Friday, July 5, 2013

The Heartbreaking Saga of BOP's Writer Evolution

A few days ago, Bleeding Cool ran an "article" spotlighting the creator/creative evolution of Birds of Prey this year.  At the end of 2012, it was announced that Duane Swierczysnki would be replaced by new writer Jim Zubkavich.  Of course, that didn't end up happening, but Jim "Zub" was working on BOP for a couple of months.  He made his pitch to DC, the hired him--contract and all--and he began writing scripts.

I had never read anything by Jim Zub--still haven't, as it turns out--but his statements in a Newsarama interview impressed me and genuinely excited me for his take on Black Canary and the Birds.

Here are a few bits from that interview:

Zub: Rather than pitching specific plot details or which villain the group would be going up against, I focused on creating a “character matrix” that focused on who the cast was, what they’ve been through and how they could grow and change as things progress. It was a character-first approach that could be adapted to the upcoming plot needs of the title, and I think it surprised editorial in a good way when they read it. That really got the conversation going and we started building storylines and antagonist options from there.
Zub: For me, Birds of Prey is about gathering together a tight-knit team based on trust. Two to five people who have each other’s backs against the rest of the world. Friendship, conviction and sacrifice aren’t the traits of a “female” story. They’re universal.
Zub: Dinah’s going to try stepping into a stronger leadership role, but with all of the difficulties she’s been facing that’s not going to be easy. Even still, one of Dinah’s most enduring traits is that she never gives up, so expect the stories ahead to really test that.
Barbara’s been splitting her time between solo adventures and her time with the Birds, but she needs to decide how much she can dedicate to the team and what that means to her. She wanted to prove she could be a crime fighter again, and she’s done that, so now she has to figure out where she’s meant to be.

Hmm… Sounds to me like Zub was going to write Batgirl out of the series, something I think has been needed for a while.  Beyond that, I loved Zub's plan to make BOP about characters and not the villain of the month.

I, along with many other fans of the Birds and of Jim Zubkavich, I'm sure, felt confident that the series was in good--even better--hands and the future looked bright.

But by the middle of January, DC told CBR that Christy Marx was taking over BOP instead of Zub.  Marx had been writing the "Amethyst" story for Sword of Sorcery.  From the interview with DC Editor-in-Chief, Bob Harras, it sounds like the company's priority was putting Marx on a book--any book--after Amethyst's cancellation.  Whether or not this was a decision by DC to maintain a certain number of female creators, I can't say.  What is clear is that Marx wasn't put on BOP because she had a winning pitch.
Harras: Jim had a great pitch for "Birds Of Prey," but as things came together in discussion and the creative churn, we all saw what Christy was doing on "Amethyst," and we were looking at "Birds Of Prey" and internally and editorially we were thinking of taking it in a different direction. The decision was made that we were going to go in a different direction than what Jim had originally envisioned. We definitely, definitely want to continue working with Jim, but at this moment, we wanted to go in a particular direction.

In her own interview with Newsarama the day after that, Marx sounded as surprised by the change as Zub was.
Marx: In general, it's too early for me to say anything more. I'm still absorbing a ton of previous material and doing my initial thinking about the direction.
It should be pointed out that the "particular direction" Harras claims they wanted the series to go in looks and sounds exactly like the previous one.

I have been pretty harsh on Marx's brief tenure on Birds of Prey thus far, alternating between criticizing her writing and assuming she's just adding words to the crappy plots forced on her by the editors.  Well, the latter seems more likely given what she told CBR last week.  And it makes her situation a lot more sympathetic.
While Marx's first storyline incorporated Batman villain Mister Freeze, according to the writer the decision to kick off her run with the coldest of Batman's rogues was less by choice and more by design -- literally, in this case. 
"When I agreed to start work on the book, the next two covers were already done with Mr. Freeze on them. You could say that I wrote to match the covers," Marx said. "In reality, the major direction of the storyline had been roughly worked out months in advance, which was a good thing because the first issue was due immediately. Beyond immediately. I had to hit the ground running."

There's a level of heartache this string of quotes incites in me that is hard to capture in words.  I should probably find one of those "face palm" images to insert here.

On the other hand, the CBR interview with Marx gives me some reason to hope for the book's future.  With the forced Freeze storyline over and Marx having a better grasp of the characters, the series might find a new direction and its own identity.

Here's hoping!

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