Batgirl and the Birds of Prey Vol. 1: Who is Oracle? Review
Written by Julie Benson and Shawna Benson
Art by Claire Roe and Roge Antonio
Colours by Allen Passalaqua and Hi-Fi
Letters by Steve Wands and Deron Bennett
Published by DC Comics
Review by Stephanie Cooke
DC Comics has done a pretty great job of relaunching and rebooting their continuity post-DC New 52 with Rebirth. Many titles are being praised and bringing a lot of attention back to the publisher after many titles that left fans feeling rather meh. I recently reviewed Supergirl Vol. 1 and had some trouble getting into it after feeling like it was trying to bring along a lot of previous continuity. It didn’t feel like true relaunch to me.
That being said, I think that Batgirl and the Birds of Prey succeeded where Supergirl failed. Included in the trade paperback collection for Vol. 1 (again, like Supergirl) is the Rebirth issue of the series, which is essentially a Zero Issue to help give you context to what’s going on before kicking off the book in full. Batgirl and the Birds of Prey does a great job of presenting what’s what in an interesting way and helps introduce you to Julie and Shawna Benson’s version of Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl as well as Dinah Lance aka Black Canary and a brief look at Helena Bertinelli aka Huntress.
The only crappy thing that I personally disliked about this relaunch was one specific thing within the continuity that they’re using. Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, and Babs Tarr worked really hard in the run preceding this relaunch to give Batgirl a backstory that didn’t include the continuity of The Killing Joke, the horrifying and triggering story that features Barbara Gordon being shot and paralyzed by The Joker. It is also hinted that she was sexually assaulted.
Alan Moore has long stated that he never meant for The Killing Joke to be used in regular continuity and the previous team had righted that wrong. However, within this new incarnation of Barbara Gordon, that horrific story is back and shown within the Rebirth Issue of Batgirl and the Birds of Prey. I don’t know if that was a choice made by the Bensons or whether it was instruction that came from the higher-ups, but I hate that this is back. I H-A-T-E it.
Diving into the main part of the story after Rebirth, I was initially very into the story that involved Batgirl getting the gang back together… By gang, she means Black Canary and later Huntress. The Birds of Prey search for someone who is posing as Barbara Gordon’s former alias, Oracle — a bad guy that’s selling juicy intel for top dollar to the worst mob bosses in Gotham.
However, the story didn’t pick up or get better or more intriguing for me. It became a series of meh issues. The story isn’t particularly shocking; ultimately, you can see all the twists and turns coming a mile away… something that isn’t a problem for me when I’m enjoying the content. However, I wasn’t particularly invested in the story. I think my feelings had less to do with the story itself and everything to do with the fact that I felt like the characters weren’t themselves.
Each team for a pre-existing character is obviously going to write those characters in a different way. But after reading tons of arcs with Batgirl front and center, Babs just felt off. The same goes for Dinah and Helena — they just didn’t feel right. Not to mention that the chemistry between the characters didn’t work for me either. I never really felt like any of the characters had any connection to each other, despite the fact that Babs and Dinah have worked together plenty before this book (as far as continuity goes). There was just no emotion that tied them to one another and bonded them as a team. I didn’t buy how they came together, stayed together, and thrived as a “team” for the entire first arc.
The art for the first volume goes back and forth between Claire Roe and Roge Antonio. Neither were styles I particularly enjoyed. Between the two, I think I definitely preferred Roe, who almost had an Annie Wu/Becky Cloonan comic/manga blended style going on. Antonio’s characters had these massive eyes that didn’t really look right? Specifically when it came to Batgirl. I have no idea why but her eyes were so off and they’re kind of currently haunting me. To be fair to Antonio, that may have something to do with the colourist for the art, as she was given these giant pupils that made her look like she was on all kinds of drugs.
I want to go back to the writing here for a second: I felt like the Bensons wanted very much to have a series with lots of banter and fun and I desperately wanted that too. They drop the ball, though. Ultimately, I feel like they couldn’t find the right voice to use to tell the story they wanted and to have fun with the characters. The most fun that I had with their writing was reading the captions for the locations around Gotham. Your captions really shouldn’t be the best part of your book… I mean, they were really fun captions, but still.
Wait and see. Maybe Batgirl and the Birds of Prey is a case of a bad first story arc; the Bensons may make a comeback that’s worthy of these amazing female characters. Currently I’m not craving another story with any of them together. That sucks. I should want more of a book that features three of the coolest ladies in the DC Universe.
Again, I don’t want to just say PASS on this story entirely because UGH, I love these characters so much. They just were not done right in this book, for me. Let’s hope for the best in the coming arcs.