Gail Simone’s run on Birds of Prey was one of the most definitive in modern comics history. Simone presented an all-female team as something more than a gimmick and portrayed a wide array of personalities beyond the usual strong action-heroine stock type. She also dragged a number of characters out of obscurity and into the spotlight.
Unfortunately, the Birds of Prey brand took a beating going into the New 52. There was a Birds of Prey title, but the only member of the original cast who was part of this new team was Black Canary. And this Black Canary was not the Dinah Lance of old but Dinah Drake. Her background was kept deliberately mysterious, but eventually we found out she was a homeless youth turned government agent turned freelance vigilante, following her accidentally murdering her husband!
The Huntress – Helena Bertinelli – was given a similarly fractured background. Originally seeming to return in a mini-series by Paul Levitz, it was revealed at the end that Helena Bertinelli was an alias used by Helena Wayne – the daughter of Batman on an alternate Earth. When she returned to her home world, another Helena Bertinelli was introduced in the series Grayson. This Helena Bertinelli was a spy and part of the secret organization Spyral.
The most visibly altered of all, however, was Barbara Gordon. The Powers That Be decided that Barabra Gordon would be Batgirl once again and further decreed that she would be the only Batgirl to have ever existed in the New 52 universe. Bye-bye Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown! Worse yet, all of Barbara’s time as Oracle was stricken from the record. This did not stop them, however, from confirming that the events of The Killing Joke still occurred and that Barbara was newly mobile following a revolutionary surgery.
To say that fans were livid at this announcement was an understatement. Babs had built up a devout following among wheelchair-using comics readers during her time as Oracle and to have her suddenly healed and her time as Oracle retconned was a slap in the face. A number of fans were also upset since this seemed to confirm their fears that DC Comics had no idea what to do with Barbara Gordon as a character without invoking the specter of The Joker and Barbara’s darkest hour.
It’s likely these fans will not find much pleasure in Batgirl and the Birds of Prey Rebirth #1, which affirms that the events of The Killing Joke still happened in the softly rebooted Rebirth reality. Oracle fans, however, will be glad to know that this issue restores Barbara Gordon’s time as Oracle into the timeline. It also makes Barabra’s Oracle persona the centerpiece of the opening issue’s plot.
The story opens with Barbara, as Batgirl, taking down a gang of hired goons on a random rooftop. A quick check of their phones reveals that they were given their marching orders by someone called Oracle. Fearing that her past hacker identity and information network may have been compromised, Babs contacts Dinah Lance, who acted as her field agent back when she was less mobile.
As the two old friends go off looking for answers, Helena Bertinelli – recently removed from Spyral – has elected to go into the vigilante racket herself. Dubbing herself The Huntress, she’s decided to focus on bringing down the Mafia by any means necessary. Her evening’s activities bring her into conflict with Batgirl and Black Canary when their respective prey are revealed to be the same man.
Julie and Shawna Benson deliver a fantastic script for this first issue. Those readers who came to this book from Batgirl, Black Canary and Grayson will find their favorite heroines written true to form. Paradoxically, fans of the pre-New 52 will find this comic to be reminiscent of Gail Simone’s run while the story and characters are simultaneously instantly accessible to new readers.
The artwork by Claire Roe stands apart as something outstanding, even among the rush of talented new artists working on the Rebirth titles. There is a grittiness to Roe’s work that befits the covert world of The Birds while still possessing a unique sense of clarity. Roe depicts a world of darkness but nothing is obscured or over-inked. And it’s worth noting that Roe’s designs for each heroine are unique, depicting different body-types and facial features. The color art by Allen Passalaqua also deserves mention, as Passalaqua contrives some truly amazing visual effects such as computer monitors that almost seem to glow on the page.
Batgirl and the Birds Of Prey Rebirth #1 is the best of both worlds. Fans of the original series will be glad to find something close enough to what they remember to satisfy the nostalgia itch while still leaving enough mysteries to be surprised. New readers will find a solid story with amazing artwork starring some of DC Comics best heroines.