A Brief History of the Birds of Prey


With the movie coming out, a lot of people are interested in the Birds of Prey who might not be familiar with the original comic or characters. As is often the case, there’s a lot of difference between the movie and the comics. I’ll do my best to give a quick overview of both.

In 1996, Chuck Dixon got an idea for a new story, taking two lesser-known heroes and pairing them up. Black Canary hadn’t been used for a while at that time, and the character was having some hard times. She had lost her superpower, her lover Green Arrow was dead (it’s comics, he got better), and she wasn’t in the Justice League at that point. Oracle was the former Batgirl, Barbara Gordon. She’d been shot in the spine by the Joker, paralyzed, and forced to give up her career as Batgirl, using her formidable mind to become the incredibly talented master hacker Oracle.


The concept started as a series of one-shot specials and limited series, taking some time to get to the point of an ongoing book. Oracle’s secret identity was so closely guarded that even Black Canary (Dinah Drake) didn’t know who was on the other end of her coms for years. Eventually, Chuck Dixon left the book and Gail Simone took over. The team slowly grew, the requirements seeming to be that members were female, second tier or lower, and in the beginning, not powered. Huntress was the first addition, and those three were the core of the book for a long time. Eventually, other characters came and went, including Misfit, Lady Blackhawk, Katana, Manhunter, and many others. There were even occasional male allies and close associates like Savant and Creote (reformed villains), Nightwing, Green Arrow, and Wildcat.


Classically, the team was based out of an old clock tower in Gotham City. Their methods occasionally put them at odds with other heroes. Batman didn’t approve of Oracle’s “sin tax,” her habit of using her hacking skills to skim money from various organized crime figures to finance her team. They moved around a bit, briefly based out of Metropolis and then Platinum Flats, another made up DC City. When the DC Universe BOPwas rebooted, the team was shaken up a lot, especially by Barbara Gordon getting the use of her legs back and returning to her Batgirl identity, putting Oracle aside in one of many controversial decisions in that reboot. Various versions of the team have come and gone, but usually based around Barbara Gordon, Dinah Drake Lance/Black Canary, and Helena Bertinelli/Huntress.


There was a short-lived live action tv show, which had a Barbara Gordon that was faithful to the comics, and a Huntress and Black Canary that weren’t. Versions of the team showed up in various cartoons and video games. Then came rumblings about a movie, which changed form several times until the final version was agreed on.


The biggest change is that Barbara Gordon, arguably the heart and soul of the team in just about every incarnation, isn’t part of the group. The main characters featured in the film are:


Harley Quinn– the Joker’s ex, a crazy lady with a fondness for violence and large hammers or baseball bats. Her eccentric behavior makes it easy to forget that Harleen Quinzel was a skilled psychiatrist before the Joker twisted her life. This is a continuation of the character from the Suicide Squad movie.


Making their debuts on the DC movies are:


Huntress- Helena Bertinelli, daughter of a Mafia family seeking revenge for her family’s deaths. This is a close version of the second Huntress in the comics.


Black Canary– Dinah Laurel Lance, described as a vigilante with sonic powers who also works as a singer in nightclubs owned by the main villain, Black Mask. She sounds like a combination of several versions of the character from the comics.


Renee Montoya– Renee first appeared, as did Harley, in Batman: The Animated Series, eventually making it to the comics. She was a GCPD detective, eventually revealed to be a lesbian, who drifted further and further from the department, eventually becoming the second Question. The movie version sounds like an early version of Renee, still with the department.


Cassandra Cain- In the comics, she was the second Batgirl, raised by mercenary assassin David Cain, trained only in combat for her entire life, to the point where she could read people’s moves before they made them, but at the cost of having no social skills and even having difficulty speaking at first. The movie version sounds like some kind of street thief.


There are a lot of differences from the comic book versions of these characters, and some have complained that the races/appearances of the characters are far from the original looks. As with most movie and tv casting, my suggestion is that people wait to see it for themselves before getting worked up about things that really don’t matter. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn) comes to theaters February 7th, 2020, the first of the big hero movies of the year. Personally, I’m looking forward to it.