“Birds of Prey” celebrated its 20th anniversary in style at Comic-Con International in San Diego, with current and past creators gathering with fans to discuss the team’s unique place in the DC Universe. For nearly an hour, they reminisced and looked forward, discussing the legacy, soul and future of the series.
Long-running “Birds of Prey” writer Gail Simone thanked both the series and her predecessors on the title for “giving me a career” and “making my dream come true.” She described it as the first series she worked on that “really seemed to be bringing new readers into the industry, the book that people could hand to someone who wasn’t used to reading comics and get them involved.”
Julie and Shawna Benson were similarly excited about their gig co-writing the current Rebirth incarnation of “Birds of Prey.” Both Bensons currently write for the CW “The 100,” so Shawna described their DC assignment as “our moonlighting vigilante job.”
“This is our first comic, but we have been reading them for a long time,” said Julie, “We are obsessed with the Gail Simone run, and the Chuck Dixon run… We have such big shoes to fill.”
“Now, more than ever, women are accepted not just as comics readers, but as writers and artists, and ‘Birds of Prey’ perfectly illustrates that message: that we are here to stay, we are not going anywhere,” said Shawna.
Moderator Jordan “Gorf” Gorfinkel, the editor who created the original concept for “Birds of Prey,” then asked Simone to speak to the “soul” of the series.”I was a huge fan of ‘Birds of Prey’ before I was ever asked to write it,” Simone replied, complimenting Dixon’s run with the characters. “Out of all the comic books on the stand, it felt like it was written for me.”
For her own run, she had specific goals in mind. “I really wanted to show that we could have a successful book that had three female lead characters that were friends,” she explained. “It was kind of a ‘buddy cop’ movie… Also, to prove that Black Canary was not just a love interest for [Oliver Queen/Green Arrow] to abuse constantly. Because, why would you have this sexy motorcycle momma whose scream can tear down buildings, and not make that the best thing that ever existed in life?
“I [was] sick and tired to death of Black Canary always being a hostage,” she continued. “I thought, ‘I’m going to do a story where everyone knows right away that she’s not going to be a hostage ever again after this.’ So, I start it out with her being a hostage,” she said, eliciting laughs from the audience.
“She’s tied to a bed with two broken legs, and as the story goes on, she breaks her own thumbs, kicks everyone’s ass even with two broken thumbs and two broken legs, and goes on to get herself trained to be the best martial artist in the DCU. Now, she will become a hostage again, because other writers will write her, but not if they’ve read that story. If you read that story, and keep that in mind, she could never be a hostage again.”
Barbara Gordon’s transformation into Oracle was similarly important. “I think that ‘The Killing Joke’ is a classic example of what I call a ‘women in refrigerators’ story,” said Simone. “The problem for me, personally, is not that something terrible happened to a female character. It’s that the story was no longer about her. So the genius of her becoming Oracle and figuring out how to fight crime and still be who she is, and just do it from a chair — I think it just tells us pretty much everything we need to know about the Barbara Gordon character.”
“Barbara Gordon as Oracle meant a lot to a lot of people, and still does. I still get email about how it inspired someone to do something different with their life, or get out of a situation they needed to.”
CBR Columnist and Lion Forge Senior Editor Joseph Phillip Illidge, who edited writer Chuck Dixon’s run on the series along with Gorfinkel, also addressed how the series had opened his eyes. “Being a young black man growing up, my biggest concern was cultural diversity. And when I got to edit this book, I realized I had to expand to gender diversity, and to representation of women. The thing that I loved most about the book, that I consider really unique, is that it was about a friendship between women.”
Gorfinkel discussed the genesis of the team. “I had watched ‘Die Hard,’ and I loved the relationship between John McClane and Sergeant Al,” he said. “They never met, but Sergeant Al gave him this moral boost by being his eyes and ears on the outside — the brains of the operation — while McClane was the brawn… I thought, let’s see what happens when we do this with superheroes.”
“Birds of Prey” was also important to the panel as a vehicle for female writers, not just female characters. Julie Benson said, “We [want to] try to hit this ball out of the park, so that DC and some of the guys there start to go, ‘Hey, ladies can write,’ and, ‘Let’s get some more ladies to write.'”
However, while the panel members all wanted to see more female writers, they didn’t want diversity efforts to limit underrepresented creators. The Bensons were concerned about stereotyping when DC first approached them to write the Rebirth series. “There was a certain self-knowledge of, ‘We’re probably going to be asked to write a book about women, because we are women'” said Shawna. “Which is totally fine: I love women, I am a woman. But at some point, they have to be able to look at you beyond that.”
Simone agreed. “I think most creators don’t want to be pigeonholed…[That] is why I took ‘Deadpool’ as my first mainstream comic, and why I turned down ‘Wonder Woman’ numerous times. Because I was very concerned about that exact thing, about being getting pigeonholed and only writing specific characters over and over and over again for the rest of my life.”
The panel also discussed changes to the characters over the years. For Gorfinkel, it was important to get rid of Black Canary’s fishnets when in the very first BoP story. “If they’re so great,” he asked, “then how come Dick Grayson didn’t wear them as Robin?”
Gail, on the other hand, brought the fishnets back. “At the time, fashion-wise, we were seeing them all over the street,” she explained. The Bensons “took the fishets and ran with it.” “We’re saying that they’re made out of this super-cool polymer, so they’re actually like armor.”
However, whether it was costume changes, diversity of representation, or just using helicopters without budget concerns, the panel members all valued “Birds of Prey” as an instrument for change and experimentation. “The point of comic books is to do its own thing, and hopefully be ahead of what’s going on in the other media,” Simone explained. “We want them to take their inspiration from us.”
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