Rising Star Marguerite Bennett Takes BATGIRL to ZERO YEAR
CREDIT: DC Comics' November 2013 solicitations
When Batman Annual #2 was named the fifth best-selling title for July, it was notable to see a $5 title do so well, and the success likely drove DC's win of dollar share for the month.
But for the growing audience of female comic book readers, it was a success of a different kind: The issue was co-written by Marguerite Bennett, one of the newest women working in the comic book industry. (Sure, there are plenty of women who already work in comics, but the industry has been the target of fan outcry the last few years for its lack of female writers.)
The issue's success — not just monetarily, but critically as well — helps explain why Bennett keeps getting more and more work at DC.
Not only did Bennett work with Batman writer Scott Snyder on the Batman Annual, but it was revealed at Comic Con International in San Diego that she's also been helping Snyder come up with the riddles used by Edward Nigma in Batman: Zero Year.
Next on the writer's agenda is Batgirl #25, the Zero Year tie-in issue that will be released in November. It will take place in the same time frame as Snyder's Zero Year storyline, which is about six years before the present-day DCU.
DC has already released artist Alex Garner's character sketch of how Barbara Gordon will look in Batgirl #25, as she deals with the blackout that's spinning through several Zero Year tie-in issues.
This issue is a one-issue stint for Bennett, filling in for regular Batgirl writer Gail Simone. (In our interview below, Bennett actually apologizes to readers for not being Simone — or one of the many other writers whom she believes have defined the Batgirl character over the years.)
Yet Bennett also told Newsarama that she's got more work coming from DC after November, so that "rising star" status might have to be changed to "rocketing star." (And if her presence on Bat-related panels in San Diego means anything, readers might be able to guess what type of characters she could be writing.)
For folks who are wondering where Bennett came from, she started working on comics with Snyder after he noticed her work as a student at Sarah Lawrence College. (Snyder teaches at the school; Bennett just received an MFA in writing there — see both our interviews with Bennett from earlier this year for more details).
Readers of those interviews might have also noticed that Bennett has a pretty well-developed sense of humor. So when Newsarama checked in with her about her upcoming issue of Batgirl, we weren't surprised to discover more laughs as she revealed the premise for her story for Zero Year.
Newsarama: Marguerite, as you reveal an early story of Barbara Gordon in this Zero Year issue, what are your thoughts about the character and her background? Who is Barbara at her core and what parts of her history have defined that?
Marguerite Bennett: My thoughts are that Batgirl is completely freaking awesome!
More subtly, as I think Batman is about obsession more than justice, and Aquaman is about humanity more than responsibility, in my own little opinion, Barbara Gordon is about recovery — recovery in the sense of healing from traumas both mental and physical, recovery in the sense of rescuing what was once lost, recovery in the sense of redeeming what had been considered worthless or unworthy.
Everyone has seen how beautifully Gail Simone has written Batgirl in the New 52, the damage Barbara can suffer and endure and rise above. She is one of the last lines of defense, not only between the people of Gotham and the villains that plague the city, but one of the last lines between the hero of bright ideals and the hero that falls into brutality and despair. Her capacity to act as fighter and healer, as victim and survivor and righter of wrongs, compels me. I can hope it will compel you, too. (Also, there are zeppelins in issue #25. Just sayin'.)
Nrama: Marguerite, during the first interview you and I did, back in June, you talked about your earliest exposure to Batman. But now that you're writing Barbara Gordon, how would you describe your history with Batgirl? Any memories in particular that have helped define your ideas about her?
Bennett: When you phrase it that way, I want to twirl a lock of my hair and giggle about how Babs and I used to go steady in high school.
Nrama: I guess "history" does have some implications. Maybe the better phrasing is, what was your earliest comic featuring Barbara as Batgirl?
Bennett: My first Barbara comic was probably the first Barbara comic for many — Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke. For full impact, imagine me, elementary school age and frivolous, diving straight from Batman: The Animated Series and the Adam West [Batman] TV show into a very ragged copy of TKJ.
Nrama: Very different. And wow, you were in elementary school when you read that?
Bennett: There may have been a few causalities in my 11-year-old psyche! I spent several years after that believing that Barbara — my spritely, sassy, purple-clad heroine — had been actually killed, not paralyzed. After The Killing Joke, I’d flitted away from comics for awhile, troubled and too young, until I was about 14, when a boy at school cajoled me during a rough week and lent me a copy of Birds of Prey. There I found Barbara alive and hale and taking names as Oracle, undefeated—undefeatable. I know it was my own childish ignorance that misunderstood the circumstances of her reinvention, but at the time, it felt like she’d risen from the dead for me — my little ass-kicking miracle.
Nrama: OK, that might explain the reason for the young, ass-kicking Barbara we've seen in the designs that DC released for this issue. It looks like the Zero Year version of Barbara Gordon is all armored up!
Bennett: Yes! Isn’t Babs in her new gear terrific? I mean, she’s always terrific. But her gear makes me smile! I giggle whenever I see Alex [Garner]’s designs, I love them so much. It’s like baby’s first battlegear — makes me so proud.
Alex Garner designed her off of my and Katie Kubert’s outlines, as well as rendering our exquisite cover.
Nrama: Since you're pretty new to comics, how has that process been, working with artists on your stories?
Bennett: Working with the artists — Alex on Batgirl (Fernando, too, soon!), the indefatigable Wes Craig on the Batman Annual, and Ben Oliver (who sends me pages that make me cackle like a madwoman) on Lobo #1 — has been both delightful and overwhelming. I’ve been a fan of their work for so long that I feel like I’m shuffling forward on pigeon toes, refusing eye contact, and handing them my crayon-scribbled scripts in hopes of them making it onto the refrigerator.
I am so endlessly impressed by them. Wes Craig, particularly, did breakneck work of such high caliber on the Batman Annual that I’ll never live down my debt to him, no matter how many bottles of wine I try to send him. Getting pages from Ben Oliver often marks the absolute highlight of my day and puts me in a beautiful mood for the next 48 hours. I feel like a kid at Christmas, getting to work with artists as talented as they. I hope that exuberance never fails or leaves me and that they like what I’m tossing their way, crayons and all.
Nrama: OK, we haven't heard anything yet about what happens in this Batgirl: Zero Year issue! At what point in her life does this story take place, and what's she like as a person as we first meet her?
Bennett: Our story takes place a short while into the Zero Year, as Gotham hunkers down and shivers against the coming of an enormous and catastrophic superstorm. Rolling power outages have left the city in darkness as the rain begins to pour and the rivers rise.
Barbara is young, near about 15, yet she already bears up the responsibilities of her home and family — standing vigil for her father, guarding her unwell younger brother, defending their homestead, gathering supplies as Gotham seethes on the edge of riot and supplies grow scarce.
So much is already asked of her, but she shirks none of it; she loves her family, and so long as she acts for them, there is no danger she won’t risk. Her youth makes her reckless; she is caught between the last days of childhood and all that she must do and be to defend her family’s homestead.
Nrama: OK, so the story of her in this defensive mode is the reason for the armor she's wearing in the designs for Batgirl: Zero Year? That's why she's got on the costume?
Bennett: I can’t say much, but I can say that her costume was wrought in haste and crisis. Even at 15-ish, Babs won’t be caught off her guard.
Arg, I want to say more! Oh, please forgive my restraint. I want you to see her properly when the hour comes. I promise you a splash page of her armor and excellence and I know Fernando is going to knock it out of the park.
Nrama: OK, then let's back up and just talk about the fact that you're writing a single issue of Batgirl. What's your overall goal? I mean, what's the tone/theme you're going for, and what are you hoping readers get out of it?
Bennett: I want to recall you, as readers, to your own youth — to that awareness of being so painfully young and raw and new, and remembering the feeling that first time the torch was passed to you. Not to your mother, your father, your brothers or sisters or guardians — but to you. No one can do this but you. You may be too young, too vulnerable, too naïve, but when the torch comes into your hands, there is no use in saying that you cannot do what must be done. You either saddle up, or you watch your homestead sink into chaos.
(Perhaps I am being melodramatic. But for just a moment, think for me. Think of the first time you were asked to do something you believed was too much for you — and succeeded?)
Nrama: Yep, I completely remember it. But let's switch gears and talk about your mentor/friend Scott Snyder. I assume you had the opportunity to work with Scott Snyder putting together the story?
Bennett: Scott! Scott is the loveliest person and I love getting questions about him. Back when Scott first plucked me up (doing 80 miles per in the Batmobile, driving home from Sarah Lawrence College, where he was my professor and I was a lowly MFA student), we discussed the coming Zero Year at length (and it galled me to have to keep something that awesome for a secret as long as I did). I actually did a good portion of research for the Riddler’s forthcoming endeavors, though it’s Scott’s cunning and artistry that make them great.
When Katie Kubert, the editor on Batgirl, approached me for the issue, I knew exactly what kind of story I wanted to tell. Scott has been so kind, generous, and supportive, from late-night phone calls to walking me back to my hostel at San Diego Comic Con at 3 a.m. (Tom Taylor came too!) as I chattered about what I wanted to create. I hope you freaking love what we’ve got coming.
Nrama: Is the Batgirl: Zero Year story at all attached to Bruce Wayne and/or Batman? Can you reveal any other characters we might see in the issue?
Bennett: Bruce Wayne does not appear in the issue, though I hope you won’t hold that against me. I felt it would’ve undermined Barbara and Bruce’s relationship to try and shoehorn in a previous encounter that attempted to trump their first meeting and the earlier days of their friendship (father-daughtership? mentor-studenship? vigilante-heirship? don’t be silly, vigilantes can’t be airships, ha ha ha. Sorry).
Jim Gordon and James Jr. do appear, but truly, I wanted Barbara alone, thrust into a world at crisis, and too young, perhaps, to handle it. That age is such a peculiar one. You’re old enough to read Orwell but you’re young enough to watch Saturday morning cartoons. You’re allowed to operate a 2,000lb+ motorized vehicle, but you’d eat Froot Loops for dinner every night if someone let you. You’ve got enough drive and energy and optimism to change the world — if only you could get out of bed before noon on a Sunday. I wanted the conflict of a girl forced to rise up to tasks beyond her ability, to find — well, you’ll see what she finds.
Nrama: You and I have now gotten to talk about a few different issues you're doing for DC. Now that Batman Annual #2 has come out, do you think it gives a good preview of what we'll see in Lobo and Batgirl: Zero Year?
Bennett: I really hope you liked the Batman Annual #2. I was a bundle of nerves the day it came out — James Tynion IV is such a tremendous person and took me and a few friends out to Thai food in celebration in NYC that night. (Scott was there in spirit and called just after midnight, because he’s darling.) We wound up in Hell’s Kitchen in a bar called Perdition and nerded the hell out ‘til two in the morning. (Additionally, James is wonderful and you should be very kind to him whenever you see him. He also is a goddamned beast at bar trivia and deserves far more love from Twitter.)
To the work itself, I do feel that it is a fair representation of my style in my sense of identifying with a villain and attempting to envision the construction of the entire story around a single, vital climax. In the Annual, I designed a story around the concept of a cage, and so Wes carved out tense, hard, dark, claustrophobic art. The panels became narrow and tight—every way we twisted, the cage got smaller—the more we struggled, the tighter and more agonizing the cage became. Within the confines of the bars, the caged creature becomes corrupt, rotting before its own eyes with atrophy and obsession. Function dictated form.
With Lobo #1 and Batgirl #25, I have a much different atmosphere in store. (Spoilers, sweetie.)
Nrama: Ah yes, let's avoid those nasty spoilers. So let's see... we know about the three issues you're doing for DC so far: the already released Batman Annual #2 (with Scott), Lobo (in September) and now the Batgirl: Zero Year issue. We also know you graduated recently, so there's that option for full-time work ahead. So... is there anything else you're working on? Anything we'll be seeing soon, or is there a novel in the works that won't be released for awhile?
Bennett: I have three announced projects through DC right now, though there are a few other things traipsing ‘round the corner that I hope you’ll be amendable to reading in a few months. I’m afraid I mayn’t go into the specifics at the moment, but I’m terribly excited and nervous about them!
I have a novel that is looking for a good agent or publisher at the moment (it’s been spayed and has all its shots), as well as a book of short stories (housebroken, but not good with children). Right now, I’m filled with the panicking existential terror of the newly graduated in the fearsome world of publishing. I’m turning out pages faster than I know what to do with them, which means, unfortunately, that I dedicate more time to writing than to locating a sensible agent who would know what to do with said books. Cross your fingers for me, agent-wise. My stories are lyrical and frightening and would love to meet you on day.
Nrama: Then to finish up, is there anything else you want to tell fans about your Batgirl: Zero Year story?
I suppose I’d like to tell you this: I know I’m young and I know I’m new, but so is Barbara in Zero Year. Forgive me for not being Gail Simone or Chuck Dixon or Kelley Puckett or Scott Beatty or Bryan Miller. Forgive me for not being Alan Moore, even. But I could only be a pale and trembling imitation of them, if I tried. They taught me to love the characters who wore the mask of Batgirl. What I offer is different, but for my little part, and this one issue, I hope it moves you.
I drew off of my and my family’s experiences, between a childhood of floods and hurricanes in Virginia and an adulthood of post-Sandy crises in New York. (As a bonus, come November, I’ll tell you which panels of #25 actually happened to my friends and me.)
Also, there will be zeppelins.
For those interested in reading more of what Bennett calls her "inanity," she's accessible to fans online at @EvilMarguerite on Twitter.