Simone is Ready to Fly (Again) With the BIRDS OF PREY

BIRDS of PREY Returns w/ Simone & Benes

Gail Simone back on Birds of Prey.

That's really all DC had to say when they announced the comic last week. Fans of the former comic book, which Simone wrote from 2003-2007, were easily sold on the idea of the writer returning to the title beginning this spring. Even better was the news that her long-time collaborator on Birds, Brazilian artist Ed Benes, would be joining her.

And it's not just a happy reunion for the creators. The cover to Birds of Prey #1 revealed the characters will reunite too. The superheroine team that dominated Simone's run will be returning to the title, including Huntress, Lady Blackhawk, Black Canary and Oracle.

The cover also reveals that the team will apparently be back in Gotham City after having been ousted from the city during the Birds of Prey comic's run, which ended early last year.

But what's not revealed is whether this new run on Birds of Prey, which will launch under DC's "Brightest Day" banner, is changing in tone or concept. And there's a couple other things that are hidden, as the cover includes two blacked-out figures in the background.

Newsarama talked to Simone about the comic, asking how it feels to return to these characters, and whether the comic is going to be very different from the one she left two years ago.

BIRDS of PREY Returns w/ Simone & Benes
BIRDS of PREY Returns w/ Simone & Benes
Newsarama: This is exciting news for your fans, Gail. Did you have to fight very hard for this?  

Gail Simone: I didn’t, really. Geoff Johns approached me with the idea, and he is really the guy who sold me on it. I am not so egotistical as to think I’m the only person who could write Birds of Prey, and I felt going back was a very unlikely scenario, so much so that I had pretty much put the idea right out of my mind, even though I missed the characters terribly.

But Geoff pointed out that the absence of the book left a real hole in the DCU line-up, something that no other book could quite fill. And he was relentless and encouraging, and in the end, my own selfishness played a massive role, because I simply adore the characters and love writing that book.  So if you love BOP, thank Geoff next time you see him, okay?

Nrama: Is the overall concept the same? With them operating as a team with Oracle as leader? Or has any of that changed?

Simone: There are some new twists, but the core concept is just one of those things that can’t be improved upon, in my opinion. The core team is Oracle, Huntress, and Black Canary, with Lady Blackhawk providing support.

But beyond that, there’s a ton of new stuff — some very cool, slightly scary new additions, some new obstacles they’ve never faced before, and quite possibly my favorite villain I’ve ever created.  This one is a bloody keeper!

Nrama: Do you show how they come together or does that happen before in another comic?

Simone: I don’t want to reveal too much, but there is a definite feeling in the air amongst the Birds when they finally get back together. A kind of, “what took us this long?” sort of thing. It’s a bit like the Secret Six: A team of loners that somehow click.

Nrama: Where will we pick up the story of each of these ladies?

Simone: In the middle of kicking ass, of course.

Seriously, that’s literally what they’re all doing. It’s what they’re good at!

Nrama: Will the comic deal with the changes these characters have experienced since we last saw them?

Simone: What changes?  I’m not sure what you’re referring to.  

I’m kidding. I’m of the belief that the whole shared universe thing only works if you don’t negate, if you don’t say, “this story never happened.”  So if a story featured Black Canary, it happened; it’s part of her history.  But still, this is the Birds of Prey Black Canary, which means she is competent, dangerous, smart, and compassionate. She's not a hostage, dammit. She is not an appendage. She’s the Black Canary. She holds her own.

Nrama: How have Oracle and Black Canary changed as characters, or are they basically the same? Have you been following their story?

Simone: I have, for the most part. I’m sure I’ve missed some, but I’m getting caught up. There’s been some good work out there — I enjoyed a lot of what Dwayne McDuffie was doing in JLA, and Tony Bedard did some very nice stuff with all the Birds, as well as Bryan Miller on the new Batgirl title with Oracle. I’m not dissing the other portrayals, and I’m not trying to say I’m the only one who can write these characters.  I just want them to have a chance to shine on their own, without being in someone else’s shadow, whether it’s Batman, Green Arrow, or the JLA.

Nrama: It's been awhile since we saw much of Huntress. What's the status of her as a character, and what will she be dealing with as we pick up her story?

Simone: The harder it is for a person to trust others, to make friends, the more difficult it is when those connections are severed.  Huntress is a little bit resentful at being dropped, as she sees it, so completely, even though Oracle has been in contact with her. It’s that situation in high school when you are friends with someone much more popular. You can’t quite understand why they want to spend time with their other friends, when you value them so highly. Black Canary is much-loved in the DCU, whereas Huntress has to (unfairly) fight for every bit of respect she gets.  And, being who she is, the Huntress can’t actually say any of this stuff, or even admit it to herself.

There’s an adjustment.  But they’re still the Birds of Prey.

Nrama: Lady Blackhawk's role was often as pilot, although she certainly could hold her own in a fight. It looks like the team is operating out of Gotham City? Is that right? And if so, what role does Lady Blackhawk play in the team?

Simone: I never thought of Zinda as a brawler. To me, she was always a pilot who used guns as necessary. She’s a Blackhawk, which is one of the proudest and coolest legacies in all of comics. I never think of her as an operative, precisely. But she is an absolute joy to write, one of the most joyful characters in comics, in my opinion.

As for where they operate from, well, that is the Batmobile they’re sitting on in issue one’s cover!

Nrama: I thought so. Will this comic tie into the return of Batman in any way?

Simone: Batman who?

Nrama: Well then let's talk about a woman who looks bat-like. Many people have guessed who the diving person is with the cape. I don't suppose you could give a clue to that person's identity?

Simone: No. But it’d be awesome if it was ‘Mazing Man.

Nrama: The other blacked out figure sure looks bulky. Is there a man on the team?

Simone: That would be weird, wouldn’t it?

Very weird, indeed.

Nrama: At what point are these characters going to be revealed? Is it something that's waiting on a set-up in another comic? Or are you just holding back the announcement for awhile?

Simone: No, they’re revealed in the first issue. They are favorites of mine, and I’m looking forward to showing a completely new side of each of them, something that is going to make people reconsider them both. I’m excited about this bit. 

Nrama: Will this have the same tone as the previous comic? Has anything changed as a concept?

Simone: I’ve said it’s a little edgier and a little naughtier. In my first run, I made a serious point to never having a significant romantic subplot. I wanted to show we could do a book starring females without any of that. This time, that cage is unlocked, and some Birds are gonna be getting some long-overdue nocturnal action.They’d thank me for it, if they could!

Nrama: The announcement at The Source exclaimed that Ed Benes has "gotten better" since he last worked on Birds of Prey with you. Do you agree? What do you think he brings to the comic's relaunch?

Simone: Yes, and no. Ed is a conscientious artist who always strives to improve, but I have to say, I think his BoP art was where he really did his most amazing stuff. JLA was great, but the character work and acting in his BoP was severely under-rated. He always nails the emotion…he doesn’t get the credit he deserves for this. He has that talent, like Nicola Scott, to draw a character’s emotions, even when you can’t see their faces. A lot of the top 10 hottest artists lack that talent completely. Yes, he draws sexy women and very, very hot guys, but to focus only on that is to miss his amazing layouts and his ridiculous skill with acting. It’s definitely a European feel, and Ed is a huge inspiration to a whole generation of European & South American artists, all of whom feel very comfortable with that kind of sleek, sexy line. A very prominent female artist from Brazil told me that Ed inspired her to become an artist in the first place.

He’s just massively under-rated. My taking this book wholly hinged on who the artist would be, and when they said they were going to try to get Ed, I nearly dropped the phone. It’s a dream come true for me, and thankfully, Ed missed the characters, too, so he’s delighted to be back.  

Nrama: Do you feel like you've "gotten better" or maybe just grown as a writer since your first time at bat with these characters? (Forgive the bat pun.) If so, do you think this will be reflected in the comic? Or is there anything else that might make this run different?

Simone: God, I hope I’ve gotten better. But I look back on this book with a lot of pride. There is a lot of stuff in there that had to be fought for, that had to be explained. It wasn’t done to have the lead character in your first issue get her legs broken and spend the next issues chained to a bed in an attic. Sometimes the banter between the characters had to be justified.  But DC got behind the book and stayed behind it for a long time…it became an office favorite.   And I still believe it was the book that brought more females to the DCU than almost any other recent title. Since the announcement, I’ve gotten just a ridiculous flood of emails and messages of joy, and a huge percentage are from women and girls, or from the husbands and boyfriends who are delighted that their wife’s favorite book is back.

That’s pretty great.

The stories are going to be ambitious, right from the start. My two favorite BoP stories are Sensei and Student, and The Battle Within, both of which mixed big, huge themes and exotic locales with very small, personal moments of loss and triumph. That’s what we’re aiming for straight out of the gate.

Nrama: What does this mean to you as a writer to get to write these characters again?

Simone: It’s an unalloyed delight, and a bit of an honor, really. The readers have been pummeling at this idea for a long time, but I never thought it would happen. I had a list of things I wanted to happen for me to take over the book, never thinking I’d get them all, and DC approved every one without hesitation. And they gave me Ed Benes. If it screws up, it’ll be nobody’s fault but mine.

But I don’t think it’s gonna screw up. The first issue is hot. 

Nrama: Anything else you want to tell readers about Birds of Prey?

Simone: Just to try it. It’s different, it’s a lot of fun, a lot of laughs, some good naughty action, and some of the best kick-assery in comics. You don’t need to read the back issues to get what’s going on, and some stuff is happening in this first arc that really does affect the entire DCU. You won’t want to miss it, because people are going to be scrambling for these issues once the whole truth is revealed. Honest. I never say this kind of stuff, so hopefully people know I’m serious.

I’m happy. I think the readers will be, too.Thanks to the readers and to DC for making this happen!

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