Comics writer Gail Simone is not afraid to speak her mind–whether on Twitter, via her comics, or through her lightning rod of a website, Women in Refrigerators, which she created in the late 1990s. Women in Refrigerators, which is how I was first “introduced” to Simone back in the day, got its name from the brutal murder of Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend, Alex DeWitt, and questioned the number of female comic book characters who were violently attacked or killed in the name of a good story. It caused an industry-wide furor. It also, according to several creators, made people rethink how they wrote for women.
Since then, Simone has risen through the comic book industry, writing a column for Comic Book Resources, scripting Simpsons comics for Bongo, and then moving on to Deadpool and Agent X for Marvel. For the past several years, she’s been the most prominent female writer at DC Comics, helming fan-favorite runs of Wonder Woman, Secret Six, Birds of Prey, and more. Now, with The New 52, she’s also the only female writer; her new series, Batgirl and The Fury of Firestorm, will (re)launch this September.
This is hardly the only controversy generated by DC Comics’ ambitious reimagining of its superhero universe, so we asked Simone about her plans for Batgirl and Firestorm, how she feels about Barbara Gordon regaining the use of her legs, and what her stance is on the lack of female creators in the new DC Universe. Read on!
TFAW.com: Can you tell us where Barbara is in Batgirl #1, both emotionally and physically?
Gail Simone: Emotionally, she’s excited, a big part of her feels this is what she was meant to do. But she’s not without regrets and fears. And physically, yes, she’s a little rusty.
TFAW.com: Barbara seems to have really grown up as a woman as Oracle, and as the leader of the Birds of Prey–is it a step back to return her to the “Batgirl” role?
GS: Oh, sure, that’s a fair position to take, but I think it makes an error in singling out one character. Nearly the entire DCU is being de-aged. Was the recent Star Trek movie taking a step back for Kirk and crew? I think it’s possible to feel both things–to miss Oracle and to love Babs as Batgirl.
TFAW.com: Barbara has been part of a team for a long time. How will she react to being a solo act again, if that’s what’s happening?
GS: Again, I think she can be both, she can be a Beatle and a solo act. The things that make Barbara so hugely loveable and compelling are there in both forms. As a retailer, I’m sure you know how intimidating it can be to new and returning readers to feel that there’s this wall of information that has to be understood to read a comic that catches your eyes. The relaunch is a chance to do a kind of hyper-focus on the central core, the fixative element, that makes each character.
TFAW.com: What’s her standing with the Birds of Prey in The New 52?
GS: I am not on that book and not in that loop. I believe she appears in an early issue, beyond that, I don’t really know.
TFAW.com: What are Barbara’s relationships like with Bruce, Dick, and her father in The New 52?
GS: We see her relationship with Jim right away, and the other two within the first six issues. There are some new dynamics for sure!
TFAW.com: There are a lot of fans who are upset that Barbara is no longer a paraplegic. What’s your response to that?
GS: Again, if we focus on one character, then this looks like a deliberate attempt to anger or alienate the fans of that character. But if you move the entire DCU back, it really only makes sense to start with something closer to what they were created to be. It’s not applied completely evenly, and that upsets some people, too . . . understandably.
I have intentionally tried not to invalidate the opinions of people who feel she should stay in a chair forever. I believe in Oracle as a role model, I’ve seen it, I’ve felt it. I refuse to reduce the feelings of these people to debate points. They feel what they feel; Oracle means more to them in the chair than Barbara means to them as Batgirl.
We do plan to address this, in several big ways, one of which is making sure that one character no longer represents almost the entire disabled community in the DCU anymore.
TFAW.com: You’re also writing The Fury of Firestorm, with Ethan Van Sciver. How does your collaboration work?
GS: We discuss the plot together, and I write the scripts. Ethan loves the character, and wanted to do the book with me, and the fun thing is that it’s got a massive scope that unfolds–every issue reveals more and more how huge the Firestorm protocols are to the DCU.
TFAW.com: Having two writers working together as one is a pretty clever parallel to Firestorm himself. Was that on purpose, or a happy accident?
GS: It’s just a collaboration we wanted to have, but we were ironically aware the entire time, that there’re some definite parallels. I’m a tree-hugging lefty and Ethan’s far more conservative . . . it’s good fun and people keep remarking that it makes the pages spark.
TFAW.com: How is Firestorm different in The New 52? How are Jason Rusch and Ronnie Raymond, and their relationship with each other, different?
GS: We really have to leave that a surprise for now . . . but it’s great fun, and the art by Yildiray Cinar is simply explosive.
TFAW.com: Are the events of Blackest Night, such as Ronnie killing Jason’s girlfriend, still in their past?
TFAW.com: When did you first hear about DC’s plans for The New 52?
GS: Not sure of the date, but there had been some rumblings for a while. But the actual announcement to us came in secretive dribs and drabs for a bit, then woomph, was just sort of unloaded on us. I was very skeptical at first, until I started seeing some of the creative teams.
TFAW.com: Do you think this initiative will attract a lot of new or lapsed comics readers?
GS: Overall, considering the entire plan, yes, I do, we’re seeing large numbers of people giving the books a try.
I understand people being mad, but I just sat down an hour ago and read some of these first issues for the first time . . . not all are to my taste, but holy crap, some are just amazing. I hate for people to miss the fun of this, so I hope they give the new books a look.
TFAW.com: There’s been a lot of controversy about the scarcity of women creators in The New 52. As a prominent and popular female writer, what’s your take?
GS: It’s complicated–I want the best possible writers for every job. On the other hand, with the number of talented women who have proven they can write and draw and carry a title, and are popular with readers, I was absolutely dumbfounded that in the first wave of 52 titles, there were only two female creators, and only one writer. I found that out the same day the readers did. Since female readers are one of the few growing demos in the industry, that seemed a huge mistake and I was very put out by it.
However, I knew some things that the readers didn’t . . . I knew that some major female talents had books in the pipeline, just not in the first wave, and that several others had been approached but had to decline because of the accelerated deadlines conflicting with their previous work.
So I knew that the picture wasn’t as skewed as it seemed, but I still feel we could have done better, and I do think we muffed the response to the question. DC, to their credit, took the criticism to heart and reached out to a lot more female creators.
TFAW.com: I finally read the end of Secret Six, and I have to know–will we ever know what happens to everyone? A couple of characters are already part of The New 52; what about the rest?
GS: My take on the final issues of the pre-relaunch books is, I didn’t want them to end with a huge WE ARE DONE NOW THIS IS THE END thing, I wanted to leave them with a feeling that the universe would continue, and that there are stories still out there. I think the end of S6 feels satisfying, but exactly what happens next is really up to the reader.
We want to thank Gail Simone for taking the time to answer all of our questions! You can pre-order Batgirl and The Fury of Firestorm right here on our site, or pre-order all of The New 52 #1 and #2 issues for a limited time.
Are you excited for Batgirl and The Fury of Firestorm? How do you feel about the status of women in comics–both on and “behind” the panels? Post your comments below!