Batgirl and the Birds of Prey Rebirth #1
“Who Is Oracle, Part 1”
Writers: Julie Benson, Shawna Benson
Artist: Claire Roe
Colorist: Allen Passalaqua
So, a little disclosure up front about this one: this is the title of the DC Rebirth launch that I have been anticipating most of all. The only other one that comes even close is Deathstroke Rebirth coming next month, and that is more because of the creative team attached rather than for the character himself. The reason behind that is that years and years ago my first introduction to the DC universe came through the Chuck Dixon era Birds of Prey when it was just Oracle and Black Canary, with occasional appearances by Nightwing, Blue Beetle and a few others. It was the perfect gateway comic for me and before long I was reading a large portion of the Bat-lineup (with a strong emphasis on those written by Chuck Dixon, which was most of them at the time).
After Dixon left the title it floundered for a while before finding a new identity under writer Gail Simone, but that version never really clicked with me like it did with other fans. It rebooted at the beginning of the New 52 and was largely unrecognizable with a cast of characters that were seemingly plucked up for no real apparent reason. It also didn’t help that two of the most egregious changes to DC continuity as part of the New 52 directly impacted Barbara Gordon and Dinah Lance, the original Birds. For Barbara her persona as Oracle just flat out never happened in the New 52, and you could certainly place a solid argument down that it was a retcon that seriously damaged the character’s value. It also meant that the original Birds of Prey never happened at all since her being Oracle is a critical part of that setup. She would eventually find some redemption in the “Batgirl of Burnside” story arc that closed out her New 52 prior to Rebirth, but she could never quite get out from under the shadow of not having been Oracle.
On the other side of the feather Dinah’s entire backstory was adjusted to the point where it was largely unconnected with her pre-New 52 persona. She was no longer a legacy hero (the original Black Canary was her mother in the old continuity), she never had a relationship with Green Arrow and, as a result, most of the things that defined her as a person simply did not exist anymore. She was still treated as the same character, but without the background to ground her story and purpose in the New 52 were not defined until near the end when she became the lead singer in a band.
You may have also noticed that there is a third character on the cover who I have not mentioned, and that is Helena Bertinelli, aka the Huntress. I haven’t mentioned her yet because she is not an original member of the Birds of Prey, but she has been associated with the title since around the time of the Gail Simone run. Although it is worth pointing out that her legacy with the Birds actually goes back a bit farther than that thanks to the short-lived television show of the early 2000s which starred her alongside the other two original Birds. As a sidenote, it was actually a pretty good show but was perhaps a bit ahead of its time and I can’t help but think it would have done better alongside the current crop of DC shows on the CW. Ah well.
The Huntress was yet another character who was ripped apart by the New 52, and her original appearance in that continuity was actually as a character from Earth-2, which was more than a little confusing. They eventually did introduce Helena Bertinelli to the main New 52 universe, but not as Huntress. Instead she became the leader of a spy organization in the series Grayson and had nothing to do with the Pre-New 52 character. She worked fine in that role, but it was an odd disconnect seeing the normally hot-headed vigilante being an administrator instead.
I’ve now written about 650 words on this book without actually writing anything about this book. That is because the entire point of this issue is to reverse the majority of the changes I wrote about above. Barbara Gordon now was Oracle for a number of years, and as a result that does mean that The Killing Joke is officially part of continuity again. Dinah is now kind of courting with Green Arrow again over in his title, though they are starting from scratch, and she was Oracle’s prime operative when Barbara was using that alias. Helena still follows the continuity that she was the spy leader of Spyral, since that story is integral to the current setup for Nightwing, but she has once again donned the Huntress outfit to go out and hunt down the mafia in her own style.
And that really is the setting for this book. It is here to show us that the characters we grew enamored with back in the day have returned, and many of those major complaints we had about the New 52 continuity changes are being addressed. It may be a band-aid that is about five years late, but I am glad that we finally have it. On the other hand this does mean that the actual plot of the story is a bit light at the moment, but it does clearly setup what the purpose of the new Birds of Prey will be, at least in the early arcs.
While on patrol as Batgirl Barbara encounters some bad guys, and discovers that they were given information by someone called Oracle. Obviously Babs didn’t give it to them, which means that someone else is using her old codename, and she is justifiably pissed (and not just because they are feeding information to bad guys). She uses that as an excuse to work with Black Canary again, and in the course of their investigation they happen to target the same person who Helena has coincidentally chosen as her next victim. And then it ends rather abruptly and jarringly.
The art is a bit on the inconsistent side. While the panel flow is generally good the actual art tends to shift between something akin to what you might call the modern DC house style, and then other pages are a bit looser and cartoony with slightly exaggerated proportions. Normally I would wonder if there was an artist change on the book, but only one artist is credited so I am thinking that maybe deadlines started to come rushing up and later pages didn’t get quite the same attention as the earlier ones. But that is purely speculation on my part. In any event, it is nothing overly jarring or problematic, it is just something I couldn’t help but notice while reading the book.
When you add up all the pieces it is a decent book that has a fair mix of action, exposition and intrigue, but it is clunky at parts. I already mentioned the abruptness of the ending, but there are other bits that don’t quite click as well. The main one for me is Helena doing the now-standard bit of confessing her sins to a priest as a way of detailing her backstory to us, only to reveal that she already killed the priest (he was mafia) and she is just confessing to an empty church. Now religion has always been one of the cornerstones of Huntress’ character so I am willing to give it some leeway, but the whole confessional thing is really getting tired and overused in fiction in general. It might be time to let that one rest for a bit.
In the end I feel that this book will be welcome by longtime fans of the Birds, and of Batgirl in particular, but incoming readers probably won’t get quite as much out of it. That said, this is one of the few Rebirth issues where I feel you can’t really afford to miss it if you plan on reading the series once it gets properly started. Most of the Rebirth issues so far have been fairly optional in my opinion, with them serving largely as introductions to the characters and their status quos, but for actual plot they fall on the filler side of the spectrum and are perfectly miss-able. The majority of this issue falls on that side of the spectrum, but the last five or so pages definitely do not and they go far beyond merely setting up the plot of the main book and are into “must read” territory for the ongoing series. I honestly don’t think that will be a problem since I think most people aren’t viewing the Rebirth titles as optional, but you never know. We also don’t yet know how much of this will be (effectively) recapped in issue 1, so it may be a non-issue, as well.
Regardless, I am a fan of what we have here and the direction that DC is taking these characters in. It might not exactly be up to my expectations, but to be fair it probably was never going to be able to meet those. If you are at all interested in Black Canary, Batgirl or Huntress then this book is absolutely worth checking out. (As a sidenote, if you are only interested in the upcoming Batgirl solo series I would not consider this essential reading and you would be okay with just reading issue 1 of that series when it comes out).