Birds of Prey
by Chuck Dixon, various artists
(DC Comics, 1999)

Female superheroes -- with Wonder Woman the notable exception -- have seldom carried a comic book very well on their own. Today, thankfully, that trend is changing, and one of the significant reasons for that is Chuck Dixon and Birds of Prey.

Beginning in 1996 with a oneshot and a couple of miniseries features, Dixon took two female characters -- both strong in their own right but rarely acting center stage -- and combined them into a new team. Barbara Gordon, once Batgirl, has become the information broker Oracle since she was confined to a wheelchair. She chooses Justice League co-founder Dinah Lance, a.k.a. Black Canary, as her field operative for a series of covert (and flagrant) operations, and what started as a nice idea soon became an ongoing series that could stand on its own.

The early days of the BoP team are collected in Birds of Prey. It begins in the Republic of Rheelasia, where internal strife leads Oracle to recruit Black Canary to infiltrate a cadre of U.S. investors as a bodyguard, where she ends up partnered with the criminal Lynx, who is also a mistress of the martial arts.

While the initial partnership between Oracle and Canary has its bumps and snags along the way, it worked out well enough for Dixon to launch "Revolution," a more ambitious miniseries in which they tackle a white slavery ring leading Dinah from New York to Santa Prisca. In this section, we learn more of Canary's impulsive nature and see how powerful Oracle can be, even sequestered many miles away in her Gotham City tower.

A short feature, written by Jordon B. Gorfinkel, is weaker by far, pairing Canary up with Lois Lane and playing on the ill-conceived notion that a unpowered reporter, no matter how feisty and active she may be, can hold her own among superpowered heroes and well-armed villains. Of course, they manage to bust up a Metropolis-based sweatshop operation without too much difficulty.

Fortunately, Dixon takes the reins again for "Manhunt," originally a four-issue miniseries with the exceptional artwork of Matt Haley telling the tale. Here, the Birds of Prey first begin using outside assistance, recruiting both Huntress and Catwoman as the adventure unfolds. Their target now is an arms dealer who, to top it all off, had successfully seduced Canary and Huntress and stiffed Catwoman on a hefty fee.

There's a lot of story in this collected volume, and it shows the Birds of Prey in many lights, from its fledgling steps to a more developed, well-oiled team. The ongoing series is certainly popular now, but fans should be sure to check out its roots -- and anyone who hasn't read the series to date could do worse than to start here, at the very beginning.

by Tom Knapp
15 April 2006

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