"Batgirl and the Birds of Prey" Solidifies "Killing Joke" In Rebirth Continuity

SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for "Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Rebirth" #1, on sale now

When Chuck Dixon and Gary Frank first created the "Black Canary/Oracle: Birds of Prey" one-shot in 1995, the book was about a duo. Black Canary was the muscle of the operations, and Oracle was the home-bound brains offering up direction. While guest-stars came and went, it was this duo that remained the heart of the book. Maybe that's why Julie Benson, Shawna Benson and Claire Roe's "Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Rebirth" #1 feels like the most back-to-basics of the various Rebirth specials to date; this version of the "Birds of Prey" concept is not only bringing in a lot of the concepts that had been abandoned with the New 52 reboot in 2011, but it also feels like a band getting reunited.

While the specifics of stories aren't given, the Bensons have quickly restored the idea of the Birds of Prey existing when it was just Black Canary and Oracle. It's the classic original concept of the two working together; Dinah Lance going into the field while Barbara Gordon shouted advice through an earpiece. Recent events in "Batgirl" made a lot of Barbara's history up for debate (with the revelation that at least some of her memories were false), but here we get a definitive answer on one story: "Batman: The Killing Joke" is still part of continuity.

It's not a particularly surprising revelation, with Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's one-shot that paralyzed Barbara Gordon still popular and in print decades after its initial publication, and an animated feature on its way. In more recent years there's been a bit of pushback towards the way that it treated Barbara Gordon -- as a character who appears solely to get horribly injured to get a reaction out of Jim Gordon -- but in the end, it seems that it's too iconic a story to be forgotten. And as such, we get a series of visuals showing Barbara transforming from victim to fighter, building her system and eventually forming her partnership with Dinah.

That said, some other more recent tweaks from the New 52 still do exist for Batgirl. While Barbara's reveal as Oracle (courtesy John Ostrander and Kim Yale) took place in "Suicide Squad" back in the late '80s, that time of her adventures remains scrubbed from the books. On the other hand, the experimental surgery Gail Simone had happen prior to "Batgirl" #1 meant that Barbara was no longer wheelchair bound, and that's something that's still quite firmly in place. The new costume design Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, and Babs Tarr gave us in "Batgirl" #34 (with those big, deliberately clunky yellow boots that are to die for) has stuck around, too, giving us a character who looks visually imposing but also realistic. And, interestingly enough, "Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Rebirth" #1 takes place after Batgirl's world tour that begins later this month in "Batgirl" #1.

Black Canary's history seems to have received a small tweak here, too. The initial reboot of the DC Universe five years ago had featured Dinah Lance as a member of Team 7, who after the government group's dissolution formed the Birds of Prey with Starling, Katana, and Poison Ivy (with Batgirl finally joining after several issues). Here, those elements are at least ignored, and possibly having been quietly scrubbed out of existence. Instead, the Bensons only give us images of the Birds of Prey as a duo, and the insinuation now is that as soon as Barbara regained the ability to walk (and the Batgirl costume once more), the Birds of Prey partnership concluded. Instead, the character moves directly into last year's "Black Canary" series from Fletcher and Annie Wu, with Dinah briefly the frontwoman of a band named Black Canary. But with Dinah having left the band at the conclusion of the series, she's now a superhero once more; she's become a major part of the cast of "Green Arrow" as part of its revamp, and she's doing the same here.

The most important addition to the pre-New 52 version of "Birds of Prey" over the years was Gail Simone adding Huntress into the series to change the dynamic to a core trio instead of duo, and while it's taken a few years, that's finally happening here. Originally the New 52's Huntress was a secret refugee from the parallel universe of Earth 2, co-starring with Power Girl in "Worlds' Finest." That Huntress was Helena Wayne, the daughter of Batman and Catwoman, but who finally returned to her rightful universe in "Worlds' Finest" #25. But with that Helena having gone home, it opened up a door for the main DC Universe to have its own Huntress.

Tom King, Tim Seeley, and Mikel Janin took that big step in their "Grayson" series, where Helena Bertinelli is an agent of the secret organization known as Spyral. Over time, she became a trusted ally of Dick Grayson, even as she posed as the Matron of the all-girls academy St. Hadrian's Boarding School, serving as Grayson's boss in his own cover as the gymnastics instructor. But with "Grayson" having come to an end, Seeley was careful to release Helena into the wild; "Nightwing: Rebirth" #1 shows Helena taking on the role and costume of the Huntress as she leaves St. Hadrian's. And sure enough, her next stop is "Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Rebirth" #1, as this Huntress -- like the version of the character pre-2011 -- isn't afraid to kill people on her list in order to bring justice. It's an attitude that is certain to bring a strong clash between the three characters.

With a new rogue Oracle now on the scene -- and while we don't know who it is, Frankie from the Stewart/Fletcher/Tarr "Batgirl" era has been ruled out -- plus even the familiar setting of Barbara Gordon's clock tower home getting thrown into the mix, "Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Rebirth" #1 is bringing the old band back together. We've got the Black Canary/Oracle stories (or variants of them) in place, and Huntress is making her presence known to cause a certain amount of friction. "Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Rebirth" #1 may have been the most forceful shift into a more familiar mode, but it's also using a setup that's in the past proven to be very successful. Right now, this new title seems to be on track for an encore.

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