Starting in March, Birds of Prey gets what the new writer is calling an "exciting new direction" with "big stories."
Jim Zubkavich — better known as Jim "Zub" — takes over with Birds of Prey #18. The writer, who has been winning fans with his successful Image book Skullkickers, will work with the current artist, Romano Molenaar, after the departure of writer Duane Swierczynski
While Skullkickers his heavy on slapstick action, Zub assures fans he's not going to drastically change the tone of Birds. But he does want to bring a refocus on character relationships while also challenging the Birds with some exciting, dynamic action. Newsarama talked to the writer to find out more about his plans.
Newsarama: Jim, now that we're getting closer to your debut on Birds of Prey and you've really had the chance to sink your teeth into writing the series, how would you describe #18 and what you're hoping to do as you kick off your run on the title?
Jim Zubkavich: I’d probably describe it as a “refocus” rather than a “relaunch.” Birds of Prey has a great cast of characters, and my goal is to make sure readers, new or old, get a clear sense of who they are and the chemistry between them that makes the title so enjoyable. Anyone can get on board with issue #18 and start the ride. It ties together some of the threads that have been established and begins propelling things in an exciting new direction. Nrama: As a writer who's done comics in the past that seem very different from Birds of Prey, what have you found challenging about writing the book? And how have you stretched yourself as a writer to make this book and team work?
Zub: Writing five different characters with such strong personalities is definitely a challenge, but one I’m really relishing. I’ve been digging deep into analyzing what makes Dinah, Barbara, Ev and the others tick. I want their interactions to ring true and feel natural while I put them through the paces with new challenges and big risks. I came into it with a confident sense of how to deliver action and, as I’ve been working away, I’m pushing my skills in character development.
When I talked to [DC editor] Bobbie Chase about possible DC projects, I mentioned that I really wanted to show people I could handle subject matter that wasn’t just slapstick action and banter. I’m well aware that I wasn’t someone who readers would have expected on Birds of Prey, and that’s driving me to go further with it. Nrama: You've stated that you pitched the chance to write Birds of Prey. Can you explain the idea behind the pitch a little? What do you think it was about your pitch that stood out to DC and got you the job?
Zub: Rather than pitching specific plot details or which villain the group would be going up against, I focused on creating a “character matrix” that focused on who the cast was, what they’ve been through and how they could grow and change as things progress. It was a character-first approach that could be adapted to the upcoming plot needs of the title, and I think it surprised editorial in a good way when they read it. That really got the conversation going and we started building storylines and antagonist options from there. Nrama: When people think about Birds of Prey, they often think of female characters. But what do you think really defines this title as something beyond "girls in tights?"
Zub: I think sequestering Birds of Prey into a niche as a “girls in tights” book doesn’t reflect the real strength of the title.
For me, Birds of Prey is about gathering together a tight-knit team based on trust. Two to five people who have each other’s backs against the rest of the world. Friendship, conviction and sacrifice aren’t the traits of a “female” story. They’re universal.
Nrama: How will the team be shaken up when you take over? How will the new dynamic affect them (and the book)?
Zub: The Birds have had a really tough go so far in the New 52 with betrayal and death dragging behind them and more mission failures so far than successes. I’m not turning away from that, quite the opposite. The team is going to need to face their fears head-on, and we’ll see how they change on the other side. I don’t want to get any more specific than that right now. Suffice to say there are choppy waters ahead.
Nrama: I'd like to hear your basic description of the key players in your upcoming run. Can you give me a sentence or two describing your take on the characters who make up the Birds team — and maybe what you're hoping to highlight in particular during your debut story?
Zub: Dinah’s going to try stepping into a stronger leadership role, but with all of the difficulties she’s been facing that’s not going to be easy. Even still, one of Dinah’s most enduring traits is that she never gives up, so expect the stories ahead to really test that.
Zub: Barbara’s been splitting her time between solo adventures and her time with the Birds, but she needs to decide how much she can dedicate to the team and what that means to her. She wanted to prove she could be a crime fighter again, and she’s done that, so now she has to figure out where she’s meant to be.
Zub: Mary is an incredibly deadly assassin with the moral and mental understanding of a relatively young girl. She was indoctrinated and abused by the Court of Owls and those wounds don’t just vanish just because she’s with a better group of people. She needs an emotional anchor and the Birds may grow to become that.
Zub: Ev was revealed as a double agent for Amanda Waller (who runs the Suicide Squad) in Birds of Prey #0 and that’s definitely going to cause problems as the story continues. Starling’s the kind of person who thinks she’s too smart and too quick to ever be pinned down, and that over confidence is going to cost her.
Nrama: You mentioned that you put together a matrix of their relationships. How would you describe the relationships between the main characters during your run?
Zub: It’s a pretty complex web of friendships and loyalties that’s going to go through big changes over the coming months. The group has struggled to stay together as they’ve been run ragged and betrayed during the first 17 issues of the series. Dinah is determined to pull things together, but she’ll be dealing with her own problems at the same time, so it’s going to be rough.
Nrama: How would you describe the villainous challenges they'll be facing in the first storyline? I know you're writing Mr. Freeze, who we saw in the Batman Annual — can you describe his role in the story, as well as this group, "The Daughters of the Dawn?"
Zub: Mr. Freeze suffered an intense defeat in the Batman Annual and he hasn’t dealt with that well. He’s looking for a new target to exert his frustrations out on and the Court of Owls, who used him for his cryogenic expertise and then betrayed him, is where he’s focusing his attention. The fact that Strix is no longer a part of the Court isn’t something he cares about. She’s an asset he’s going to use as part of his vengeance, and the rest of the Birds need to make it clear that she’s not on her own.
The Daughters of the Dawn are a brand new threat that ties into some unexpected past elements. They’re maneuvering in the background and when they make their presence felt in the series it’ll get people’s blood pumping. Can’t say too much beyond that right now.
Nrama: How has it been working with Romano Molenaar, and what does he bring to the comic as you craft it together?
Zub: We’re just getting started, so I haven’t had too much experience with him just yet, but the interactions we have had so far are great. He’s got solid artwork, understands how to deliver dynamic action and is excited about moving forward with me to tell big stories. Looking at the issues he’s drawn so far, I’m confident he’s going to deliver the goods. Nrama: Will readers see the Birds encounter other things going on in the DCU, or will the team be establishing their own environment for awhile when you take over?
Zub: Well, I can’t say with 100 percent certainty when or how right now, but events happening in other titles will be intersecting with the Birds in 2013. Let’s put it this way: You can’t bring someone from the "Court of Owls" into the fold without other people noticing and reacting accordingly.
Nrama: How long do you think you'll be on the book? Do you have long-term plans? And is there anything you can tell us overall about what you're hoping to do with the team in 2013?
Zub: Although I’m currently contracted for eight issues, we’ve already been talking about plots quite a bit beyond that, so I’m hopeful I get a solid run on the series. I definitely have long-term character goals I’d like to hit and stories I’d be honored to tell. In short, I’m looking to build something special.
Nrama: Anything else you want to tell fans about your run on Birds of Prey?
Zub: I’m hopeful long time readers, lapsed readers and new readers will give Birds of Prey #18 a shot, because we’re prepping top notch ass-kicking and revelations aplenty.
This will be the kind of comic you hand to friends and go “You’ve got to check this out!”
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