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SDCC: TBU Talks with Julie and Shawna Benson

Our final comic creator interview is with the newest creators of the bunch, the Benson sisters, Julie and Shawna. The Benson’s came on board last year with the relaunch of Birds of Prey in Batgirl and the Birds of Prey. They are not only to the Batman Universe, but prior to writing Birds of Prey they actually had never written a story in a comic. They come from a different background as both served as writers on the CW show The 100. We were able to dig into the current run and find out what’s ahead for the Birds of Prey.


TBU: I have to first thank you because your book is very much, as a fan, it’s a love letter to previous incarnations as well as just the characters. I know how much you guys are fans of the characters so thank you so much for what you’ve been doing.


Shawna Benson: Thank you for saying that; I mean we are fans and we definitely write this book and talk about this book as fans of these characters and of the previous runs. We respect a lot of the things that have come before us and we try very hard to make sure that some of those elements are in our run.


Julie Benson: Yeah, the cannon mattered and stuff is really important to us. Obviously it has some of Chuck Dixon and Gail Simone, and thier runs are just so iconic, Queen Gail as we keep saying. The Duane Swierczynski and Christy Marx run in the New 52, I liked that they brought in Zatanna and all those characters. It’s like we get to play in a lot of sand boxes, so for us the past is really important to tell a good story and the future of the story.


Shawna Benson: And the first year really has been about getting these women reestablished with each other in the Rebirth universe and solidifying that change. Now we get to sort of branch out a little bit and do some more fun stuff and that’s something we are looking forward to.


TBU: You’ve got a nice mix of original and pre-established characters, how do you find the balance between the two?


Shawna Benson: Well, we sit down and talk about the story. We talk about what are these character journeys. Who is going to interact with whom and it’s a matter of making sure we do balance it. If in one issue it is very Dinah heavy we’re going to balance it, tip it the other way a little bit. Maybe in the next issue give Huntress the spotlight or give Barbara the spotlight. With original characters, like Gus, is someone that no one knows and we have had to sort of slowly bring him in and build him up as a character so that the audience would understand who he is and why he’s done what he’s done and what that relationship is going to look like going forward. So mixing all of that up and then also sort bringing in whatever that story line is for the issue or for the arc, is not easy [laughs].


Julie Benson: Well the funniest thing is, we had Calculator on this last Source Code run and we wrote him a little quiet because all of his family has been kidnapped. He’s not really the sort of, suspender pulling, mustache twirling, Calculator we’ve read yet. I saw there were a few comments like “this doesn’t feel like Calculator”, it’s like there is one more book in the arc. Can we all just wait for a third scene in the arc?


Shawna Benson: I mean it’s, certainly that’s the thing that we get from working with television, is that we do a lot of slow burn. Patience is rewarded but we also feel like you can’t just throw things in kind of willy-nilly. You’ve got to build to these things in a natural way so when the reveal comes or a certain plot twist happen you’re like, “oh wow, that makes so much sense.” Or “oh I’m really surprised by that in a good way not in a ‘that seems really random’ kind of way.” It’s sort of part of what we’ve built.


Julie Benson: And it’s tricky adding Catwoman and Ivy to the team. I mean that core with their voices so strong that we already know that having those two women come in has been really fun. Helena used to fill that role a little bit as the antagonist and so now you’ve got these ladies coming in and how do they all get along.


TBU: Death of Oracle is a somewhat controversial storyline in pre-Flashpoint, so what made you want to bring that back into continuity and use that Calculator story since you could have used another Calculator story.


Julie Benson: Sure, sure. I think it was more about just how recent that story was for Calculator. Meaning, the last time we saw him, he was shooting the helicopter out of the sky and so we kind of wanted to get back to that world it was. We were cherry picking for sure. We’re taking this issue here and he was with his, oh God, what’s the name of the mega robot.


Shawna Benson: I don’t remember now. [laughs]


Julie Benson: Do you know what I mean, that fights with Dinah, anyway. Yeah all of those pieces to us, it wasn’t about controversy and it wasn’t about trying to stir up any painful memories. It was saying that this is who this guy was; he has always been after Oracle, he did at one point know it was Barbara, but she did wipe his brain.


Shawna Benson: It keeps his story. It brings that story back. It keeps him alive. That was the story we were really interested in because one of the things that we really are looking to do is build a kind of stable of Birds of Prey villains. People that we can kind of go to in our arsenal. Our versions of the Joker or Two-Face or whoever. Batman has his rogues gallery and we wanted our own rogues gallery and he’s a perfect person for that. He is in the rouges gallery. He’s already established that way. So I think bringing him back into it made a lot of sense, at least to us.


Julie Benson: Especially when we have a new Oracle. It explains why he would even be there because if he’s still looking for who Oracle is, its no wonder he found Gus. Gus took over that mantle, so it was just the easiest way to bring him in. Whether or not that answers the question about the controversy, I don’t know. But I don’t really know the controversy from it so maybe you can educate us.


TBU: Only, the fact that some people knew that Oracle is still alive and some people didn’t. I think I named one that people were upset about; it was Cassandra Cain. So she was sort of left off that list so I think that was one of the…


Julie Benson: Got it. Cassandra fans will be happy in the next arc. Hopefully we’ll get them and we’ll win them back. I didn’t know we had to, but hopefully they’ll be happy about that. If a character is established in the universe it’s easier for us to use them. We werere just saying Big Barda is back in Mr. Miracle. And I think Zinda has made appearance in Metal so that makes it easier for us…


Shawna Benson: …to pull people over.


Julie Benson: Any time we sort of pitch, let us bring Zinda back for example, if they don’t want us to do it, it’s a bigger story that establishes her back in the universe that has to happen first. So same thing with Misfit.


TBU: I do want to talk about Gus a little bit. So something that was great about Oracle is that she’s a hero, but she was also disabled. And now you have Gus who is disabled in another way. Is there something that you consciously did going into the character from the very beginning?


Julie Benson: Absolutely. The question was, if whoever plays Oracle, does that person have to have a disability. Is that what Oracle is about? And our answer was immediately no, because it was important that Barbara is specific into Oracle and yes she had a disability, but that’s not what defined her as Oracle. That’s not what defines Barbara Gordon. It’s a part of who she is, it will always be a part of who she is. But for us to just say let’s have a guy in a wheelchair take over the Oracle mantle, to us that was doing a disservice to what Barbara was and what it meant to her. And so we thought about it and we said what’s another interesting thing we haven’t seen in a comic book and for us it was a mental disability. You see it a little bit in Green Lantern and you’re seeing that in other books, but mental disabilities being just as important to talk about and is on the same level of the physical disability, I think was something that early on we wanted to deal with.


Shawna Benson: I have clinical depression so I mean it’s a thing that I obviously relate to a lot. We pulled from our personal experience, that struggle that you have, the stigma that’s kind of attached to it and we really wanted to forge that connection between Barbara and Gus and being able to say hey, we’re not that different in terms of physical or mental disability. It’s all kind of lives in the same sphere and that was I think really important to us to say, this person obviously is very capable, very intelligent but he’s going to have his struggles. He’s going to have something he’s going to constantly battle and that makes him multidimensional to us. That gives him depth that we can then play with and mature that character and sort of bring him into his own.


TBU: Final question. We see that they mainly have a home base here, but we know from past Birds of Prey stories that they’ve had international missions. Are you going to try to do that later on at all?


Julie Benson: Yes. We’re going to try to. It’s something that we loved in the Chuck Dixon run, especially where they would be in Paris or on somebody’s yacht.


Shawna Benson: And we have the advantage of Helena having been an international spy. I mean she’s still associated with Spyral, so it sort of gives us an avenue to go down in terms of like taking them out of Gotham and maybe having them play.


Julie Benson: In issue #14, the closest we got is we literally got them outside of Gotham.


Shawna Benson: We got them 30 miles away.


Julie Benson: But now that we’ve done that, I think we can earn getting them across the pond.


Batgirl and the Birds of Prey releases every month. You can read our review of the latest issue here. The next issue, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey #13, hits stores this coming Wednesday, August 9.


Our thanks goes out to DC Comics, with without their help, these interviews would not have been possible. Also thanks goes to Josh and Stella for performing these interviews as well as working out all of the details on site to make sure we were able to bring you these interviews. Finally, thanks to all of the comic creators we were able to speak with as it is always great getting an idea of how the creators think about things from their perspective.

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  • Ian Miller

    Awesome interview. Really excited to hear about their guest stars, and I hope they have a strong second year!