Minor Disclaimer: Before reading this book, I thought that I had a copy of a recent rendition of Birds of Prey – yet after completing this book and looking a bit more into it, I discovered that this is merely a reprint of the 1999 series. This does not change the dynamics of the comic much, but it drastically affects me as an avid comic book reader whom constantly searches for progress in the industry. Therefore, forgive me if my criticism reads as harsh as I have higher expectations for representation of women in today’s comics (although still problematic) than I do for the late 90’s.
After becoming paralyzed from the waist-down because of the Joker, Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) becomes Oracle and partners with ex-Justice Leaguer, Dinah Lance (Black Canary). Using an ear piece, Oracle aids and instructs Black Canary on various missions.
One thing that I thoroughly appreciated was the continuous homage to Oracle’s former identity of Batgirl:
Black Canary, is summoned by Oracle to spy on Nick Devine, an entrepreneur who “develops developing countries.” Through this, Black Canary discovers that Devine is part of an intricate scam – he offers to assist developing countries yet hires terrorists to destroy the project to pocket whatever cash he can. In a fit of rage, Oracle has to convince Canary from killing Devine. After all, it is the cardinal rule of being a superhero: never kill, and always wonder why the villain strikes again, then become tempted to kill the villain only to let them go for the cycle to repeat.
In the next arc, Lois Lane and Black Canary work together to overthrow a slavery ring. They become captured so they use it as an opportunity to get to one another through the only thing that a woman can identify herself with – a love lost. Lois references her breakup with Superman while Canary reflects upon her relationship with Green Arrow. After this, one of the workers releases them from their cell and the two women complete their mission.
In the next story, Huntress, Catwoman, and Black Canary team up to take down the villainous Archer Braun. As with the other story arc, every back story for a female vigilante must involve a love story for behind every badass woman is a bad ass heartache. Apparently, both Canary and Huntress were romantically duped by Braun. You may be wondering how these women realized that this man was conning them. Perhaps Canary used her experience as a spy to deduce that he was a criminal. Maybe Huntress used her intel from the mafia to uncover Braun’s lies.
Nope, none of that. This is a comic with powefurl heroines – a more tactiful approach was taken to showcase their strength:
Catwoman later joins the team because she was also crossed by Braun, as he failed to meet his promised payments. In one of the most cliche motifs, Black Canary, the impulsive brawns, fights with Oracle, the rational brains, and removes her head piece. This results in her becoming captured by Braun while Huntress, Catwoman, and Orcale work together to rescue Canary. Catwoman and Huntress attempt to determine Braun’s whereabouts and, of course, become apprehended. Yet once again, this is a comic that allows for female empowerment so the two heroines are able to escape.
<-Wow, could anything else scream “heroic prevail” more than this? Now, I know you may be thinking of the poses done by other DC superheroes:
But these are superheroes, they are men – they have to be drawn fighting differently than their heroic vixen counterparts, right? Wrong.
The four women eventually defeat Braun but the entire story arc was reduced to petty revenge. Picture “Before He Cheats” by Carrie Underwood as a comic, now add superpowers – you have successfully created this story arc. Oracle concludes this arc by asking Canary if the entire mission was worth it “all to get back at the guy who didn’t call [her] the next day” because I guess that is
feminisim male writers attempting to appeal to the mind of a woman.
The following story uses the pattern of brawns versus brains as Canary and Oracle get into another fight and the two decide that they need some time apart. This allows them to focus on the men in their lives instead, and allows both of them to become blind-sided because of love. Their sisterhood forms once again because failed relationships are the basis of all female friendships.
In the last arc of the volume, Spellbinder creates an illusion that causes Oracle to believe that she is still Batgirl in an attempt to reveal Batman’s hideout. Although she indulges in this fantasy, Oracle tells Spellbinder a bogus location in order to alert the authorities.
The beginning of the volume felt a bit slow, but it began to pick up during the last two story arcs – specifically the last one with Spellbinder. I am a huge fan of Oracle and Black Canary because they are different than the typical heroines found in comics (especially in the 90’s). Black Canary is aggressive without any apologies while Oracle is incredibly intelligent and tactful. They have a bit more depth to them yet their depth often feels more like a puddle rather than an ocean. This is because they are often defined by the men in their lives, I mean, a whole story was dedicated to getting revenge on an ex-boyfriend. All the women in the comic were highly sexualized, to the point where it was often comical:
Seriously? This woman was just K.O’ed by Black Canary and look at her body! I don’t even look like this when I attempt to be seductive.
The relationship between the two women is one that is often predictable, but it seems to work concerning the dynamics of their partnership: Black Canary is the one on the field, so she is impulsive and quick to act, while Oracle observes and advises from her hideout. Yet for a series entitled Birds of Prey, I found that Canary, Oracle, and the other women vigilantes were ofen the prey, and that was a bit disappointing.