Comics / Comic Reviews / DC Comics

Birds of Prey #127


By Hervé St-Louis
February 22, 2009 - 12:31

Series with female leads are not supposed to do well. That’s the rule! That’s why I ask myself what Marvel Comics is thinking when they shelve the Black Panther in favour of a female replacement. However, Birds of Prey, a series first introduced as mini-series and specials by writer Chuck Dixon broke the rule. Sure, featuring gorgeous women every issue did not hurt, but it wasn’t the focus of the series. Women here were treated with respect and were the brains of the operation. For that, Birds of Prey, garnered quite a strong following with female readers. Guys, like me didn’t object either. This issue is the last one, and I hope will mark a strong case studies proving that comic books with female leads that don’t focus on their physical attributes, can last.

birdsofprey127.jpg

Birds of Prey went through several cycles. Of course, it’s foundation were the Dixon years, where the concept was tried as a series of mini-series and special featuring a very simple formula that played to Dixon’s strength as a pulp and action writer. Two character, one the brains of the operation, the legs would go off in missions throughout the world and try to save the world. It was a mix of super hero, spy thriller, and adventure with locales and casts from the world over. Some of the weirder issues were those where a powerless Black Canary was on Apocalypse.

For the formula to work Dixon needed two strong leads that could carry the series. He stumbled upon Barbara Gordon, better known as Oracle and Black Canary. Geoff Isherwood and John Ostrander had rebuilt oracle as a credible force in the pages of the Suicide Squad. No longer just the crippled former Batgirl, she was a computer hacker of the first order. When she became a rising star of the Suicide Squad, the Batman group editors quickly yanked her back from the rest of the DC Universe and used her in Batman series. That they had totally abandoned the character and stopped believing in her after Alan Moore’s Killing Joke comic book was not touched on. One of the problems I had with the Batman staff using Oracle as Batman’s tech sidekick was that in Suicide Squad, she had proven far more versatile and useful. I felt they had reduced her potential putting her under Batman’s tutelage. With Birds of Prey, she was able to shine, while having a tangential link to Batman’s world.

The other half of the Birds of Prey was Black Canary. Since Mike Grell’s Green Arrow mini-series, The Longbow Hunter, she had been reduced as a character. She was nothing but Green Arrow’s sidekick. Even when given her own series, in the 1990s, by Sarah von Byam, it was written as a spin off from Green Arrow. Except for the exploitative version of Green Arrow, it featured, nothing from that series stood up. Having lost her powers in Longbow Hunter, Black Canary had been removed from the Justice League International series where she would have become one of the most popular characters, had they given her the chance. Just like with Oracle, the editors of her male counterparts yanked back Black Canary by and reduced in power and stature. It took the death of Green Arrow to free the character from the Green Arrow group editors. But in Birds of Prey, written by a former Green Arrow writer, Black Canary was allowed to shine and be her own woman.

Well, almost. The first few years of Birds of Prey, under Dixon, focused mostly on Oracle. She was the star, and Black Canary provided the action and the required sex overtones that a series with female leads must provide. Even when she dated Ra’s Al Ghul, fans of the characters decried the misuse of the character. However, Dixon showed that the character was still formidable, as she did not have any powers before the Ra’s Al Ghul affair. Frequent guesses appeared in the series. Power Girl and the Huntress, other broken female characters became semi-regulars.

Terri Moore was recruited to continue the story of the Birds of Prey, and the series might have floundered, if it wasn’t for the recruitment of Gail Simone as the new writer. Simone was given a tough job, but enough space to work things out. As the Batman group editors had repatriated the series, it clearly was one of the lowest selling series. As such experiments were allowed, but with a caveat. The series had to match the cast of the television adaption of the Birds of Prey. That adaptation put much more emphasis on Batman’s mythology, reintroducing the concept that the Huntress was his daughter and that of Cat-woman. Thus, it was mandated that the Huntress return to the Birds of Prey as an equal third partner to Oracle and Black Canary. However, the years under Simone allowed her to tip back the scale towards Black Canary and remove the focus on Oracle. Under Simone, Black Canary’s skillset was improved and her character rebuild. She was thus a great character again that could exist without being the sidekick of Green Arrow or even Batman. Simone’s efforts were so great, that the character was a normal for the new Justice League series and even allowed to be its chairman for the first time.

Simone also started to add other frequent broken female characters, such as Katanna, Lady Shova, and of course the popular Lady Blackhawk. This is when the series became less interesting for me. There were too many characters and not enough time to focus on single ones. The series really became a who’s who of unused female leads from the DC Universe and that was not interesting to me. Following in the footsteps of writer Simone, Tony Bedard tried to steer the series to success.

And this brings us to the last issue of the series. I haven’t read it for a while and I know why. There are too many characters running around with nothing exceptional. Here, the Calculator is staging a last fight against Oracle, still not capable of figuring that she’s Barbara Gordon. This is ridiculous as way back in the Suicide Squad, Oracle’s identity was known to whoever walked by, including several villains.

The real reason for the series’ axing must have to do with the rebooting of the Batman core series and finding no space for a series about such a diverse cast. It’s also an attempt to claim back Oracle for the Batman crew. The end of this series is quite weak and a departure from its best years. In hindsight, it might be the best thing.

Visually, I find it interesting that all the principals who worked on this series seem tom have Québécois origins. Bedard, St.Aubin and cover artist Roux all have typical Canadian names. I’m not a fan of inker Floyd and I think he’s the reason the artwork looks so generic. This series has been graced with strong artists in the past, but it’s not going out with a bang art-wise.

Rating: 6.5 /10


Last Updated: September 6, 2021 - 08:15

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