Search

Graphic Novelty²

Tag

Oracle

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Black Canary/Birds of Prey

Welcome to the latest installment in our yearly Fiction’s Fearless Females series! Michael of My Comic Relief kicked us off with his post on Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy of the Harley Quinn animated and comic book series. Kalie of Just Dread-full followed with Ellie and Sandie from the film “Last Night in Soho.” Look out for Jeff of The Imperial Talker’s post in just a few days, and Nancy’s post next week!

In last year’s post, I teased the heroine I had in mind for this year’s post. Our friendship theme for this year fit perfectly for who I had in mind: Black Canary. This was a prime opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, if you’ll forgive the pun.

Quick note: I’ll be talking strictly about the comics, as the movie with the same title shares… the title only. It not only doesn’t focus on Black Canary, but didn’t even include all canonical characters that make this team so special.

There are (to date) two iterations of the Black Canary character: Dinah Drake and her daughter, Dinah Laurel Lance, who we’re going to focus on. The character you think of when you hear “Black Canary” is most likely the second iteration. Though both are blonde bombshells and martial arts experts sporting tight leather bodysuits and fishnets, Baby Dinah’s signature superpower is her Canary Cry: a supersonic scream that she can control and direct. But as we’ll see, that’s not her only power…

The Canary Cry, as seen on the Justice League animated series (GIF source)

Baby Dinah grew up surrounded by heroes. Her mother, the first Black Canary, was part of the Golden Age Justice League of America. Naturally, Dinah wanted to be a crimefighter, just like her mom and the heroes who were family to her. Mama Canary, not wishing a vigilante’s dangerous life upon her only daughter, forbade it. In a classic #FFF move, Dinah went against her mother’s wishes to follow her dreams. She trained with Ted Grant (Wildcat) to become a martial arts expert and took up the mantle of Black Canary. She even starts operating out of a floral shop in Gotham, just like Mom did. She goes on to become a founding member of the Justice League International and joins the Justice League, where she meets Green Arrow (Oliver Queen), marking the beginning of their romantic relationship. After the death of her mother and a bad breakup with Oliver, Dinah finds herself adrift and unsure of what to do with her life. (Source)

Enter Oracle (the hero Barbara Gordon, or Batgirl 1, became after her paralysis due to Joker’s shooting, as outlined in my 2020 FFF post), seeking the perfect operative for her covert operations. This was the case in Birds of Prey #1 (the cover of which is the featured image for this post!), written by Chuck Dixon in 1995, published in 1996. The rest is history.

Now, up until this point, Black Canary had very rarely had her own book, in an “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” sort of situation. That changed with Birds. Though she shares the limelight with Oracle to start, Huntress in 2003 when Gail Simone took over the helm, and an ever-expanding roster in later years… Dinah is very much the heart and soul of the book. She might share the title, but she is the embodiment of everything the Birds come to represent over the course of the run.

Of course, the biggest themes of the book are that of friendship and found family. Barbara, in selecting Dinah as her first covert operative, gave Dinah a second chance to find her purpose as a heroine. Conflict in the earlier issues stems in part from Barbara and Dinah’s clashing personalities and work methods. Barbara as Oracle is methodical, meticulous, and organized. Dinah’s Canary is a little more loose and a go-with-the-flow type of gal. They each cause the other no end of grief, until they learn to trust one another. But once they do, Barbara and Dinah, along with Helena Bertinelli as Huntress later, grow so much closer than mere coworkers.

The cover of trade paperback Vol. 3 (reviewed here), which collects the beginning of Gail Simone’s run, when Huntress was added to the roster

In fact, it’s Dinah who suggests that Helena becomes part of the team. Barbara is resistant because she doesn’t approve of Helena’s more violent methods of crimefighting. But when Dinah welcomes Helena with open arms… what is she to do but give her a chance? And though Barbara and Helena clash the same way she and Dinah did in the beginning, and even through Helena’s brief departure, they learn to trust each other. With that burgeoning trust comes a deep respect for each other. They become partners, friends, sisters. They become a team in so many other ways than just a covert operations unit. And none of it would have happened without Dinah.

Dinah, as a character, is idealistic and humanitarian. She is (with few exceptions) willing to give everyone, even the most heinous villains, the benefit of the doubt and a chance at redemption, rehabilitation, and in Helena’s case, friendship. Helena had been an outcast of the Batfamily due to her violent tendencies, but Dinah does what they didn’t: give her a chance. Conflict within the team further arises from this clash of ideals. Barbara’s faith in others has been damaged due to the trauma she suffered. Helena naturally distrusts and is quite cynical of everyone. Dinah leads by example by being open, accepting, and willing to give everyone a fair shot.

For example, there’s an arc where Dinah and Sandra Wu-San (Lady Shiva) trade places for a year. The two women share a tentative bond, as they were trained by the same martial arts sensei. However, again, the two women are very different: Sandra is the world’s deadliest assassin, while Dinah has a code against killing. Shiva offers to further Canary’s training, but Dinah refuses, fearing her morality will slip. They arrive at this compromise instead. Dinah goes to train for a year as Sandra did, and Sandra joins the Birds for a year, calling herself the Jade Canary. Dinah hopes her time with the Birds allows Sandra to warm up to new experiences and helping people rather than killing for hire. The rest of the team might (and certainly did) call her crazy – but Dinah believed what she was doing was right: giving Sandra a chance to grow and change. (Sources 1 and 2)

The cover of Birds of Prey #95, showing “the two Canaries” (Image Source)

Dinah Laurel Lance, as Black Canary, might be one of three top billers on the Birds of Prey book – but she is the heart and soul of the story. Barbara Gordon as Oracle gave her the chance to reinvent herself as a hero, and Dinah went above and beyond the call. She showed herself, her coworkers-turned-sisters, and us the readers, the power of friendship. As corny as it sounds, Dinah’s greatest power is her loving acceptance of others and her willingness to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Though she is the loudest – literally and figuratively – of the bunch, her power comes from the quiet, understated kindness that she gives to everyone.

If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you likely know that Birds of Prey is my favorite comic book series of all time. I’ve reviewed the entire series in trade paperback for this blog and am currently re-reading the newly published omnibus editions with my husband. It’s been a joy to take a deeper dive into the friendship this series is famous for with #FictionsFearlessFemales this year. Look out for the rest of this year’s series!

Kathleen

Fiction’s Fearless Females: Barbara Gordon (Batgirl/Oracle)

Fiction’s Fearless Females is back! That’s right folks, your favorite bloggers are back with this series for Women’s History Month: Nancy and I, Michael of My Comic Relief, Kalie of Just Dread-full, Jeff of The Imperial Talker, and Rob of My Side of the Laundry Room. Michael kicked off the series earlier this week with his wonderful post on the 13th iteration of Doctor Who (which you can read on his blog or on ours). Not to worry, for more posts featuring your favorite fictional females from all these other fabulous bloggers will be served up all month long 😉

This year for #FictionsFearlessFemales, I’ve chosen Barbara Gordon! Barbara was the original Batgirl, and became the hero Oracle after the events of The Killing Joke. Though Barbara Gordon is not the first superheroine (that mantle goes to Wonder Woman, as chronicled in last year’s FFF post), she is one of the first examples of a heroine derivative of a male hero: in this case, Batman. That doesn’t mean she is exactly like Batman, however, as we will see! Barbara was also the first superheroine to have a disability, making her debut as Oracle hugely important for representation in the comic industry.

Batgirl was written into Batman and Robin’s comics series at the request of the producers of the 1960’s Batman TV show. The creators of the show wanted to create a character who would appeal to a female audience, but they wanted her to premiere in the comics first. Therefore, William Dozier (executive producer and uncredited narrator of Batman), Julius Schwartz (DC comics editor), and Carmine Infantino (DC comics artist) collaborated to create Batgirl! She first appeared in Detective Comics #359 in January of 1967, the title of which was “The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl!” In September of that same year, her first appearance on the TV show was aired, in the episode called “Enter Batgirl, Exit Penguin.” She was played by the late Yvonne Craig. (Wikipedia)

gallery-1439990597-gettyimages-103658736
Yvonne Craig as Batgirl from the 1960’s Batman TV show. (Source)

What I found particularly charming about Batgirl’s early comics (seen in her Bronze Age omnibus) was how easily and cheerfully she forcefully integrated herself into the Dynamic Duo to make it a Batfamily. Batman and Robin are puzzled and even alarmed at Batgirl’s sudden appearance, and they don’t believe she can be a good crime-fighter. They mince no words making their doubts known to her. Do those doubts bother Batgirl? Heck no! She razzes them right back, giving as good as she gets. Mostly, she lets her actions do the talking: using her brains and physical prowess to prove herself rather than her words. Barbara doesn’t let their misguided, misogynistic views of her get in the way of doing what’s right: joining their crusade to keep Gotham safe. Her persistence leaves Batman and Robin little choice but to accept her once they realize she’s not going anywhere!

Once they do accept Batgirl, she proves to be an invaluable member of the team. Though Batgirl is of course derivative of Batman, the two characters are very different. Barbara Gordon in her very first incarnation was the head librarian of the Gotham City Library by day (which, as a librarian myself, I cannot tell you how inspiring I find that and how much that means to me!!!). Her specialty from the start lay in information: finding it, distilling it, and following it to solve crimes. Later, after she became Oracle, the methods of her information gathering changed as she became a tech/computer wizard, and she delivered information to the right people rather than using it herself. But therein is her main difference from Batman: while he may be the World’s Greatest Detective, the best at deducing information, Batgirl is the expert of information gathering.

klyd18o
An excerpt from “The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl,” showing librarian Barbara Gordon first putting on the Batgirl costume for a Policeman’s Masquerade Ball. (Source)

Over her long and varied career, Barbara Gordon as Batgirl has fought crime, kept her identity a secret from her father (Gotham City Police Commissioner Jim Gordon), and even ran for the House of Representatives in Washington D.C. in the early 1970’s. Some of this story appears in the Bronze Age omnibus linked above. This was the start of the retirement of the character, with both Barbara and Batgirl appearing on and off in various DC titles until 1988. Her official retirement title, “Batgirl Special #1″ was published in July of that year.

Remember, however, that The Killing Joke (linked above) was published in March of 1988. Though Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s story was initially meant to be a one-shot about the Joker, it proved immensely popular both with long-time fans and newcomers. In the story, as the Joker tries to tell us his story, his origin is interspersed with the present-day, where he shoots Barbara Gordon through the spine (paralyzing her from the waist down), kidnaps Commissioner Jim Gordon, and attempts to torture him into losing his sanity. He tries to prove that anyone can go insane by having “one bad day,” like the day he had that ultimately drove him over the edge. That one-shot was so popular and influential to DC’s overall storyline that Barbara’s paralysis became canon. It was written into her last title, the “Batgirl Special #1″ mentioned above.

the killing joke
The cover of the infamous Killing Joke graphic novel.

If you’ve never read The Killing Joke, I recommend you do on the basis of it being a milestone story in the overarching Batman lore. For my part, I could only stomach it one time, due to what I deem to be excessive violence against Barbara’s character (I wish I’m joking when I say that it gave me nightmares). Comic book author Gail Simone added Barbara (as Batgirl I) to her website “Women in Refrigerators,” in which she lists female comic book characters who have been killed, tortured, or otherwise depowered in some other way, often for the sake of a male character’s personal or story development. So, Barbara, up until this point, had been a popular character in her own right. She was connected to the ever-popular Batman, sure, but she was her own person, with her own title. In order to serve the story Moore and Bolland were trying to tell (to drive her father and Batman insane), her power was stripped away with a gunshot from the Joker.

… Or was it?

In 1996, a story called “Oracle: Year One: Born of Hope” was published in The Batman Chronicles #5 (I know I’ve read and reviewed it here, but can’t find the omnibus I read it in to link!). This story, penned by John Ostrander and Kim Yale, shows the events of The Killing Joke and the year after from Barbara’s point of view. We see her struggle to accept her paralysis and with her physical therapy. But, we also see her discover her affinity with computers and hacking on the early internet. We see her learn to defend herself though she is now bound to a wheelchair. We see her find her purpose again.

pwgwqvcwehowwndlspsi
The end panel of “Oracle: Year One: Born of Hope,” in which we see Barbara voice her complete transformation (Source).

Thus, Barbara Gordon becomes Oracle, expert computer wizard, hacker, and information broker not only to Batman, but to other superheroes and organizations as needed.

Also in 1996, Chuck Dixon’s crossover Black Canary/Oracle: Birds of Prey was published, beginning my very favorite comic book series of all time: Birds of Prey. Oracle reaches out to the Black Canary, and the two form an unlikely partnership which later blossoms into friendship. In 2000, Gail Simone herself took over writing the BoP title, added Huntress to the main roster, and the rest, as they say, is history.

600full-birds-of-prey3a-vol-1-of-like-minds-cover
Volume 3 of the original Birds of Prey run, which was the first volume written by Gail Simone, and the first appearance of Huntress in the team!

If I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a million times. Birds of Prey is unequivocally my favorite comic book series. The Birds of Prey are THE landmark girl power group in comics. You have Barbara Gordon as Oracle, of course, Dinah Lance as the Black Canary, and Helena Bertinelli as the Huntress. Separately, the three heroines are very different in crime fighting methods, race and nationality, socio-economic status, and abilities. Despite their differences, they learn to work together as a team. They eventually become much more than a team: they become a family.

This series having such a special place in my heart is in no small part due to Barbara Gordon. She may have started out as Batgirl, but she grew and evolved in ways that not many female comic book characters would have after her paralysis. If it weren’t for Ostrander and Yale’s intervention, Barbara might not have seen the light of day again in DC comic canon. She would have been shot, paralyzed, and retired permanently. Perhaps she would have made a few guest appearances here and there as Commissioner Gordon’s crippled daughter – but Ostrander and Yale knew better than that. They knew Barbara wouldn’t have resigned herself to that fate. They knew she would have fought to make something of herself again, and that is EXACTLY what she did.

Barbara might not have been able to physically kick ass as Oracle, but she served an important role in being one of the first physically disabled superheroes. She proved that even after suffering a horrific and life-changing experience, one can still pick themselves back up. One can fight through and even come out stronger on the other side – not necessarily in the same way, but that’s not a bad thing! Barbara proved that her worth was not necessarily in her body or in her physical accomplishments, but in her mind, her ability to think and to find, recall, and communicate information.

batgirl-oracle
Barbara as both Batgirl and Oracle, using information seeking skills to fight crime! (Source)

This is a very important distinction to make between Barbara Gordon and, say, Wonder Woman, Supergirl, or Green Lantern Jessica Cruz. Wonder Woman’s powers were bestowed upon her by her patron gods. Supergirl’s powers come from how our yellow sun’s rays interact with her Kryptonian (alien) DNA. Jessica Cruz, like all Green Lanterns, was chosen by a power ring, through which she can create corporeal constructs using her own willpower. Wonder Woman and Supergirl have amazing supernatural and physical capabilities that they were born with or that they were given. Though Green Lanterns need extraordinary mind- and willpower in order to create constructs through their ring – they need the supernatural device of their power ring in order to do so.

Barbara doesn’t have any of that. She has no supernatural crutches, so to speak. She only has her her human body and her sharp, analytical mind. Batgirl showed the world that girls can play in the boys’ sandbox (and damned what they think), but Oracle showed the world that the mind is what Barbara Gordon’s best asset is, and what ultimately makes her a hero.

51djqz8ha2l
The cover of the first volume of New 52 Batgirl, which sees Barbara make her return as Batgirl.

For the New 52 that DC launched in 2011, we got to see Barbara (literally) stand up and become Batgirl once more. While the New 52 established a new continuity after the effects of Flashpoint, many previously canonical things were different – but not for Barbara. The events of The Killing Joke still happened, and Barbara really WAS paralyzed. She regained the use of her legs and her paralysis was reversed by way of an experimental surgery in the New 52. Gail Simone returned to pen Barbara’s second debut as Batgirl, this time as trying to relearn how to be Batgirl, and trying to work through the trauma and PTSD that the events of The Killing Joke had left her. Though she was no longer bound to a wheelchair, there were still inner demons to overcome in order to be a hero. Even a powerful mind such as Barbara’s struggles with roadblocks, PTSD, anxiety, panic attacks. And that’s powerful stuff.

Barbara Gordon has been both Batgirl and Oracle since the launch of the New 52, into Rebirth. The first volume of Rebirth’s Birds of Prey sees the newly re-formed Birds trying to uncover who has stolen Barbara’s Oracle mantle. Barbara is shown as a young adult, as she has been for most of her career, but this time with all of today’s technology – and she’s still very good at it 😉

m8co3bh0pf521
Probably my favorite costume – the Burnside one ❤ This is the textless variant of Batgirl #31. (Source)

Barbara Gordon is my Fiction’s Fearless Female for this year, but she is also one that is very near and dear to my own heart. She started out as a librarian (like me!), and used not just physical abilities, but mental abilities in order to fight crime and make a difference. She didn’t let Batman or Robin’s vocal disapproval stand in her way. Even after being shot and paralyzed by the Joker in 1988’s The Killing Joke, Barbara continued to be a hero under the mantle of Oracle and found new strength and purpose in not only the Oracle guise but in the Birds of Prey. Though she is now back as Batgirl after the New 52, Barbara’s heroism is mostly defined by her mind, not necessarily for supernatural abilities or physical prowess.

Barbara Gordon ultimately proves that women don’t need to kick ass to be badass.

Kathleen

Next week, look for Kalie’s Fictional Fearless Female on her blog, Just Dread-full. Join us back here for Jeff of The Imperial Talker and then Nancy’s post. Rob of My Side of the Laundry Room will wrap up this year’s series! Please continue to join us in this celebration of #FictionsFearlessFemales during Women’s History Month!

Birds of Prey (Vol. 6): The Battle Within

79363
Simone, Gail, Ed Benes, Tom Derenick, and Joe Bennett. Birds of Prey (Vol. 6): The Battle Within. 2006.

The Birds are back in quite a few adventures here. They tackle a lonely and grieving teenage girl who can absorb the magical powers of other people; a specter named Harvest in the middle of nowhere, Kansas, who is stealing the youth of her victims; and a drug lord and the Twelve Brothers in Silk in Singapore connected to the Gotham mob. Throughout all these adventures, the Birds are having their own inner struggles. Helena is just starting to feel like part of the family; could it be that someone has an ulterior motive for her being there? Barbara is more powerful than ever, due to the bit of Brainiac inside her. But could it turn deadly? When the Birds finally break, can they be put back together?

This volume was awesome. It was super action packed, but also had a lot of inner conflicts within the team and each individual member. The title is very appropriate. I think the thing I like most about this series is, even as all kinds of crap is hitting the fan, it still manages to have funny and touching moments. There’s a bit in here where Helena tells a guy the night they shared was so bad, she’d remain abstinent for the rest of her life. I was at work reading this and I just about DIED XD And, pleasant surprise, it contains one of my favorite comic panels of all time:

IMG_20160702_140052_325

❤ ❤ ❤

– Kathleen

Birds of Prey (Vol. 5): Between Dark & Dawn

79367
Simone, Gail, Ed Benes, Ron Adrian, Jim Fern, Eric Battle, and Eduardo Barreto. Birds of Prey (Volume 5): Between Dark & Dawn. 2006.

Three kids, dressed as superheroes who have already died, have killed themselves in quick succession. It bothers the Birds, and they send Huntress to Kinder Pines, Oregon, where all the kids were last. There, she infiltrates a cult led by a Soveriegn Brusaw, and she’s not quite sure what to think. The kids seem all right, and the Father seems genuine… up until she realizes that her backup, Vixen, no longer recognizes Huntress and has turned against her. In trying to remotely investigate, Oracle suddenly collapses and has a seizure, and soon she realizes it’s not just her inside her head anymore. Meanwhile, the Birds have gained a new member: Savant, who kidnapped and tortured Dinah on one of their first missions. Barbara has tasked him with clearing out a major crime lord in Gotham. This causes uneasiness in everyone, especially Dinah, despite believing whole-heartedly in second chances. Can Huntress get Vixen to snap out of whatever trance she’s in? Will Barbara survive?

You can really see the bond between the Birds tightening in this issue. Everyone has their own personality and their own code, but they share a mutual respect for each other and are even becoming friends – maybe a family. Simone is a great writer. The art is still superb, action-packed and dynamic. Every time I read one of these I fall in love with the series all over again. I might have to start buying them…

I hope everyone is having a fun and safe 4th of July!

– Kathleen

Birds of Prey (Vol. 4): Sensei & Student

449596-birds_of_prey_sensei___student_1_00
Simone, Gail, Ed Benes, Michael Golden, Cliff Richards, Alex Lei, Ruy Jose, Mike Manley, and Scott Hanna. Birds of Prey (Vol. 4): Sensei and Student. 2005.

This one is way overdue and I’m sorry! I have so many comics and graphic novels on my to-read list and I have a hard time just picking one sometimes XD

Black Canary is in Hong Kong on a personal mission – her sensei is dying of cancer. She runs into Lady Shiva, in town for the same reason. They are targeted by a gang, who was paid to keep them busy while someone poisoned their sensei and his entire household. Canary and Shiva, determined to avenge him, must learn to set aside their differences to get to the bottom of it. Meanwhile, back in Gotham, Oracle is dealing with her own issues. She keeps giving her field agents the wrong information without meaning to. She discovers a virus has gotten into her computer system, and there are federal agents waiting to arrest her right outside her own door.

It’s been a while since I’ve read the last issue, but I fell in love with the series all over again. Simone’s writing is upbeat and fast-paced. There was a great flashback scene of Dinah’s mom, the first Black Canary, and an awesome scene with Wonder Woman, too! That made me happy X3 There are other characters that appear briefly as well. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: I love this series and I can’t wait to get my hands on the next issue!

– Kathleen

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑