The announcement of James Gunn’s new and presumably improved film slate based on DC Comics properties raised some serious eyebrows. Its direction is nearly guaranteed to inspire raging debate for years to come. Such is the nature of comic book films. Nonetheless, a few of the decisions on which films will get made already seem like creative slam dunks. Namely, the decision to give Supergirl her own movie. Not just any movie, however, but a direct adaptation of Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow, a recent comic miniseries by writer Tom King (Batman) and artist Bilquis Evely (Wonder Woman).
Describing the emotional core of the film, Gunn emphasized what makes Supergirl stand on her own compared to her famous cousin: Kara Zor-El got to have a life on Krypton before watching her planet slowly die. That tragedy of watching everything she knows perish is baked into her DNA, but so is hope. Ahead of the film adaptation, in this edition of DC Showcase we’re going to be looking into how Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow fares as a graphic novel and its cinematic potential in the DCU.
[Warning: Spoilers from the Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow comic series are below!]
Supergirl in a new dynamic duo
Contrary to expectation, Kara Zor-El/Supergirl is not the protagonist of Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow. At least, not solely. She shares that honor with Ruthye, a human-like alien from a humble family of farmers who trains herself to be a warrior.
Ruthye’s world is turned upside down whenever the nefarious Vath slaughters her father in cold blood. Angry, vengeful, Ruthye sets on the warpath where she meets a washed-up Supergirl, drinking her sorrows away underneath a Red Sun that lets her feel the effects of alcohol.
Their destinies are intertwined when Vath hits Kara’s beloved dog Krypto with a projectile containing poison. Not knowing the origin of the poison, Kara must assist Ruthye to get the antidote. Their spur-of-the-moment partnership becomes a deep bond as they traverse worlds, uncovering a conspiracy and learning more about themselves and each other.
Woman of Tomorrow: High Noon for a Kryptonian
King weaves a seemingly simple narrative. It slots nicely into the Lone Wolf and Cub-style neo-Western genre that has made a comeback with The Last of Us franchise and Logan: a grizzled loner must begrudgingly help a spunky youth undergo a personal quest for selfish reasons. Its plot is practically a copy of True Grit. In this case, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
What the story’s structure lacks in originality, it more than makes up for in detail. Through the character of Ruthye, Tom King explores the classic cyclical nature of violence, as her quest for vengeance ends up begetting more carnage. It’s a tried-and-true trope for a reason.
Moreover, this is an interpretation of the character of Supergirl as we’ve never seen before. This is a lonely, jaded version of Kara, whose power barely masks the weight of the world(s) on her shoulders. It’s the perfect introduction to the character, one that portrays her as much of a badass as a lost soul. You’re practically begging to see more of this character as written by Tom King.
Another aspect of King’s work that makes it into the story in a huge way is social commentary. Throughout the long, surprising journey Kara and Ruthye undertake, there’s a real effort to explore colonialism. Many of the various alien species we meet are in some way subjugated by those who deem themselves more civilized, and our duo uncovers unthinkable atrocities.
What starts as a story of vengeance slowly reveals itself to be a tale of careless destruction by those who wield their power without compassion. By that trade, it’s a perfect comic approximation of the Western.
Boundless new worlds of Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow
Tom King’s writing is only part of the thrill of reading Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow. The other is Bilquis Evely’s undeniably gorgeous artwork. Often recalling the shaggy line work of Greg Capullo, Evely infuses the art with a bit of extra-cosmic beauty.
Aided by deep colors by Mat Lopes, the vast landscapes and sheer variety of everything on display are enough to take your breath away. One moment, she’s making you laugh at the comical sight of a giant alien crushing Ruthye, another moment you want to weep seeing Kara suffer under a Green Sun.
Evely’s greatest accomplishment is her humanist perspective. With a few notable exceptions, this is not a book of “hero poses”. These characters look like living, breathing creatures. They get beat up, they struggle to hide their sadness, and they emote.
Even in the big hero moment, where Kara takes Red Kryptonite and utterly decimates swaths of alien creatures, the rage (and even pain) Kara feels takes precedence. Where King provides the intellectual map for the story, Evely provides the emotional compass.
Is Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow for new readers?
For new readers, it’s hard to say how Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow will play. It requires a very cursory knowledge of DC Comics characters, namely Superman and the basic facts about Kara. But it does (in a roundabout way) give the origin for Supergirl, making for a pretty sharp introduction for her. At least, this new interpretation.
The rub with this specific book is that it’s such a wild redefinition of the Supergirl character that those really wanting to look into the history of the character may be misled by the book. This feels like a stepping stone to future elaborations of the character.
Furthermore, the tie-ins to the DC Universe are few and far between. The traditional lip service to Supes is of course paid. Though beyond a few easter eggs, Woman of Tomorrow is very self-contained.
Those hearing Gunn’s DC announcement may be disappointed if they’re expecting something of an origin book for Kara or something that gives them a clue as to what grand event “Chapter One: Gods and Monsters” will build to. I’d say this is a solid book for new readers, so long as they understand they’re getting a self-contained volume with a beginning, middle, and end.
Adapting Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow to film
Now- how will this work in the context of the DC Films slate? At this point, it’s very hard to tell. You almost have to wait to see some of the other films first to see how interconnected these things will really be.
The idea of a standalone Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow film, going full-tilt cosmic Western, is extremely exciting. At this point, unfortunately, there’s no indication that that’s exactly what it’s gonna be. This could be a situation of Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow in name only.
Sadly, too, it runs the risk of alienating those who want an interconnected story rather than a great solo flick. This is going to be a big old question mark for now.
My verdict on the Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow comic series
Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow is an outstanding comic, and another notch in the belt for the already illustrious careers of King and Evely. With otherworldly art, a friendliness to new readers, and a story hiding deceptively deep themes, this is a must-read before the upcoming film adaptation.
More than anything, it’s a teaser for what could be a bright future for the character of Supergirl going forward. Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow is a thrilling, insightful redefinition of Kara Zor-El.
Are you excited about the Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow film? Have you read the comic before? Let us know on Twitter @MyCosmicCircus and be sure to follow the site for more DC comics reviews coming soon!
Check out our full list of DC Showcases here, including our review of Green Lantern: Earth One! Also listen to our discussion about the new DCU Slate on our Cosmic Circle podcast!