The DC Rebirth initiative opened the DCU to many fresh creators, including the Benson sisters, Julie and Shawna, who leaned on their experience in writing the science-fiction television series The 100. Their limitless imagination began in a comic book-friendly household, as their father was a collector of Silver Age superhero comics. Little did he know his collection would inspire two future comic book writers!
Julie and Shawna finally got their initiation into the creative side of comics with Batgirl and the Birds of Prey (2016). Since the title's launch, their stint with Batgirl has been met with praise for the book's characterization, complexity, and its strengthening of the family elements within the story. Unfortunately, Batgirl and the B.O.P. will be canceled this May.
But the Bensons don't get a chance to mourn, as they've been tasked to take the reins of the monthly Green Arrow title, giving them the distinction of being the only women to helm a mainstream superhero title for DC or Marvel featuring a male lead in the present era. Julie and Shawna spoke with SYFY WIRE about their upcoming spin on Green Arrow and what it's like working as women in the comics industry.
The Bensons will begin their run with Oliver Queen with the Green Arrow No Justice tie-in, Green Arrow Annual #2, featuring art by Carmen Carnero, which publishes May 30. Then they'll pick up monthly installments starting in August with Green Arrow #43, with art by series regular Javier Fernández and covers by Alex Maleev.
Congrats, ladies, on not having to write just women characters! It's odd that this is a thing because we don't make a big deal about men writing women.
Could you talk about writing a new DC title and expanding your exposure to another corner of the DCU?
Julie: First of all, we were super sad when we heard that Birds was being canceled. It was our first book, so it was the love of our lives and when they quickly followed up — as DC normally does to make sure that they don't make someone cry and leave — offered us Green Arrow.
So we're thrilled because we had a conversation with them, and said, "look, when we write for The 100, we weren't asked to just write the female characters, we write all the characters. So there's no reason why women can't be writing male titles," and they completely agreed. It's not an intentional omission, it's just been a lack of focus. There used to be Louise Simonson, Gail Simone, and other women who wrote male titles back in the day, so I don't think it's abnormal.
Also, there was a time when there was no choice but to write male characters.
Julie: Yes! There was no choice. So for us being able to write Ollie is a huge, huge honor. We already love that character. He's been in Birds a few times obviously with Black Canary. Getting to keep Black Canary is great because we know her and her voice so well, and getting to pull her into that universe is going to be really fun.
Shawna: More so than the previous run. Dinah's a touchstone for us; we think she's an important person in Oliver Queen's life at this point and is a fighting companion. She's no sidekick! I wouldn't call her that. I'd firmly put her firmly in the position of "partner" than "sidekick."
Julie: That being said, it's a book focused on Ollie. We don't have Diggle, right now. Emiko is in Teen Titans now, so he's sort of on his own fighting crime. What does that mean again, to really see Green Arrow do it himself without a meta-human skill? That, to me, is the most fascinating part of his character. Is he really the guy who puts his finger on everybody's chest and tells them what to do? It's like, "Dude, are you really the guy that should be doing that? That's Superman. Maybe you ought to back up," but nope, that's Oliver Queen — and he thinks he knows better than everybody else and, most of the time, he does.
What's the supporting character you're looking to expand and build on?
Julie: We're really excited to keep Kate Spencer in Benjamin Percy's run. Hardcore fans will know where Kate Spencer ends up, so we're hoping we get to tell that story someday in our arc. And, yeah, that's all we can say about that.
Shawna: That was going to be my answer. Besides Dinah, that's it. We're focused on those three characters. Primarily it's Ollie, with those two women characters in orbit, and they have their own stories as well that we want to tell about them, things that they're doing that will tie into the work that Ollie is doing. He gets to be more of a detective investigating things, which feels like him spending time in his neighborhood and his hometown, but then we're also going to take him out of Seattle eventually and get him to go international and broaden his horizons.
Julie: Oh, I thought of one character that we'll use who is going to be in the first issue that we'll take over with and that's Roy Harper. I love me some Arsenal.
Shawna: We wanted to start it off re-establishing that there is a relationship there, and what is that relationship? So that was important and there's something in the annual that is really fun to us. I don't know if we should spoil it. [Julie is agonizing over having to keep it a secret.]
Consider it a blast from the past, one that we found in the archives. We wanted to use it and [DC] let us use it and we're really excited about it.
Julie: Ohhhh. Now I know what you're talking about. At first, I thought you were talking about the other thing [we can't share], which is cool, too!
Two years ago, we first spoke about Batgirl. Shawna, you deferred to Julie a lot because her passion for comics had been burning for a much longer time than yours. How have you embraced the medium now since then and made it a new home?
Julie: She reads more than me now!
Shawna: I did not understand how much I would love this medium until I dove head-first into it. And I did — I have soaked up as much as I possibly can in the last two years and it makes me really happy.
I still feel very humbled by all of what I read by other people today as new issues come out and looking into the past. It's a constant learning process. I'm happy we can contribute to this, but I still feel like I'm going into my sophomore year of school; I feel like I'm barely made it out of freshman year. There's just so much to know or try to know.
Julie: You might have been intimidated by that originally, but now you're just jumping in.
Shawna: I looked at it the way people aren't accustomed to reading comics looked at it, which is, where do you start in 100 years of history of some of these characters, or 77 years in the case of Oliver Queen? And the answer is, you just start. That was what was fascinating, to be reading the very different ideas that people had about Oliver Queen but yet, there was always this core element of him that is the same from version to version.
What was it about Oliver that stood out to you?
Shawna: He really does mean well and wants to do right by people. He will do that to the best of his ability even though he doesn't have a single superpower. Oliver really tries to be on the side of right.
Julie: His superpower might be empathy, though. He's super empathic.
Shawna: I think that's true, but the thing that we found interesting about him is that he wasn't obviously empathetic before his experience on the island, but when we've read about that, it's always referred to in the past. Occasionally, there would be flashbacks, but we thought we didn't have a connection to who that Oliver Queen is or was.
So, that was something that was really important for us to explore right off the bat. Who was that guy, what did he do? What made him considered to be this male Paris Hilton-type, that was this socialite that didn't do anything and had this life-changing experience and came back a different person, the person that everybody now reads about? That was something we wanted to look at. It was interesting to me, anyway, to bring that forward.
Julie: I really loved "Archer's Quest" [by Brad Meltzer, Phil Hester, and Ande Parks]. I just thought it was so well-paced, really fun, and it brought out the cameos. I love seeing Oliver in a team environment, so we watched a lot of Justice League Unlimited. We had seen them before but rewatched them with fresh eyes, just focusing on Oliver this time around.
Shawna: Arrow [is] a show we generally watch. But it is so different from the books... that we still had to revisit the original source material. We've read the Kevin Smith run, which had a fun and a joy to [it] that we were both attracted to.
Then you look at the Jeff Lemire run or what Denny O'Neil did and these are interesting or thoughtful introspective runs. Denny O'Neil's run, in particular, was really socially conscious when he was paired with Green Lantern — there's amazing story in there. For us, it's going to be a balancing act of trying to find the fun of the character where he's fighting and using arrows of different types and also capturing the darker elements that some other creators have been able to mine.
Bottom line, we feel that there's still a lot of unchartered territory with the character.