Shawna and Julie Benson don't just write about double lives, they live them. Not only are they writers on the super successful post apocalyptic sci-fi show The 100, but they're currently 15 issues deep into writing DC's Batgirl and the Birds of Prey. Featuring Batgirl, Huntress, and Black Canary, Birds of Prey is one of the company's most iconic team-ups. For their new arc, "Manslaughter," they've assembled 14 iconic female superheroes to save the men of Gotham City who've been struck down by a mysterious illness.
Writing some of DC's most recognizable female heroines is a huge responsibility, and for Shawna Benson it's one she's never taken lightly. "It's been an incredibly humbling experience and a whirlwind at times, especially in the beginning," she told Nerdist. "But we definitely felt like we hit our stride somewhere around issue 10 or 11. Like, 'Okay, we know how this works now.'"
For Julie, it's been a learning experience—one that's vastly different from the world of writing TV, especially when you're writing characters defined by your idols. "It's a whole different animal writing comics," she said. "It's a huge deal, though, 'cause who are we kidding? This is Gail Simone! It's so intimidating to jump onto a title where giants have walked before you!"
"Manslaughter" is an exciting prospect, as it not only puts all of Gotham's men out of commission, but it also pushes their female counterparts to the center stage. For Julie, this was a huge part of the draw. "It was fun to say, 'Okay, ladies, you step out to the front and let's let you save Gotham for once,'" she explained.
For Shawna, it felt like a tale perfectly suited to their ongoing book. "I think it's a story only women can tell," Shawna said. "We can actually explore all sides of it in a way that's interesting and hopefully compassionate."
Getting to write some of DC's most iconic female creations has been an exhilarating experience for the sisters. "For me, I think Lois Lane was the most fun," Shawna said. "Parts of Lois have been so underutilized. She's an incredibly smart woman. She's an investigative journalist. She's dogged and determined. Having her as an entry point to what's going on in Gotham made so much sense because really she's the one who found out what's happening."
On the other hand, Julie was most enthused by the leader of the Suicide Squad herself, Amanda Waller. "She's in charge, she's a ballbuster," Julie explained. "I love that she's all business and she doesn't take anyone's crap. That was super fun."
On top of the fun that comes with writing for the badass girl gang, the pair has also had a riot working out which of Gotham's men would be the worst patients. "It was so fun to think, 'Who'd be the whiniest of the male superheroes when they were sick?'" Julie laughed. "You know, [like] if your dad or brother acted all strong but then they get sick and they get really whiny. Is it Bruce? Is it Clayface?"
Shawna has her own definitive take on this question: "It's Grayson. Grayson is a drama queen. Jim Gordon is a bad patient, too, but Grayson likes the drama."
Getting to put male characters on their butts to further a female character arcs was also an enjoyable subversion. "It was fun because even though we wanted to put them out of action in the story, we still wanted them to be alive," Julie said. "A lot of the motivation for these women is to help their friends, their loved ones, and their families."
Writing an adventure heavily based in scientific ideas about gender gave the creative team a lot to think about, given the weight that a story focusing on a binary idea of gender can carry. "The original idea came from how plants often have two [sexes], and we really dug into that," Shawna said. "Also—this may be a bit of a spoiler for Poison Ivy—but we wondered, 'Who'd understand something new like this?'"
The pair explained that the disease in "Manslaughter" is specific to biology, only attacking individuals with XY chromosomes. That's something that ends up highlighting the flawed politics of the story arc's villain. In targeting this specific chromosome pair, she doesn't consider how it might affect trans women. "It's a real struggle we had thinking about how to include transgender characters," Shawna said. "There's a much more complex and broad story there for sure, but we only had three issues. As we were thinking about it, we realized that it ends up being a part of Patient 0 shortsightedness."
When it comes to the big bad of "Manslaughter," the Bensons are tightlipped, though we did manage to get them to share a little more detail about the mysterious Patient 0. "She's the oldest living woman in Gotham," Julie said. "She's about to turn 100, and before her birthday, she devises this plan. She grew up with a special metahuman skill: immunity to any disease. She tried to use that skill for good until she realized that no matter what she did, Gotham was still a s*** show."
Shawna added, "Her view is that Gotham is sick. The disease is men, and it's something she has to take care of."
For fans who've yet to pick up Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, the Bensons see this as a perfect jumping-on point. "The hits are all there if you're a fan of these characters," Julie said. "We assembled 14 female heroes for this book, which is unprecedented. That alone should be a reason for people to get it!"
There's also plenty for fans who already love the core Birds of Prey team. "We're proud of the work that we did on this arc," Shawna said. "We feel like it's a story we could only tell with the Birds of Prey. It's still a Birds of Prey book. They've got a lot of backup, but Huntress, Batgirl, and Black Canary are leading the show."
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Images: DC Comics