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Sterling Gates brings TV 'Supergirl's' optimistic tone to comics

Comic books have been in the news this week, between the shocking revelation that Captain America Steve Rogers was a double agent all along to DC Comics' "Rebirth," creating a new status quo in DC's comic book universe and uniting their stories for the first time with the Watchmen.

One book that isn't about secret double agents or rebirthing a universe is "The Adventures of Supergirl," a mini-series based on the "Supergirl" TV show which was recently announced as moving from CBS to the CW. Writer Sterling Gates is not just adapting the show, but telling new stories in the show's version of Supergirl's world. While it isn't affected by "Rebirth" since it's not in the same continuity as most other DC Comics, it does have one thing in common — a sense of optimism.

"It's meant to be reflective of the TV show and the tone of the television show. And we work really hard with the producers of the show to make sure that we take place in their world and do stories that they might not be able to do on the TV show," Gates said.

Supergirl in "The Adventures of Supergirl."
DC Comics
Supergirl in "The Adventures of Supergirl."

This isn't Gates's first visit to Supergirl's world — he wrote an acclaimed run of "Supergirl" comics set in the comics universe before, including some elements that appear to have inspired parts of the TV show. His work was part of a larger "New Krypton" storyline that ran throughout Superman comics. Gates saw Supergirl's role in that as being a voice of hope in a dark storyline.

"The way I think of Supergirl has never changed," Gates said. "The darker the forces you throw against her, the brighter she'll shine."

Comics have been in Gates' life since he was a kid. His parents owned a comic book store in Oklahoma.

"Superhero books in particular have been a big part of my life, and they were a big part in my development. I didn't want to play baseball — I wanted to collect 'Amazing Spider-Man,'" Gates said.

When his dad passed away, his family decided to sell the store, but Gates kept that love, working at a comic book store in college. He moved to Los Angeles and eventually began to write comic books professionally.

Gates got his break when he met Geoff Johns, who since then became the architect behind this week's "DC Universe Rebirth," an executive at DC Entertainment and, more recently, DC Films. Gates started working on a show Johns was co-producing, "Blade: The Series," based on Marvel Comics' vampire-hunting character, then moved on to working as an assistant to Johns.

"And then, I was attending a lot of UCLA classes for television writing, and we were talking about comics one day at lunch, and he said, 'God, it's a shame you don't want to write superhero books,' and I said 'I'd love to write superhero books,' and he goes, 'Have you ever written comics?' And I had all these comics I'd written in college. And I said 'Yeah, but... I mean, here you go!'"

Johns read the comics and helped train Gates in comic book writing, before introducing Gates to an editor who started to buy his stories, kicking off his comic book career. It's a career that Gates says he never thought he would have.

"I moved to Los Angeles because I wanted to write television. I never thought I would be in comics, because at that time it was such a far-fetched idea," Gates said. "The statistic Geoff likes to throw out is there are more players playing for the NBA professionally than there are making a living writing comics."

He says he finds it a privilege to work with characters that thousands of people before him have worked on and thousands will work on after he's gone.

Both his old book, the show and the new book include Supergirl dealing with opposition from members of her Kryptonian family. Gates noted that one of the elements from his comic that also has shown up in the show quite frequently is conversations between Supergirl and her mom, which, although her mom is dead in the world of the show, they've managed to weave that in.

"It was so strange to step back into that mindset of having Supergirl talk to her sadly now deceased mom," Gates said. "For me, Supergirl is the same across all takes, so to speak. She's always a very hopeful, optimistic human being — well, Kryptonian."

Supergirl CW

The book, which features a rotating group of artists, recently made the move from being digital only to getting reprinted as a twice monthly print comic book before being collected this fall. Gates said that, whenever he gets the opportunity to write the character, he'll take it.

"Her compassion I find to be infectious. When I'm writing Supergirl, it just makes me so happy. And hopefully when people read Supergirl, it makes them happy. I mean, that's the goal, honestly," Gates said.

The second issue of six came out in print this week, or if you want to get the comic digitally, the 10th part of the shorter online issues comes out on Monday. You can also check out the independent superhero movie he worked on, "The Posthuman Project." (Another Supergirl comic, set in the DC Comics world proper with some new elements influenced by the show, launches later this year.)