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Birds of Prey

Written by Chuck Dixon
Drawn by
Gary Frank and John Dell
Matt Haley and Wade Von Grawbadger
Stefano Raffaele and Bob McLeod
Dick Giordano and Wayne Faucher
Editted by Jordan B. "Gorf" Gorfinkel

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One of the comicbook trends that I'm pleased about is the appearence of strong female characters, not the blood-soaked demonesses of the "bad girl" comics, but positive, strong, self-reliant women and girls, filling the same roles as the men and boys of other books. Several of the books I've reviewed here have had women in starring or featured roles: Jenifer Mays and Chance Falconer, Wonder Woman, Winged Victory, and the First Family's Astra. Birds of Prey, however, stars a team of two women, something that I don't recall having seen before in a superhero book. There have been lots of women partners or team-mates, and single stars, but partnering two women has seldom, if ever been done.

Birds of Prey teams the Black Canary with Oracle, who for the last couple of years has been a mysterious voice and supplier of intelligence and information to many of the heroes of the DC universe. Oracle is the identify assumed by Barbara Gordon, Commisoner Gordon's niece, once known as Bat Girl, since she was crippled and confined to a wheel chair by the Joker. Dinah Lance, the Black Canary, is the daughter of the Golden Age Balck Canary, Dinah Drake, and for several years was the lover and partner of the Green Arrow. They broke up a couple of years back, shortly before his death.

You know
guns, Oracle?
I don't
like 'em. But
I know 'em.
Birds of Prey isn't actually a regular title, but rather a series of one-shots and miniseries. The original Birds of Prey was a double-length special. The second was a four-part mini-series, subtitled Manhunt. Since then there have been two more specials, Revolution and Wolves, each about 3/4s the length of the original Birds of Prey. At least two more specials are scheduled. All four stories have been written by Chuck Dixon and editted by Gorfinkel. Each time the art has been done by a different team, some old timers and some new to the business, but all quite good, and more of the school of "Good Girl" art than the "Bad Girl". The panels to the right (click on the image for a larger view) are from Birds of Prey: Manhunt, by Matt Haley, who also worked on Ghost.

Birds of Prey gives the Black Canary a new look. Gone are the high-heels, fishnet stockings and long blond wig. Gone, too, is the short-cropped butch hair-cut and punk leathers. Her new outfit does leave her legs bare, but features padded fore-arms for blocking and boots with low heels and heavily tredded soles. In fact, in Manhunt when she teams up with The Huntress and Catwoman and fights Lady Shiva, all four wear sensible shoes. The superheroines and villians in this book are still very sexy, but it's much more the sexiness of an athlete than that of a showgirl or stripper.

The characters of the two women and their complex relationship are also handled more realistically than most comics. Dixon's portrayal of them draws on all the previous incarnations and creates characters that are new but familiar, believeable and interesting. Both women have their flaws and weaknesses as well as their strengths. As Birds of Prey opens, Dinah's personal life is a mess. She's broke. She hasn't gotten over the death of Ollie Queen, the Green Arrow, or the fire that destroyed their apartment and Sherwood Florists, the business they shared. Crimefighting is the one part of her life where she is successful. There she can rely on her instincts and abilities. There she is a hero and a winner.

Oracle, on the other hand, is haunted by what the Joker did to her. The Batman and her uncle had both tried to warn her about the dangers of crimefighting, urged her not to take the risks and they turned out to be right. The Joker shot and crippled her. Her failure, her recklessness, and her broken body all weigh on her. As a result, she's something of a control freak, and often urges Black Canary to be more cautious. What we quickly realize, and what we watch them slowly learn, is that they complement each other perfectly. Not only do they have strengths that compensate for the other's weakness, but they offer each other the opportunity to work through their problems and the support to overcome them.

From Previews magazine
December 3rd delivery date
Birds of Prey: Batgirl #1
Presenting the all-new team of Black Canary and... Batgirl!? Barbara Gordon, back in the cape and pointy ears, is once again fighting crime around Gotham City... But if she isn't crippled and this isn't a dream -- and it most definitely is not -- how do you explain it?
48pg. Miraweb format. $2.95
Of course, the book isn't just about two women working through the problems of the past. Birds of Prey is a superhero comic, after all. Neither woman has any truly superhuman powers. They are non-super heroes of the Batman school, or perhaps more ike James Bond or the Shadow's operatives. Their enemies tend to be international organizations, involved in intrigue, white-slavery, terror and the like. Like Bond, the Black Canary drives hot cars and battles world-class vilains. Like the Shadow's operatives she works for someone who is nothing but a voice.

The latest Birds of Prey, "Wolves" breaks away from this pattern. In it, both Dinah and Barbara run into trouble in their civilian identities. Being the heroes they are, they prevail in these unexpected problems, and for the first time we see Barbara in physical action, battling a gang of robbers from her wheelchair. From the advanced publicity (see the sidebar to the right), this will somehow lead to the return of Batgirl, although how the Barbara will manage that is not at all clear, despite her performance in Wolves. Looks like we'll have to wait until December to find out.

I recommend this book. The writing and art have both been high quality. The two lead characters are interesting people, well portrayed, and their relationship is complex and authentic. The book features not one, but two strong women, both people who live according to heroic ideals and who struggle with those ideals. The book is published irregularly. Given the development of the characters, I would also recommend picking up back issues if your local comicbook shop has them.

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Last Updated: Jul 15, 2008