Since DC Comics’ New 52 relaunch, crime novelist and writer Duane Swierczynski has penned “Birds Of Prey,” the publisher’s only all-female crime fighting team. Re-imagined as a team of somewhat morally ambiguous characters at odds with the law, the lineup includes the villainess Poison Ivy, the tattooed spy Starling, sword-wielding Katana, a standoffish Batgirl and Dinah Lance AKA Black Canary as the team’s founder and leader.
Working first with pre-relaunch “Birds Of Prey” artist Jesus Saiz and now with new series’ regular artist Travel Foreman, Swierczynski’s Birds have tackled the rhyme-loving mastermind Choke and a Talon from the 1840s as part of the Night of the Owls event, all over the course of the title’s first nine issues. However, as their next arc takes them deep into the Amazon, the Birds just might find their most vicious foe is not a madman or a secret Gotham society, but one of their own: Poison Ivy.
On the heels of the Night of the Owls crossover event, Swierczynski spoke with CBR about the team and where the series going next, detailing his plans to explore Black Canary and Poison Ivy’s back stories and the thinking behind the creation of Kurt Lance.
CBR News: In the book, you’ve wrapped up Choke, and going out of “Night Of The Owls” we have Poison Ivy heading to the Amazon, as well as the agency from issue #8 trying to literally burn Black Canary. While these current issues have been Black Canary-heavy, it seems the next arc is Poison Ivy-heavy. Will you be delving more into Ivy’s back story, wrapping up the Kurt and Dinah threads?
Duane Swierczynski: Well, there is a major Poison Ivy story coming right after the Night of the Owls-based issue #9. The Kurt and Dinah stuff, there will be more track laid for that train, but that won’t really reach its peak until a few issues down the road. This is a Poison Ivy-centric storyline, as you’ll see.
Uutside of “Birds Of Prey,” in “Teen Titans” issue #8 we’ve got a guy named Kurt Lance who’s shown up to help Amanda Waller with the Teen Titans. So one might assume that may be the same Kurt Lance —
It could be! [Laughs]
Is this something you talked about with Scott Lobdell or Adam Glass? Maybe you’re taking the first steps to have the Birds either cross-over or interact more with the DC Universe outside of Gotham?
Yeah, absolutely. It kind of started, to test my memory, early into my run where I came and talked to Bob Harras and Bobbie Chase, who was my editor then, about ways to integrate different parts of the DC Universe more, and what would be fun. That’s where the groundwork started for who Kurt might be, what Dinah’s past might really be. It’s been kind of evolving slowly since that point when we first spoke.
Was that point also when you began talking about tying Poison Ivy into the Green?
Exactly. A lot of the conversation was about digging deep into the characters’ backgrounds. When the “Birds Of Prey” relaunch happened, I had a good idea of where they came from. But over the subsequent months, we really dug down into what makes each character tick. Canary’s backstory became much more interesting and elaborate than I originally had in mind, which was a great thing, and the same thing happened with Poison Ivy. I always had in the back of my head what [Ivy’s] motivation might be. As the issues went on it kind of — bloomed, as it were. [Laughs] Sorry, bad pun!
I like having these characters with different motivations play off each other. The one thread that keeps coming up for me is that they all are covert-ops in their own way. They all have a secret agenda; they all have a motivation that’s not very clear, even to their own teammates. Black Canary, both her reveal at the end of issue #8 and her past life, you’re going to see a lot more of that very soon and what set her off into where she is now, why she formed her own team.
In the past, we’ve had Dinah married to Craig Windrow, who was something of a loser, and the very first Golden Age Black Canary was romantically involved with Detective Larry Lance. Is Kurt sort of an amalgamation of the two, or is he an all-new character?
It’s mostly new; it’s more fun to have something new, a new element, but you can’t ignore the past. You want to nod to the past here and there and the romantic choices she’s made over the years, the kind of person she’d be drawn to. But I think readers can look forward to Kurt Lance being a new character, different from what’s come before. It’s always a case of balancing reinvention with a nod to the past. We’re aware of her dating history! [Laughs]
How do you sum up Kurt? What sort of person would Canary have this history with?
That’s a great question; I kind of see him as the ultimate guy who gets things done. He’s a great guy to have on a team when you need things done, and he’s also skilled, but it makes huge problems, interpersonally. The guy who gets things done will tend to ignore things that don’t need to get done right now. He’ll put aside romance or anything else. A lot of these characters to me are rooted in the spy world: how do spies operate, who they’re willing to trust, what side to show, what side they hide? I thought, “Ok, if Black Canary has this sort of past, who would she be married to?” I think it makes sense that the guy is ultra-dedicated. I think they share that inclination to do good in the world. The question is, how they differ on executing that vision of doing good.
One of the biggest themes in the book is trust, and with the Choke storyline, we’ve seen the team’s trust erode as Katana and Ivy are becoming murdering loose cannons and Black Canary and Starling’s relationship is more and more strained. At this point, what keeps the Birds running?
I’d say it’s Black Canary’s moral center. I think she’s had things she’s sorry about, things she wishes had gone differently, but at her core she wants to help. She wants to do good in the world; that’s always guided her. She’s had this setback, which we’ll learn more about, and she’s had this big tragedy in her life, but she is still determined to do good. And when someone’s determined to be a force of good in the world, even when they have every temptation to turn to the other side, to be tempted by other forces, it’s a fun character to follow. I think she is the guiding force for the Birds. I guess the big question is, who can she trust in the coming months to support her or go along with that mission of doing good? Everyone has dirty laundry; it isn’t the “Saints Of Prey” for a good reason!
Starling, Canary and Batgirl are in a — well, not a love triangle, but a Do-You-Trust-Me-More-Than-Her friendship triangle. While Batgirl is on the fringes of the team, is her relationship with Dinah and mistrust of Starling pulling her deeper in?
You know, I don’t want to say when, exactly, but in the coming months we’re going to see basically how Black Canary and Batgirl first met, their first encounter with each other. It’ll make more clear why they’ve been so standoffish, why Batgirl is standoffish, aside from the usual reasons of she doesn’t like being on a team with Poison Ivy, the terrorist, or Katana, who will kill at the drop of a hat, and Starling, who doesn’t hold back from shooting people when she feels they deserve it! [Laughs]
Beyond that stuff, there is a big personal reason for the tension between Black Canary and Batgirl. There’s also a reason why they bonded as friends. It’s a hard bond to break. I can’t say too much more without ruining that part of the story, but there’s more on that coming!
Then let’s talk about the actual story in the next arc. What can you tell us about the plot and the team moving forward?
At the end of their encounter with the Talons from the 1840s, Poison Ivy saves the day; she’s the only one strong enough to pull this Talon into a meat locker in a train car and really neutralize him. We learn early on that Black Canary promised Poison Ivy, if anything went wrong, she would take her back to the Amazon, the heart of the Green, and help her rejuvenate. That’s a pivotal thing, that promise. That’s Black Canary’s MO. She’ll honor her promises. She wants to do good. But that may not be the best thing for the team coming into next issue.
The trust thing is big; that’s a big thing, for me at least, of who can you trust, how far can you trust them. It’s not as easy as Poison Ivy is a mustache-twirling bad guy — that’s not the case at all. I think she has good reasons for what she does. She’s not being deceitful, necessarily, but I think she’s sort of casting the team in her own image and it’s at odds with how Black Canary sees the team — as we’ll see playing out.
What made you want to incorporate Poison Ivy into the Green? Was it simply that it felt natural the plant villain would be attached to the greater plant consciousness?
Yeah, I mean, it sort of presented itself as, “Here’s the world, and it would make sense there would be a connection there.” I guess Poison Ivy’s previous story wasn’t at all tied to the Green, but it seemed to make sense in this new incarnation.
Travel Foreman is now the permanent “Birds Of Prey” artist. Unlike former artist Jesus Saiz, his style is much scratchier, really emphasizing the line work. Because his work looks so different from Saiz’s, did you begin to approach your story or characters differently?
Definitely. When I heard Travel was joining — for one thing, I was sorry to see Jesus go. I loved my run with him, but I was excited to work with Travel because we had worked together on “Iron Fist” a bunch of years ago over at Marvel, and I had a sense of what Travel liked to draw. Issue #9 is the Talon, and that’s just up his alley; it’s a monstrous creature/thing/man whose fight with the Birds is very brutal; it’s like part of a horror movie. Going forward, there are some elements — I don’t want to ruin them too much — but there are some other creature-y things in play I knew Travel would have fun with. Honestly, the most fun is writing a script the artist will either giggle at or attack with glee, or think, “Oh cool, I can do this!” Travel’s imagination for the grotesque and the strange is much more advanced than mine, and I just love seeing what he comes up with. The Amazon itself is pretty scary — wait ’til you see Travel Foreman’s Amazon. Yikes!
Looking long-term, is the broad-stroke plan that each arc of the series will dive into the back story of each member of the team, like Starling or Katana?
Absolutely. The focus for the next few issues is Black Canary and Poison Ivy, but there is a script for almost a Starling stand-alone where we delve into her past and her Uncle Earl. I originally wrote that as one of the early issues, but we wanted to focus more on the team. We felt it was too soon to go off on a sidetrack with this one character. As the book builds, there will be time for that over the coming year I’d say.
I mean, at this point we’ve got to meet Uncle Earl — Starling quotes him every issue!
[Laughs] That’s the whole fun of it! I thought of him on a whim, thinking about what sort of background she’d have, and this character popped in my head. It’s fun to think about heroes’ home lives and what they have to deal with. I can’t wait — hopefully the Uncle Earl storyline will appear sometime soon.
Similarly, are we going to see if Katana is right about Choke being alive after Night of the Owls? Is he a villain who might be resurfacing?
You can take the ending as two ways: one that Katana is actually a little crazy, her husband’s not in the sword and she has no idea whether that was the real Choke or not — and it really was, story over. Or, if she’s right, the threat is still out there. I kind of like the idea that the threat is maybe out there, still. Maybe! When I was trying to come up with a good villain for “Birds Of Prey,” I didn’t want someone to be shelved in two or three issues, I wanted a big uber-villain that never quite goes away; the Joker to Batman, the villain who isn’t put in jail or easily wrapped up. I think Choke might be back in the future — or, you know, you’ll find out if Katana’s crazy! Either way it’s fun! [Laughs]
Finally, do you have an end of the year goal or story point you’re working towards with the Birds? Or is each arc it’s own organic story?
No, there is; I definitely have an endpoint in mind for the current arc that’s underway, and I have plans for the future. To me, plotting is introducing more complications. You may solve some problems in life but, like a hydra, you cut off one head and three more appear. That’s the fun of it, how each decision they make leads to three or four more problems down the road. I like resolution in the story; this is a serial storytelling form, so you have to keep things alive and going, just like how nothing really ends in real life. Whatever problems you have right now, when you solve them, most of the time there’s three more jumping on your head!
“Birds Of Prey” issue #10 hits stores June 20.