It was just about a year ago that BATGIRL AND THE BIRDS OF PREY was announced as a part of Rebirth and DC fans were introduced to its sibling writing team of Julie and Shawna Benson. Since then, we’ve seen the newly reunited Batgirl, Black Canary and Huntress take on—and eventually team up with—a slightly shady new Oracle, outsmart a crime lord who happened to be Helena’s mother and go toe-to-toe, figuratively speaking, with the sinister Snake Gang. And that was just in the very first story arc! Now as the team faces an entirely new threat, they’ll be forced to accept help from outside the group, including from a few familiar Gotham City faces that we haven’t seen much since Rebirth.
We recently caught up with Julie and Shawna, who discussed how it feels to be writing the Birds now that they’ve been working on the book for over a year, where the series is going as it approaches its 12-issue mark and why if readers are looking for drama between Batgirl and Huntress, they should look somewhere else.
Last time we talked to you, we had just announced that the two of you were writing Batgirl and the Birds of Prey. How do you feel about the book and the way things have gone with it now that it’s a year later?
Julie: It’s been insane. It’s been a whirlwind since day one. I cannot believe it was a year ago! That is absolutely blowing my mind. Every day we look at each other and are just so grateful and happy that we’re working on this book. Everyone at DC has been so supportive. It’s a dream come true.
You both come from the world of television writing. I know you’re big comic fans, but this is your first experience writing one. How has it been adjusting to the medium and format? Have you gotten pretty used to it by now?
Shawna: There was a bit of a learning curve starting out, but once we found the groove and understood the mechanics, it was pretty easy to fall into it. Our process is still very similar to how we write scripts for TV. Even though the format is very different, the process is the same.
Julie: I learned a lot about what I’d call the stupid stuff. Don’t have more than one emotion or action in a panel. Things that are basic 101 that you still want to do because you just want to cram so much story in and then you realize, yeah, there’s no way the artist is going to be able to do that. It was the learning curve of just trying to pace ourselves and allow the story to breathe.
You’re now in your second story arc, and you’ve introduced a new villain. Can you tell us a bit about her?
Shawna: Blackbird is a metahuman who can take other people’s powers and she can also help metahumans unleash their power within. But Blackbird believes that in order to do that, you have to sever all of your emotional ties because you can’t have those things to distract you from focusing your power. That’s the conflict that she has with our Birds because our Birds’ emotional ties are their strength. They’re a family.
So in order to flush out Blackbird and figure out how to defeat her, Black Canary has to go undercover, which is very old school Birds of Prey. She basically becomes a student of Blackbird’s, and that’s a tough spot to be if you’re a metahuman. It’s very dangerous for her because the stakes are she could lose her power.
Julie: Blackbird is crazy. If our characters are birds, then she’s a cuckoo bird. She’s a little bit like the Joker in that way. She’s irreverent and you don’t know what she’s going to do.
Shawna: Yeah, she’s got a couple of screws loose.
You’ve also brought Roulette into the story as well—as if it’s not bad enough for Black Canary. What made you decide to use her? Were you big Justice League Unlimited fans?
Julie: It was more that we needed the metahuman fight club to get Blackbird into that world, and who’s a better person to run that than Roulette? It was funny, we were writing the script and we’d already turned it in and then we watched a Supergirl episode and Roulette was in it. IT was great timing, and the actress used to be in The 100, so it’s a small world. It all comes back.
Shawna: That’s the thing I like being able to do. Taking characters that people are familiar with and being able to sort of repopulate the world with them. Underground metahuman fights—it’s a thing that exists in Gotham, and who’s going to run it? Roulette!
You’ve brought Dick Grayson into the mix in this new storyline. He has two of his exes on the team, so the potential for drama was there, but instead but his interactions have been really friendly and warm with Batgirl and Huntress. Why’d you decide on that approach?
Julie: I think because everyone was expecting a catfight. Women aren’t like that—or at least, the women we hang around with. We’re more like, “Oh, okay we have this person that we were both involved with. He clearly has good taste because I like you and you like me. It just proves that he’s a good guy.”
So I think it was more about their concern over who he’s currently dating and what her deal is than to worry about each other, because as far as Huntress is concerned, it’s old hat. They were just there for the moment. I think Barbara’s relationship with Dick Grayson goes a lot deeper.
It was really fascinating how the Oracle story wrapped up. You introduce a new Oracle, but he’s kind of out there. I don’t know whether we can trust him or not. Is that deliberate?
Julie: Yes! You are spot on. We want everyone to feel unsettled by this new guy.
Why do you think the Birds are okay with working with him?
Julie: Well, that’s a really good question. Are they?
Barbara seems to be.
Julie and Shawna : She seems to be.
Shawna: I think in issue #11 everything will come to light. We want everyone to know that Barbara Gordon is the smartest girl on the planet. She’s not going to let anything slide, so I think we have to trust our team here.
What do we have coming up ahead? I hear there may be some appearances by some other Gothamites…
Julie: We were already excited to have Nightwing in this current run, and then we brought in Green Arrow. Ollie shows up in issue #10.
You’re acknowledging the relationship with Black Canary?
Julie: Yes, they’re still a couple, and that’s essentially why he’s there. She’s gone undercover and they’re a little worried, they haven’t heard from her in a while. So we get the whole team together in issue #10—it’s Nightwing, Ollie and the Birds—and they go to get Dinah away from Blackbird. It’s such a cool issue!
After we wrapped that one up, we wanted to know who else we could play with. So we begged our editors—we didn’t have to beg too hard once we told them who we wanted—and we’ve got an old school Birds of Prey villain that we’re bringing back, who has a lot to do with this Oracle/Gus story. Plus, a couple of female associates who have been former teammates of the Birds of Prey are going to make an appearance in #11, #12 and #13. One of them is Catwoman and the other one is Poison Ivy.
We’re really excited about it.
It seems like Batgirl and the Birds of Prey has really found its place within the larger Bat family of books. I’m curious, do you ever talk to Hope Larson and the Batgirl team? How much overlap is there between your book and hers now that hers is back in Gotham?
Shawna: We’re pretty aware . It helps to communicate with the other writers because you then have an understanding of what’s happening in their books and you can reference that if need be. If there’s been recent history that we need to establish, then we want to make sure and let people know that this is part of the same universe.
Julie: Yeah, like with GRAYSON, it was important for us to have people know that that book was still part of Helena’s history with him. Everything matters.
BATGIRL AND THE BIRDS OF PREY #9 is now available in print and as a digital download. Need to get caught up? BATGIRL AND THE BIRDS OF PREY VOL. 1: WHO IS ORACLE? is now available in bookstores and comic shops worldwide.