Writers: Julie Benson, Shawna Benson / Artist: Claire Roe / DC Comics
Next to Wonder Woman, Birds of Prey might be one of the most challenging series DC creators undertake. For one, most of your main characters (depending upon the version you read, of course) rely on hand-to-hand combat, basic weapons, and hacking genius rather than flashy powers or incredible gadgets, so the stories have to be intricate mysteries or emotionally strong to pack a punch. Another glaring reason is that the all-women group is strongest when depicted by one of DC Comics’ least favorite demographics: women (for an example you can check out one of my particular favorite runs between powerhouse writer Gail Simone with the masterful Nicola Scott on interiors). Then, of course, there’s the delicate situation about what to do with Barbara Gordon.
I won’t lie, even though it’s been years I still cringe seeing Babs outside of wheelchair thanks to her
BS magical complicated surgery, and I know I’m not alone. Sister duo Julie and Shawna Benson seem fully aware of their readers’ worries, however, because they tackle this topic head on almost immediately by having our first villain call themselves Oracle and diving straight to flashbacks. As many of you might already know, I’m not a huge fan of The Killing Joke and would prefer to avoid any references to it if possible, but given that the two panels depicted focus on Babs to the point of cutting off half the Joker’s face and the narrative remains on her journey rather than her victimization, I’m convinced that our writers absolutely know how to take care of Barbara Gordon. Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t think being aware of ableism fixes the erasure of differently-abled bodies within comics, but it’s also better than just pretending the problem doesn’t exist. Personality-wise, I think that the Bensons have found a way to strike the right balance between Babs’ humor, sharp focus, and brilliance without falling into the goofy Stephanie-Brown-with-Red-Hair trap that has appeared from time to time in recent storylines. With that work done it’s much simpler to develop a believable narrative as to why the Birds would reunite in the first place.
So far this Birds of Prey marries all the details audiences love about the post-crisis world (witty banter, genuine friendship and love, learning how to navigate very strong and differing personalities to form a stronger whole) with all of the goodness a fresh start has to offer (Babs’ access to the latest technology, Dinah’s rock band persona, Helena never ever having to again be associate with the phrase “belly window”). My only complaint would be that Claire Roe’s art could be a tad more consistent, verging on the cartoony at moments then surprising us with beautiful dramatic scenes like Helena’s speech in the confessional. Other than that, I look forward to seeing the future of our favorite kick ass DC women team take down crime, learn to appreciate and bond with one another, and inspire a whole new generation of women readers to break out of the traditional “girl power” boxes we’re expected to occupy.