Exclusive: 'The 100' writers Julie and Shawna Benson take their talent to the 'Birds of Prey'
Gotham can’t seem to go more than two minutes without spitting out a new supervillain to lay waste to the populace. Luckily, the city also has the propensity to churn out heroes both super and anti to help balance the scales. Sometimes those scales are literal. As in, attached to snakes. Which is what Batgirl and the Birds of Prey are up against in their debut issue.
When someone pretending to be Oracle starts selling their services to the highest Mafia bidder, Batgirl and Black Canary team up to clear Oracle’s good name. If that means they have to beat up mob goons, just another day at the office. But when a third-party appears in the form of Huntress, the job gets complicated. The Huntress is also after the Mafia, but she has her own reasons. And methods. Methods that usually end in death for those in her sights. But dead men tell no tales, and Babs and Dinah need those tales. Can the ladies join forces to get to the bottom of BOTH their mysteries?
HitFix Harpy spoke to Batgirl and the Birds of Prey writers (and sisters!) Julie and Shawna Benson about their inaugural foray into the world of comics. But with a background writing for television shows such as The 100 and Emma Approved, this isn’t exactly their first rodeo.
Image Credit: DC Comics
HITFIX HARPY: Have either of you written comic books for DC or in any capacity before getting Batgirl and the Birds of Prey?
JULIE BENSON: No, this is our first one. It's really exciting. We are long time readers. (radio voice) Long time listeners, first-time callers.
How familiar were you guys with Batgirl or Huntress or Dinah before you came on board for this series?
JULIE: Really, really familiar. We had read the Gail Simone run, obviously. We had read the Chuck Dixon run. We had read The New 52. We were up to date on the Birds. Luckily, we were recently reading the Grayson comic that had Huntress in it. We were reading the Batgirl run. It was great to have those team-ups and then go in and pitch the next arc.
SHAWNA BENSON: I was also familiar with the old show from the early 2000s, The Birds of Prey.
JULIE: RIP, TV show.
Maybe you guys could get the show going again since you are already TV writers.
JULIE: That’s what I’m saying, let's do it. (laughter)
SHAWNA: We would love the opportunity to do that.
Yes, you guys should be writing all these issues as if one day you're going to get to translate them onto the small screen. We'll get The CW on the line. (laughter)
JULIE: That would be great to use these as a template. Wouldn't that be amazing?
Image Credit: DC Comics
It would! After the reading the first issue, you guys definitely have the villains down. You both created new bad guys that we are seeing in this issue, yes?
JULIE: Yes. You are absolutely correct. It's a new villain. We've been trying to not use pronouns for the last three or four months talking about it. To me, you hear a ‘gangster’ and you automatically think a dude in a fedora. It was cool to sort of flip that a little bit at the end of the first issue, to show it was a woman who's actually your big bad in this arc, which is really cool. She’s hired these guys and gals to help her out. More of that happens obviously, but you at least see The Asp in this one, which is pretty cool.
SHAWNA: Yes. The Asp is also entirely new. And, of course, the question is who is Oracle? That is still a big bad to come in a way. We are still in the pursuit of Oracle.
I like that he calls himself Asp because it's one letter away from calling him an ass. I really hope that joke shows up at some point (laughter).
SHAWNA: We don't want to be perceived as the twelve-year-old boy writing this thing, but at some point, I think there's going to have to be a giggle, snicker.
JULIE: Come on! Look at all the dick jokes in Nightwing.
Was it your decision to tell it from Black Canary's perspective? How did Dinah become the narrative voice for the first issue?
JULIE: Rebirth was so primarily focused on Barbara, we thought now let's jump ahead. Let's get Dinah's point of view of what's going on with Barbara, how she fits into this story. Give a little bit more background on her and how she worked with Barbara on the Birds of Prey originally. We're going to keep with that theme, obviously. Everyone is going to get their own backstory, their own flashbacks, and their own narration style through the first few books, which is really fun.
SHAWNA: And of course, with Dinah having originally formed the Birds of Prey with Barbara as Oracle, it felt like ... It's sort of an acknowledgment of "Hey, she's not second fiddle." It's about the entire team. Batgirl is very popular with her single title. I think putting Batgirl in the title makes sense in terms of allowing people who aren't as familiar with the Birds of Prey to grab onto something and say, "Oh, I love that character. I want to see that character." Then, opening them up to the world. Being able to sort of say, "Hey. Black Canary is really important to the Birds of Prey, and it's important to see her side of things." I think we wanted to get that established early.
JULIE: We felt some of the criticisms if there were any for the Rebirth, were that fans were saying, "Oh, I wish there was more Black Canary", or "I wish there was more Huntress." And we were like, "Yes, us too!” (laughter)
Image Credit: DC Comics
Before Rebirth, Black Canary had her own comic. She's also involved with Green Arrow, which has come back into the forefront in Rebirth. Black Canary is showing up at so many places. Is that a bit of a juggle for you guys, to be like what is she doing over here? Will her people from her band be showing up? All of the different parts of her life?
JULIE: Yes! It is tricky. Continuity wise, we haven't had to worry too much about interference. I'm not sure how the continuity is working with Green Arrow. I think they might be a little ahead of us in our own mental canons. Would we ever see Green Arrow in Birds of Prey? Hopefully.
SHAWNA: As we write, we keep in mind that Barbara came off of this trip in Asia that Hope is writing in the Batgirl title. She came back to Gotham, and she utilized some of her new skill sets to get better, stronger, faster. During that time that she was away, perhaps Dinah spent some time with Oliver.
If Dinah was spending time with Green Arrow, what about Huntress? I would really love to see Grayson show up. That would be really awkward and funny for me.
JULIE: Oh, yes! We are fans of that idea as well.
SHAWNA: Yes. We definitely have to if there's any chance of borrowing certain characters for future stories. (laughter)
Having three main characters that are women, and perhaps more coming down the pipe if the implications play out ... There are a lot of women on The 100. Do you feel that the narrative tide is shifting? That there are more female characters to play with, that everyone can have their own personality instead of one woman having to stand in for every woman ever?
JULIE: I think so. Look, guys have had the advantage forever of being able to show different facets of personalities with male characters. Unfortunately, for a very long time, female characters were sort of put into very defined boxes. If they were outside of those boxes, they didn't really get stories. Now, we have the advantage that more women with voices are being heard. Because women are interested in hearing those voices, those titles are selling. It sort of now perpetuates the cycle where people are willing to put more money behind stories to be told about various types of women. It's great.
When we look at Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, it's like, we don't have to have these women all be the same. It would be really boring if they all agreed with each other and saw things exactly the same way and fought the same way and did everything in concert. The point of stories like this is to be able to have the same dynamics that real characters have with each other.
SHAWNA: And also to show that they are stronger together. That, as a team, they are ... I wouldn't say unstoppable, but they're pretty strong. It's very difficult to stop them. Whereas individually, they would be successful, but not as successful.
Image Credit: DC Comics
It's very…refreshing is maybe is the right word, to see a team of women and it's not all kumbaya, everybody's getting along. They're having differences that don't devolve into stereotypical ‘she stole my lipstick’ catfight nonsense.
JULIE: (laughter) Oh my God. You're so on our brainwave. That is exactly one of the things we talked about with our editors. They were on board, too, that we just didn't want bitchy cat fights. We didn't want "we're fighting over the same guy" kind of storylines. We really just wanted them to have their own perspectives and respect each other's differences. As much as they might collide into what their angles may be, there's still respecting the hell out of each other's abilities. They're all so awesome.
SHAWNA: We're lucky that in at least this title, Chuck Dixon and Gail Simone and others who have written it, have always subscribed to that mindset. It's never really felt like it's about petty issues. That these women are different and have different points of view. We just get to continue the tradition that's already been established. We're just really lucky to have that.
Are you guys nervous at all? This is quite the debut to do your very first comic ever. It's got some of the most iconic ladies of DC. Are you excited? Are you nervous? How are you all feeling?
JULIE: All of the above. Comic-Con was like our quinceanera, our coming out party. Now it's, "Boy, I hope everyone really likes the story." The Rebirth one-shot was pretty expository. We had to do a lot of resetting. We had to explain who the characters were. We gave a little piece of our story in there. But this is sort of really the make or break for us. Are people going to stay on board, and do they like where we're heading with the characters in the story? Can we keep everybody on board and get excited about it just like we are?
SHAWNA: Yes. I think it's a different level of nervousness now. It's sort of like, "Okay. We came out pretty strong. Can we hold that?" Hopefully, we can. Hopefully, people will at least stick around for a while to see how the story develops.
Image Credit: DC Comics
Batgirl and the Birds of Prey #1 is on sale now, wherever comics are sold!