Since her first appearance in the pages of Superman/Batman in 2004, the new Supergirl has had a variety of revelations about her background and powers -- some well-received and others that have left fans scratching their heads. During her short time in the DC Universe, the character's origin has been told more than once, and she's been on teams as diverse as the Legion of Super-Heroes and the Teen Titans.
And now, DC Comics has confirmed for Newsarama that a new creative team starting on Supergirl in October will work to not only integrate the character and her series into the "Super" Universe, but also clarify Supergirl's character and her role in the DCU.
New writer Sterling Gates and penciller Jamal Igle will begin with issue #34, a single issue that will introduce the new team before Supergirl becomes part of a larger story that will be told simultaneously in Supergirl, Superman and Action Comics. As a result, Gates is working closely with Action Comics writer Geoff Johns and Superman scribe James Robinson.
Gates first hit the radar of DC readers last year when his Tales of the Sinestro Corps story focused on a creepy character who stole the children of Green Lanterns. The story and his later work on a Secret Files issue earned him a chance to write a two-issue arc in Green Lantern Corps earlier this year, where he helped to define the Alpha Lanterns that are now playing a key role in Final Crisis.
Now the writer is getting a chance to work on one of his favorite characters, Kara Zor-El. Newsarama talked to Gates about the character, what it's like to work closely with Johns and Robinson, and what readers can expect from his upcoming run on Supergirl.
Newsarama: How did you get the job on Supergirl? Were you approached by DC, or was it something you pitched?
Sterling Gates: Right after I came off of Green Lantern Corps, I had an idea and a take on Supergirl that I thought would be great for her. I talked to Geoff Johns about it in great detail, and he had some words of encouragement and some advice and ideas that got me thinking even harder about that character and how to approach her and incorporate her more into the DC Universe. I wrote a pitch and script that he and “Superman” writer James Robinson responded really well to, and it turned out DC was looking for someone to come on “Supergirl” and be the third person in the Superman Family team of writers. A few days later, Super-Editor Matt Idelson gave me a call and asked me if I was interested in taking over the book, and I said yes.
NRAMA: When I approached you at Wizard World L.A. for Newsarama's "floorbuzz" article, we talked a little before the interview about the Supergirl issues you'd just bought. Looking back, the signs were there way back in March. Were you buying those issues as a fan? Or were you preparing for the pitch?
SG: Both. I'm a Supergirl fan anyway, and I was trying to fill in some holes in my “Daring New Adventures” run, but I was also doing research. I was into the character when I was a kid, because of the Supergirl movie with Helen Slater. Which, if you watch that movie now, Helen Slater’s hands-down the best part! I read that official Supergirl movie adaptation comic enough times, my parents had to find another one because my copy fell apart. So I’ve always been a Supergirl fan, and I’ve always thought that character is great.
NRAMA: What is it about Supergirl that you like so much?
SG: I love that Kara is a growing, real person. I know she’s had times where she’s been cold, she’s had times where she’s smoked cigarettes and some readers really reacted negatively to that. But that kind of thing makes her more like a real teenager to me, all fury and rebellion and angst and anger and change. Constant change. And she’s grown out of some things, and she’s embraced some others, just like any of us did when we were teenagers. It just so happens, though, she’s a teenager with heat vision. (laughs) Kara’s working hard to become that superhero we all know she’s going to be, it’s just that we’re seeing her grow into that role, and I think that’s not at all what readers expected to see when that book launched.
To me, characters like Kara and Jaime Reyes and Kid Devil and Miss Martian are a part of this new wave of teenage superheroes that will carry the DC Universe forward. They’re the next legacy group. Think of that wave of heroes we got in the 90’s: Tim Drake Robin, Damage, the Ray. Every decade a group of teenagers in the DCU steps forward and says “we are the next phase of the world’s protectors,” and Kara is a proud part of the newest wave. As we watch Kara grow and learn and develop into the hero we know she’ll be, I hope reader’s respect and admiration for her will grow, as well.
NRAMA: In the past, Supergirl has been defined by her youth and inexperience. What do you hope she'll be defined by in the future?
SG: I think people rush to imply that her youth and inexperience are negative aspects of Supergirl. I feel the opposite, that her youth and inexperience are some of her greatest assets. And they’re other facets of what makes her character more, for lack of a better word, human.
I mean, think about moving to a foreign country. If you don’t know the language and customs very well, you’re going to be absolutely lost for a while. Supergirl grew up on another planet! Everything to her is new and different, so I don’t think her inexperience is the “bad” trait that I’ve seen people mention online. By the end of Kara’s journey, she will be the source of hope and inspiration that Superman is. But for now, she’s getting there.
NRAMA: Since you did research on the pre-Crisis Supergirl, are you wanting to bring some of the characteristics of that Supergirl into this new character?
SG: The pre-Crisis Supergirl was a very, very basic character, a more “get-the-cat-out-of-the-tree,” goody-goody straightforward superhero. She had some personality, but like a lot of comics of the time, her stories were more about fighting villains and helping out her landlady more than anything else. Which isn’t to knock those stories, they are very much “of their time,” but comic book characters and comic storytelling has changed since then. And honestly, the biggest thing that people remember of the Silver Age Supergirl is her heroic sacrifice in Crisis on Infinite Earths.
When this new version of Kara Zor-El came along, though, she was polarizing to fans. No one was ready for Supergirl to have this semi-bitchy, hard attitude, and people came to react negatively towards it. I think it’s important to try to find a nice balance between those takes on the character.
NRAMA: Are you taking her in a new direction?
SG: Yes and no. Kara’s going to uncover some information that will cause her to reevaluate her life on Earth, and really step back and look at the direction her life’s been taking.
NRAMA: This character has had several versions of her origin told. Is that going to be handled in your run?
SG: I'll have to just say to keep reading and see what happens.
NRAMA: Can you tell us anything about who might be appearing in the Supergirl title? Is she going to have a supporting cast?
SG: We're integrating her book more into the Superman universe, and that includes having a supporting cast that overlaps with that world. I'm very interested in tying her back in to Metropolis and making sure that her world is a part of the Superman universe. Part of what made it a hard book to follow as a fan, and I'm speaking purely as a fan, was her lack of supporting cast members. So in my first issue, in the first three pages, I set up a foil for her in Cat Grant. And Cat Grant will be a regular supporting cast member, as will Lana Lang.
NRAMA: You mention integrating the book more into the Superman universe, and that obviously includes Superman by James Robinson and Action Comics by Geoff Johns. What can you tell us about working with those creators and what you hope to achieve with the three comics?
SG: What we hope to achieve is to make these three comics the most kick-ass books that DC puts out. The Superman legacy and the Superman books are so important, and the three of us are interested in pulling people into the Superman universe so hard that people look forward to picking up a Superman or Supergirl book every week.
And working with those two guys has been just great. They’re two of the most incredible writers of the modern age of comics, and they’re bristling with new and incredible ideas, all the time. They've been nothing but encouraging to me on this book. And I think we all bring something to the table, whether it's James and his well-defined characters or Geoff and his amazing action sequences. So working together on these books, we each bring something to the "super"-table. [laughs] Sorry. I don't mean to do it, but I find myself attaching the word "super" to things.
NRAMA: Well, wait a second, Sterling. You said what these other super-writers have brought to the super-table, but what does super-Sterling bring to the super-team?
SG: [laughs] Undying enthusiasm! I think I bring a fresh eye to some of these concepts and these characters, but I’ve been learning a lot, working with these guys. They’re masters of their craft.
NRAMA: Anything else you can tell us about how the books will tie together?
SG: We're going to bring back the numbered "S" diamonds on the covers of the Super-books starting in October. Part of that will be to help fans go from book to book, but also to help reinforce the idea that these books tie into one another. And that's not to say you have to buy every book -- you don't -- but if you choose to do that, it will be a much more defined look at Metropolis and the Superman family universe.
I also want to take a second and extend a giant thanks to editors Matt Idelson and Nachie Castro and Tom Palmer for bringing me aboard the book, and helping Geoff and James and I coordinate everything! They’re fantastic to work with, just really great guys.
NRAMA: What can you tell us about your first issue in October?
SG: The first issue starts with the opening salvo of Cat Grant's media war against Supergirl, which Geoff has been hinting about in Action Comics. Cat Grant takes her first big shot at Supergirl, and Kara is completely devastated by it.
In the midst of this media attention, Kara faces off with one of my favorite supervillains, the Silver Banshee. I think she's one of the best visuals and one of the scariest villains to come out of the first few issues of John Byrne’s reboot.
If you're not familiar with Silver Banshee, she is a supernatural force of nature that wanders the Earth looking for these artifacts that will cure the curse that’s been bestowed upon her. It’s a never-ending search for her now, so she has a lot of pent up rage and anguish at not being able to leave this plane of existence, and the way she releases that emotion is through destruction and murder. To make matters worse, her wail is magical, and if you hear her scream your name, you instantly die. And I love that, that our names are so powerful she can just say yours and you die. It makes her a formidable foe, and given that Kryptonians are vulnerable to magic, things might be looking pretty grim for Supergirl…
NRAMA: Is there a plan to give Supergirl some villains of her own?
SG: Yeah, one of my goals that I put forward in my pitch was developing Kara’s Rogues gallery. Since the relaunch of the character, no one has extensively focused on her villains. You had a few appearances here and there, but the main villain she’s been pitted against has been herself. So she’s going to get some new Rogues to go up against, as well as some “classic” Super Family villains that I think people will really be surprised to see in her book!
NRAMA: Can you give us any hints?
SG: Um, well, we talked about Silver Banshee. They just brought back Reactron, so I’m going to be using him and putting a slightly different spin on him. We’ve also developed someone who will be Supergirl’s Lex Luthor-level archnemesis, but it’s a little too early to tell you about them. Supergirl’s got a tough road ahead of her, villains-wise.
NRAMA: You've said how Kara interacts with Cat. Can you tell us how she interacts with Lana?
SG: Nope. [laughs] Not at all.
NRAMA: And after that, your series will be part of a larger story with Action Comics and Superman?
SG: Yes. Kara Zor-El will play a huge, huge part in this big crossover we’re going to do that I’m not sure has been announced yet. She’s going to be the linchpin to a lot of things that we have plans to develop, and Supergirl is going to be a key title to read.
NRAMA: How has it been working with Jamal on this series?
SG: I had a list of one ideal artist, essentially, when I pitched this. And it was Jamal. And we got him. I think he's one of most talented pencilers in the business right now. He does great character work, and expressions, and action, and layouts -- I mean, the guy’s the whole package to me. I don’t think I could ask for a better artist, really.
NRAMA: Do you want to address the reaction to your name?
SG: Yes! Sterling Gates is my real name. Seriously. Ask my mother, or anyone I went to high school with. I think people want it to be a pseudonym, but it’s my real name. Really.
NRAMA: Is there anything else you wanted to say about your upcoming run on Supergirl?
SG: I think we’re coming into a new era in the Superman Family of books, and I’m very, very excited to be a part of it. Jamal and I have committed to making Supergirl absolutely the best book it can possibly be, and we’re not gonna stop until it is!