The last several months have been big ones for writer Sterling Gates. With a veritable plethora of events coming to a head in “Supergirl,” Gates has also taken on the “World’s Finest” mini-series, reuniting the Super and Bat Families in four team-ups, including the first official cooperative mission of Dick Grayson as Batman and Superman as Commander El of the New Kryptonian Army.
While there’s an excited anticipation surrounding that meeting, things are taking on a noticeably more grim tone in the pages of “Supergirl.” DC Comics’ recent January solicitation for issue #49 of the series reveals that Lana Lang, the ex-girlfriend of Clark Kent and current confidante and mother figure to Kara Zor-El, is destined for an early death right before Kara’s 50th issue!
Gates took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to chat with CBR News about the reintegration of the Superman and Batman families as well as the death of beloved character, guardian and reporter Lana Lang.
CBR News: Sterling, in “World’s Finest,” you’re in charge of re-uniting the Superman/Batman Universes in a big way. How excited were you to bring these two families back together?
Sterling Gates: It’s a fantastic feeling! I love seeing those two families work together. I mean, they’re two of the biggest “mini-universes” within the DCU, joining forces to stop common enemies.
I want to see that in a big way, and I want to see what these characters are like when you throw them together. I was interested in doing team-ups we’ve never really seen before – which is why you got Guardian and Robin, and the new Nightwing and Red Robin – and then diving back into classic team-ups like Supergirl and Batgirl, and Superman and Batman.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge in writing these team-ups?
Probably it’s making sure all of the character’s voices are on and making sure their relationships are interesting. Each relationship is different, so each issue had to be written in such a way that the characters were learning about each other as we went.
I mean, I was familiar with all of the characters, but I’d been working on the Superman stuff so much, I wasn’t sure that I had all of the Batman Universe characters and their personalities down. Luckily, my esteemed editors – Mike Siglain and Liz Gehrlein – were there to make sure that I didn’t screw anybody up.
Not only are you bringing these two families back together, you’re also showing fans the first time Dick Grayson and Kal-El meet as Batman and Superman. That’s a pretty massive responsibility – were you nervous at all into writing the issue?
Not at all, actually. Of the four, Batgirl-Supergirl and Batman-Superman were the easiest to write for me.
For Batman and Superman, I had in my head exactly what the two of them were going to be doing the first time they saw each other in their different uniforms – remember, Kal-El is currently Commander El of the Kryptonian Army. It was an image that I couldn’t get out of my brain.
I don’t want to ruin it, but Phil Noto rocks that beat in issue four, just as he rocks the rest of the issue. His art’s great, and I was extremely excited to work with him. I’ve been in love with the covers that he’s done for the series, and I think you’ll be just as happy as I am when you open the issue up and see his interiors.
Really, we’ve been very fortunate with all of the talented artists we’ve had take part in this series – Julian Lopez, Ramon Bachs, Jamal Igle, and Phil Noto. Those guys are all fantastic artists, and each and every one of them knocked their individual issues right out of the park!
How are these two characters relating to each other now that Bruce Wayne is out of the picture? Do they have the same rapport that Bruce and Clark did?
Well, Dick Grayson-as-Batman is a very different character to begin with, so there’s already a different tone to Batman. And Clark watched Dick grow up his entire life, so this is like working with your best friend’s son to an extent. I wanted their relationship to be familiar – it’s not like they haven’t teamed up before. Even back when Dick was Robin, he and Superman teamed up from time to time. But their relationship has to be different, as now Dick is wearing the costume of Clark’s best friend. You’ll see how it plays out in “World’s Finest” #4.
What’s been your favorite team-up to write so far? Were there any that you pitched that ended up on the cutting room floor?
My favorite? I don’t know, I think they were all really enjoyable to work on. There are some really fun bits in the Supergirl-Batgirl team-up I love, and I loved Guardian catching Robin out of the sky in issue two.
As for the cutting room floor, there aren’t that many more that I would’ve tried to do. I’m not sure how many people would’ve been on board for a Mon-El/Azrael team-up or anything…actually, now that I’ve said that, it might’ve been kind of cool. [Laughs]
Oh, and I would’ve loved to figure out a way to do a Lois Lane/Vicki Vale team-up, but I couldn’t make it work in the context of the series.
Are there any moments form the mini-series in particular that stand out as your favorites?
Yes. I can’t tell you what it is for fear of spoiling the back half of the series – sorry! Ask me again after the series is out. But it involves dinosaurs. Lots of dinosaurs. And Kryptonite.
And that’s all I’m going to say.
Oh, and I loved the way Jamal Igle drew the last page of issue three. I’m a sucker for having a great last page to close an issue out, something that gets people excited to come back for the next issue. I think cliffhangers are one of the more rewarding aspects of reading monthly comic books, and I always endeavor to make sure each issue ends with a cool or different hook that – hopefully – encourages or entices readers to come back for the next one.
Is there any chance we’ll see a follow-up “World’s Finest” from you in the future?
Yeah, I’ve got an idea for a sequel that I think would be a lot of fun to do. However, I’m the type of guy that believes in not talking about something like that publicly, lest I jinx it.
And I do want to quickly thank each character’s respective current creative teams for letting me play with their characters in “World’s Finest!”
Obviously, one of the most exciting things about the series for fans is that some of the newer members of the Bat-family are teaming up with some of the newer Superman characters – Red Robin and Nightwing, Damien and The Guardian – but you’ve mentioned in other interviews that you’re a big fan of Stephanie Brown. How cool is it to have her team up with Supergirl?
Oh, it’s a total blast. Stephanie and Kara are really similar – both young women who are trying to live up to a mantle, both very misunderstood by the people in their respective crime-fighting families – so it was a lot of fun to introduce their relationship and see them notice one another and become friends. I’m really proud of that issue, and I hope we’ll get to see their relationship continue to blossom.
If anything, a Batgirl-Supergirl crossover would rock!
Speaking of Supergirl, there’s a fair amount of new developments going on in her book right now. While Batman and Superman are teaming up in “World’s Finest,” DC’s solicitations seem to hint that Lana Lang may be deceased – and her collapse in Issue #42 doesn’t give fans much hope. Is she really dying in this issue?
Yes. Next question! [Laughs]
Fair enough…but you’ve worked so hard to re-integrate Lana back into Super-continuity. Why build up this character to the point where she’s so vital in Supergirl’s life and then schedule her for an untimely end?
Death pushes on a character’s emotional boundaries, especially when someone close to a character dies. We’ve seen Kara go through the grieving process dealing with the death of her father, Zor-El, so I wanted to approach the Lana sequence a little differently.
As we get closer to that issue, Kara’s going to start trying to figure out what’s wrong with Lana. She’s been told by Flamebird that something’s “corrupt” in Lana. So now it’s sort of a race against time as Kara tries to figure out just what that means.
Judging by issue 49’s solicit, though, it looks a lot like Kara won’t be able to save the day.
How difficult was it to write about the death of a character so rich in history in the Superman universe, especially one you’ve had such a hand in bringing back to the forefront?
You know, I don’t feel like I can talk too much about it. I want people to go into the issue without preconceived notions. It was difficult to write, yes, and due to the circumstances, I knew exactly how Supergirl would handle it.
Now, how Supergirl handles the secrets that come spilling out after, that’s a different story…
What’s the biggest challenge when it comes to writing the death of a character you’ve invested so much time in?
I’d had the scene in my head for the better part of a year, so it just sort of came out. I just knew that it had to be different than Zor-El’s passing. That was my goal with it. Which, again, isn’t to say that it was easy to write.
What did you most enjoy about writing this issue?
I love the opening scene of Supergirl #49. It starts very simple, very slice-of-life, then quickly turns into something terrible. Horrific. Matt Camp’s drawing that issue, and he really nailed the bleakness of Metropolis in wintertime, something that sets the tone for the rest of the story. It’s a bleak one, man.
Oh, and the last page of the issue. As terrible and as heart-wrenching as it was – it reminded me of gut-punching myself over and over again – I loved writing that last page.
What does Lana’s death mean for the future of Supergirl – both the book and the character?
There are some pretty big ramifications for Supergirl and for the Metropolis cast. You’ll see them in Supergirl #50.