INTERVIEW: "Batgirl and the Birds of Prey" Hunt Rebirth's Oracle
It’s been said that Sean McKeever has a survey group of teenage girls chained in his basement and, in exchange for their opinions and feelings, they get one hour of Gossip Girl a week and a poster of the Jonas Brothers to encourage development.
Wait. That’s probably not true. But it has been said, mostly cited as a reason for why his Mary Jane-focused series-mini-series-then-series-again comics were such absolute joys to read for fans of all ages and genders. By the time we got Mary Jane Loves Spider-Man (a very Joanie Loves Chachi title for me but that reference was so not in the target demographic), we had to say goodbye as our Pal left for the Distinguished Competition. Never fear, I thought to myself, some good could come from this! Maybe they’ll put him on Supergirl, another can-do gal who could easily be put into that rich and delicious McKeever high school setting that feels oh my gosh, just like <i>mine</i>. At DC, the plucky can-do gal can fight super-villains at the same time she’s trying to get her best friend on speaking terms with the friend’s ex and oh, the stories just write themselves! Sean McKeever can really set the stage of high school life without making it feel hackneyed or childish so I expected they’d really let him work with the DCU.
Short answer: it didn’t go very well.
But we’re not here to talk about that! We’re here to talk about something else that didn’t go very well: Heroes Reborn. Personally, I have a strange little affection for that strange new world but I find it very hard to believe that anyone can crack open a page of Liefield’s all new, all different Captain America and not have that hiss of breath-wince response. From the over-enthusiastic scripting to the well, do I have to mention the artwork? Heck, some are still steamed about replacing the A on Cap’s mask with an eagle. It was an idea that honestly came ill-formed and too soon; later, the Ultimates line would take the whole ‘updating familiar characters as modern heroes’ right, but this was the ’90s and we were ridiculous.
In 2006, we decided to honor that ridiculousness by bringing back Jeph Loeb and Rob Liefeld for the Onslaught Reborn mini-series. Despite some stalling, the tribute took us back to time where a long haired Hulk was the coolest thing we could come up with, the battles were etra super loud and the end of the world could be the only possible answer. A fine shadow of Ultimatum, the story made the strange choice of taking Rikki Barnes and dropping her off in our universe. For one, while the story was a quick romp through four-color, feetless Franklin-verse, there was no expectations for some sort of lasting change to the goo ol’ Marvel U. This was a classic “fight the villain and set everything back to normal” story, why take a random character back with you? Why not Thor instead?
And why then sit on the character for three or so years? Ed Brubaker brought this little continuity gaffe as an interesting example of what the world should or could have been to our current ‘dark’ future now in Cap #600 (sorry if she’d been used before that, Rikki Barnes seems to be missng her Marvel encyclopedia info). Rikki and Patriot share a moment on a rooftop where this brave new world’s laid out for her and I honestly though this would lead to some more interaction between the two Cap-‘inspired’ characters. Someone serious, someone fearless. It’d make a good buddy cop kind of comic, again these stories just write themselves, but again, other plans were in store.
As Sean McKeever is now a free man, he’s continuing work for both the Distinguished Entertainment and has come home to the House of Ideas. And here’s where I think the genius kicks in: the man writes from a fresh perspective that often gets him placed on ‘younger’ characters or strangely enough ‘female’ characters. It’s obvious from his work elsewhere that he’s not in this for the teen drama set and can do remarkably work outside what fans have come to know him for. He’s a big Captain America fan but there’s no possible way to get in on that story without sitting on Brubaker’s lap while he types and plots, the tale of Captain America only coming from one writer.
So why not find a displaced character with the right connections, work one’s mojo into into a mini-series to create a new hero that can dovetail nicely into that world, lading to grittier and stronger stories, allowing McKeever to branch out into new work himself? It’s like using Mary Jane Loves Spider-Man to tell the All New Adventure of Spider-Woman, Agent of Whoever At This Point (WATP).
The first issue is out and Rikki Barnes is fantastic. Very Natty Gann (if I can throw another odd reference out there), her isolation in this new world of hers is felt as she tries to get in touch with things and people that are just shadows of where she came from. She wants to meet Cap, as much as the Black Widow and Patriot say no, she wants to be a hero, as much as her false identity and shoddy job will let her, and she wants to be a kid, as much as her adopted high school full of mysteriously brain-washed kids will let her.
I fear this book won’t sell well. I fear most will take a look at that stunning cover and drop their hand at the mention of the Heroes Reborn universe. But please, go get a copy. If not for Rikki and her determined hope to be a hero for herself and her country (that’s not even her country anymore), but do it for Sean McKeever. He had a rough time with the Teen Titans and Birds of Prey and Countdown and I believe with all my heart that this is the book we’ve been waiting for from him. The next four issues are going to be great and you, the reader, are going to miss out.
And so will the quorum in his basement.