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The Real-Life Supergirl Behind the New 'Supergirl' Comics

Talking kickass females and LGBTQ superheroes with K. Perkins, co-writer of the last episodes of DC's 'The New 52.'

by Sami Emory
10 August 2015, 7:00pm

Images courtesy of DC Entertainment.

The teen comic hero Kara Zor-el—alias Supergirl—first arrived onto the DC scene in 1959, in the 252nd issue of the company's Action Comics serial. Kara boasted all the super strength, super speed, super hearing, and powers of flight as her superhuman cousin, Superman; and all the defiance and stubbornness of your average teenage girl. After a lengthy absence from comics, Kara returned in 2011 with DC's company-wide relaunch, The New 52. The 40-part revamp is the work of a myriad of cycling writers, among them graphic novel newbie K. Perkins. Teaming up with DC veteran Mike Johnson to co-write issues #36 through #40 of the series, Perkins picks up Supergirl's new narrative with her abrupt enrollment at Crucible Academy and subsequent shenanigans with peers Maxima, Comet, and Tsavo. 

Beneath the action-packed surface, Perkins and Supergirl share a laundry list of similarities: both are newcomers, both naturals in their fields, and both push gender and sexuality demographics of comics towards much-needed reform. These are the truths I am able to accrue from a quick background check on Perkins and a giddy survey of her latest work. When I get the chance to talk with her, however, I am surprised and struck by the uncanny physical resemblance between the young author and her adopted character. With (periodically) blonde hair, streamline brows, and a steady gaze, the writer has all the ready-made elements of all an effortlessly convincing Comic-Con disguise.

Perkins was discovered by series editor Eddie Berganza by sheer fate. Although a rookie to comic writing—her experience lies primarily in playwriting—she quickly recognized the great responsibility of her new creative power. To inherit the 56-year-old teen superhuman was to assume the background of the character, the established allies and nemeses, and the fervent following behind her. “You don’t want to do wrong by the fans, at all," Perkins tells me, shaking her head vigorously. "But you also want to make sure that you have something to say and that you say it well by writing well.”

In the predominantly patriarchal and heterosexual history of comics, Perkins' closing notes on Supergirl's current storyline will stand as signposts. Female comic creators are rare; less so now than even ten years ago, but still markedly outnumbered (for a rough estimate, just conduct an amateur poll of the cover credits at your local comic book store). As Perkins puts it, quite simply, "There are fewer female characters in comics; fewer female creators, female editors." And with a chilling nerdverse parallel during last year's Gamergate, this imbalance often leads to aggressive intolerance. In light of such events, Perkins nevertheless sees advancements ahead: "It’s a growing market and I think more and more women are reading comics every day. I really wanted to go into Supergirl creating a really great character, a really strong character, that regardless of your gender you would want to read."

Perkins and her co-writer fully fulfill this objective in their vision of Kara, penning a strong and self-aware female protagonist. "What I really wanted to do with Kara—and what I think I put in all of my characters, and I think this comes from me—is the acceptance of the self," Perkins describes. "Nothing is going to happen to you, to the character, unless he/she accepts his/her reality and who he/she is and goes forward from there. It’s really hard to get any good dramatic story from someone who doesn’t really take responsibility for who they are."

"Every time I thought about Kara and how she was going to react to things, what she was going to do: I’d think, 'She writes her own narrative.' She stops letting things happen to her when she started taking charge of her own life and I think that’s the kind of superhero that we need to see and I’m really glad that we were able to do that with Kara."

To a outpouring of criticism, critique, and applause, Perkins did more than just reiterate Supergirl's standing in the comic community: supported by DC, Berganza, and Johnson, she succeed in unveiling an unforeseen attribute of Kara's Crucible peer, Maxima, who now joins Batwoman as one of DC's two existing LGBT characters. "As an LGBT person, I really want more LGBT characters out there, especially in comics," she explains. "Putting more diverse characters on the page is something that I feel very passionate about," she continues. "Orchestrating that over the five issues was challenging because you only have a certain number of pages. As much as we could, we tried to drop hints so that the readers would necessarily be so surprised when it happened; but more like, ‘Oh, actually that makes a lot of sense, because I’ve seen it in issues beforehand.’ So it was an intricate process.”

With a few moments in particular (shown above and below), Perkins and Johnson laid the layered groundwork for Maxima's coming-out. In the first, Maxima voices her clear disapproval of resident flirt Comet's unsubtle advances on his female peers, "Please tell me your males aren't like that on Earth," she huffs as she drags Kara from the scene. In the second, training alone one night, Maxima describes with disgust her family's gendered expectation for her when she returns from school. "The only potential my family sees in me is my ability to bear children," she says, letting fly another dagger. 

While Supergirl's illustrated homecoming has since come to an end, her work is never done—as per her upcoming eponymous TV series, set to run on CBS later this year. For the multifaceted K. Perkins, the same is true. Her victory with Maxima and her continuance of Kara's narrative was influential; monumental, even. The writer's dispatches from Comic-Con reveal an influx of new female faces in every sector: "People are getting really behind female writers, female creators and the female superheros," says Perkins. "Women are owning this. The landscape is changing." Nevertheless, she simultaneously stresses the immediacy of it all, the changes she and many others want to see will not make themselves:

"We still have a lot of work to do, but it’s definitely changing."

For more of K. Perkins' work—plays, stories, and impending novels included—visit her website

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Tagged:
LGBT+
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Kara Zor-El
Mike Johnson
New 52
Perkins