Interview: Julie and Shawna Benson Hit BIRDS OF PREY with Manslaughter

Batgirl and the Birds of Prey have been mighty busy the last few months. They learned the secrets behind their new “Oracle” Gus. They encountered one of their classic rogues. And they added two new members — two of the three Gotham City Sirens: Catwoman and Poison Ivy. And they’re not stopping there.

This October, a brand new storyline hits with “Manslaughter,” and Comicosity has the EXCLUSIVE reveal of part two’s cover and solicitation, advanced from November’s upcoming offerings:

Variant cover by KAMOME SHIRAHAMA

“Manslaughter” part two! As an illness that affects half of Gotham City’s population grows, Batgirl, Black Canary and Huntress pick up some unexpected help from Catwoman, Ivy and Harley, as well as some welcome backup from Batwoman, Spoiler, Gotham Girl and Wonder Woman. But as the Birds of Prey grow closer to discovering the source of the outbreak, what they find won’t end the plague and might only make it grow faster.

On sale NOVEMBER 8 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T

Writers Julie and Shawna Benson sat down with Comicosity while on lunch break from production of their CW television series The 100 to chat about what’s coming up with the “Manslaughter” arc, how Poison Ivy in particular fits in with the team, and how they decided to handle the topic of mental disability with their new Oracle.

Matt Santori: Before we dig too far into what’s to come, I want to reflect on the book’s newest additions: Poison Ivy and Catwoman. What are they adding to the book for you?

Julie Benson: First of all, we always wanted to add more members to the team. It’s something we had talked to DC about wanting to do and when the right moment was to do it. And some of the fun was bringing in what are considered villainous characters in the DCU to join an obviously heroic team. The conflict that brings in was something we had with Helena when she first joined the team, but she’s pretty much been indoctrinated now.

So, we’re finding some new conflict with Catwoman — who has her own point of view — and Ivy — who can be seen as villainous in certain books. Her priority, of course, is the Earth and its plants, but she’s not a horrible person. She wants to be part of something bigger. Bringing her to the team added this level of “Are we really going to trust these people? And can we?” I really love that.

Shawna Benson: I think we’re also looking at a bit of the greys that exist in the world of heroes and anti-heroes. The POV for one person that feels heroic could be counter to what everyone else is trying to accomplish.

Specifically with Ivy, we think she’s really well-intentioned. She wants to save the bees. But it’s a matter of her methodology. She’s a little brutal. Her moral compass is just a little bit off kilter compared to everyone else. She’s still a moral person, but it’s just different.

Interior art by Roge Antonio

MS: I think that’s really one of the most succinct takes I’ve heard on Poison Ivy. Yes, she can be this amazing villain, but just as often, she’s working on the side of the angels. It’s just a question of whose angels they are.

SB: We want to see our villains be complex. We don’t want to have mustache-twirling two-dimensional villains. Even characters like the Joker and Lex Luthor, traditional villains in the DC Universe, have gotten more depth over time as people want to understand them better. That kind of attention gets paid to those characters.

The same is true of the female characters. Ivy started her life as more of a femme fatale with a poison kiss, and now what is she really? Who is she in this world we inhabit now, in this time and this age? Clearly, the environment and ecological issues are huge in our world, and she is the perfect conduit for exploring what those issues are.

Also, she can grow plants and kick ass. Those things all going together make her an awesome addition to the team.

MS: At the same time as Catwoman and Ivy joining up, we see Gus exiting stage left. Tell me a little about what motivated your plans for his character development and specific background.

JB: I think in the beginning he was a little bit of a cypher for everyone, because we were creating this character from the ground up. What happens when you have someone who wants to be Oracle, but is not the Oracle we have come to know and love?

Over the last year, we’ve dug into him and come to understand why he did what he did, and who he was. Our goal was always to make him a sympathetic character, but with his intentions and goals being somewhat grey.

The last issue when he leaves our team, it’s very well-established that he was in a bad situation. And he was doing the best he could in that situation. Especially so, given the fact that on top of everything else, he has a mental disability that causes him problems from time to time. It can really be difficult if he’s struck with a panic attack or some other problem related to his bipolar disorder that he’s not able to deal with in the moment.

Interior art by Roge Antonio

It’s similar to — although very different from — Barbara Gordon’s role as Oracle, where she had a physical disability. She was prohibited from doing certain things, but was able to overcome a lot of that in becoming a successful caretaker for the team. Now, with Gus leaving the team, we’re going to examine what that looks like for the team without him. And especially for Barbara as a character. Balancing and juggling being Batgirl and Oracle —

SB: Can she do both?

JB: That’s the question that we think is really important and interesting to explore, in issue #14 to start.

Looking down the road, Gus isn’t dead as a character. He still exists. There’s definitely a possibility for him to come back into the picture if the opportunity presents itself.

MS: I have to say, the first time I read issue #11 — and then again before we started talking — I was really floored by the handling of Gus’s scene with the Birds where he tells them of his bipolar disorder. I thought it was so expertly and sensitively handled. Particularly since the handling of mental illness is not always handled so well in the Batman Universe.

JB: Thank you for that. That means a lot to us. When we discussed the character with Geoff Johns and with editors at DC like Chris Conroy, Mark Doyle, and Dave Wielgosz, one of the things we talked about was how can we make Gus relevant to the role of Oracle without putting him in a wheelchair and copying what had been done. It just felt wrong.

SB: Right. It would have felt like pandering in a way.

JB: We also wanted to give him a vulnerability. Something that wouldn’t make him completely impervious to everything and would give him a sympathetic factor.

Interior art by Roge Antonio

SB: I personally suffer from clinical depression, so it’s something I obviously have a lot of years of experience with. We really wanted to explore that with the character.

We also understood that Jessica Cruz over in Green Lanterns was dealing with anxiety and panic attacks, and we also wanted an element of that for our character. Anxiety and bipolar disorder actually do go hand in hand for some people. Gus does experience some panic attacks along with that, but we didn’t want to make that the primary focus.

We wanted his struggle to be with having these ups and downs in life and how it impacts him. To have enough confidence and faith in himself to work with these women and do the job when he’s required to. There are a couple of times in our book where he cowers because he’s afraid of failing them. He has to push through that to be successful.

JB: So the women’s reactions to him felt very natural to us. The second you hear about someone dealing with something like this, it changes your viewpoint.

For Barbara in particular, it changes it for her in a way to immediate understanding and empathy. Because, yes, they can be frustrated and angry with what Gus put them through. Gus did put them in peril a few times. But there is at least this ability for these women to say, “OK, we understand this kid now. How can we deal with this going forward? How can we help him turn it around?”

Because if nothing else, the Birds are always looking for how to help people. They’re the street team, and yeah, they’re super-heroes and Black Canary is a meta-human, but at their core? They’re the ones that will go out and rescue kittens from a tree, or just be among people and help them.

This would be the real reaction, even from Huntress.

SB: She’s a teacher! She has that sense of caring.

JB: Yeah, all three of them have that propensity for caring, and none of them would shun him.

Interior art by Roge Antonio

MS: Going into October, you’re launching a new storyline entitled, “Manslaughter” with quite a few big guest stars. We’ve already seen Nightwing and Green Arrow make an appearance, but now it seems like it’s the women of the DCU who take the spotlight…

JB: YEAAAAAH! I’m jumping up and down as I’m talking about it because we are SO excited for this story.

It was one of those things where we sat down and said, “It’s been great having Catwoman and Ivy on the team. I wish we could do a big crossover.” But how much of the sandbox are we able to play with? So, when we approached our editors with it, they said to just give them a story that involves people, and you can use whoever you want!

We also wanted to create a new villain, so we’re doing that in this story.

It’s something that we hadn’t seen, but you rarely see any issue where all the men are out of commission. You don’t want to kill them off — you absolutely don’t want to do that. But we want to see what happens when there are no male villains. Or male super-heroes in Gotham. What happens? What is that day like?

There’s such a litany of female super-heroes in Gotham that we thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if they had to step up and save the day?” The “Manslaughter” arc is a bit of a pun for a title, but yes, there is a villain that is looking to eliminate all the men in Gotham. And what does that mean for our characters?

SB: Mostly they’re like, of course this is a terrible idea. There are innocents here. Sure, maybe it would be great to wipe out the Joker and the Penguin, but it’s also affecting Batman, Alfred, Nightwing, Jim Gordon. Everyone has involvement now because everyone has someone that they care about that they don’t want to see this happen to.

Including Batwoman!

Cover art by Yanick Paquette

Our book is fun because we start to piece it together in #15, but at the top of #16, you’re going to get this amazing double page spread that shows every single character. That includes all the BOP: Batgirl, Canary, Huntress, Catwoman, and Ivy. We’re also pulling in Harley Quinn for some Siren action. We’re getting the Detective team: Batwoman, Orphan, and Spoiler’s come back, even though she’s not so happy with the team in that book. Wonder Woman. Lois Lane is in town. Amanda Waller will fly in to deal with this situation.

It’s huge. This is a big quarantined Gotham, crazy outbreak story that will take three issues for these characters to solve. And the cool thing is, they’re going to do it together.

JB: You’re going to see a lot of the men in Gotham in the “Manslaughter” arc, too. Batman, the male teammates from Detective Comics, and Nightwing will be there.

SB: But you’re going to see them in ways you’re not used to seeing them.

MS: You’ve been working with Roge Antonio for the last few issues and are continuing with him through the “Manslaughter” arc, right?

JB: Yes! Roge is on this arc. He is already turning in some pages for us on part one, and it is so beautiful and so epic. We’re really excited!

Cover art by Yanick Paquette

MS: Before we hit the “Manslaughter” arc, you also have issue #14.

JB: Yeah, that’s a fun, one-off story that we’re really happy to get to do. It’s showing Helena and a day in her life as a teacher, taking her class on a field trip.

We’re getting Canary and Huntress out of Gotham for the first time in our series. Barbara is going to stay back and run things from home. And to do that, she may need to rely on Catwoman and Ivy a little more. We kind of split up the team to see what they can do inside Gotham and outside Gotham.

Plus, the fun thing about #14 is we reintroduce a villain from deep within Gotham canon.

SB: Yeah, he’s a deep cut. He was someone Julie and I talked about at length, about wanting to do something with. We’re really pleased that there was a way to get him in.

JB: We’re just really happy to continue working on this book. Roge is great. All the artists we’ve gotten to work with, including Marcio Takara on #14, are great!

It’s fantastic.

SB: He’s so great!


And that issue, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey #14 hits stores and online on September 13, written by Julie and Shawna Benson. Be sure to check it out!


Related posts