There are a lot of super teams in comics—some better known than others. The Birds of Prey is one of the lesser-known groups. While they usually consist of some combination of Batgirl a.k.a. Barbara Gordon, Black Canary a.k.a. Dinah Lance and the Huntress a.k.a. Helena Bertinelli, as the book’s title suggests, Barbara is the star here. For those who followed her solo book pre-Rebirth, this version of Batgirl seems a little off.
As co-written by Brenden Fletcher and Cameron Stewart and drawn by Babs Tarr, Batgirl was colorful and fun, touched only occasionally by darkness. Writers Julie and Shawna Benson have a different approach here. There’s something infinitely sad about this version of Barbara Gordon. Pre-Rebirth Batgirl was, of course, always aware of her Oracle, wheelchair-bound past, but she didn’t seem driven by it. Here, it’s inescapable. Barbara’s story is one of the most iconic in comics (there’s a reason a film adaptation of 1988’s The Killing Joke is coming out this year) so the pages spent recapping it in the issue can feel somewhat unnecessary. However, they do establish that the tone of this book will be a little more fraught than what came before.
That also applies to her relationship with Dinah Lance. Pre-Rebirth, Dinah frequently helped Batgirl save Burnside and their relationship was nothing but warm. Here, there’s a distinct coldness. As we learn in the somewhat alternate history the Bensons establish here, Dinah seems to have felt unwanted after Barbara regained her mobility and started kicking butt again. It’s frankly odd to see her so unwilling to team up with Barbara and the harsh, enigmatic Dinah portrayed here makes it hard to believe she ever did something so silly as use her powers to become a rockstar (which is a shame considering Black Canary, written by Fletcher and drawn by Annie Wu, was one of the most singular and consistently enjoyable comics of the last few years).
That said, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1 isn’t all bad. If you accept the world and character dynamics it sets up, there’s actually a lot to like. The core concept of Barbara trying to protect her legacy as Oracle and the way Helena fits into that actually has a lot of potential. You just have to accept that it doesn’t make much sense if you’ve been following these characters for awhile. Still, the issue is a really strong jumping on point for new readers and at the end of the day, isn’t that reboots are all about?