After fifty-plus issues, "Birds of Prey," the DC Comics series starring female super heroes, is finally getting their first ongoing female writer, Gail Simone, with the June release of "Birds of Prey" #56. While fans of Simone may be most familiar with her well-honed talents for writing humor, as recently seen in the pages of Marvel's "Deadpool" and "Agent X," those same skills will be on display in the pages of "Birds of Prey" with an added sense of drama, as we follow the activities of Oracle and Black Canary in Gotham. Simone plans to stick to the formula as has been created, but will certainly turn things up a notch or two.
"'Birds of Prey' is the story of two friends; the brilliant Barbara Gordon, codename: Oracle, also the former Batgirl, and Dinah Lance, the dangerous and impulsive Black Canary," Simone told CBR News when asked to describe the series. "They work as a sort of covert team, attempting to right wrongs in an increasingly complicated world. Also, they become addicted to Italian food in our first arc, so that's obviously a grave danger to deal with."
From Simone's perspective the series has a number of great strengths, which she'll pull from to tell her stories.
"You've got two creative thinkers in the lead roles...they're funny, smart, determined and dangerous. I can't think of another book with quite the same dynamic. Plus, Chuck Dixon did a brilliant job setting up the premise. It's one of the most purely entertaining books on the market, and we genuinely hope to blow the doors off this year. [Series artist] Ed Benes would be a strength on any book, but here, he's downright amazing. His Gotham is scary and gorgeous, and his people are way too hot."
Simone is joined on the title by new series penciler Ed Benes and inker Alex Lei. Historically, Benes has been well known for drawing busty babes in "Gen13" and "Supergirl," but on "Birds of Prey" you'll be seeing an evolution in the approach to his work.
"There's no question that Ed has always drawn hot women, but he's made great leaps in his art in every way, and now we have hot people of both genders. He's got a growing fanbase from his incredible stuff on 'Supergirl,' and I think his 'Birds of Prey' work looks even better."
From the first issue Simone plans to shake things up dramatically by introducing a new villain, Savant, who was very briefly a hero in the DC Universe. The appearance of Savant will seriously impact the storyline for some time to come.
"We start with a new villain for the Birds, a guy who, in some ways, resembles both Oracle and Canary. He's a master combatant like Dinah, but he also collects information the same way Oracle does. The difference is, he uses his ill-gotten data to gain power. He's like Oracle's evil opposite, in that he hasn't got any empathy at all, so he has no compunction. But Oracle knows things he doesn't...
"They're going to be feeling the effects of meeting this guy for a good while, as Oracle is forced to take a second look at her methods."
As for specific plans for the title, Simone will be bringing in another popular female character from the DCU to take on their new antagonist.
"Due to events in this first arc, Oracle's going to be relying on a woman she doesn't like and barely trusts: The Huntress. Our pair becomes a trio for a while...whether it's permanent or not, I'm not telling. And Helena's role isn't going to quite be what anyone expects, we think!"
Simone also mentioned that the series will see some new faces and a couple of DC favorites in the first year, plus there may be another popular DC female dropping by, but she didn't want to spoil it yet by naming names.
"Oracle's just cleverer than everyone else," said Simone. "She sees much and remembers all, but is physically at a disadvantage. Canary is hugely physical...she keeps fighting when others would give up. But she's not the best at considering the implications of her actions. So really, their strengths are their partner's weaknesses. But Oracle's a better dresser."
The writer has been working hard on the series, having completed the first story-arc and Secret Files entries already, but it doesn't end there. She has a long-term story outline already in mind.
"The way I like to approach regular assignments is to start small, and slowly reveal more and more meaning to the events, like revealing layers of an onion. This new villain, Savant, is going to make the Birds re-look at their entire operation. "
Simone doesn't feel that just because "Birds of Prey" stars two female leads that the book necessarily has to be written by a female writer, but it does give her certain advantages over her male predecessors.
"Chuck [Dixon] did a brilliant job, and who is going to argue that Terry Moore and Gilbert Hernandez write fantastic female characters? At best, being female might give me a bit more license to show some aspects of the characters that male writers might get called on the carpet for. Wait, maybe that's a good angle!"
By having to follow the likes of Dixon, Moore and Hernandez on the title one might wonder if the new writer would be consumed with trying to differentiate her run from those who came before, but Simone revealed that's not at all how she approaches her writing.
"I never think in those terms, really," admitted Simone. "The goal is to just do the best work I can, without being too disrespectful to the previous creators or to the readers. I definitely want to keep the high-octane action content, because I think that the cinematic feel is one of the book's most entertaining aspects."
Simone's a voracious reader and pulls from her love of history to form the basis of her stories and characters.
"I read a lot of history books, and that's where many of my favorite ideas come from. The Black Swan in my 'Deadpool' run was based on King Ludwig II, the mad king of Bavaria. Currently, I'm reading a lot about data espionage, and that's where this story comes from. When you think of what Oracle's got that's more valuable than anything else, the answer is information. Oracle's the well from which secret data flows. That makes her a target. "
The profile of "Birds of Prey" was elevated dramatically this last fall with a live-action television show on the WB. Anticipation was high for the series and its debut was very big, setting new records for the fledgling network, but in subsequent weeks it's ratings plummeted and the reviews weren't pretty. Simone did watch the pilot, but ultimately her feelings echo those felt by fans as witnessed in message board discussions.
"To be honest, I don't get the WB where I live. A reader was nice enough to send the pilot, which I thought was promising, but thankfully, DC has never asked me to tie in with the show. It's a shame, because it's such a great premise. It would have been nice if it had been a hit, just because the comic has been such fun. Well, at least the show didn't have any Gungans."
"Birds of Prey" #56 is solicited in the most recent Previews and goes on sale June 18th. "Birds of Prey Secret Files 2003" hits stores June 25th.