to fighting for the little guy. However, because they are so intrinsically linked, there can never be a Nightwing without a Flamebird eventually.
Nearly every Nightwing has had a Flamebird. In the times he took on the mantle, Clark Kent’s closest companions Jimmy Olsen and Loise Lane have both served as his Flamebird. Despite being a solo act, Dick was joined with his own Flamebird in the form of Bette Kane, though their partnership wasn’t as close as other incarnations. Perhaps the greatest modern versions of the two legends were Chris Kent and Thara Ak-Var, the Nightwing and Flamebird of the “New Krypton” arc. With the legendary pair confirmed as religious figures in volume 5 of Supergirl, Chris and Thara were revealed to be the reincarnations of the Kryptonian gods. But beyond godhood, the two found a connection that made each other stronger and helped Superman save the Earth from all-out Kryptonian war.
Nightwing and Flamebird are a balanced force spanning decades of DC history. Maybe Dick Grayson is more effective on his own, and perhaps Kara’s time was just a needed break from her usual routine. But Supergirl and Nightwing will always share an unlikely bond, even if she never becomes Flamebird again.