For Your Consideration: DC’s Birds of Prey Volume One

Robert Greenberger

Robert Greenberger


by Robert Greenberger

In the 1990s, there were few comics featuring women in prominent roles. It’s better today but only in comparison to what was happening 20 years back. As a result, the long-running success of Birds of Prey is something to admire. What started as an editorial brainstorm blossomed into one of the most consistently entertaining reads for its entire 120 issue run. But before the ongoing series, an uncertain management cautiously dipped its toe in the sales waters. Thankfully, they were really good stories and found an audience.

Birds of Prey Vol. 1

Birds of Prey Vol. 1


Those stories act as prequel and are collected in Birds of Prey Volume One and with a new edition coming this fall, now is a good time to look back and admire the efforts. The book collects Black Canary/Oracle: Birds of Prey #1, Birds of Prey: Revolution #1, Birds of Prey: Manhunt #1-4, Birds of Prey: Wolves #1, Birds of Prey: Batgirl #1 and Showcase ’96 #3. (The cover is by Matt Haley and Wade von Grawbadger, one I commissioned when the title was given a second printing back in the day.)

Assistant Editor Jordan B. Gorfinkel was working in the Bat Office and therefore was trying to figure out what he could do with Oracle, the former Batgirl Barbara Gordon, who was popular but not enough to sustain a title of her own. He thought of pairing her with another popular heroine, Black Canary, and see what magic could happen. “The proposal I wrote that got the first Birds of Prey one-shot approved was pretty broad (you’ll forgive the terrible pun). I laid out the bones. Chuck Dixon put the flesh on the series and even more paramount, the heart in it,” Gorfinkel told one interviewer. “Birds of Prey may seem obvious now, but recall that back then, few cared much for Oracle and Black Canary. Readers wanted Barbara-Batgirl restored and Black Canary, well, she’d just come off her, what?…fourth failed redesign in so many years? Plus, superhero readers are predominantly male; would they support a team of women heroes? I was asking DC to go out on a limb here. The writing of Chuck Dixon sealed the deal with the company and fans alike.”

Once the pairing came together, Gorfinkel turned to Batman writer Chuck Dixon to see what could be done. Dixon told Fanzing in 1999, “It was up to me to make the team work. But Gorf had great instincts and Babs and Dinah have enough similarities and differences to make a continually interesting pairing.”

Meantime, Gorfinkel held a mock office competition to name the series. “Frank Pittarese…came up with the winning entry in my series naming contest, and Mike Carlin who sagaciously insisted we not change it to Hell’s Belles (another true story),” Gorfinkel said. Dixon added, “Birds of Prey was thrown out there with a bunch of titles and that’s the one everyone liked. I can’t explain the sense of it. But the girls never use the term inside the book. It’s just a title.”

Black Canary/Oracle: Birds of Prey #1

Black Canary/Oracle: Birds of Prey #1


There’s little doubt that in addition to Dixon’s characterization and dialogue, the look of the first one-shot helped set the tone. Here, Gorfinkel was in the fortunate position of offering a 38-page story featuring two women to artists. “I admired Gary Frank’s work and I asked him. He asked if he could draw cool cars. He loves cars. I said sure!” Gorfinkel recalled. John Dell came in to ink the book and the first one-shot proved a critical and commercial success. So clearly, there was more to come.

One of the most interesting aspects of these early issues is that Oracle reaches out to Black Canary, provides her with a mission, materials, gear, etc., but the two never meet. In fact, it wasn’t until years later the two finally come face to face in a satisfying resolution to a major storyline. As a result, the relationship is built from a distance relying solely on Dixon’s ability to make both women true characters.

He liked Canary being an optimist contrasted with Oracle’s real world views. “I like women and don’t mind putting the time in to observe them,” Dixon told Fanzing. “Women are different from men but in no way is that a negative. Women are far tougher than men in all the important ways. Women can use both sides of their brains at once. They can emote and intellectualize at the same time. That’s something no man can ever do. I don’t believe all the ultra-feminist nonsense but I do believe that women are a civilizing influence on man. And we’d all still be hunting and gathering and living in caves if it weren’t for them. They’re a fascinating subject and I think my fascination for them shows in my work.”

The first story reintroduces readers to Black Canary, last significantly seen as a supporting player in The Ray (of all places). With her life being anything but satisfying, she’s game when Oracle reaches out to hire her to investigate the rivalry between a businessman and eco-terrorist group the Green Brotherhood. Dixon wisely grounds the story in the continuity by bringing in Lynx, current Queen of Gotham’s Triads. After the successful mission, Oracle suggests a “vacation” to Santa Prisca, to crack a white slavery ring, a story Dixon hoped would come next but it had to wait.

Birds pf Prey: Batgirl #1

Birds pf Prey: Batgirl #1


Next up was the Showcase short, written by Gorfinkel with art by Jennifer Graves and Stan Woch, adding in Lois Lane for good measure. Manhunt followed, with art by Haley & Grawbadger, featuring a Canary-centric tale guest-starring Huntress, who would later become a regular member of the team. She wants the same criminal as Canary so when Catwoman turns up, things get complicated. Revolution, with art by Stefano Raffaele and Bob McLeod, sees the Canary first travel to the island of Santa Prisca (home to Bane) to deal with a human trafficking ring. We meet Craig Windrow, Canary’s ex-husband, in Wolves, which sports art from Dick Giordano and Wayne Faucher. Finally, the Batgirl one-shot hints at things to come as Greg Land and Drew Geraci arrive for a story involving Blockbuster (the smart one).

Despite the one-offs, it was nearly a year before the ongoing by Dixon and Land arrived, and the writer could begin layering in supporting players and long-term sub-plots, which would also characterize the series.

Purchase

Birds of Prey Vol. 1

Classic covers from the Grand Comics Database.

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