Batgirl and the Birds of Prey Volume 1: Who Is Oracle?
Written by Julie & Shawna Benson
Art by Claire Roe and Roge Antonio
Barbara Gordon has lived through many phases in her relatively young life. She started out as Batgirl, a partner to Batman and Robin. The cruel actions of the Joker left her wheelchair-bound, but Barbara rose above her depression to become Oracle, a voice in the ear of the Justice League giving them vital information about dire situations. After years of physical therapy, she walked again and took back the mantle of Batgirl. However, there is a new Oracle out there, and Barbara wants to know who is masquerading as her. She teams up with her old partner Black Canary but the two cross paths with the vengeful new Huntress, Helena Bertinelli. This trio seeks to find a solution to their respective problems.
There is a lot of fun interplay between characters in this arc and it does tell a complete story for a change, but nothing stands out as extraordinary. I only read the original run of Birds of Prey, pre-New 52, in bits and pieces and I always loved that Gail Simone managed to pull in some more obscure female characters. I am honestly a sucker for DC writers that incorporate elements of the vast history of this shared universe. I could tell that the core of the team was always Batgirl, Black Canary, and Huntress but it was fun to see Knockout and Lady Blackhawk show up. It makes a lot of sense that if Rebirth is meant to be a sort of return to a more classical form that this first arc would focus on this specific trio of heroes.
The most significant change from that original run is that Huntress is an entirely new character…well, sort of. She is still Helena Bertinelli, and her family was again the victim of the Gotham mafia. However, this Helena was introduced in the pages of Grayson as a super spy for the Spyral organization. I have not yet read the short-lived but hugely acclaimed Grayson series, but I didn’t get the impression she was a carrying over her predecessor’s backstory. This Birds of Prey series appears to be an effort to return those elements to the character, but I’m not sure how well they mesh with how this Helena has been portrayed up to this point.
For those who didn’t devote a depressingly significant amount of their childhood to scouring through Who’s Who and various DC Comics encyclopedias, Huntress started out as the adult daughter of an alternate universe Batman and Catwoman, a melding of the two characters’ styles. In 1985, DC editorial did away with these parallel Earths, so Huntress was rebooted as the daughter of a Gotham mafia family whose parents were killed by rivals. She started outside the sphere of influence of Batman but eventually became a regular member of his family. The part where things get very confusing for us comes with the 2011 reboot of The New 52. Once again a Helena Bertinelli shows up, but we learn this is actually Helena Wayne, the daughter of an alternate reality’s Bruce Wayne who ended up on the core reality of the DC Universe. She also masquerades as the Huntress, fighting crime with Power Girl, the Supergirl of that same parallel Earth. This Huntress eventually returned to her world in a storyline that was truly abysmal. While it may not impede your enjoyment of this particular series, there has never been a clear resolution to that fact that this universe has had two Helena Bertinellis running around it both as the Huntress, with no in-universe explanation has to why Helena Wayne took that particular name.
All that said, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey is fun albeit never hit me that hard. The reveal of the mysterious new Oracle feels like a bit of a letdown. The mafia villains being fought by the team never comes across as very distinct, but just very generic bad guys. There is some gratingly annoying fourth wall breaking near the end where characters make meta-commentary on internet trolls. I get why writers include these sorts of bits, but they just feel lame, and I personally think they give the very people they seek to dismiss a higher level of importance than they deserve. Now past this arc, I would be interested to see how the series develops and the incorporation of some of the forgotten DC female heroes. Looking at solicitations for the following volume that doesn’t exactly happen, but the team does become more integrated into the larger DC Universe.