Though “Justice League debuted last week, this week marks the beginning of DC Comics’ full New 52 push, a busy time for both the comic book publisher and for writer Gail Simone. The ex-“Birds Of Prey” and “Secret Six” scribe is penning two new books set in the relaunched DCU: “Batgirl,” which sees a non-disabled Barbara Gordon patrolling the streets of Gotham, and “The Fury Of The Firestorm,” which marks the continuing adventures of nuclear-powered teens Ronnie Raymond and Jason Rusch.
While there has been a storm of controversy around the announcement that Barbara Gordon will no longer be wheelchair-confined, Simone and DC have stated that the events of “The Killing Joke” still happened and that “Batgirl” follows Babs after she has healed from being shot by the Joker, fighting crime by night while dealing with post-college life by day.
For her second series, Simone is teaming up with writer Ethan Van Sciver for “Firestorm,” which will focus on the Ronnie and Jason as they face a world which fears the Firestorm matrix as well as a mysterious international special forces team that has some nuclear secrets of their own.
Joined by former “Birds Of Prey” artist Ardian Syaf on “Batgirl” and artist Yildiray Ã‡inar on “Firestorm,” CBR spoke with Simone about both series, touching on the difference between Batgirl and Oracle, the reasoning behind splitting up the Firestorm power into two people and her own hesitations when it came to the company-wide relaunch.
CBR News: Let’s start with “Batgirl.” Since you’ve written Babs as Oracle for so many years, how do you approach writing her under the cowl? Is Barbara Gordon Batgirl a fundamentally different person than Barbara Gordon Oracle?
Gail Simone: It’s a bit of a conflict between two overriding personal themes I have as a writer in a shared universe, actually. First, I prefer not to negate — I don’t like to say, “This story never happened,” even if it’s a story I loathe. I would prefer to build on what came in the past, and turning back the clock somewhat is definitely the opposite of that.
But on the heroic idea, I have a contrasting belief that these characters have survived for a reason, which is that something in them is truthful and resonating. There’s a reason why Spider-Man is still the best Spider-Man-esque character and a million imitators don’t quite match him. And because the core is so solid, so made of stone, you can pull the characters, you can paint them, you can re-decorate and play dress up and accessorize, you can change the background, and the core remains. I was speaking with Phil Jimenez about this yesterday, and we both feel that the characters have facets — that there’s a core ideal, and it’s our job to explore the sides that are exposed at any given time.
I’m enjoying writing Batgirl at this stage in her life. She’s younger, she doesn’t know everything, she’s been immersed in school and her life-plan. Events conspire to change that plan, and she’s nervous about that. I love writing Barbara under pretty much any conditions, but this really is a key time for her.
Batgirl has been a hero whose villains have pretty much been either Batman villains or incredibly similar to Batman villains. Are you planning to create a brand new group of rogues for Babs to fight, tailored to her, specifically, as Batgirl?
Absolutely. It’s a good several issues before we see a familiar face on a villain. She’s got two killer villains right up front, Mirror and Gretel, both of whom have a different resonance with what she is going through.
Along those lines, how involved will the Bat-family be with Babs? Will we see Dick Grayson and Bruce swooping in, or are you trying to set this up as Batgirl on her own, doing her own solo adventures?
Nightwing plays a big role in issue three, Batman in issue four. These are Batgirl adventures, but it’s just too much fun not to see those two react to her sudden re-appearance.
Tonally, are you aiming to make your “Batgirl” feel like the classic Silver Age “Batgirl?”
No, I think that pastiche and homage are fine, that’s not really what we’re aiming for. Some of that stuff looks very incongruous, for better or worse, against the current Gotham City vistas. It’s a modern story.
Ardian Syaf, who worked with you on “Birds Of Prey,” is rejoining you as the artist on “Batgirl.” Have the two of you had a lot of conversations about redesigning the way Babs looks and moves heading into the new series?
It’s a very interesting thing, the DC art stable is so hugely diverse now, many of the best artists I’ve worked with are not here in the States and may not speak English. I met Ardian at a convention in Singapore, and he expressed real regret that we hadn’t had a longer teaming on “Birds of Prey.”
I’m a fan — I’m a comic book fan. I am by no means an artist or even a student of art. I can only say when an artist excites me as a reader and storyteller myself, and Ardian’s drawing an incredibly beautiful Batgirl. She’s powerful and vulnerable, dignified and gorgeous — she’s amazing.
I asked for him to consider Batgirl as someone with extensive and brutal ballet training — we wanted her to move unlike the gymnasts and brawlers of the DCU. She’s got grace. He’s drawing that perfectly.
It’s one of the most beautiful books I’ve worked on. There’s a sequence in issue two that is very moving, and it’s purely Ardian’s doing.
Barbara’s treatment in “Killing Joke” was one of the many examples you famously used to define the Women In Refrigerators problem in comics back in the ’90s. What does it feel like to be the woman now putting Barbara back under the cowl?
Odd. For a lot of reasons.
First, I’m not a fan of the portrayal, or rather non-portrayal, of Barbara in that book. It’s a classic for a reason, but she is reduced to a prop, in my opinion.
That said, I don’t like to negate. It wasn’t my intention to undo “Killing Joke.” That wasn’t really in my mind, and the decision that the story is canon was made before I came aboard.
That said, it does allow us to talk about an important theme that Barbara represents, which is survival. She survived the shooting, and thrived. In some ways, being out of the chair is more difficult for her, right now. We don’t hide from it, Barbara asks herself some very tough questions. But she survives, and that is a big part of what I think inspires people about her.
And her stories are thrilling, which is delightful.
Turning to “The Fury Of The Firestorms,” during Comic-Con International, you mentioned that you initially turned DC’s offer to write “Firestorm” down before finally agreeing to take the book on. What was your initial hesitation, and what finally changed your mind?
I turned it down like nine times, in fact. It’s not that I don’t like Firestorm, I really do. I love his look, I love the various versions of him. It’s just that I wasn’t sure I had much to add. I love a challenge, but to do a book with any kind of voice at all — you have to look at it and see if you know what the soul of the book is. You have to find what the Rosetta Stone is. I wasn’t sure I knew that with Firestorm. John Ostrander did, Gerry Conway did, Stuart Moore and Dan Jolley all did; I wasn’t sure that I did.
But my friend Ethan Van Sciver was hot for this idea. He really had something huge up his sleeve and he asked me several times. Finally, he explained the germs of his idea and it was just gorgeous, this huge, game-changing thing for the DCU. I just became enthralled. We spent four hours throwing ideas back and forth. It was like a fever, almost.
When we put the presentation together for DC, the head guys flipped for it. They said they hadn’t read a pitch that entertaining in ages, so we felt we were on the right track!
To your mind, what does your creative team, co-writer Ethan Van Sciver and series artist Yildiray Ã‡inar, bring to the Firestorm table?
One of the funnest aspects of this book is that there are dozens of new characters, literally. It’s almost like the Green Lantern Corps in the amount of characters who will show up, and we have at different times, Jim Lee, Ethan Van Sciver and Yildiray Cinar all designing them, sometimes different ideas for the same character. That’s a ridiculous position to be in, to tell Jim Lee, no, sorry, I like Yildiray’s idea a little better, or to have to choose between Ethan and Yildiray. It’s just insanity. I love it.
Ethan’s doing covers, he’s co-plotting and I write the scripts. We toss back the biggest, scariest ideas we can, and then Yildiray adds what he does. Again, this is an artist that is in the process, he’s motivated, he’s full of ideas and he’s gifted beyond reason. He is so good at drawing energy that this is one of the few books that could really showcase what he can do. I love that guy, and working with Ethan is a blast. He and I disagree on everything and still love working together.
Touching on the book itself, while there have been independent Firestorms in the past, the Firestorm role has largely been defined by the dual-identity of the two people powering the matrix. Why break Firestorm into two independent people?
That’s a good question. One complaint a lot of people, both as creators and readers, have had, is that the DC characters are often too godly, too powerful and too all-knowing. There’s a deliberate attempt to bring them a bit more down to Earth, make them fallible again.
For a lot of readers, the Jiminy Cricket aspect of having a conscience on your back as a floating, ghostly head, was a bit alienating after all the years. Not everyone, certainly.
And did you say two independent people? Keep counting.
You have also mentioned that there are worldwide Firestorm Protocols, and that you are introducing a villain, Helix, who represents “what happens when nuclear power goes wrong.” Given current events, are you trying to take a more political approach to the book and the Firestorm world?
Absolutely. Yes, so very much so.
Finally, you are now working with two characters that had incredibly influential changes made to them by John Ostrander. Have you had a chance to sit down and talk with Ostrander about his time writing Firestorm and creating Oracle?
I did, in fact.
The day “Firestorm “was announced, Gerry Conway and John Ostrander both went out without my knowledge and expressed their delight in the creative team of the book and their confidence that we would do right by Firestorm. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me. Those guys inspire me so much.
John was very up-front about Oracle, as well. He was very candid, that Oracle was a measure that came about because he and the sadly departed (and wonderful) Kim Yale felt that what had been done to Barbara Gordon was ugly and unnecessary. He absolutely gave his blessing, in part because he knows how seriously I take this stuff, but I think even more so, because he’s a writer, a brilliant writer, and he knows the music must change, stories need air and movement. He was grand about it. I’m sure he has the same feelings I do, that it’s a loss, but hopefully a gain as well.
I’m lucky to know John at all, really.
I hope people try the books. I admit, I was a late convert to the relaunch. I was without an assignment for a good while because I was very skeptical and vocal about it. But seeing the quality of most of the books (I finally got to read them last week), that made me breathe much easier. It’s going to work, and many of the books, you can just feel the creators rising to the occasion. That’s exciting. It’s nice not to do business as usual, sometimes.
“Batgirl” issue #1 hits stores September 7; “The Fury Of The Firestorm” #1 releases September 28