TV-Writing Sisters The Bensons Give Green Arrow A Terrifying New Comic Book Villain: Social Media
Green Arrow — a hero who's moved from the DC Comics C-list to headlining his own TV franchise — has a new comic book creative team, Julia and Shawn Benson. And the brand new bad guy they've created has a dangerous new weapon: social media.
The Bensons start with this week's Green Arrow #43, and they're introducing a brand new villain: The Citizen. He's a vigilante who starts targeting the rich, and in a Black Mirror-esque scenario, asks his followers to vote on who dies next.
As writers still relatively new to comics, they've been learning to write for a comic book page, keeping their writing sparser and letting the art tell the story.
"How can you tell the most story with the least possible words? It's tough," Shawna told us at Comic-Con. "That's obviously been an evolution for us now, in two years. And I think we've finally figured it out."
The Bensons' biggest claim to fame has been their work on CW TV show The 100, and their next project is Netflix martial arts drama Wu Assassins. For Green Arrow, they're giving him some new life-and-death problems, inspired by how the world can make us feel — and how we express that on social media.
"I would never condone shooting anyone in the head, but sometimes you read something so heinous and horrible, and you're like, the world would be better off without that person," Julie said. "He isn't wrong that a lot of these guys can pay their way out of jail, and get away scot-free, and he's saying, 'We're the people and we're supposed to decide who's guilty of things.'"
Why Green Arrow Would Be A Perfect Angeleno
The Bensons are based here in L.A., which has influenced one major aspect of the comic — how they treat the stardom of Green Arrow's secret identity.
"Oliver Queen feels like a celebrity," Julie said. "My first job, I worked for Dustin Hoffman for three years, and so taking how I know that lifestyle, that 1 percent lifestyle, seeing it on a daily basis, and saying, 'OK, now take it down to the street level,' and [exploring what] must be the other things he feels."
"I think it's one of the things we maybe detected about Oliver Queen as a character that I'm not sure other people completely understand, is how different life is for those people who live in this upper echelon," Shawna said. "And we see it all the time in L.A. with celebrities, and paparazzi on the street, and you can't go into Fred Segal or wherever and shop like a normal person."
Real Fans Vs. Toxic Fandom
Writing on a network TV show, the Bensons have had their own experience with fan backlash at times. They also come from being fans themselves, beginning as kids and into adulthood.
"Without all of the information, you see a tweet about somebody or a blurb. And you will make a judgment just on that," Shawna said. "If you're the subject of that, and you have no way to change people's minds in a fashion that feels not like a knee-jerk — it's like, hang on a second, you don't know the whole story here."
Just like everyone else online, the people in the Bensons' five-issue story are disconnected through social media from the effects of their actions.
"We have a lot of people who voice their opinion at you in a way that can be, feel threatening, and can feel like they should have no business saying those things," Julie said.
From Enthusiasts To Creators
The Bensons say that coming out of being fans helps keep them in the place of the reader, rather than speaking from a place of here's our story, deal with it.
But there's a problem with reaching your dreams of finally being a writer, they said: now you don't have time to read and watch the things that got you into it to begin with. They try to watch as much as possible, but with 500 shows out there, there's a lot to keep up with.
When it comes to comics, they're also looking for something fresh and off the beaten path.
"Can you find us cool stories that are not superheroes?" Julie said.
All that content gave them another problem — finding a name for their story's villain.
"It's tough to even create unique villains in this day and age, because it feels like they've all been created. They've all been named — it took us forever to figure out 'the Citizen,'" Shawna said.
They were pitching name after name with their editor, before finally settling on "the Citizen" as something that expresses the way that character sees himself, standing up as a citizen for other citizens.
The Story So Far
The Bensons spent the last two years doing their first big comics project, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey, after making their name in TV.
The Bensons say they're also proud to be women writing a book with a male lead — still less than common throughout media. It's also a character with a huge backlog of content, originally created in 1941.
"It was a little intimidating," Shawna said. "When you have a character with so much history, you want to be honest and truthful to the essence of that character. But you don't want to necessarily tell the same story that everyone else has told about that character. It's really hard."
Moving to Green Arrow has also meant tying in more with the surrounding DC Comics universe, but they say that collaboration like this is a natural fit, since it mirrors the experience of working in a TV writers room.
They have a number of allies in bringing this story to life, including their artist, Javier Fernandez. Comic books are always a partnership between writer and artist — instead of actors bringing their work to life, now it's the drawings on the page.
"He just elevates everything we're writing to the next level," Julie said. "It's so detailed. It's so action-packed on the page, real emotional."
Julie said that she'd just received art back for the book that literally made her cry because it was so beautiful.
Green Arrow #43, which they promise is hugely emotional and will reward loyal fans, is in comic stores and available online now.
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