Supergirl’s latest comic book series opens with the superhero at her most vulnerable. Here’s how it’s consistent with Tom King’s other work.
The following contains spoilers for Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow #1, by Tom King, Bilquis Evely, Matheus Lopes and Clayton Cowles, on sale now.
If there’s a common thread across Eisner Award-winning comic book creator Tom King’s works, it’s that superheroes are just as flawed and haunted as the common individual. WIth collaborators Bilquis Evely, Matheus Lopes and Clayton Cowles, King’s latest story, Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow, is no different as it follows Kara Zor-El stranded on a faraway planet without her superpowers as she attempts to stay one step ahead of a local warlord.
And right from Supergirl’s first appearance in the new series, it’s clear King is going to be exploring similar questions and themes from Kara’s perspective as he continues his wholesale deconstruction of the superhero genre and its most iconic figures.
When Kara is introduced in the story, she is revealed to be celebrating her 21st birthday alone, isolating herself on a planet with a red sun so she can temporarily dull the pain and grief of losing Krypton. This plan goes off the rails quickly when Supergirl steps in to protect a girl targeted by barbaric antagonists that quickly shift their attention to the Woman of Steel. And with the red sun taking away her powers and her spaceship stolen, a wounded Kara is left to her own devices as she scrambles to stay alive and eventually overthrow her pursuers to save the day without her usual array of incredible abilities.
Grief and trauma are a unifying theme across King’s DC work, in particular, throughout the maxi-series Batman/Catwoman in which Selina Kyle and Andrea Beaumont both hunted the Joker across two different time periods. Strange Adventures has the horrific, wartime activities of Adam Strange resurface, and also deals with Adam and his wife Alanna being haunted by their daughter’s death. And the crossover event Heroes in Crisis dealt heavily with the psychological and emotional toll of being a superhero, with Wally West spiraling and lashing out at those around him as he grappled with the loss of his family to revisions of DCU reality.
But the other theme across King’s superhero work is a bit more pointed, deconstructing the vaunted expectation of superheroes and leading them deeper into moral ambiguity as their immense responsibilities begin to take a toll. Strange Adventures revealed that the cosmic superhero was actually a war criminal for the lengths he undertook to defend Rann, inflicting heavy civilian casualties during the war. Mister Miracle had Scott Free attempt suicide in a desperate effort to escape the pressures of his everyday life, while the New 52 title The Omega Men featured Kyle Rayner ditching the Lantern Corps to lead an interstellar resistance movement that sought to overthrow a cosmic despot by any means necessary. And with the prologue of Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow hinting Kara will cross the line and employ lethal force herself, the question of what makes for a hero stands front and center again.
While Woman of Tomorrow could go in a completely different direction, the idea of a superhero ditching their usual set of powers and going through extreme lengths to overthrow the opposition in an epic conflict is a hallmark in King’s work. While there are certainly shades of the romantic swashbuckling nature of superheroes on display, King is more interested in a postmodern examination through the lens of grief and questions of morality rather than popcorn escapism, and it will be interesting to see how much of Woman of Tomorrow is well-worn ground and how much is new territory.
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