Birds of a Feather1 of 12
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) hits theaters this week but with the addition (and presumably the emancipation) of Harley Quinn, Renee Montoya, and Cassandra Cain, this squad bears only a passing resemblance to the comic book team.
So we rounded up a bunch of stories that would give you a good feel for who these characters are, as well what the Birds of Prey general M.O. is. Think of it less of a top ten list and more as a primer for the characters and concepts as a whole.
And if you want to know what we thought of the film, check out our review right here.
Harley Quinn (2014) #25: Twennie Five Big Ones!2 of 12
The obvious inclusion for a Harley Quinn entry would be the spectacular Mad Love - but haven’t you seen that on a thousand lists before? Besides, Birds of Prey has Margot Robbie’s Harlely Quinn breaking away from her toxic relationship with the Joker, so it’s only appropriate to include “Twennie Five Big Ones!” from Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner, arguably the most significant contributors to the clown princess of crime’s story outside of her creators.
Conner and Palmiotti’s brash, empowered take on Harley is clearly an inspiration for her silver screen counterpart and this issue is great at introducing those elements. Harley’s a lot less of a lovesick puppy dog and more of a roller derby badass whose bite is far worse than her bark.
Black Canary: Kicking and Screaming3 of 12
While the “New 52” marked an odd turn for so many characters, its successor “DC You” would pave the way for the breath of fresh air that would be “DC Rebirth”. And one of the “DC You” bright spots was Black Canary, a character ripe for a refresher.
Brenden Fletcher and Annie Wu take Canary on a punk rock power trip and she works to balance her life as a touring musician with her crime fighting career. But nothing is ever exactly as it seems and Fletcher and Wu keep upping the ante on the stakes of this story with each issue. And over the course of the book, they’re able to remind readers why Black Canary is such a force to be reckoned with in the DCU.
Plus, Lee Loughridge’s pink and blue-toned color palette gives the book a distinct visual style that helps it stand out amongst the crowded shelves of cape comic books.
Gotham Central: Half A Life4 of 12
We don’t know if we’ll see Renee Montoya take on the mantle of The Question in Birds of Prey, but thankfully, Greg Rucka and Michael Lark gave her plenty to do in their Gotham Central arc, “Half A Life.”
This story sees Montoya really going through the wringer as he’s framed for murder and has to prove her innocence against a system that she thought she could believe in. Complicating matters further, she’s also outed as a lesbian and is subsequently shunned by a lot of people she considered friends and colleagues.
Montoya is an interesting counterpoint to the Gordons and Bullocks of the Gotham PD and it’s likely that Rosie Perez’s take on the character follows more in this stead than her eventual superhero persona.
Huntress: Crossbow At The Crossroads5 of 12
Huntress looks primed to be the muscle of this movie Birds of Prey team and it’s not a role she’s unfamiliar with. “Crossbow At The Crossroads” sees creator Paul Levitz return to the character as she shuts down a human trafficking operation.
She might have a similar origin to Batman in that she grew up an orphan - but as the last living member of the Bertinelli crime family, Helena is trying to get the red off her ledger. Despite being one of the good guys, she’s not afraid to do what needs to be done for justice to prevail.
This is an action-packed look at the heroine helped by Marcus To’s great expression work and action choreography.
Batgirl: Redemption6 of 12
While the Birds of Prey film doesn’t feature the Batgirl mostly commonly associated with the team, it does feature a different comic book fan favorite incarnation of the character (or at least her secret identity): Cassandra Cain.
“Redemption” sees Cassandra going through exactly what the title implies. She was raised to be an assassin and while she was thought to have been rehabilitated from her previously murderous ways, at the start of this story she had recently killed again. The resulting arc sees Cass deal with her traumatic past and abusive father in an effort to move forward and leave behind a villainous past. (And she gets adopted by Batman!)
It’s unlikely the film will delve into too much of that, but for fans looking to understand one of the DCU’s most compelling characters, look no further.
Suicide Squad: Kicked In The Teeth7 of 12
Despite your feelings about the Suicide Squad film, it did at least give us Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, and it’s safe to say that she’s really run with it.
If you can get past Harley’s awful costume, this take on Task Force X provides a blueprint for that film’s tone. And even more so, if you enjoyed that film, this arc serves up a similar sort of anti-hero driven take on the DCU.
Writer Adam Glass does his best to give a modern update to the classic Ostrander run and it doesn’t all hit but Harley Quinn is recognizably herself and steals the show.
Gotham City Sirens: Ends8 of 12
When a Harley-centric follow-up to Suicide Squad was first being dreamt up, ths idea of a Birds of Prey films was percolating concurrently with a Gotham City Sirens movie - the latter another team comic book, but with Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy and Catwoman. While that’s not what we ended up getting, it’s easy to see the DNA of that book in the upcoming film.
Spinning out of the aftermath of “Batman R.I.P.,” Gotham City Sirens would do a lot to establish the relationship between three of the most iconic women in Gotham. They never quite trust each other but the groundwork is laid for their eventual characterizations through the present day. “Ends” closes out the series and writer Peter Calloway gives them a way forward. Despite the struggles and their sometimes very tenuous relationship, Ivy, Selina and Harley do right by each other because they realize that they have formed a significant bond.
This one makes the list with the caveat that it reads a lot better if you’ve read the 22 issues that precede this arc - but it’s still a solid story for fans looking to understand the ecosystem of Gotham and how characters like Harley Quinn fit into it.
Birds of Prey: Blood & Circuits9 of 12
This arc actually features Black Canary leaving the team - but much like the upcoming film, the Birds get a few new recruits. As such the book takes on a kind of carousel approach that shows how different heroes fit into the Birds dynamic as they take on a series of Charlie’s Angels-style missions.
And with a bunch of heroes of course comes just as many villains. Spy Smasher, Black Alice, Misfit (a later team member herself) and more all face off against the Birds and writer Gail Simone is able to show the breadth of different threats that the team can face.
This arc isn’t as tightly-focused on the main team as Simone’s other work with the characters but it does show how limber the themes and objectives of the team can be as they encounter new allies.
Birds of Prey: Perfect Pitch10 of 12
The upcoming Birds of Prey film will feature Harley reckoning with her toxic relationship with the Joker - and though she doesn’t factor into this arc at all, “Perfect Pitch” similarly features the Birds taking on elements of their histories head-on.
Oracle reveals herself to her father, Commissioner Gordon. Black Canary takes Green Arrow to task for mistreating her over the years and Huntress seeks acceptance from Batman. Of course, this complicates their lives but when hasn’t being superheroes made their lives complicated?
Gail Simone does a great job of getting to the heart of the Birds’ feelings and insecurities and how those play into why they do the things they do. With the Birds of Prey film seeing Harley seeking some redemption and understanding, it’s impossible not to recommend this arc that hits on similar themes.
Birds Of Prey: The Death Of Oracle11 of 12
While Barbara Gordon is likely not appearing in Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey film, it would be a mistake not to include one of the best Birds of Prey stories out there on this list.
Gail Simone has made her career on delivering nuanced and relatable character arcs within a superhero framework that is still packed with action and filled with mystery and bombast. The key to any ensemble is nailing the dynamic between all of the characters involved and “The Death of Oracle” is essential to understanding the connection that with Birds share.
Black Canary and Huntress get a chance to shine and we get to see how Oracle fits into their dynamic, possibly hinting at an avenue for DC to pursue if/when a sequel is announced.
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