It's been three years since DC writer Gail Simone ended her epic 50+ issue run on "Birds of Prey," an experience that she once called "physically painful," but we've got big news today that we hope will stop the pain: Simone will be heading back to "Birds of Prey" in 2010.
While DC Comics typically thrives on the strength of its universally-recognized icons, Simone used her previous run on "Birds of Prey" to take marginal, perhaps even marginalized characters, and transform their exploits into the most compelling ensemble book in DC's stable -- with an all-ladies roster, no less.
Now, as Simone prepares to return to the comic she made famous, we caught up with her to get the scoop on her "Birds of Prey" plans, her reunion with once and future "BoP" artist Ed Benes, and her thoughts on ladies in comics.
Your previous assignment to this book lasted over four years. Comics' readers obviously appreciate long, healthy runs on titles, and you'd unarguably notched one of those with this book. Given that success, is there any trepidation or pressure as you return to the characters you left behind?
It's odd, I know there should be, yes, absolutely. Conceptually, I get it, that it can be tough going back. But sometimes the fit is just right... Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a lot of interesting books, but his Sherlock was never really in doubt. I didn't create any of the key birds, and I didn't create the scenario (that was Chuck Dixon and Jordan Gorfinkle), but there's no question that I personally felt very connected to the book, those characters are hugely important to me.
So the answer really is no. Taking a book with no risk is never any fun for me, anyway. If the readers hate it, that would be sad. But I am really excited and I missed those characters terribly. I miss almost every book I've ever written, but the Birds have a special place in my heart and brain.
Another thing is, I heard over and over and over while writing it that "Birds of Prey" was the
DCU gateway drug. It was the book that a thousand girlfriends and wives and daughters insisted get picked up, the first book they followed on their own. I've always been really proud of that, and I think the book being gone left a real hole in the superhero genre that other female-led books don't really fill, somehow.
Finally, I think we have some really surprising stuff coming up...even if you've read every previous Bop issue multiple times, I think you're going to really feel the ground shift a little with this. It's going to be a blast. It's Black Canary putting her boot in bad guys' faces and the Huntress taking no *&^% from anyone and Oracle being smarter than anyone else in Gotham. That's what I loved about the book in the first place.
Do you foresee yourself sticking on this book for a period comparable to your last run? Structurally, are you planning long-term?
I don't plan to let go this time. I left the book in good hands with some very talented people and they did swell work and all, but I'll personally bite anyone who tries to take this book in the face.
Do you see this new run continuing the macro-arcs of your previous work, or is this a new beginning? What is the new challenge of this book for you?
It's classic "Birds of Prey" but maybe just a little tougher and a little naughtier. I've been given some really surprising approvals and I think long-time readers and newbies will find it quite unlike any other comic on the stands. I've always said the secret of the book is that it's a female buddy cop story, basically, and that is a surprisingly rare thing in all media.
During your previous run, "BoP" really excelled as an ensemble book, and even something of a character showcase. Are there plans to bring new characters into the fold?
A couple. I have loved these two characters for ages and this is my chance to finally write them how I have always wanted to see them. It's gonna be hot. The whole Brightest Day
thing is one of my favorite DC projects in a while and it's exciting to be part of that in a small way. It just suits my sensibilities all around.
"Birds of Prey" is perhaps the most prominent all-ladies team in mainstream comics, and you'd talked recently on Twitter about the thematic prevalence of the "broken" female hero, and how that's become a crutch for more complex characterization. What advice would you give to writers who would like to take a more well-rounded approach to female characters?
This is the thing about BoP, is that it simply doesn't fit in with the 'drab and dreary' style of female characterization that has unfortunately become today's great comics cliché, and a real drudgery to read. It's a book that gets very dark and very bloody, but at the core, you have Black Canary, one of the most hopeful characters in comics. To me, if you write the Canary without hope, you are getting her wrong. And Oracle and Huntress can't help but be swept along by that.
I think the advice I would give new writers regarding female characters is to simply quit worrying about some perceived backlash. Don't try to make each female some perfect avatar. Female readers want characters they can root for and believe in just like male readers do. Quit fussing about it and write characters. If the internet is making you fearful, then quit reading the internet. Write female characters that are dashing and cowardly, smart and foolish, beautiful and hideous, independent and clinging. Write them, not better or different, but simply as humans.
Readers of both genders will thank you.
There's also been a lot of discussion recently about the gender gap amongst mainstream comic book creators, something that the comics community is clearly still struggling to address. As one of the most prominent female creators in genre, do you think there are concrete changes that need to be made to make the medium more accessible, or do you think it already is? Does the emphasis on the lack of female creators trivialize the work done by you and others, or is it an important disparity to focus on?
I don't think any lasting improvement will occur by plan. It's going to have to be organic, by which I mean, female creators will have to come through the ranks who are as driven and talented as their male counterparts. Because the time to blame the audience is past. If you go to a convention, the signing lines for Amanda Conner and Jill Thompson and Nicola Scott are huge. That is what trumps both tokenism and gender bias, when the proof is right in front of you.
I firmly believe the audience is way ahead of us on this. They don't care that Jim Lee is Asian American. They don't care that Dwayne McDuffie is African American. They don't care that the writer of "Secret Six" is female, they just want to read about Catman and see what insane thing Ragdoll will say.
I feel the breakthrough is coming. I thought 2009 might be the year but it could well be that 2010 is the year when suddenly a woman is writing Spider-man and another is writing Batman and another is the new Alan Moore, and no one cares that these people are female, because the work is the selling point.
You're going to be reuniting with Ed Benes for the new Birds of Prey series, an artist that you collaborated with early on in your tenure on the book. Do you see yourselves slipping back into the exact same rhythms, or have have either of you changed significantly as creators since you worked together last?
I'm excited as hell about this. All due respect to "JLA," I think Ed's most amazing work, his best dramatic work in particular, was in "Birds of Prey." Ed doesn't even speak English and I almost never have an artist who gets what the scene needs the way Ed does. Yes, he draws phenomenally hot women (and I think his guys are even hotter -- no one ever quite got Savant and Creote the way Ed did), but he also does lovely, subtle acting, and tremendous facial expressions and body language. I think he brings a very fiery European influence that is a wonderful remedy to some of the tired vaguely manga and video game-esque influences we've seen lately. He's amazing. I honestly, truly, never thought this could happen, reuniting with Ed on my favorite title ever.
It's a pretty great Christmas present to me.
Is there any chance of "Birds of Prey"/"Secret Six" crossover, perhaps?
No. No, Never. No. Yes.
Any last teases for what "Birds of Prey" fan can look forward to?
Someone wants the band back together, and it's NOT the Birds. Zinda gets a date. A long-promised headquarters is built. Black Canary kicks ass. Huntress thinks a certain big league bat villain should be left to die. A bird is charged with murder. Another might be working for the other side. And Catman leaves a naughty phone message for the wrong person.
Everything's right because it's so, so wrong.
I love this book.