In my review of Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow #1, I noted some similarities between the comic and Charles Portis’s 1969 novel True Grit, most recently adapted in 2010 by the Coen Brothers. Well, in talking about the particulars of the issue a bit more, my colleague Zach Rabiroff at ComicsXF was able to bring to light some more similarities between Tom King’s comic and Portis’ novel. Most notably, the narrative structure and tone of both the novel and the comic are eerily similar. The question though, is how much far can you go with an homage before it just becomes something more akin to plagiarism?
This article contains spoilers for Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow #1
I talked about the opening page in the review, so I’ll not rehash that here, other than to say that Mattie Ross, the main character and narrator of True Grit, has a voice so unique that I was immediately taken aback watching the film after having first read this comic. It’s a very clear choice King makes to mimic that exact narrative styling and cadence.
The next scene that came to mind for me was the hungover Kara scene. Kara’s in rough shape from the night of debauchery she’d had for her 21st birthday, and yeah, her accommodations are a bit nicer than Rooster Cogburn’s, but these two scenes play out awfully similar. It’s still a young girl seeking the aid of someone as they wallow in squalor, but it might be different enough to pass muster in a high school English class, who knows?
After Kara denies Ruthye the service she’s requesting, Ruthye refuses to take no for an answer and gives chase. This is similar, but not identical to when Mattie found out that Rooster had taken off after Tom Chaney without her. Much like Ruthye, she too gave chase. The similarities don’t end there though. Both Ruthye and Mattie pursue their preferred bounty hunter across a body of water. In True Grit, Mattie spurs her horse into the frigid waters of a winter river to catch up with Rooster. In the comic, Ruthye doesn’t have a horse, so she dives in after Kara’s boat and does the swimming herself. Is that enough of a difference to really matter? Maybe.
When Ruthye does catch up to Kara and Krypto, the scene plays out almost exactly like Mattie Ross’s first face-to-face encounter with Rooster Cogburn. Ruthye tells Kara her story. Kara tells the girl to go home. Ruthye again pleads her case, without hesitation or change in inflection. Compare this to Mattie’s solicitation of Cogburn. The difference here is that this is Kara’s second refusal and takes place after the chase, while it’s Rooster’s first refusal, and takes place before he heads out after Chaney. Different enough? Perhaps.
Finally, we have the climactic moment of the issue, coupled with the climactic moment of the novel and film. In True Grit, Rooster and Mattie stumble upon Chaney and “Lucky” Ned Pepper, and it results in Mattie getting captured and Rooster having a climactic showdown with Ned. Similarly, Kara and Ruthye are ambushed by Krem of the Yellow Hills and Bounty, the original man that Ruthye has asked for help. The differences here are a bit wider than the previous things I compared, but the similarities still exist. Both involve our hero getting severely wounded in a battle sequence. Rooster takes shotgun blasts while Kara is riddled with arrows. Rooster’s horse is mortally wounded while Kara’s dog is shot in the neck.
The key differences here are that True Grit has its fight scene at the very end of the story. It’s the triumphant moment of the story, despite the dire consequences for its lead and his animal. Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow, however, has this as the cliffhanger ending for one issue, and the heroes are down and out at the end. This is probably the most drastic of the differences in the scenes I’ve compiled here, but they’re still a little too close for me to ignore completely.
That said, it’s hard to see what else Tom King can pull from this story over the next seven issues. Maybe he’ll come up with something a bit more original? Who knows. All I know is that in this case, beautiful Bilquis Evely and Mat Lopes art isn’t enough to make me want to read more of what is almost a beat-for-beat retelling of a better story. King filed serial numbers down, but not off, and then scribbled over them with a Sharpie “SPACE FANTASY” and called it good.