4 Comics You Should Read by the Fabulous Gail Simone

gail simoneWhen she’s not making fun of Cyclops and generally being the most awesome celebrity on Twitter, Gail Simone writes comics. For a decade, she has been one of the art form’s strongest writers, and is arguably the most popular female comic book writer working today. Simone first gained notoriety not for writing comics but rather critiquing an aspect of the comic industry, in a website she co-founded in 1999 called “Women in Refrigerators”, which makes the argument (or rather, observation) that women have a history of poor treatment in comic book universes with many being murdered, raped, and disadvantaged, often for the sake of propelling the male narrative. After making such a divisive and critical site, it was daring of Simone to then enter the comic book industry as a writer herself, but that’s exactly what she did, and she’s become one of the greatest writers of female characters in the medium’s history. Her earliest gigs in comics were writing for The Simpsons  then Deadpool and Agent X for Marvel, but it was when she started writing Birds of Prey for DC in 2003 that her career truly began to fly. This was the start of a professional relationship she’s maintained with DC to this day.

First things first, “Strong female characters” is a toxin. It’s a buzzword expression online journalism uses to emphasize that female representation in media is getting better simply because there are now a lot of female heroines that kick ass. For many, the physical strength these women possess overshadows actual characterization, which results in a whole new sort of objectification where the viewer/reader is expected to receive pleasure simply from watching a pretty girl beat up bad guys. Look at “strong female characters” lists online, and you’ll see virtually all of them being chosen for their ability to punch really hard. The “strong” shouldn’t refer to physical strength, but rather, “strongly written”. Yes, sometimes a character can be both, and Simone is arguably the best at writing strongly-written female characters who hey, just so happen to be able to kick ass now and then. Throughout her career she has written realistic depictions of flawed women (character flaws are oh so very important in fiction), who struggle and who are sometimes vulnerable, and whose battles are as often mental as they are physical. Physical strength doesn’t define Gail Simone’s heroines: it is merely one facet of their complex characterizations.

Gail Simone has written for many different series throughout her career and the following is by no means a definitive overview of her entire bibliography. Rather, it is a look at some of her biggest and best comics, ones that come highly recommended by me, and ones that make a solid introduction to her work.

gail simone birds of preyBirds of Prey (2003-2007, 2010-2011)

Chuck Dixon had a 7-year tenure on Birds of Prey, writing the team’s first one-shots and minis and then the 46 issues of their monthly series. One of the most prominent Bat-writers of the 1990s, his Birds of Prey was a confident companion to the Batverse, appropriately dark, and action/thriller oriented. The team lineup for these 7-years was a duo of Oracle and Black Canary, with Oracle being the brains of the operation and Canary the field agent. The comic had a simple formula, and it worked. Simone debuted with #56 and immediately shook up the status quo, injuring Black Canary and adding Huntress to the team. The duo became a trio and the once-simple comic became a little more complex. Simone’s voice is approachable and light-hearted, which makes her books easy and fun to read, even when they undergo emotional complexities and maturity. Dixon laid the groundwork, and Simone took these characters to a whole new level, as well as the comic to A-list status. And more-so than her predecessor, Simone excels in making small, intimate scenes feel the most big and important. Few platonic friendships in comics feel as genuine as Barbara Gordon’s and Dinah Lance’s, and whenever their friendship is challenged or compromised, it becomes more engrossing than death-defying and world-saving scenarios.

gail simone secret sixSecret Six (2008-2011)

Bringing together a group of C-list villains intended for a brief mini which was merely a cross-over tie-in to Infinite Crisis, Secret Six became the little team that could, proving that sometimes the underdog can triumph. Okay, so it wasn’t a huge comic, but it probably did a lot better than anyone expected, branching off into its own mini series that ran 6 issues, followed a year later by a regular series that ran 36 issues. It provided characters like Catman, Deadshot, and Cheshire with arguably their most memorable showing in comics, and debuted highly original new characters such as Ragdoll and Scandal Savage. Perhaps most stunning is what Simone does with Bane, turning the once frightening Batman-breaking machine into a deeply empathetic tragic soul.

gail simone wonder womanWonder Woman (2008-2010)

Simone’s run on Wonder Woman is one of only three runs of the character I’ve read, and easily the best and most reader-friendly of the three. J. Michael Straczynski’s Wonder Woman is admirably high concept but confusing in execution and inaccessible to Wonder Woman newbies. Brian Azzarello’s Wonder Woman is an imaginative reinterpretation of Greek mytsh and gods with gorgeous artwork, but with disappointing rearrangement of the Wonder Woman mythology and generally flat writing for the Amazons. When reading Gail Simone’s Wonder Woman, it’s clear she has a understanding and admiration of this character and her history not present in other recent Wonder Woman comics. This is possibly her most feminist work, embracing femininity and sisterhood to the absolute fullest. She also crafts some wonderfully entertaining and campy action stories. Her premiere arc featuring gorillas and Nazis! Simultaneously poignant and silly, Gail Simone’s authorial voice is unlike any other.

Batgirl (2011-)gail simone batgirl

Many headlines were made in late 2012 when Gail Simone was unexpectedly fired from Batgirl, apparently via an email. The outcry and outrage was so overwhelming DC hired her back two weeks later. If this doesn’t deem someone a “fan favourite” writer, I don’t know what does. Her Batgirl has consistently been one of the high points of New 52 DC, and took a questionable, unnecessary move (restoring Barbara Gordon’s legs) and created something beautiful out of it. Previously a role model for the physically disabled, Gordon now represents another overlooked and marginalized group of people in media: those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. She may be back in her Batgirl suit, but Simone made sure to show that the Babs pre-Killing Joke and post-Killing Joke are very different people. She was given the opportunity to “undo” one of the entries in her old “Women in Refrigerator’s” list, but she’s smart enough to make sure that every bit of the trauma Babs endured still happened, and still matters. A dark action thriller with a lot of drama, Batgirl has been doing all the right things, including pushing forward transgender representation in media by being the most mainstream comic to debut an openly trans character.

Batgirl is currently ongoing, and Simone recently debuted two other comics: Red Sonja (Dynamite) and Tomb Raider (Dark Horse), which are her first non-DC titles in quite some time. She is taking over the comic book world from all over. Hopefully there’s a Spider-Woman or Lady Sif Marvel comic in her future as well.

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