You'll All Be Sorry To Miss It: Gail Simone's 'Birds of Prey'

Fri, December 26th, 2003 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Arune Singh, Staff Writer

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[Birds of Prey #65]CBR News has news for you: Gail Simone is the fourth members of DC Comics' "Birds of Prey" team of lethal females.

Seriously. And yes, all parties realize "BoP," as it is affectionately called, is a fictional series of tales.

Gail Simone is one of the industry's most widely recognized female talents, having written multiple series for Marvel Comics, being signed to an exclusive contract with DC Comics, re-introducing the classic Rose & Thorn character(s?) and even working on "JLA" with legendary artist Jose Garcia-Lopez. She's kicking butt and taking names. How can she not be as tough as Black Canary?

Humor aside, sometimes CBR columnist and popular writer Gail Simone took some time to talk to CBR News about "Birds of Prey" and introduce any new readers to the basic concepts of the series.

"They need to know that the Birds could kick all three of Charlie's Angels' asses and still beat up Jennifer Garner without breaking a sweat," says Simone of what new readers should know of the series.

"'Birds of Prey' is an espionage/action series with lots of humor, featuring Oracle (the former Batgirl), Clack Canary, and the Huntress. They fight the battles the Justice League can't touch. They're smart, funny, sexy and dangerous. The perfect team.

"It's easy to look at them and think, 'Oracle's the smart one, and Canary and Huntress are more physical,' but in these first arcs, we'll definitely see Canary and Huntress using their brains, and Oracle will again show that she ain't the least bit helpless."

If you visit Simone's CBR Message Board, you're likely to see her continual reiteration of the fact that she loves working on "Birds of Prey" and that DC will have to pry the series from her cold, dead fingers to make her leave. And even then, she'd try to return from the afterlife to write the series. However, some would say that she enjoys working on the series because she's female and the leads are "tough" females- but if you're thinking that, you're wrong. "It's not about gender--I loved writing 'Agent X,' as well --it's just the opportunity to write flawed characters. Each Bird has some unique problem they're dealing with, and trying to overcome. That's fantastically heroic, much more so than stopping jewel thieves. What's so appealing is that they've formed an unlikely friendship. Lots of comics are ostensibly about family, or partnership, but the underlying glue is Canary's friendship with both Oracle, and then with Huntress.

"It's rare to get a book with the kind of action and humor and emotion that 'BoP' has, so yeah, I plan to hang on with my fingernails 'til they drag me out screaming."

[Birds of Prey: Of Like Minds TPB]Speaking of gender, quite possibly one of the most common- and in some ways tedious- questions that Simone is asked is "what's it like to be a female writer?" So CBR News decided to ask, "what's it like to be asked what's it like to be a female writer?" "It's just novelty," smiles the writer. "I don't take offense. But I think it's getting less novel all the time, which is good news. Everyone should be judged by the work they produce, I feel, which is a great thing about sales-driven industries. They're a de facto meritocracy. If Brian Bendis were female, I'm certain he'd still sell as well as he does."

Now picture Brian Bendis with hair, breasts and a feminine pose.

Back to the interview.

The first Simone story arc in "Birds of Prey," began with the introduction of a new villain Savant and the exploration of the concepts of trust and responsibility, something more weighty than fans have usually seen in the pages of "BoP." "Every writer who cares about the work has to face the reality of the characters' actions and behavior," explains the frequent "Simpsons Comics" writer. "If, for example, Batman is behaving in a fascist manner, you can only shy away from that for so long and still be truthful in your story. With Oracle, her power all stems from the intrusion into other people's private lives, and Black Canary is capable of killing a man with two fingers of her right hand, if she so chooses. Those are big responsibilities for anyone with a conscience, and that makes for great stories. Dinah has to balance her kind heart against her feelings that evil deserves punishment, and Oracle has to tread the line between what's merely good detective work and what's a complete abuse of power."

But when you dissect the characters that way- albeit with lots of fun action sequences to boot- you've raised the bar for a comic and there's a lot of pressure to follow up with something "bigger." "Ah, this is the key. Everything so far was leading to issue #61, where we set the stage for what the book will be like from now on. So #62 is designed as the perfect jumping-on spot. The book has been selling out almost every issue, and sales are continuing to rise, but some folks didn't know when to hop on. It's this issue, #62, the start of a new arc that's full of great surprises.

"Canary travels to Hong Kong to see her former sensei, and there, she meets Lady Shiva, the world's deadliest assassin. Do I need to say that surprises ensue? At the same time, Oracle's normally impeccable intel is suddenly suspect, for reasons she can't possibly guess. This arc is full of action, twists and fun. It's just been a blast to write. Not to mention, one special flashback issue of this arc will have art by…I can hardly believe it myself, Michael Golden, with a cover by Alex Toth.

"My editor, Lysa Hawkins, is a genius. All of that was her doing, and I'm absolutely thrilled. Shiva, Cheshire, and lots of surprise guests…what more can I say? Get this arc, dammit!"

The newest addition to the "Birds of Prey" team, besides Simone and artist Ed Benes, is the Huntress, who appeared on the quickly cancelled "Birds of Prey" television show, but only played small parts in the comic thus far. Simone really likes the character and while her new Jim Lee designed costume raised some eyebrows, Simone didn't mind it all that much. "Her new costume isn't my favorite, but I didn't loathe it, like some did. In any case, look for her to return to her classic outfit shortly. It's great to have Huntress in the mix, because it changes the dynamic drastically and unpredictably. She's not a psychotic, as she's sometimes portrayed. She's got a conscience. She just has a different set of values."

Like her comrades in arms, Huntress is often dismissed as a female stereotype- she's the tough one to Barbara Gordon, who is the smart one. "Let's be honest, here," says Simone. "For many years, most female characters sucked, barring a few DC names and some X-chicks. There was a perception that only boys read comics, and boys didn't want to read about stinky girls. I'm not so concerned about the past, because I don't think women have ever had the variety of female characters to choose from that they have now."

[Birds of Prey #62]Does that mean the male characters are any better defined? "Well, probably, but as I say, I'm happy to see improvement in the characterization of both genders."

As mentioned previously, Ed Benes, of "Supergirl" fame, is the new artist on "Birds of Prey" and the story of his courting by DC is fairly straightforward. "Lysa picked him," admits Simone. "Then I saw his pages for #56 and said, 'Let's keep this guy!' Honestly, he gets better every issue."

What isn't so straightforward is the Internet fandom feedback regarding his work- it's been called everything from sensual to slutty and Simone is happy to comment on her perceptions of his work. "Ed's from Brazil, and they do have different attitudes about sex there, to some degree. There isn't the stigma on glamour art that we have here. I'm not discounting the opinions of those who felt that way about Ed. They're certainly entitled, and in some panels, they had cause. But I do feel that there was a lot of pre-judging based on Ed's previous books, which had a higher skin content, apparently. Whole issues were condemned out of hand based on a few panels they deemed egregious.

"If you look at what Ed's doing now, he does spectacular action scenes, lovely backgrounds, great facial acting, and really good body language. On top of that, he shows the characters as smart and sexy, with a wide range of emotion. These are not talents to be taken lightly, and I know I can give Ed a script with a lot of heart, and he'll bring it out every time. Ed's very respected by other artists, as well. He's always had lots of fans, I hasten to add, and even some harsh critiques have come around to appreciate the hard work he's putting in on the storytelling in the book. I frankly feel very lucky to have him. I think a huge share of the book's buzz is directly because of his enthusiasm and commitment."

If you ever want to talk to Simone- or "Gail" as she's affectionately known online- she's always available and few creators, besides Geoff Johns, Andy Diggle or Brian Bendis, can claim to have such a high level of fan interaction. "Well, first, I think it's a matter of simple courtesy to be polite to someone who is paying your wages. But beyond that, I really enjoy hearing what the readers think. Not just on 'BoP,' but all comics, and other topics as well. It's not a chore, it's something I enjoy. The readers are the ones who made 'BoP' a hit. They're the ones who spread the word, clearly. You can never have too many friends."

Simone's learning she has friends everywhere, as "BoP" has been increasing steadily in sales and receiving it's highest acclaim ever in it's five years of existence. "Sometimes it's a bit overwhelming," admits the writer. "I think we were really just trying to make a comic we ourselves would enjoy, and it's unbelievable the way people have responded. By sales percentage over the last six months, 'BoP' is DC's most improved book by a good margin. That's really amazing. Support has been nearly universal from online critics, retailers, Wizard magazine, and even long-time hardcore 'BoP' readers. You couldn't ask for better.

"But the comment I most love to hear is that a reader gave the book along to someone who is not a regular comics reader. We get a lot of that. We also get a lot of Marvel readers who don't otherwise buy many DC books. Those are things a writer never gets tired of hearing."

DC's shown it's support for the series by issuing a trade paperback of the initial arc for a February release, an almost unprecedented quick turn around for DC, and it's something Simone doesn't take for granted. "I can't say enough about DC, and how they support 'BoP.' I've spoken with Dan DiDio several times, and he's very aware of the book and has had several great ideas for promoting it even further. Here's one, for example, and this is another bit of exclusive news: Coming in mid-2004, 'BoP' is going bi-weekly for several issues, with a huge story featuring our regular team, PLUS a much-loved and under-utilized DC heroine. This story is kicking much buttock, I promise!

"I'm very glad about the TPB. There was a definite downside to the fast sell-outs, which was of course that some people who wanted to jump on board couldn't. DC's faith in the book, as shown by the fast release of the tpb, is wonderful. My advice is, if you haven't picked up the book yet, start with this month's issue, #62, and then pick up the 'Of Like Minds' TPB when it comes out in February.

"And did I mention that Greg Land and Mark Texiera will be alternating on 'BoP' covers from now on?

"I honestly believe that the coming year will be the biggest year ever for 'Birds of Prey.' We've really just begun."

 
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