STERLING GATES & SUPERGIRL: He Talks About Their Return & Reunion

"Adventures of Supergirl Chapter 4" cover by Cat Staggs
Credit: Cat Staggs (DC Comics)
Credit: DC Comics

chapter 3 february 22

chapter 4 march 14

Sterling Gates is no stranger to Supergirl — with an acclaimed three-year run on the series finishing just a few years ago. But this time around, in DC's new Adventures of Supergirl digital-first comic book, the character he's writing was defined by television writers and actress Melissa Benoist.

Taking place in the same world as the CBS Supergirl television show, Adventures of Supergirl recently launched with a story featuring work by fan-favorite artist Bengal. As the digital-first series continues, a variety of artists will help out, including Jonboy Meyers, Emanuela Lupacchino and cover artist Cat Staggs.

As Gates returns to the character he once helped define within the DCU, Newsarama talked to the writer to find out more about how different this approach is from his previous work and what readers can expect from Adventures of Supergirl.

Newsarama: Sterling, with the TV show being popular among a mainstream audience who may never have read a comic book before, how much does that affect the way you approach the series?

Sterling Gates: Adventures of Supergirl presents the same Supergirl as CBS' hit television show: a young, optimistic and positive heroine, determined to use her abilities to make the world a better place. We're aimed at the same wide audience as the show and we're presented in DC's digital comics format, which has been specifically designed to be easy-to-use and new reader friendly.

If you've never seen the show, we catch you up in the first chapter. Kara has all the same powers as her cousin Superman, but she possesses a vastly different level of skill. She’s a superhero just starting out in a very dark and cynical world — which is not an easy gig at all — and she works at the Department of Extra-Normal Operations. Alongside her sister Alex and D.E.O. Director Hank Henshaw, Supergirl locates and subdues alien fugitives who have spread out across the Earth.

Credit: DC Comics

On top of all of that, Kara works a day job at a media conglomerate as assistant to Cat Grant, a woman who wants to use her empire to take Supergirl down. So there's a lot going on on the show and in our book! The heavy lifting on the set-up was brilliantly done by Greg Berlanti, Ali Adler, and Andrew Kreisberg when they created the show, putting together a great story engine for Supergirl. It’s our job in Adventures to expand upon Supergirl and her world when and where we can.

Nrama: And am I right that you're hoping for a more mainstream audience?

Gates: Oh, absolutely. One of my goals for Adventures of Supergirl was to design a book that could stand alone and be enjoyed by anyone who picks it up, not just fans of the show.

The Supergirl TV show has a massive, passionate fanbase. The show's fans know the ins and outs of every episode, so we decided early on to simply tell our own story that reflects the general Supergirl world, rather than worrying about exactly what happens in what episode and when. That way, hardcore fans get a new story set in a familiar universe they already know and love and casual fans get a glimpse into the show’s universe without getting bogged down by the continuity of it all. That offers us a little more storytelling freedom, too, which felt like the way to go on a book like this.

And thankfully, the show’s producers and DC Digital editorial agreed with all of that, and here we are! [laughs]

Nrama: You and I spoke late last year about how much you enjoyed Melissa Benoist's portrayal of Supergirl. Did you know when the series premiered that you'd be working within that world?

Gates: I did. It’s a secret I’ve been sitting on for almost a year! And you won’t believe how hard it’s been not to spill the super-beans!

I was approached to work on Adventures of Supergirl last spring, and I saw the pilot in Hall H during Comic-Con International: San Diego last year. Obviously, I was blown away! Melissa Benoist is such an incredible Kara Zor-El. She's perfect in that role. In fact, I think that was my email to Andrew, "she's a perfect Supergirl." I began working closely with the show’s producers in late summer or early fall in order to make sure Adventures would fit in with their take on the character.

I thought it was such a great take on a classic character, full of giant action and huge heart, and it gave the mythos a lot of new, exciting elements. Kara now has an adopted sister, she works for the D.E.O. tracking down the Fort Rozz fugitives, her aunt is running a shadowy alien organization. All of that stuff is “new” to Supergirl. More people know what Fort Rozz is or know what the Phantom Zone is than ever before in history, and it’s all because of the Supergirl TV show. I love that. Heck, more people now know what a "Black Mercy" is than ever before! The show is really digging into the mythology and lore in a way that other media haven't in the past, and it's doing it on a weekly basis.

Supergirl – like all of the Berlanti DCTV shows, really – manages to distill the iconic elements of the character into an exciting one-hour television show, even as it finds new and inventive ways to add to the mythos. I was so happy and frankly honored when DC and the show producers asked me to write this book.

Credit: DC Comics

Nrama: How have you coordinated the making of the comic book with the folks who run the show?

Gates: There were a number of in-person meetings at the beginning – I would go into their offices to watch early cuts of episodes or read scripts – but now it’s mostly through email and our excellent editors, Kristy Quinn and Jessica Chen.

Nrama: How did you decide which villains and challenges Kara would face in the new comic book? Did you have to be careful not to step on the toes of what's happening in the series?

Gates: Well, I have to admit, some of the villains we feature in Adventures were villains Jamal Igle and I wanted to use back in the day when we were on Supergirl’s ongoing title. We got such a huge response when we redefined Reactron back then and I always wanted to pull more villains from Paul Kupperberg and Carmine Infantino’s classic Daring New Adventures of Supergirl run.

Decay, Psi, Ms. Mesmer, Matrix-Prime...Supergirl was just on the cusp of having a real Rogues Gallery when she was killed during Crisis on Infinite Earths. As a result – and this is way off-topic and mostly for the comic historians out there – but as a result, those villains almost all fell to the wayside. Psi had a handful of appearances after that, and Matrix-Prime showed up in Morrison’s JLA for a couple pages, but most everyone else from that run just vanished after Crisis.

So I went through my list of "most wanted" Supergirl villains and picked out characters that I'd wanted to use, then we had to cross-reference them with the show's plans. Our mission statement for Adventures was to pull a mix of familiar villains from Supergirl history and use them to showcase or challenge different aspects of Kara.

Rampage is a huge, physical alien, allowing us to showcase Supergirl’s physicality and fighting skills – or lack thereof since she's just starting out as a hero. Psi is a mental/psychic villain, which allows us to do a story that takes place primarily in Supergirl’s mind. That story, which is Chapters Six and Seven and beautifully drawn by the incredible Emanuela Lupacchino, explores how Supergirl sees herself even as she fights these crazy psychic monsters across Steve Ditko-like landscapes. Vril Dox is a digital challenge, allowing us to address doxxing and swatting and how the digital world can affect the physical world as that character puts some of the people closest to Supergirl in very immediate danger.

And then there’s one more villain across all the 13 chapters, but I can’t tell you about them at all yet! Come talk to me after Chapter Nine!

Nrama: You've mentioned your former Supergirl run with Jamal Igle. Would you call this current approach similar to what you did back then?

Gates: I’ve been describing it to people as running into a close friend that you haven’t seen in five years. They’re still the same person you knew back then, but their situation has changed significantly. You start talking, though, and since you were friends with them for so long, you fall back into familiar patterns almost immediately. By the time you part ways again, you’ve seen a new side to them that developed in your time away. For me, it didn't take long to find Supergirl's voice again because I spent so much time working on the character before. When I sat down to write Chapter One, it was like picking up with an old friend.

Credit: DC Comics

Nrama: How different is this Supergirl from the one you wrote before?

Gates: Y'know, one of the goals we had on the ongoing book from 2008 to 2011 was making Supergirl an accessible character with a relatable voice, and that’s honestly the same approach I’m using here. I also want anyone who picks this book up to be able to understand it from page one, which is partially why we retold the origin in the first chapter.

Adventures of Supergirl is a fun, accessible, exciting comic featuring an optimistic and positive heroine going up against some huge threats. There are so few books like that in the current comics marketplace, in my opinion, and given the show's popularity, Supergirl should be leading that charge.

Nrama: You've got some of the supporting cast of Supergirl in the initial chapters. Will they continue to be a part of this series? Anyone in particular playing a big role in the comic story now?

Gates: Alex Danvers plays a huge role in Adventures. I love writing Supergirl and Alex together so much. They’re two people who want the same thing but use drastically different methods to attain it. Put them in a scene together and give them a shared goal, and that scene instantly shines. That back-and-forth and the familiarity they have with each other makes the pair just a joy to write. When Jamal and I were on the book way back when, we tried to develop Lana Lang to be that big sister for Kara, and I’m really glad that Kara now has an actual big sister to play off of.

I also adore the fact that Alex is such an action-oriented woman. I mean, Alex is basically an action movie hero! She works for a top secret government agency but can’t tell her family, she goes toe-to-toe with any villain you put in front of her, she has to keep pulling her younger sister out of the fire. You could make a tv show just about Alex's adventures! I love that, and I love that there are basically two awesome women leading this science fiction, superhero, spy drama...uh, show thing. [laughs]

As for other supporting characters, Chapters Four and Five feature Winn and James with a little bit of Cat Grant, but as a whole, this series focuses heavily on Supergirl and her sister.

Nrama: How does having an "unlimited budget"-type approach allow you to take Kara to different places — things the TV show couldn't attempt because of budget constraints? Does that come into play in your plans for the series?

Gates: Well, as you saw in Chapter Two, we’re not afraid to do big, sweeping, explosive story beats. The psychic battle with Psi features some of the biggest battles I’ve ever written. They’re, like, Lord of the Rings-scale battles with Supergirl in the middle of it fighting for her soul, and there’s no way they could do that in the show.

Well, I say that now, but they sure did a heck of a job recreating Krypton on last week's episode!

Nrama: It was pretty impressive, especially when you consider it's a TV show budget. Let's talk about how you're structuring the comic book series. Are you doing short stories, with some done-in-ones? Or is this continuing in long form?

Gates: It’s one big arc with several episodes in between. The Rampage story is three parts, the Vril Dox story is two, the Psi story is two, but all of them service the bigger arc. So you could call them done-in-a-couple instead of done-in-ones?

Nrama: How's it been working for the digital format?

Gates: It took some getting used to. Almost all the comics I’ve ever written were vertical pages in books that open wide horizontally. With digital you have to plan for the horizontal pages and the vertical pages, since it’s eventually going to be read both ways. That affects how you plot story beats, how you plan for page turns, how you do splash pages or spreads, that kinda thing...there’s been a learning curve, but hopefully we’ve found the right balance in this new type of storytelling format.

Credit: Cat Staggs (DC Comics)

Nrama: Bengal's art has been getting a lot of accolades lately. What's it been like working with him?

Gates: Bengal's a master. What more can I say? I frankly love his style. Bengal brings such joy and beauty and grace to the series, and I think he was the perfect choice to launch this book. I adored working with him on the first few chapters, and I hope we can work together on something else someday.

Jonboy Meyers takes over at Chapter Four. Jonboy is a tremendous artist I worked with on a Doom Patrol Christmas story six or seven years ago in one of the DC Holiday Specials. He’s got a great take on Supergirl, and he completely redefined how I thought of Vril Dox.

I would also be remiss if I didn't mention our incredible cover artist, Cat Staggs. Cat's Supergirl work is off-the-charts amazing. I just saw her cover for the Vril Dox arc, and I think it's gonna blow your brain right out of its socket. We are very, very blessed to have someone as artistically mind-blowing as Cat Staggs covering our comic book. She's really brought her A-game to this project.

There are some other interior artist announcements coming down the line, too, but they’re all still top secret and hush hush.

Nrama: Anything else you want to tell readers about Adventures of Supergirl?

Gates: I just want to thank all the #Supergirl fans for their continued support. The response to Adventures has been tremendous so far, and I want to thank people for spreading the word about us. We're a fairly inexpensive digital book, too, at a dollar a chapter. People are seeing how much bang they're getting for that buck, and they're letting their friends know. Which is great, because positive word-of-mouth and sales numbers are extremely important in this marketplace and can really help determine the future of books and characters.

I also wanted to say that I’m beyond thrilled to be writing this book. Supergirl’s one of my favorite characters, and I’m always so excited to write a Supergirl story. I was completely heartbroken to wrap up my run with Jamal in 2011, and I’ve hoped for years that I’d eventually make my way back to the character again.

If you’re enjoying Adventures of Supergirl and wanna read my run with Jamal or the Paul Kupperberg/Carmine Infantino run, check out Comixology or the Amazon Kindle app. I think all of our old Supergirl trade paperbacks are unfortunately now out of print or tough to find, but they live on forever in the digital marketplace!

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