I can’t imagine Supergirl is an easy character to write, especially this version of Supergirl. The original pre-Crisis Kara Zor-El was pretty bland, and Peter David’s Linda Danvers veered into New Age-y territory way too often. I enjoyed Matrix Supergirl, who was more alien than Superman (a displaced protoplasmic shapeshifter from a dead “pocket universe”) but was clearly too bizarre to gain a lasting audience.
The biggest problem facing the new Kara Zor-El, who’s sort of the original Kara Zor-El but not really, is that she occasionally suffers from Generic Warrior Syndrome: focused, determined, altruistic, and super, super boring. To be fair, even Batman succumbs to this every once in a while, but Batman’s a human being. Supergirl is a female version of Superman, one of the most powerful beings in the DCU. How many problems could she really have? Identity issues, dead-then-alive-then-dead-again parents, choosing a guild (!), writers have tried to add conflict and drama to Supergirl’s life with varying degrees of success.
Writer Kelley Puckett wrote a story in which Supergirl decides to save a little boy named Thomas from cancer, and instead of having Kara reach the inevitable, heartbreaking conclusion that heat vision is no match for a terminal disease, he had her come to this realization in the most balls-out insane way possible: by transporting her 400 years in the future and having a soldier tell her that her attempts to save the kid will lead to the destruction of the human race.
“The Girl of Tomorrow” opens with this soldier arriving in the boy’s hospital room, freezing time, and attempting to assassinate Supergirl right then and there. At this point the awesomeness kicks into full gear – despite being frozen, Superman still manages to use his heat vision to stop the killer. Puckett and artists Rick Leonardi and Dan Green make this incident both creepy and cool:
His plan foiled, the soldier transports back to the future, with Supergirl in tow. Upon his return, his fellow soldiers immediately open fire on him, but Supergirl intervenes and pulls him to safety. Note this character beat:
…and note Supergirl’s quick survey of Earth 400 years from now:
Stories about the future rarely venture beyond the premise of costume changes, in-jokes, and “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” scenarios; Puckett’s already introduced a whopper of a mystery (who is this guy and why is he trying to kill her?) with a smaller, more subtle mystery (who was the woman and why was she upset?) and two random badass intrigues (that dome! that pillar of fire!) that exist simply to add to Supergirl’s confusion.
She also gets a glimpse at how her and Clark’s stories would play out:
Try to remember that the machinations of this plot are merely an excuse to get Kara to realize that saving the kid from cancer is a fruitless endeavour, and instead of having her break down in tears beside his hospital bed, Puckett throws her several centuries into the future and has an assassin demand she quit for the good of the world (his detailed motive ties in nicely to the story’s central theme.) Puckett sort of reinvents the wheel to avoid taking the easy route with Thomas’s cancer drama and he does a spectacular job.
There’s yet another mystery introduced at the end:
Batman! And he’s a robot (quite possibly)! And there’s several of him!
Tales set in possible futures can be semi-irritating solely for the fact that they’re the equivalent of it-was-all-a-dream stories; there’s no consequence for anything that happens and, more likely than not, it’s a future readers will never visit again. The pillar of fire and the giant glass dome indicate that not only is Puckett aware of this, but he’s willing to take it to ridiculous extremes (or ridiculously awesome extremes, in this case.)
What makes “The Girl of Tomorrow” stand out is the little details: the reasoning behind the female assassin’s tear, a giant statue of Kara looming over a tiny monument to Clark, the would-be killer’s explanation for his hesitation, Kara being called “Superwoman,” and Batman’s characteristic smarm when he says his final line. It’s a futuristic tale that functions as more than just an action setpiece (see: Titans of Tomorrow) and it provides a number of compelling mysteries in addition to a ton of stuff that’s just plain cool to look at and consider. It’s unfortunate Puckett couldn’t have spent four (or eight or twelve) issues exploring this world instead of one.