Interview With Sterling Gates And Jamal Igle, Part One
I think anyone who has visited this site knows how much I loved and appreciated the Sterling Gates/Jamal Igle run on Supergirl. They really treated Kara with the respect she deserves, rehabilitating her and making her an important character in the DCU.
With Gates and Igle both off the title, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to interview them, asking them about their 2+ years on the title and their take on Supergirl. The interview will run over today and tomorrow.
I can't thank them enough for letting me talk to them about their run on Supergirl one last time.
Anj: Were either of you Supergirl fans prior to being named as creators on the book?
Sterling, I have read about how much you were a fan of the Helen Slater movie. What about her earlier comic adventures?
And how about you Jamal? I know you did an issue on Peter David’s run and an issue of Teen Titans she was in. Did you like her as a character?
Sterling Gates: I always really liked the “Daring New Adventures” Carmine Infantino/Paul Kupperberg stuff from the early 1980’s, and I loved the Supergirl movie adaptation DC put out in 1984. I loved Kara in Crisis on Infinite Earths. Supergirl’s scene with Batgirl and Kara’s death are two of the most memorable -- and in my opinion, best -- Supergirl scenes in comics history. When I got really into comics in the early 90’s, the “Death of Superman” story was going strong, and the Matrix-era Supergirl was all over the books. I liked her, but not as much as I liked Kara Zor-El.
When Jeph Loeb and Michael Turner reintroduced her in Superman/Batman, though, that’s when I really glommed on to the character and became a big fan.
Jamal Igle: I sort of went back and forth with Supergirl. Being a long time Superman fan, I was also reading Legion of Superheroes and knew about her from those appearances. I was a fan of Peter David’s series; read it religiously almost the entire run. So when they introduced Kara again in Superman/Batman, I was curious but I ultimately ended up not liking the series very much. I didn’t like how she was portrayed and it turned me off a bit.
Anj: You both have most of the recent Supergirl history covered. The Kupperberg stuff really was the light at the end of the tunnel, after Supergirl lived through some rough stories in Superman Family. I am thrilled you loved PAD's run Jamal. It's definitely a different sort of Supergirl, but just great storytelling.
Anj: When you both signed on, were you expecting to have as long a run as you did? Did you have any long term ideas for the character in mind?
JI: Not initially, but you never go into any series thinking that “Well I’m going to be on this for x amount of issues”. Every job is different and there are always different factors involved. So I honestly wasn’t thinking past the initial “Who is Superwoman?” arc. I didn’t imagine I would be still working on it a year later, let alone two.
SG: I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting, honestly. I had some big storylines in mind going in, but I had no idea we would be on the book for as long as we were.
My initial pitch document was fairly detailed, focusing on three long-term goals: giving her a secret identity, something that would help her empathize with humans and see things from their level; giving her a supportive cast, which is how Lana Lang got involved; and giving her a Rogue’s Gallery, because Supergirl’s villains list felt underdeveloped at that point.
Part of the inspiration for trying to add more rogues to Supergirl came from a double page spread Geoff did in Action Comics Annual #10, “Superman’s Top 10 Greatest Villains.” Brainiac, Luthor, Metallo, Mxy, Superman has a TON of big villains we can all readily name off of the top of our heads.
Supergirl, I felt, had none.
A handful of people out there remember Nasty Luthor or the Gang or Lord Xenon from Peter David’s run, maybe, but she didn’t have big villains. I wanted to pick five villains and really focus in on them and their relationship to Supergirl or her supporting cast. Reactron, Silver Banshee, Superwoman, Insect Queen, Dollmaker, all five of them were in that initial pitch document. Though, Dollmaker might’ve been called Doll Queen at that point. I don’t recall.
Also, I felt that outside of her hanging out with Captain Boomerang, Jr. -- a relationship I never really understood, to be frank -- she didn’t have enough friends to play off of, and I thought tying her back into the Superman Universe would help to remedy that.
I think we accomplished all that in our twenty-eight issues. I’m happy where we ended up.
Anj: Wow, Dollmaker was in the original pitch but wasn't seen for 27 issues. It must be gratifying to look back at that original pitch and realize you got to do so much of what you set out to do.
SG: Yeah, Dollmaker was always part of the plan. I knew Cat’s story from the beginning, and I knew the role Supergirl was going to have to play in Cat’s personal growth.
Anj: Was there a moment where either of you sort of stood back and felt that it all was just coming together, that you were doing something special with the character and the book? Anything you wish you had done differently on the book, something that didn’t play out as well as you expected?
SG: I was happy with the work we were doing from the get-go. Jamal is a great artist to work with, and he would always take what I’d written and crank it up a notch. Every time Jamal’s pages would come in, I would print one out and hang it over my desk. Any time I’d get stuck on something, or would be unsure where to take the next issue, I’d look up at Jamal’s superb work and get jazzed up again!
As for what I would have done differently, I look back now and see that I should’ve had an on-panel adventure with Superwoman before ramping that mystery up in “Who is Superwoman?” A one-issue team-up story in Supergirl #37 would’ve been nice, to really let the mystery start nagging at Kara. I feel like that was a mistake on my part.
JI: I think with issue #36 I knew we were clicking as a team. I think when you have two people who can pull together an emotional story and have a visceral reaction happen, it’s the sign of great creative synergy. I sat down and read that script and was so moved by what Sterling wrote. I said before that it was one of the most difficult issues I’d ever drawn, I really was on the verge of tears during Zor- El’s final scene in the book.
As far as things I would have done differently? I personally wish that I had been able to find a voice for my Kara a little earlier than I did. She really didn’t come together for me until about issue # 38. I fumbled around a bit with the first four issues trying to find the balance that I wanted for her. I wanted her to be cute and flirtatious, but not over the top visually in terms of her sexuality. The thing that worked for me I think was I didn’t think of her as a woman first. I thought of her as a Superhero who happened to be a woman. So that when she would stand, it was less about being sexy and more about being heroic, that any sexuality was subtle, and coyish.
Anj: Since you both took over, it feels like Supergirl has really grown in prominence and is relevant again in the DCU. You have the main book’s success, her role in New Krypton and War of the Supermen, and even her presence elsewhere (Cry For Justice, JLA, Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade, and Tiny Titans). What do you think is the draw to her as a character now after languishing for a bit?
SG: I think people respond well to all the different facets of the character: they like that she can be innocent, they like when she kicks ass. For me, it was important to portray an exciting teenage superhero that was trying to live up to the greatest symbol in the DCU, a symbol she wears on her chest every day.
I’ve said this before. I feel Supergirl is physically invincible but very vulnerable emotionally. When we’re teenagers, we think nothing can hurt us until someone comes along and crushes our feelings. Supergirl lives that everyday, but in a much more literal way. I think that’s a really basic and interesting premise, and I think people respond well to it.
JI: I think it goes back to what I was just saying, is that for me, she’s a superhero again, she carries herself more heroically than she had when she was reintroduced. She’s gone from getting into fights with Powergirl, the Teen Titans, The Outsiders and the JLA to being embraced by them. I know the idea was to have her be edgier than she was in the 90’s but seriously, who wants to read a book about a petulant teenage girl getting into fights with other heroes? I know I wasn’t interested in it at the time and I wanted to like it. People want their heroes to be heroic. Maybe that makes me old fashioned, I’ve been accused of that before. She’s still feisty and independent. She’s still tough, intelligent, and resourceful. However, now it’s tempered with a sense of responsibility she didn’t have before.
Anj: I’d like to talk about some of the bigger scenes and characters during your run. I guess the first huge one was the death of Zor-El, such a powerful scene and really a launching point for the whole War of the Supermen. Was it known right off that Zor-El was going to die? How did that scene come together?
SG: Well, a lot of the first New Krypton crossover had been loosely plotted by Geoff Johns and James Robinson by the time I came on board the book. They knew Zor was going to be mortally wounded in Geoff’s Action issue, but would die in Supergirl #36. I came in and said that I wanted to use Supergirl #35 to clean up Supergirl’s origin and presented my idea for it, bits and pieces of which got folded into Geoff’s “Brainiac” arc. We were all working together as a unit from the very beginning, but once “Who is Superwoman” got up and running and Geoff left Action, I was free to do as I please.
As for the scene itself, I drew inspiration from my own life. My father passed away when I was 17, and Supergirl’s run through that battlefield reflected my own run down the hallway to try and reach him in time to do anything to help. Unfortunately, my dad was gone by the time I got to his side. There’s an old quote that says “writers write what they always wished to happen to deal with what didn’t,” and I think that’s absolutely true.
Kara got to have the final words with her father that many of us will never have.
JI: For my part, I had to dig deep and remember what it was like for me to lose a very dear friend of mine, Glester Jameswhite. I don’t tell this story too often, but a person we both grew up with shot him in broad daylight. As soon as I found out where his body was lying, I went there. The police had already roped off the area, but I waited with his body for six hours until the coroner’s office picked him up.
I wanted to cry then but I couldn’t. I was numb for almost a week and finally broke down at his funeral. I remembered the fury, the sadness, the sense of loss and put all into that scene.
Anj: You can really feel the emotion of that scene just leap from the page. That whole scene, from the dialogue between father and daughter to this silent scream pieta splash page, really was moving.