This fall The CW will add it’s fifth superhero-themed show with Black Lightning joining Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow. The addition of Black Lightning will give a shot of diversity to the mostly Caucasian lineup of heroes. The Arrowverse has a lot in common with it’s female-driven predecessor, Birds of Prey. Birds of Prey followed the heroics of Oracle, Huntress and Black Canary as they used their powers to defend the city of New Gotham from its extensive criminal underworld. Many of the characters, themes and stories we saw along the way have reappeared in The CW’s popular Arrowverse.
While the television show only lasted one season, the Birds of Prey comic has been a constant in the DC Universe for decades. Though the roster changes up from time to time, the idea of having a (mostly) female superhero team always stays the same. From the idea of older heroes mentoring younger ones and cops working together with heroes to take down crime, every show in the Arrowverse has taken some cues from the short-lived Birds of Prey. CBR takes a look at some of the moments in the Arrowverse that had us feeling a little deja vu.
15. GIVING LESSER KNOWN CHARACTERS SCREEN TIME
While there have been multiple iterations of popular male heroes like Batman, Superman and Spider-Man for decades, we just got our first taste of a female-lead superhero movie in the form of Wonder Woman this year. Unfortunately, with the exception of the rather timid Supergirl, we are still waiting for television to jump on the girl-power bandwagon.
Birds of Prey solved this issue in a variety of ways. The show itself was created and developed by a woman. It starred three women as the heroic leads (and one was their female arch-villain), all playing lesser known super-heroines many viewers had never heard of before. With the exception of Barbara Gordon, who is going by the code-name Oracle instead of Batgirl, Huntress and Black Canary were relatively unknown characters in mainstream pop culture. Both of these characters would go on to be featured heavily in the Arrowverse.
14. PAYING HOMAGE TO PAST HEROES
As it has previously been established in The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow, the heroes that we meet are not the first to make their mark in Arrowverse continuity. The Golden Age Flash and Justice Society of America feature heavily in many episodes. It’s a way of paying homage to the heroes that came before the ones in the present whose stories we follow weekly.
The connection to past heroes was made clear in the series premiere, detailing how Helena was the child of Batman and Catwoman, as well as exploring Barbara’s past as Batgirl. We are also reminded that heroes previously existed when Dinah’s mother, the original Black Canary played by Lori Loughlin, shows up. It is explained that Black Canary and Barbara used to work together, but also that Dinah’s mom didn’t get along well with Helena’s. As Barbara puts it, “It was some sort of bird-cat thing.”
Heroes obviously need villains to fight and defend ordinary people from. While the motivations may vary, supervillains usually come with superpowers. The majority of the villains featured in Smallville were individuals who gained their powers (except for Lex Luthor) from the meteorites that crashed on Earth along with Clark’s pod.
Birds of Prey set the standard that some individuals are just born with powers; no freak accident needed. This idea is especially apparent with Helena, who is half-metahuman (Catwoman is classified as a metahuman in this continuity), possessing cat-like abilities inherited from her mother. Dinah is also born with her vast telepathic abilities and later develops the secondary power of telekinesis. Oracle ponders that since Dinah is Black Canary’s daughter, she may have inherited her Sonic Cry, though Dinah never displays this ability.
12. COSTUME DESIGN
The ’00s ushered in a new look for superhero costumes, starting with X-Men. Gone were the days of bright, spandex-clad uniforms, leather was the new black. While these were basically the same uniform just tailored for male and female characters, Birds of Prey expanded on this look by tailoring a bit more to the individual character.
Huntress actually started out with a corset-style top under a black trench, but her look was later softened in the season by replacing the corset with a plain black sleeveless shirt. As a teenager, Dinah wore civilian clothes for the first half of the season, then graduated to her own leather clad uniform. The influences of these designs can be seen in various Arrowverse costumes today including both Black Canaries, Nyssa and Killer Frost.
11. GAL FRIDAY, COMPUTER EXPERT
After a villain, a sidekick is the second most important person in a superheroes’ story. Batman has Robin, Captain America has Bucky and Buffy has Willow. Willow started the domino effect of having a computer-whiz sidekick, which was further explored from time to time via Smallville‘s Chloe. However, Barbara Gordon’s Oracle was the first super-heroine on television where being a master of cyber realms was her main skill set in fighting bad guys.
Barbara not only hacked into secured databases, she designed programs to make fighting crime more efficient. She also designed a cybernetic implant to use on herself that allowed her to temporarily regain mobility. She also operated the team’s communication hub, keeping everyone in constant contact. Characteristics like this were incorporated into Arrowverse’s Felicity, Caitlin, Iris and Alex.
10. STREET-LEVEL VILLAINS
What’s that old adage? Keep your friends close and your enemies closer? At times, this can ring especially true for superheroes, because they know not every villain is going to come thrashing down the street, making a scene. Sometimes the villains are hiding in plain sight next to the hero’s side.
Helena received court-mandated therapy sessions following a bogus vandalism charge. She starts seeing Dr. Harleen Quinzel, a therapist who tries to help Helena with her many issues, while secretly plotting to take her and the team out in order to take over New Gotham. In the series finale, the team learns that Dr. Quinzel is actually Harley Quinn, the Joker’s insane paramour. This storyline is echoed by the recent Adrian Chase arc in season five of Arrow.
9. MULTIPLE CANARIES
In the world of comic books, it’s not uncommon for someone to assume the mantle of a hero has fallen in battle. Carol Danvers took over as Captain Marvel, James Rhodes has assumed the role of Iron Man on more than one occasion and Bucky took over as Captain America. Television series based on comics aren’t all that different, as characters often assume the heroic identities of fallen loved ones.
In Birds of Prey, Dinah assumes her mother’s mantle as Black Canary following her mother’s death, donning a canary choker similar to the original comic book character. In Arrow, there have now been three characters who have assumed the Black Canary mantle; Sara Lance, Sara’s sister Laurel Lance and, most recently, Dinah Drake, a police officer.
8. A DIVERSE CAST
As recent hit tv shows like Sense8 and Riverdale have taught us, a diverse cast that has real world representation can help a series stand out these days. Chosen families featuring a variety of skin colors, lifestyle choices and sexual orientations have become the norm. People are automatically drawn to TV shows and movies that reflect a part of their own life.
Birds of Prey not only included an African American man (Shemar Moore) in the lead male role of the show, but also had him start an interracial relationship with Ashley Scott’s Huntress. Gabby, Dinah’s best friend at the local high school, is an out lesbian who befriends Dinah early on. While the Arrowverse has a sprinkling of minorities, the shows have a long way to go to catch up to the real world.
7. MENTORING YOUNGER HEROES
A legacy is something that has always been tied to a hero’s journey. What mark on the world do they leave behind should they fall in battle? The answer to that question for many superheroes is to pass their knowledge and expertise on to younger heroes that they will leave behind.
A large part of the Birds of Prey season is devoted to Barbara training Dinah in the use of her powers, as well as Helena training Dinah in hand-to-hand combat. In addition to ways of defending herself, Barbara also instills in Dinah patience and wisdom that can only come from years of experience. This action is mimicked with Flash mentoring Jesse Quick and Kid Flash, as well as the Green Arrow recruiting new members of his team in season five.
6. HEROES WORKING WITH LAW ENFORCEMENT
Heroes and cops have a long and varied history when it comes to comic books. For every cop who is in awe of the good superheroes do, there’s another who despises the vigilantes as they wreak havoc throughout the city. In Smallville, we’ve seen Clark and his friends persecuted and hunted down by a government faction, similar to what has happened with mutants in the X-Men titles. However, Birds of Prey changed that notion.
Originally, Huntress teams up with Detective Reese to help solve crimes involving metahumans, but eventually they grow even closer to each other. Reese steps in to help the team on multiple occasions and even develops a romantic relationship with Huntress. This scenario is echoed throughout the Arrowverse, especially in the Supergirl/Alex/Maggie dynamic.
5. HEROES WHO HAVE GONE THROUGH THE RINGER
There are times when heroes struggle, both mentally and physically. If you think about it, saving people and fighting evil on a daily basis is bound to take its toll in some way at some point. We’ve seen strong characters like Buffy, Sydney Bristow and even Jessica Jones lose their faith in what they do at various times. However, it’s how a hero deals with it that makes all the difference in the world.
After she is shot by The Joker and paralyzed, Barbara Gordon’s determination kicked in. While she could no longer be Batgirl, she found a way to still fight crime. She sharpened her computer skills, put her body through a rigorous workout routine and even studied Eskrima, a form of martial arts utilizing fighting sticks that is commonly used by wheelchair-bound people. A similar journey is reflected following Oliver’s fight with Ra’s Al Ghul.
4. GENDER EQUALITY
It’s been an uphill battle for decades in the fight for gender equality, both in real life and in the comic book world. With the exception of Wonder Woman, most heroines put up a good fight but were ultimately saved in some way by a man. This all started to change though in the late ’90s. On TV, we saw Buffy slaying vampires, the Halliwell sisters vanquishing demons and Sydney taking down corrupt criminal organizations.
This movement is also featured prominently in Birds of Prey, as the team routinely saves men from certain peril on a weekly basis. They also go up against some classic heavy-hitter Bat-villains like Clayface and a demented Harley Quinn. This sentiment is gender equality is echoed in most of the Arrowverse shows, to varying degrees.
3. ORPHANED HEROES
While we all know that Batman is the most popular orphaned hero there is, he isn’t the only one. Actually, there are quite a few heroes who are considered orphans, either by the death of their parents or their family disowning them. Abandonment is hardship that isn’t easy to overcome, but eventually heroes find their chosen family.
In Birds of Prey, Helena Kyle is the orphaned daughter of Batman and Catwoman. It is revealed in the series premiere that Catwoman was killed by an assassin hired by The Joker for revenge on Batman. This tragedy in turn leads Batman into exile while Helena and Barbara fill the crimefighting void he left behind. Green Arrow, Flash and Supergirl are all orphaned to a certain degree, but have found their family in those who fight by their sides.
2. SHOWING THE REAL CONSEQUENCES OF BEING A HERO
There’s a reason why superheroes often try to avoid having romantic relationships with anyone, mainly the fear of their significant others getting hurt because of what they do. As we’ve seen in comics, most of the civilians who engage in intimate relationships with superheroes are bound to become collateral damage of some kind at some point. However, heroes need love too, even if there may be consequences to that love.
Throughout Birds of Prey, we see Barbara growing closer to her co-worker at the high school, Wade Brixton. Even though Barbara is anxious about coming out as a superhero to Wade, she eventually trusts him enough to open up and start a romantic relationship. Unfortunately, their relationship is tragically cut short when Harley Quinn infiltrates the team’s headquarters, killing Wade in the process. Barbara’s reaction to his death is one of the most powerful scenes of the series.
1. HOW TO WRITE STRONG FEMALE LEADS
Let’s be honest, most of the time, viewers can tell if a man or a woman wrote a particular script for a television series or movie. The stereotype is that men tend to write more action and steamy scenes, while women write more emotional dialogue and drama. Birds of Prey shattered both of these misconceptions.
The show successfully juggled metahuman action sequences with a believable emotional undercurrent, as well as a nice helping of realistic humor that never devolved into camp territory. The series was about both a group of female superheroes who fought crime together and a group of friends who shared life’s ups and downs. There are similar relationships in the Arrowverse to this, but nothing quite at the level Birds of Prey had. We can only hope that this series gets rebooted and has the same resonance as its predecessor.
Are there any other similarities we may have missed? Let us know in the comments!
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