Gail Simone talks ‘Batgirl,’ ‘The Movement,’ ‘fierce’ women in comics

Oct. 08, 2013 | 1:19 p.m.

"Batgirl" No. 24, out Wednesday, is Part 2 of the "Batgirl: Wanted" arc. It is written by Gail Simone, with interior art by Fernando Pasarin and Jonathan Glapion. The cover art is by Alex Garner. (DC Comics)

"The Movement" No. 5, released Oct. 2, is Part 1 of the "Graveyard Faction" arc. It's written by Gail Simone, with interior art by Freddie Williams II. The cover art is by Dan Panosian. (DC Comics)

"Legends of Red Sonja" is a five-issue anthology organized by Gail Simone at Dynamite Comics and written by her and some of her favorite female creators. Cover art by Jay Anacleto. (Dynamite Comics)

Gail Simone, the fan-favorite writer of DC’s “Batgirl” and “The Movement,” first earned attention in the comics community as an outspoken reader.

The Women in Refrigerators list that she spearheaded in 1999 jump-started an ongoing conversation about the treatment of female characters in the medium, and she’s now one of the highest-profile female comics creators.

In more than a decade as a writer, she’s had runs on DC Comics titles including “Wonder Woman,” “Birds of Prey” and “Secret Six,” plus Marvel’s “Deadpool,” and created, with Neil Googe, the Wildstorm series “Welcome to Tranquility,” about a community of retired superheroes and supervillains. She is also co-creator, with her former “Six” collaborator Jim Calafiore, of the upcoming, Kickstarter-funded graphic novel “Leaving Megalopolis,” the story of a city whose heroes go insane.

She’s also organized an in-progress Red Sonja anthology series at Dynamite written by her and other female creators she hand-picked. And, Dynamite and Dark Horse announced Tuesday, she and Brian Wood (“The Massive,” “Star Wars,” “X-Men”) will write a Red Sonja / Conan crossover next year – the swords-and-sandals fantasy stars’ first comics team-up in 15 years.

“Batgirl” No. 24, Part 2 of the “Batgirl: Wanted” arc, hits stands Wednesday, and finds Barbara Gordon in a horrible, heartbreaking situation: Her father, Gotham Police Commissioner Jim Gordon, is determined to capture the killer of his sociopathic son James — Batgirl, Barbara’s alter ego. And the heroine, who has shed the cowl, is still wracked with guilt. (Not to mention that the man she’d just started seeing romantically was shot last issue.)

Over in “The Movement,” No. 5, released last week, debuts a new antagonist team for the titular social activist superheroes of Coral City: the Graveyard Faction.

Simone spoke with Hero Complex in an email interview about the “vigilante Shakespearean tragedy” of “Batgirl: Wanted,” the tests of “The Movement,” where to find excellent female characters in comics and how the industry landscape has changed for women creators since she started.

"Batgirl" No. 24, out Wednesday, is Part 2 of the "Batgirl: Wanted" arc. It is written by Gail Simone, with interior art by Fernando Pasarin and Jonathan Glapion. The cover art is by Alex Garner. (DC Comics)

“Batgirl” No. 24, out Wednesday, is Part 2 of the “Batgirl: Wanted” arc. It is written by Gail Simone, with interior art by Fernando Pasarin and Jonathan Glapion. The cover art is by Alex Garner. (DC Comics)

Hero Complex: Barbara Gordon has experienced some powerful personal traumas recently – the Joker abducting her mother, the showdown with her brother, her love interest being shot by her father. How do you see her holding it together?

Gail Simone: I think this gets down to the root of heroism. A lot of action heroes, we’re told they are heroic primarily because they commit violence upon the bad guy. It can be cathartic, it can be thrilling. But at some point, I think you want more from your heroes than just the ability and willingness to pummel someone. I do a lot of book signings and conventions every year, and I meet a great many readers who are struggling … they’re working through illness, injury, addiction, depression, grief or some other trauma. It seems to me that there’s a lot of heroism in fighting those things, as well, as best you can. Barbara must have been tempted to just give in, but instead, she picks herself up every day and tries to make the world a better, kinder, safer place. I find that really inspiring in a way that the latest “Die Hard” movie is not.

HC: What can you tell readers about “Batgirl” No. 24 and “Batgirl: Wanted” in general?

GS: This is a tough spot; it’s kind of a vigilante Shakespearean tragedy. Commissioner Gordon, who is the law in Gotham, has two children. One becomes a hero (Batgirl), and the other becomes a sadistic killer (her brother). Batgirl and the Commissioner both believe she killed her brother, and Gordon has sworn to hunt Batgirl down. It’s a painful situation for both of them, and the Commissioner doesn’t know that Batgirl, whom he’s barely even glimpsed in the past, is his own daughter. She’s being hunted by the person she loves most in the world … and even if she reveals her secret to him, that she’s Batgirl, it may not change the fact that he believes she is a murderer. It’s been brutal on her. It’s a question of how much she can take without breaking.

“Batgirl” No. 24: Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4

HC: Virtue and the rest of the crew are coming up against a group called the Graveyard Faction in “The Movement” No. 5. Any details you can share about these new foes and the coming confrontation?

GS: What I love about “The Movement” is that it’s a book with all the trappings of a superhero book (powers, costumes, code names) that isn’t really a superhero book in the traditional sense. We haven’t had supervillains yet, the main antagonists have been street cops. And the team think of themselves as activists, not heroes. So it’s interesting when they face a full-on villain team, with the twist being that this team of killers and assassins actually has police and government authority. The Graveyard Faction are legal, and the Movement are not. My question has been, what happens when these kids are forced into the role of superhero?

“The Movement” No. 5: Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4 | Page 5

HC: You’ve written three-dimensional female and LGBQT characters (and the all-label-defying Ragdoll) in books including “Secret Six,” “Birds of Prey,” “Wonder Woman” and now “Batgirl,” “The Movement” and “Red Sonja.” What are some titles by others that you would recommend to readers who want to see more?

GS: Greg Rucka always writes lovely, believable female characters, in books like “Whiteout,” “Queen and Country” and “Lazarus.” I am a fan of Kelly Sue DeConnick, who does a wonderful female lead in “Captain Marvel.”  And DC’s “Batwoman” is currently the only book at the Big Two with a lesbian solo lead character, and it’s always outstanding.

"Legends of Red Sonja" is a five-issue anthology organized by Gail Simone at Dynamite Comics and written by her and some of her favorite female creators. Cover art by Jay Anacleto. (Dynamite Comics)

“Legends of Red Sonja” is a five-issue anthology organized by Gail Simone at Dynamite Comics and written by her and some of her favorite female creators. Cover art by Jay Anacleto. (Dynamite Comics)

One of the things I am most excited about personally is a five-issue anthology I put together, “Legends of Red Sonja,” which is full of wonderful little short stories written exclusively by my favorite female writers of comics, prose and gaming. Women like Mercedes Lackey, Tamora Pierce, Devin Grayson, Nancy Collins, Marjorie M. Liu and lots more, all with a wraparound story tying it all together written by me. That’s 12 fierce female writers with one of the fiercest female characters ever, Red Sonja. I love my job.

HC: In the 14 years since your “Women in Refrigerators” list, have you seen notable changes in the treatment of female characters in the comics? Are they in more or less danger of being harmed to advance a male character’s story now than they were then?

GS: That’s an interesting question. It’s important to note, as you have here, that the question was never about putting female characters in peril, or allowing bad things to happen to them. It’s adventure fiction, those things need to happen. What the site was about was that at the time, long-running female characters were being killed, raped, depowered and mutilated for cheap shock value, and then discarded. There was an industry canard that women didn’t read comics, so who cared, anyway? Those days are gone. Some of the biggest cons out there now boast parity in male/female attendance (estimated, obviously gender is more complicated than that). And a great many of the comics that are surprise hits are selling to female readers. The smarter publishers see that and are responding. The rest will always be playing catch-up. It’s a lot better. There’s a long way to go.

HC: Compared to when you got into the industry, how would you describe the state of female creators in comics today? How do you think or hope it will change in the future?

GS: When I started, it was a very thin time for female writers on the mainstream titles. There were huge numbers of female creators in manga and indie books, but very, very few in the superhero range. I remember a tremendous amount of skepticism from all corners. It’s better. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a wonderfully loyal and vocal audience, and I still find tremendous joy in this medium. And now there are quite a few other women out there also writing mainstream stuff … really talented women like Marjorie and Kelly Sue, and Kathryn Immonen, and more, and some of my favorites from before I started have come back to comics, like Christy Marx, Devin Grayson and Ann Nocenti.

It’s lovely to see … it also means on some panels, I’m no longer the only woman, which is a huge relief.

HC: What do you tell women and girls who want to create comic books?

GS: Do it, do it, yes, for the love of all things spandex or otherwise, DO IT.

– Blake Hennon | @BlakeHennon | @LATHeroComplex

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