Review: Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow trade paperback


From its provocative beginnings to its twist of an end, Tom King’s Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow is another brilliant deconstruction of a beloved character. King shows from the jump that he understands the tensions inherent in the Kara Zor-El character and he investigates them with skill. The reader ought be seeing their own perceptions challenged just the same as alien forces vie against Supergirl.

Kara Zor-El has had an interesting couple decades in the modern era, with DC Comics clearly unsure at times what to do with her or how to portray her. One interesting facet of Supergirl in the modern era has been an updated view of her tragic origins, bringing real emotion to what might otherwise have been treated with melodrama in the Silver and Bronze Ages. The infant Clark Kent nee Kal-El suffered no loss in Krypton’s destruction except emotional yearning; young Bruce Wayne lost his parents; but teenage Kara is singular among them in having lost her entire civilization, everyone she ever knew, and the planet they lived on. The horror is so often elided because it’s nearly unimaginable.

In Woman of Tomorrow, we find a Supergirl story like nearly nothing we’ve ever seen before — certainly one that approaches the tragedy of her origins more forthrightly than any before have dared, as only Tom King can. As is often the case, what is most repellant in this story are the places where King tells the most truth. Melding themes from King’s books like Sheriff of Babylon and Omega Men with the obsession over classic comics that recently marked Strange Adventures and Rorschach, Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow is an all-too-rare definitive Supergirl story.

[Review contains spoilers]

Twice in the first eight pages, King knowingly provokes the reader, challenging our perceptions of Supergirl. Our (ultimately unreliable) narrator Ruthye tells of Supergirl killing the unarmed, defeated villain Krem, and so throughout the book, the central question is when or how Supergirl will break that most central of Super-oaths. And it is indeed a tension; insofar as any one portrayal of a comic book character can “ruin” that character, King threatens to subject Kara to a significant sullying (and particularly before we’re given to realize just how out-of-continuity this book is).

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

No one writing such a thing could fail to recognize how antithetical the character is to the deed, nor that every pundit available would jump on such as evidence of King decimating Supergirl for the fun of it. But for the same reason stories of mirror universes and alternate reality are so prevalent in science-fiction, a conceit is in play where the “exception” proves the rule. Threatening that Supergirl will kill someone and letting the reader fret over it ultimately makes explicit exactly what we value about the character.

(And, especially when she not only didn’t kill, but let it be said she did precisely for the purpose of protecting others.)

So too that when Kara first makes the scene, she does so drunk, and she and King are quick to assure the reader, “Don’t be mad. I’m 21 now. Official. Which means it’s okay.” Again, in a much shorter span, we have the tension and denouement — that Supergirl, precious blonde child of the DCU, paragon of superheroic virtue (in some depictions, quite literally an angel), is drinking sloppily in an alien bar, but at the same time, it’s all legal as far as it goes.

Supergirl is unharmed here, and further shows herself perfectly capable of being superheroic despite imbibing weird bottles of alien booze. It is the reader on trial, just the same as with the question of Supergirl killing — all of our “what”s and “how could”s and “she can’t”s are vehicles for defining our own conceptions of Supergirl.

Can she drink, but not to excess? May she drink at all? If it were an of-age Supergirl and Power Girl knocking back a few, instead of Supergirl by herself, would that be better? If Supergirl wanted to drown her sorrows in an alien bar and she were not of age (but still saved lives on the regular), what then? What if it were Crush and not Supergirl? All of these things come about from King being provocative, a concept not always bad when put in the service of plumbing new ideas or dismantling old ones.

What follows feels not a little like King writing Green Lantern/Green Arrow: Hard Traveling Heroes, but with Supergirl, a young alien girl, and Comet the Super-Horse. From town to town they go across extraterrestrial landscapes (roughly following the Western tropes of True Grit and others, and beautifully drawn with thin, delicate lines by Bilquis Evely), encountering prejudice, the traumatic after-effects of war, and an ordinate amount of dragons.

Plastered on to a “ripped from the Silver Age” Supergirl (see a winning performance by Comet Bill Starr) are King’s trademark themes of war and its corrosive effects, that the more violence Kara and Ruthye see, the more they become inured to it, and the closer they come to comitting it themselves. So too are there throughlines from the best parts of Heroes in Crisis, as we see the characters despair and then draw strength from the simple fact that the sun will still rise the next day.

Among this book’s excellent chapters, the sixth, “Home, Family, and Refuge,” is specifically remarkable. As is sometimes his wont, King gives over the issue almost entirely to narration boxes, very nearly a piece of illustrated prose more than a comic. And within, King retells the story of Krypton’s destruction and Kara’s place in it more viscerally than I’ve ever read, with the too-cruel double disasters, first of Krypton’s destruction and then the slow wasting of Argo.

It is not here a cartoon earthquake and Kara going in to her ship; rather it is the dead and dying crushed bloody in the streets, the cancerous deaths from radiation poisoning. Palatable, it is certainly not, but certainly it feels more real. Here is where King excels, recognizing the (often hard) reality behind comic book myth, whether that heroes carry trauma or space operas contain atrocities, or that it’s perhaps unreasonable to expect a teenager to lose their planet and emerge unscathed. If truth is a virtue, King puts us on the virtuous path.

Tom King and Bilquis Evely’s Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow is not a DC Black Label title. I guess the gore here doesn’t quite rise to Black Label levels, though perhaps it feels like it. I’m not wholly sure Woman of Tomorrow is any more or less Black Label than Superman vs. Lobo, except maybe they use grawlixes here and actual explicatives there — one wonders if DC has a proscription against combining Supergirl and explicatives, and the implications thereof.



Point actually being, I’ve seen discussions online of how it was Comet the Super-Horse was resurrected and so on — that still, I think it does DC no good not to be explicitly marking King’s work as some kind of Elseworlds if not Black Label. For all the tensions that Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow holds, new readers trying to figure out where it fits in continuity ought not be one of them.

Another fine outing by Tom King and company.

[Includes original and variant covers, character designs]

Comments ( 8 )

  1. Just finished this today and really enjoyed it. Like you, I was sure the first issue comment would be some kind of fake out, but I didn't know in what way. King's solution was elegant and entirely in character. This is probably maybe my favorite of King's one and dones - Adam Strange was ultimately a departure for the character, Rorschach was quite good but kind of a diffuse story, Heroes in Crisis was... not good, Miracle Man a fantastic but kind of a downer, and Superman was a similarly structured story with not quite as much meat to it.Only Omega Men might match up. Can't wait for Human Target and Danger Street

    1. Danger Street does look all sorts of wonderfully bizarre, don't it?

  2. Good to hear the positive reviews.

    I hadn't really been interested in Supergirl since the end of Orlando's run (and while I do love King's Batman, I've been soured on his non-Batman stuff by Heroes in Crisis).

    But I think I'll give this a shot now based on your recommendations.

  3. Sorry but I'm no fan of King or his terrible writing. If you like it that's cool. I respect your opinion. But after what he did to Wally. I dint trust King at all.

    1. Hasn't King implied there was editorial interference there (i.e. Dan Dido and his longstanding hatred of Wally)?

      And while I hate HiC to this day, at least the Wally stuff's been ameliorated enough thanks to the damage control by Jeremy Adams, Joshua Williamson, and even to an extent Lobdell and Booth.

    2. Yeah, to each their own, but "King hates Wally" comments (which is not exactly what the OP said) befuddle me. I think it's been well established King didn't write the story with Wally in mind, but rather Wally was an option that DC gave him.

    3. He still wrote the story. Both he and Dan are responsible for destroying Wally's reputation. Sorry but I cannot forgive that.


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