Favorite Female DC Heroes

The Mary Sue website recently published a list of The Ten Most Powerful Female Villains of the DC universe, then challenged readers to list their favorite female DC heroes. So here we go.

1 – Birds of Prey

The Birds of Prey are not a single hero, but a group. Specifically, they are a team of female superheroes. First created by Chuck Dixon in the 1990s. The original group included Oracle (Barbara Gordon who also gets a place on this list herself), Black Canary (yes, she also gets her own listing), Huntress, and others. The team was rebooted in the New 52 and again in Rebirth. The membership of the team tends to rotate, but Barbara Gordon, Dinah Lance, and Helena are usually members. The series has been written and drawn by women as well.

2 – Zatanna

Originally a “joke” character who appeared in Justice League International and cast spells by speaking backward, Zatanna has emerged as one of the most powerful magic users in the entire DC Universe. At one point in New 52 – John Constantine describes her as the most powerful magician on Earth because she can bend reality itself. This after John discovers she cast a spell on him to make him a better person. Zatanna has been a member of the Justice League and Justice League Dark. She’s also one of the main characters in the animated series Young Justice and a supporting character in Justice League Unlimited. Zatanna is also one of the main characters in the recent mini-series Mystic U.

3 – Barbara Gordon (Oracle, Batgirl)

My favorite version of Barbara is Oracle. After she was shot by the Joker in Alan Moore’s famous The Killing Joke, Barbara doesn’t curl up and die. She doesn’t become bitter and decide to be a villain. Barbara goes through intense physical therapy, learns to use a wheelchair, returns to grad school and gets her MLS – Master’s of Library Science, and gets a job at the Gotham City Library. All of that would make her an admirable character, and representative of a very under-represented group: those with physical disabilities. It is not easy to get a master’s degree. It is not easy to get a good job when one has physical disabilities – discrimination is alive and well. But for Barbara, this isn’t enough, she uses her computer skills and becomes Oracle – running the Birds of Prey single-handedly (for much of Birds of Prey the other Birds don’t even know who the “voice in their ear” is), she also became knowledge gatherer for Batman and his allies, especially Nightwing. Barbara is strong and admirable for all that. New 52 retconned her back to Batgirl, and personally, I felt that was a step back for the character. There are plenty of tough female superheroes, how many superheroes in a wheelchair can you name? Rebirth has Barbara as Batgirl, but back in charge of the Birds of Prey, and keeps her computer skills, so that’s something.

4 – Black Canary

Black Canary is more than the girlfriend/wife/ex-wife of Green Arrow. She has been a member of the Justice Society of America (back in the 1940s), then Justice League International, Justice League, and the Birds of Prey. Her main power is her Sonic Cry, which is strong enough to kill someone. She also is a gifted martial artist, and at times has lived in the dojo where she teaches self-defense to at-risk women. Dinah is strong in more ways than one, and she remains one of my favorite characters.

5 – Jessica Cruz, Green Lantern

Jessica Cruz is one of the newest female DC heroes on this list, as she was introduced in the Rebirth book, Green Lanterns, with her partner, Simon Baz (a Muslim man). Jessica is Latina and suffered such severe acrophobia that she didn’t leave her apartment for two years. This is the woman who gets a power ring for overcoming great fear. Although Jessica is at first unsure of herself, she grows and becomes the hero her ring knows she can be. She and her partner, Simon, have a great relationship that is entirely platonic, a refreshing change for a story essentially about two cops. Jessica also is, by default, a member of the Green Lantern Corps and the Justice League, meaning she also goes on missions in space, and world-saving missions, as well as her “normal” work as Earth’s Green Lantern.

6 – Batwoman

Kate Kane is Bruce Wayne’s cousin, a lesbian, and a kick-ass superhero. Raised in a military family, when she was young and the family abroad, she, her sister and their mother, were kidnapped. Her mother and sister were killed, and Kate was raised by her father. As a young adult, she enrolls in West Point – and is kicked out when it’s discovered she’s a lesbian. She goes wild for a year but then returns to Gotham as Batwoman. For much of Rebirth, Kate has been the leader of the Batfamily in Detective Comics, but after a few serious arguments with Bruce (lets just say Kate is more pragmatic than Bruce, and she doesn’t feel as strongly about his “no kill” rule as he does), she’s currently on her own. Kate is a strong fighter, has the intelligence common in Batfamily members, has military contacts through her father, and has her mother’s money. She’s basically Batman but a woman, which makes her awesome.

7 – Huntress

There are two versions of Huntress, and I really like them both. The Earth 2 version is the daughter of Batman and Catwoman. (Bruce and Selina both grow older, retire from their respective “night ” jobs, and then marry.) The newer version is the daughter of a mob boss, who gets disgusted by her family’s violence, especially after her boyfriend is killed. She seeks revenge by killing mobsters. Bruce decides to bring her into the fold and gets her to agree to non-lethal ways of curbing the mob in Gotham. Both versions of Huntress have the first name, Helena, with the Earth 2 version being Helena Wayne and the modern version Helena Bertinelli. Helena is usually in a purple costume (sometimes black), and has strong fighting abilities, intelligence, and loyalty. As mentioned above, she’s frequently a member of the Birds of Prey.

8 – Fire and 9 – Ice

Fire was a Brazilian woman who had green fire powers. Ice was a Nordic Ice goddess. Both were characters in Justice League International. Both really need to be brought back!

10 – Wonder Woman

What new can one say about Wonder Woman? Diana is an Amazon princess, originally she brought American airman Steve Trevor back to America during World War II (which was contemporary with the times of her comic which was first published in 1940), where she stayed to fight Nazis, evil, and supervillains. She has the strength of Superman and the intelligence of Batman. Diana is part of DC’s Trinity of superheroes (the other’s being Superman and Batman) and is a member of the Justice League.

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Book Review – Birds of Prey vol. 5: Soul Crisis (New 52)

  • Title: Birds of Prey vol. 5: Soul Crisis
  • Author: Christy Marx
  • Artists: Romano Molenaar, Daniel Sampere, Travis Moore, Robson Rocha, Jonathan Glapion, Vicente Cifuentes, Jordi Tarragona, Oclair Albert, Mark Deering, Julio Ferreira, Scott McDaniel, Chris Sotomayor, Taylor Esposito, Dezi Sienty, Travis Lanham, Carlos M. Mangual
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), Black Canary (Dinah Lance), Suicide Squad, Amanda Waller
  • Collection Date: 2015
  • Collected issues: Birds of Prey #25, 27-34; Birds of Prey: Future’s End 1 (2013-2014)
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/15/2016

**Spoiler Alert** The fifth volume of the collected New 52 version of Birds of Prey really feels like the end of this series. The book opens with a flashback, telling us how Black Canary became Black Canary. It’s a wonderful story. The book ends with a flash forward to five years in the future – having survived a dip in the Lazarus Pit, Black Canary now leads the Red League – rescuing women from abuse, sex trafficking, slavery, and other crimes. Some of the women she rescues willingly join her. Black Canary runs into a future bizarre Batgirl called Bête Noire (the Black Beast). I liked this taste of a future Black Canary – the only issue I had was the internal monologue boxes were red print on a black background which is very, very hard to read. Actually, I find red print difficult to read on any background.

Beyond those two very separate books – this volume wraps up the loose ends from the previous volume. Then the newly regenerated Mother Eve sends the Birds of Prey on a rescue mission to the Congo in Africa to retrieve one of her operatives. There they run into the Suicide Squad (Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Capt. Boomarang, and King Shark) and Amanda Waller. Waller tells Black Canary “the truth” of why Kurt, her husband, has no memory of her – their marriage was a sham and part of Kurt’s cover. Waller then takes Kurt out of the rehab facility he’s been in since his recovery. Black Canary is devastated by this “truth” – but this is Amanda Waller we’re taking about – a master manipulator who wouldn’t know the truth if it walked up to her and introduced itself.

The story ends, however, with the Birds breaking up – Batgirl leaves in disgust and returns to Gotham. Condor tries to stay with Black Canary, since he’s fallen in love with her (for awhile now) but we know the relationship will go nowhere. Canary strikes out on her own – and the flash-forward last story I already mentioned tells us how that will go.

Birds of Prey is a great graphic novel series because it features all women superheroes. Women who are bad-asses who can take care of themselves. The New 52 version compromises that premise (which has been around since the Chuck Dixon series of the 1990s) by introducing Condor who, although cool, doesn’t really belong in this series. These “birds” do not need a man to rescue them. The series also compromises Black Canary, a long-time DC heroine by making her entire existence about her guilt over accidentally “killing” her husband and then her determination to rescue and restore him. Canary even considers betraying the team and allowing R’as al Ghul to kill Mother Eve – simply to get her husband back and whole. Come on! This is the woman who was the defacto leader of the Justice League! (Batman was the leader on paper, but as he tended to be busy he appointed Canary as his lieutenant.) Canary was the trainer for Young Justice in that animated series. She’s had her own series. And for awhile, she was married to Oliver Queen – the Green Arrow. So why wimp her out? Oh, that right, this is New 52.

Fortunately, Rebirth brings her bad-ass self back. Birds of Prey becomes a story of betrayal and of character after character leaving – another trope of “women can’t work together”. There are some great moments (Starling – I miss her!) and some truly beautiful art. But I prefer the original series. And Rebirth is looking to be good too. I rate things based on it’s own merits – and by that score, this novel was pretty good, but other versions of the Birds are better.

Book Review – Birds of Prey vol. 4: The Cruelest Cut (New 52)

  • Title: Birds of Prey vol. 4: The Cruelest Cut
  • Author: Christy Marx, James Tynion IV
  • Artists: Romano Molenaar, Jonathan Glapion, Vicente Cifuentes, Julio Ferreira, Scott McDaniel, Graham Nolan, Miguel Sepulveda, Robson Rocha, Sandu Florea, Oclair Albert, Chris Sotomayor, Rain Beredo, Taylor Esposito, Dezi Sienty, Travis Lanham
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), Black Canary (Dinah Lance), Starling, Strix, Talon, Condor, 
  • Collection Date: 2014
  • Collected issues: Birds of Prey #18-24, 26; Talon #9 (2013-2014)
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 9/29/2016

**Spoiler Alert** Volume 4 of the Birds of Prey series focuses on betrayal. Starling is kidnapped from Dinah (Black Canary)’s Dojo and a ransom demand sent: turn over the Talon and get Starling back. Batgirl begins to reassure the Talon (now called Strix) only to have Strix run. Black Canary and Batgirl follow – only to find Strix at the Court of Owls experimental lab. Suddenly, Mr. Freeze shows-up with Starling. Starling had thrown in her lot with Freeze, declaring, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and since Freeze wants vengeance on the Owls for stealing his cryogenic technology, Starling figures she can use Freeze to get to the Court and the Owls. Black Canary and Batgirl don’t see it that way, and are angered at and feel betrayed by Starling. Condor, meanwhile, proves his mettle, and provides shelter at his workshop.

No sooner are the Birds settling in than Batgirl gets a mysterious message and leaves.

We follow the Talon who refused to kill Strix, on his own adventure to try to free his girlfriend (or wife) and child and then to invade Santa Prisca to challenge Bane.

Back at Condor’s workshop, Basilisk attacks, including a new member, Uplink, who psychically attacks the group, trapping them in dreams. Black Canary and Condor are kidnapped. A former police officer arrives and offers help from “the Benefactor”. Batgirl and Strix go to free Black Canary and try to figure out if Condor, a former member of Basilisk, can be trusted.

At the Basilisk stronghold, Canary discovers her husband, Kurt, isn’t dead – but he is comatose and he’s also a metahuman who’s power is the ability to magnify or block the powers of other metas. She also discovers the leader of Basilisk, Regulus, is a fused being that combines Kaizen and Dean Higgins. Canary had thought Dean was killed in a disastrous black-ops mission to destroy the villain Kaizen, and also “killed” Kurt.

The book ends with Canary holding Kurt, whom Batgirl has returned to his coma because he is experiencing continuous seizures. Condor has proven himself, as has Strix. Presumably, the Birds of Prey will escape.

Book Review – Birds of Prey vol. 3: A Clash of Daggers (New 52)

  • Title: Birds of Prey vol. 3: A Clash of Daggers
  • Author:  Duane Swierczynski, Gail Simone
  • Artists: Romano Molenaar, Vicente Cifuentes, Admira Wijaya, Daniel Sampere, Juan Jose, RYP, Dezi Sienty, Dave Sharpe, Chris Sotomayor
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), Black Canary (Dinah Lance), Starling, Katana, Talon, Condor, Catwoman, Comissionor Gordon, Amanda Waller
  • Collection Date: 2013
  • Collected issues: Batgirl Annual 1, Birds of Prey #13-17 (2012-2013)
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 9/26/2016

This volume of Birds of Prey consists of essentially three stories. In the first story, Commissioner James Gordon visits a Talon in jail. He’s trying to get some information from her, but she’s a Talon and a Mute, so his inquiries are a bust. However, Catwoman frees the female Talon. Later this Talon helps Catwoman and Batgirl in a fight against a group of Talons, led by a man who is organizing the arson of a series of buildings occupied by the poor in one of the worst sections of Gotham (and framing Bruce Wayne for the destruction and death). The Talon fights her former cult-mates and helps Batgirl and Catwoman saving their lives. Batgirl is especially impressed by both Catwoman’s heroics and the Talon’s integrity. The art of the first story is beautiful with a painted/watercolor look and a sepia tone.

In the second story, Katana is attacked and her sword is stolen. Katana follows the sword to Japan where she’s captured by the Daggers – a secret society and crime organization. The Birds of Prey follow her. Throughout the story there’s a countdown to something, “24 hours to detonation, 12 hours to detonation”, etc. which gives the story a tense undercurrent. The something turns out to be a scorched Earth bomb. The Birds, Katana, and a mysterious maybe-hero called “Condor” stop the bomb and Katana recovers her sword which she believes hold her husband’s soul. But in the end, Katana decides to stay in Japan.

Black Canary, Starling, and Batgirl return to Gotham. Batgirl brings in Talon as a new member, upsetting the other two who see her, well, by her costume, as The Enemy. Events happen so fast, Batgirl is unable to explain why she trusts this Talon. Condor also arrives, intent on joining the team – despite it being all women. A few weeks later, this new team is up against the Basilisk tech-terrorist group. Things again go terribly wrong when Canary loses control of her powers, Starling covers for her, and then Starling secretly calls in Amanda Waller. Basilisk turns from attacking a building and power grid to attacking the team with “heartstoppers” electric balls that can fire power that would literally stop the heart. Talon saves Canary, and Condor and Starling’s cry to Waller help the rest of the team.

The art in the rest of the collection varies by book. However, it’s all competent to good. Birds of Prey continues to be a fun series to read – full of powerful kick-ass women. I could do with a bit more characterization, but it’s still well-worth reading. Recommended.

Book Review – Birds of Prey vol. 2: Your Kiss Might Kill (New 52)

  • Title: Birds of Prey vol. 2: Your Kiss Might Kill
  • Author:  Duane Swierczynski
  • Artists: Travel Foreman, Jesus Saiz, Javier Pina, Jeff Huet, Timothy Green II, Joseph Silver, Cliff Richards, Romano Molenaar, Vicente Cifuentes, June Chung, Gabe Eltaeb, Chris Sotomayor, Carlos M. Mangual, Dave Sharpe
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), Black Canary (Dinah Lance), Starling, Katana, Poison Ivy
  • Collection Date: 2013
  • Collected issues: Birds of Prey #8-12, #0 (2012)
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 7/13/2016

The second volume of DC Comics New 52 version of Birds of Prey builds on Black Canary’s background – explaining why everyone is after her. Dinah Lance, it seems, was not framed for murder after all – but did actually kill her ex-husband, though it was an accident. He was training her to learn to control her Canary Cry, and well, things didn’t go well.

This volume also explores Poison Ivy’s character – she does betray her fellow teammates as well as show her more violent tendencies. However, this gives her some depth – and in many ways she becomes sympathetic – despite everything in the comic that tries to point to her as an “terrorist” and extremist. There is also some background and information given about Starling, though she remains enigmatic. Batgirl – and yes it is Batgirl, not Oracle, also shows up. Katana remains one of my favorite characters – despite her extremely violent nature.

Birds of Prey is a fast-moving action-packed book, but there is some characterization that manages to sneak in. And it is awesome to see unique, powerful, strong women who are determined in their convictions. Poison Ivy may be called a “terrorist” and Black Canary condemns her for betraying the team, but you can also understand her point of view, even if her methods are a bit extreme. At least Ivy focuses her attacks squarely at criminals rather than the innocent.

It will be interesting to see how this version of Birds of Prey develops.

I will say that although I prefer the Chuck Dixon Birds of Prey series from the 1990s; this book is one of the better New 52 books.

Book Review – Birds of Prey vol. 1: Trouble in Mind (New 52)

  • Title: Birds of Prey vol. 1: Trouble in Mind
  • Author:  Duane Swierczynski
  • Artists: Jesus Saiz, Nei Ruffino, Allen Passalaqua, June Chung, Carlos M. Mangual
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), Black Canary (Dinah Lance), Starling, Katana, Poison Ivy
  • Collection Date: 2012
  • Collected issues: Birds of Prey #1-7 (2011-2012)
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 5/30/2016

I’m not normally a fan of DC’s “New 52” Era of Comics, which is why I’m very excited about Rebirth but I’ve heard good things about the new Birds of Prey so I thought I’d give it a try. And much to my surprise I did enjoy this book, enough that I plan on buying volume 2.

This story features Black Canary as the nominal leader of the Birds of Prey, Barbara Gordon having bowed out to become Batgirl again. Black Canary is joined by Starling, an expert with guns, Katana, an expert with a katana sword as well as a martial artist, and Poison Ivy. The group each has their own troubles, Black Canary for example is wanted for murder – which she probably did not commit, though we aren’t given any information about why she’s wanted for murder or even who she supposedly killed. The group investigates what turns out to be a mind-control operation. The men in stealth-suits they are fighting are ordinary people who are being controlled by a drug that is supposed to be used to treat stroke, and nursery rhyme control phrases. When an operative is compromised, the control phrase can be used to literally make the person’s head blow-up. The Birds of Prey fall into the mess and try to figure it out. However, by the end of the book it’s clear that one or more, and possibly all of the Birds have also been influenced by “Choke” as they are calling the person in charge of the nefarious plan.

This version of Birds of Prey includes both villains (Poison Ivy) and chaotic good (Katana, Starling) characters as well as heroes (Black Canary, a very brief appearance by Batgirl) but the classic 1990s Birds of Prey featured around thirty female characters, some of which had been considered villains (Catwoman, Poison Ivy) or chaotic good (Huntress), so I don’t have a problem with the inclusion of “bad guy” or villain characters – the Birds of Prey had always been more open about membership than, for example, the Justice League (who seemed to have a Code of Conduct for members).

The story in Birds of Prey volume 1 Trouble in Mind was interesting, enough so that I will buy the next volume because I want to see what happens. However, I did feel the characterization was a little flat. Not as flat as other New 52 books I’ve read, which were awful. But when I compare this version of Birds of Prey to the Classic version, which I’ve also read, it comes up wanting a little – because the book is a slug fest for the most part, and character takes a back seat to the action. Now, I will say, again, I did enjoy Birds of Prey (New 52) but I just don’t find it as good as the original group led by Oracle.

Book Review – Birds of Prey vol. 3 (1990s – Chuck Dixon)

  • Title: Birds of Prey vol. 3
  • Author:  Chuck Dixon
  • Artists: Greg Land, Gloria Vasquez, Patricia Mulvihill, Dick Giordano,  Albert T DeGuzman, Patrick Zircher, John Costanza, Butch Guice, Drew Geraci, Jordi Ensign, Jose Marzan Jr.
  • Line: 1990-Era (Early Modern Age)
  • Characters: Oracle (Barbara Gordon), Black Canary (Dinah Lance), Power Girl, Nightwing, Alfred Pennyworth, Robin
  • Collection Date: 2016 (reprint)
  • Collected issues: Birds of Prey #12-21 and Nightwing #45-46 (1999-2000)
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 3/22/2017

This is the third volume of the collected Classic Birds of Prey written by Chuck Dixon and illustrated by Greg Land and others. First, Black Canary is out to stop the breakout of a number of super-villains from a prisoner transport train. She, the military officers protecting the train, and the villains are transported by Boom Tube to Apokolips. There, with the help of a weaker parademon that isn’t part of the hoard, they must all escape. Barbara meets Ted Kord at a technology conference – and discovers he’s the co-hacker she’s been chatting with on-line for months. Diana tries to help an abused woman in her apartment building but is too late to prevent her from killing her abuser. Barbara interviews the Joker from an unseen position. Finding out the Joker has sold nuclear cruise missiles to a terrorist group, she asks for more information. When she tells Joker he isn’t in Arkham but New York, he tells her the nukes are on missiles that will hit New York. Oracle calls in Powergirl, Black Canary, and even the US Military to stop the attack. Dinah (Black Canary) is sent on a humanitarian mission to Transbelvia to help refugees and victims of ethnic cleansing and war between Krasy-Volnans and Belvans. She helps a group get to a shelter, overall things do not go well. Meanwhile, Jason Bard calls Barbara from the hospital where he’s undergoing an operation to restore his sight. Barbara offers to get him some investigative work.

There is a flashback story of Barbara setting up her Oracle base with the help of Richard Grayson (Nightwing) and Robin. She ends up also having Ted Kord visit her apartment and meeting with Jason Bard as well (who discovers she is in the chair).

The final volumes collected in Volume 3 of Birds of Prey reprint Nightwing and Birds of Prey in order. Nightwing is captured by Blockbuster, but freed by Cisco Blaine, who turns out to be a Federal agent. However, while Nightwing goes to get the files to bring down Blockbuster, Nite-Wing (Tad) the not-that-bright vigilante kills Blaine. Grayson freaks. Meanwhile, Black Canary is being pursued. Alfred and Robin rescue Dick, and they race to rescue Oracle. Meanwhile, Blockbuster has hired Mouse, Giz, Stallion, and Lady Vic, to find and destroy Oracle. Alfred, Robin, Nightwing, and Black Canary rush to help Barbara (Oracle). Barbara survives but Dinah is captured by the bad guys who think she’s Oracle.

Birds of Prey Volume 3 collects Birds of Prey 12-21 and Nightwing #45-46. Note this is NOT the Gail Simone version of Birds of Prey – it’s the original Chuck Dixon version.