Open the Gates for “Supergirl”

With the first issue of Sterling Gates’ run on “Supergirl” released this week, CBR News spoke at length with the writer about his super-crush on Kara Zor-El, and what DC Comics fans can expect to see in the Jamal Igle-illustrated title.

“Supergirl is a lot of fun to write. I’ve always felt like she was one of the greatest characters in the DC Universe,” Gates told CBR. “But I felt like there were areas of her and her life that had untapped potential, and Jamal and I are really working hard to make her shine as brightly as we can.”

Gates said Igle (“Tangent: Superman’s Reign”) is bringing his absolute A-game to the collaboration. “It’s funny, when Jamal and I were first talking about doing this book, he said, ‘Sterling, I just want to tell you, I’m the biggest Superman Family fan in the entire world.’ And I replied, ‘Jamal, I’m one of the biggest Jamal Igle fans in the world, and I can’t wait to see what you bring to this book.’ Jamal draws a strong, charismatic, charming and beautiful Supergirl, and I love how he draws her. I’m not kidding when I tell people this is the work of his career. He’s a really wonderful artist and I think this is going to be a huge, huge book for him.”

Gates, a relative newcomer to comics whose credits include “Green Lantern: Tales of the Sinestro Corps,” also chatted briefly about Supergirl with Jeph Loeb — who shares an office with “Action Comics” writer Geoff Johns — about the current version of Kara, who Loeb brought to the DCU with artist Michael Turner in 2004’s “Superman/Batman: Supergirl.” “I had one brief talk with [Loeb] very early on. When I told him I wanted to work on the book, he smiled and told me, ‘Just make sure she’s fun to write and fun to read.’ And I’ve tried to honor what he said,” said Gates.

The original Kara Zor-El/Super-Girl debuted in 1959 in “Action Comics” #252, by writer Otto Binder and artist Al Plastino.

Gates’ run — which will tie in directly with Johns’ “Action Comics” and James Robinson’s “Superman” — will explore the teen titan’s inexperience, something the writer sees as both a positive and a negative trait. “At the end of the day, she’s a teenager from the doomed planet Krypton. She’s Superman’s cousin. She’s as strong as Superman, but can still be emotionally vulnerable. She can be fiercely independent, and yet sometimes, she needs her family to back her up,” Gates explained. “To me, Supergirl is a living, growing, learning teenage girl that one day will grow up to be as able a hero as Superman.

“For now, though, she’s getting to know the part. And her inexperience and attitude can lead to conflict, both internal and external. And for me, that’s where I get the biggest delight out of the character, watching her learn what the joy of being a hero is. And also, crying alongside her as she learns the cost of that heroism.”

Gates’ love affair with the character started nearly a quarter-century ago with the release of the “Supergirl” movie in 1984, starring Helen Slater in the title role. “I was really pulled in as a kid by the Helen Slater movie,” admitted Gates. “I remember feeling like Superman could go and fight nuclear weapons and super computers, and that stuff is great, but Supergirl fights both a witch and a giant freaking demon. As a kid growing up in a Dungeons & Dragons-loving household, that blew my mind. I loved all that kind of stuff. It was epic — maybe not ‘Lord of the Rings’ level of epic, but still pretty damn big. And magic wasn’t something the Superman movies ever had a chance to address, so it was neat to see another Kryptonian’s vulnerability being played with in that film. So that movie really drew me into the character.

“Of course, watching it now, all I can think is this movie doesn’t make a damn lick of sense,” laughed Gates. ”And then, of course, I read ‘Crisis on Infinite Earths,’ where Kara sacrifices herself to save her cousin’s life, and I was further hooked on the idea of a Supergirl. That issue is still sort of the epitome of Supergirl to me — a selfless and brave girl from Krypton, who is willing to give everything she has -- including her life-- to save the lives of others. That’s heroism at its purest form. And like I said before, our current version of Supergirl might not quite be up to that point in her life. She will be, though, some day.”

Gates confirmed that Johns, Robinson and he have a plan for the Superman Family of books through the end of 2010, which is great news for fans of the Man of Steel with 2008 being his 70th anniversary.

In recent convention panels, Johns has equated Supergirl to a Robin figure in Superman’s world. Gates said he doesn’t think the superstar writer meant that Supergirl was a sidekick to Superman. “I think he meant it in terms of importance and relevance,” Gates said. ‘Robin is a huge character in the Batman mythos, and Geoff and James and I want to make her just as important in reader’s minds, so that when they think of the Superman Family, they think of Superman, Supergirl, and Krypto. And all of the New Kryptonians, now that Superman is going to get them out of the bottle. As you’ll see in ‘New Krypton,’ Supergirl is a huge player in everything that spills out of that storyline.

“But no, Supergirl is not Superman’s sidekick, she’s not going to be attached to Superman’s hip, she’s her own woman, and has her own life to deal with. I think a lot of people are worried we’re going to make Kara just a sidekick, and that notion couldn’t be farther from the truth.”

As Gates indicated, future issues of “Supergirl” tie-in directly to November’s multi-part “New Krypton” storyline being told in issues of “Action Comics” and “Superman,” but Gates & Igle’s debut issue, this week’s #34, is more self-contained.

“This first issue features a huge fight with Silver Banshee in the Frank Berkowitz Memorial baseball stadium,” offered Gates. “And while I’m talking about it, the art team on this book is really going above and beyond for this issue. I think you’ll all agree with me once you see these issues, Jamal is really doing the work of his career. When he started turning in pages, I was literally floored by how beautiful the work he’s doing is. He and Keith [Champagne] are a great, great team. Also, our colorist, Nei Ruffino, is going to melt your face with how great her coloring is. It’s really, really beautiful stuff.

“Elsewhere in ‘Supergirl’ #34, Cat Grant unleashes her first article about Supergirl, entitled ‘Why the World Doesn’t Need Supergirl,’ and a lot of turmoil, both physical and emotional, ensues.

“In ‘New Krypton,’ Supergirl is going to have to make some decisions about where she stands, and about where her loyalties lie. She’s been on Earth the past three years and she’s developed a life here. But in her heart of hearts, she’s always wanted to go back to Krypton, go back to how life was before she was Supergirl. New Krypton offers her just that.

“Does she continue on with her life as Supergirl, or is she going to fade back into the crowd and become Just Another Kryptonian? So, yeah, Kara’s got some big decisions to make.”

After “New Krypton,” Gates revealed that he and Igle would break away from “Superman” and “Action Comics” for their first big arc, entitled “Who is Superwoman?” “The mysterious new Superwoman introduced in ‘New Krypton’ is going to be a part of Supergirl’s world and several questions are going to spring up in her wake,” teased Gates. “By the end of ‘New Krypton,’ you’re going to want to know more about Superwoman, as well as her secret identity.

“And listen to me when I tell you this, she’s not who you think she is.”

Another super woman who will be prominently featured in Kara’s ongoing adventures will be familiar to those familiar the Superman mythos: Lana Lang, Clark Kent’s childhood friend and former CEO of LexCorp. “Lana Lang is going to act as an older sister-type to Supergirl, offering her advice and bolstering her spirits when she needs it,” said Gates. “I really want her and Kara’s relationship to be very close, because I believe that Supergirl needs characters that are close to her outside of her family. She needs friends, just like the rest of us. She needs human friends, to help show her how not to be so alien all the time.”

Gates also confirmed an old ally of Superman’s, who pre-dates Lana’s first appearance by a decade, will also be a supporting character in the series moving forward. “We’re talking about using Inspector Bill Henderson in all of our books,” said Gates. “He comes from the old ‘Adventures of Superman’ television show [starring George Reeves]. It’s still too early to tell you more about that, though, so I can’t say much other than we’re planning on him showing up soon and helping to round out our cast.”

Elsewhere in the DC Universe, Sterling Gates is penning “Faces of Evil: Prometheus” #1, a one-shot coming this January that’s part of DC’s universe-wide villain crossover. “It’s a revenge story starring the anti-Batman villain that Grant [Morrison] created in his run on ‘JLA,’” Gates revealed. “The last time DC did a massive villain-centric crossover like this was a few years ago in an event called ‘New Year’s Evil.’ That event first introduced Prometheus, so it’s kind of cool that we’re returning to the character for this one.

“In that story, Prometheus’ criminal parents were gunned down by cops when he was a kid, and he swore from that point on that he would be the downfall of all law-enforcement agencies. Since then, the villain has had his ups and downs, and in ‘Faces of Evil: Prometheus’ #1, he comes to the realization that he should be much more of a villain by now.”

Gates couldn’t reveal an artist for the project just yet, but teased no matter who it is, he or she will be drawing one bad mother. “[Prometheus] should scare the crap out of people. Heroes should see him coming and run away, gibbering and crying like idiots,” laughed Gates. “Prometheus took down the Justice League in under 10 minutes the first time they fought, and now he’s decided it’s time for him to get the recognition he deserves.”

With mentors like Geoff Johns and James Robinson, Gates’ career seems bound to take flight, much like Supergirl’s solo series surely will as it becomes more closely aligned with “Action Comics” and “Superman.” “Geoff and James are masters of storytelling, plain and simple. I’ve always adored their writing, and I think that when I look back on my life, I’m going to see that working with them is one of its highlights,” said the apparently grounded Gates. “It’s just a lot of fun to sit in a room with them and hammer out a story. Those two, along with our editor extraordinaire Matt Idelson, make an already incredibly fun job, even more fun — if that’s at all possible.”

“Supergirl” #34 is on sale now.

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