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Birds of Prey and DC's Radical Tradition of Girl Gangs

Birds of Prey and DC's Radical Tradition of Girl Gangs

By Rosie Knight Thursday, February 6th, 2020

The Birds of Prey movie may seem like it's removed from the comics, but really it's the latest in a long, undersung legacy of female teams within the DC Universe.

The DC Universe has always been filled with brilliant women. From Sensation Comics #1 and the introduction of Wonder Woman all the way to Barbara Gordon's Batgirl, the ferocious Amanda Waller and the model-turned-vigilante Vixen. Even the DC rogues gallery has its share of astonishing ladies like Poison Ivy, Catwoman, Harley Quinn and lesser known foes like Livewire, Tarantula and Duela Dent. With such a massive roster of amazing female characters, it's not surprising that girl gangs within the DCU have a pretty storied history.

With Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), the cinematic world of DC takes on this established tradition and introduces it to the masses with an all-star cast and the slick directorial eye of Cathy Yan. As DC readers, we've been lucky enough to witness our fair share of badass super ladies teaming up over the years. It looks like the newest entry into the sprawling world of DC superhero movies will build on that legacy with a rad roster of powerful women who pay homage to the heroines who have come before while blazing a trail into the future.

Jack Kirby is one of comics' most iconic creators and in 1972 he crafted one of the most powerful super-teams of all time in the Female Furies. The cosmically powered New Gods warriors were trained by the notorious Granny Goodness to serve none other than Darkseid himself. Outwardly some of the most overpowered super-villains in the DC Universe, the Furies’ four-decade plus journey has paved the way for future complex (anti)heroines like Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy to go from villainous foe to strong, brilliant and occasionally heroic characters in their own right.

Over twenty years after the Furies’ debut, Chuck Dixon and Jordan B. Gorfinkel introduced a much less villainous successor with a new take on some classic heroines. Under the leadership of Barbara Gordon, who at the time was confined to a wheelchair and working as Oracle, Birds of Prey teamed the former Batgirl with Black Canary in a Gotham-based collective that would go on to feature an impressive selection of DC's strongest women. Though the team was created by two men, Gail Simone was the first woman to join the creative team and is seen as one of the most influential writers on the series. Simone’s contributions, alongside the contributions of others, helped to capture the hearts and minds of DC readers and creatives, inspiring multiple adaptations including the upcoming film.

Of course, many DC fans were wondering why Robbie and co. chose to go with the Birds of Prey for her movie rather than the Gotham City Sirens. After all, the Sirens is the team most directly connected to Harley Quinn in the comics. The answer can be found in the Birds’ often rotating roster. Star Margot Robbie has explained was a decision driven by the flexibility of the ever-changing collection of women who have been a part of the Birds of Prey.

The actor/producer's desire to introduce new characters to a wider audience meant that we haven't seen the Gotham City Sirens hit the screen yet, but seeing as it's a team that stars some of the most famous DC heroines, we probably won't have to wait too long. Created by Paul Dini and Guillem March, Gotham City Sirens saw Catwoman, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn team up just in time to protect Gotham against the horrifying villain Hush.

Putting together the three iconic villainesses and crafting an anti-heroine super team was a radical move that harkened back to the creation of the Female Furies, while also establishing some of the core tenets of the trio that would define them going into the future. The now-beloved relationship between Harley and Ivy was first truly cemented here, while the team also got to face down with other strong female characters like Talia al Ghul and collaborate with some radical DC heroines like Zatanna.

Sometimes intriguing new female team-ups would build on male-centered ones that came before. Reimagining one of the most famous teams in the universe, 2012's Worlds’ Finest replaced Batman with his Earth-2 daughter Huntress and Superman with his alt-universe cousin Power Girl. It was a slick and smart reboot of the beloved DC title which would help seed The CW's World's Finest team of Batwoman and Supergirl.

Importantly, though, it's not just classic teams that have been reinvented to radicalize the women of DC. In 2015, Bombshells brought DC Collectibles’ popular line of 1950s-inspired statues to the realm of comics. Though it would have been easy for the tie-in line to be nothing more than a light read to sell statues, writer Marguerite Bennett turned the Bombshells into Nazi-fighting war heroes who were no longer legacy characters but iconic and original heroes in their own right.

The long tradition of accomplished female-led teams in the DC Universe is indisputable and inspiring. That Birds of Prey incorporates some new additions into the classic cast of characters is simply following in the footsteps of all the comics that came before. We can't wait to see just how the new Birds of Prey adds to the canon of powerful female DC heroes. Who knows? Maybe it’ll serve to inspire the super-powered girl gangs we’ll be seeing on movie screens and comic pages in the future.
 

Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is now in theaters. Click here to get tickets!

Rosie Knight writes about comics, movies and TV for DCComics.com and DCUniverse.com. For more from her, check out her recent breakdown of Batman/Superman #1 and be sure to follow her on Twitter at @RosieMarx.