DC 30 Day Meme Day 6: Favourite Title

Posted: 07/29/2010 in Comics, Girl Stuff, Queer
Tags: , , , , , ,

BIRDS OF PREY

I’m gonna have to shout out to Deense for breaking the absolute deadlock I was stuck in on this one with her brilliant one ahead of me entry about Gail Simone for favourite writer day. The thing is that since I started reading main label DC in 2004, I’ve done a lot of title hopping. Adding to that, I’ve shed a lot of my DC titles over the last couple months. I dropped Detective Comics when Rucka left, Batman when Morrison shifted to Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman when Gail Simone left, and Power Girl when Palmiotti, Grey, and Connor left. Most of that money has shifted over to Marvel, most notably Marjorie Liu’s Black Widow. My Wonder Woman dollars stay in Gail’s pocket though, as I shifted back to the freshly relaunched Birds of Prey.

In her brilliant, constantly fist pump inducing interview at Suicide Girls Gail quoted Geoff Johns as having said to her that there was a hole left in the DCU when Birds of Prey was canceled in his pitch to put her back on the title. Yeah, I know you can feel the Internet cracking in half as you read me agree with Johns on something. It wasn’t the most elegant way of putting it, but it was direct and vital. The shape of that hole is actually something a bit more complex than just this:

Although that really does- predictably- have a lot to do with why I finally broke down and chose BoP. While it’s the title where Gail came to prominence at DC and exploded into a household name (within the industry/fandom), she didn’t launch it. It reminds me a bit of the segment on Weekend Update during SNL’s 25 year anniversary episode with Chevy Chase and Dennis Miller, the two most iconic hosts of the long running skit. Miller said some sexist thing to the effect that “You may have knocked her up, but I married her.” The Chevy Chase of Birds of Prey is the often overlooked workhorse writer Chuck Dixon. For a bit of a further digression, I have to shed light on one of the most valiant and important decisions a DC writer ever made. It was John Ostrander, writing Suicide Squad who first pulled Barbara Gordon out of her Killing Joke induced limbo and gave her the Oracle persona.

Taken as a whole, from Ostrander rescuing Babs through to Dixon launching Birds of Prey to Simone’s triumphant relaunch, you can really start to see the true shape of the hole that Johns was talking about. It’s really a lot more like a pretty looking tree whose roots run much deeper and farther than you’d ever expect from such a delicate looking thing. My first issue of BoP was #66, a flashback story featuring Dinah’s mother, the Golden Age Black Canary which drove me backwards on a quest to dig up the beginning of the series while I kept up with the Student and Sensei arc that issue #66 cut into the middle of. It ended up being a fun and unique experience, tackling both runs at once.

Birds of Prey was one of my very first DC titles when I started migrating over from Vertigo because I wanted a kick ass superhero to roleplay and Black Canary looked the most appealing. Dixon’s grounded style and deployment of Babs and Dinah to global hotspots fighting terrorists, despots, and natural disasters more often than supervillains was ideal as the only other superhero book I was reading at the time was Daredevil. Eight years on, Dixon’s run still sticks to my ribs. While on the darker, more grounded side the flashback issue about why Power Girl hated Oracle (my first experience with Power Girl) always springs to mind first, Dixon’s run had some brilliant absurd and comedic moments from the running joke of various government agencies raiding Blockbuster’s house because Babs was bouncing her signal off his computers to madcap team ups with Metamorpho. Of course that running joke about Blockbuster turned deadly serious and culminated in the two most iconic arcs of Dixon’s run, The Hunt for Oracle and The Hostage Heart. Issue #21, the final issue of The Hunt for Oracle was home to one of the most powerful moments in comic book history. What moment is that, you ask? Why this one, of course;

Astoundingly only the first six issues of Dixon’s run have ever been traded, meaning that the series’ most pivotal and affecting moment is out of print. I don’t want to get too cynical in a post that’s meant to be a gushy yet hopefully somewhat intelligent love letter, but the comic where Babs was paralyzed has not only been in print continuously for over twenty years, it’s considered to be one of the most iconic Batman comics of all time. Yet the issue where she meets her longest collaborator and closest friend face to face for the first time can only feasibly be read by downloading scans off the Internet. Thanks, DC.

I didn’t take to Simone’s run with the same fervor that I did Dixon’s. Well at first I did. Lady Shiva intrigue and one of the most awesome team ups of female heroes ever is what greeted me in the conclusion of the Student and Sensei arc. It was a few scant weeks since I’d first read Women in the Refrigerator, so I was still fumbling around in the dark trying to figure out how to process the fact that I’d been consuming pop culture backwards since birth. I grasped the whole thing about the context of violence against female characters, pretty easily but it was sex that really tripped me up for a couple years. What triggered me to pick Birds of Prey as my favourite title was Deense talking about the exchange about Helena’s “sluttiness” in her birthday ode to Gail. Back then I didn’t much care for Helena with her belly window costume and “sluttiness.” I was still working on the whole body image and violence thing, so I hadn’t come around to dissecting that whole Madonna/Whore complex thing yet (say nothing about my own gender identity).

Obviously, my perspective on all that is very different now but my uneasiness back then with Gail’s work is why I love her run with abandon when seen in 20-20 hindsight vision. She’s challenged every single notion I’ve ever had about women in fiction and relentlessly driven me to think critically, even about her own work. On my previous blog, I pointed to my discovery of Women in the Refrigerator as being essentially the genesis of my becoming a feminist, something akin to Paul on the road to Damascus if Paul turned out to be a transwoman. Beyond just pointing out what’s been wrong about how women have been popularly depicted in comics and pop culture in general, Gail’s work- most notably on Birds of Prey– flourishes with different perspectives on femininity. There’s no iconic Gail Simone Woman because of the time and effort she takes to imbue each of them with a voice and life of their own. Oracle, Black Canary, Huntress, Lady Blackhawk, Black Alice, Big Barda, Misfit, Dove, Cheshire, and Shiva. Already an incredible range of women all with unique identities without even stepping outside of BoP to include the likes of Jeanette and Scandal Savage. It’s a fine thing to be a contrarian and bring the flaws of a medium or genre to wide attention, but it’s another thing to devote your career to entering that medium and rehabilitating it from within.

When I first started casting around for a title to write about for this day, I considered Power Girl and Detective Comics under Greg Rucka (with a shout out to Paul Dini’s preceding run). Both are very close to my heart, but without the combined efforts of John Ostrander, Chuck Dixon, and Gail Simone neither could have existed. Without Birds of Prey there would be a hole in me, that seen from a distance might look something like this:

but when examined closely, becomes something far more complex. While it’s been four years since I met Gail Simone and said absolutely none of this to her at the time, when that transgender character she mentioned on twitter debuts in Birds of Prey, it will feel like the conclusion of a long and difficult journey that she’s been with me every step of the way for.

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Comments
  1. pseudicide says:

    Brilliant post, thank you for sharing this with us
    ~Dee

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Emma Houxbois, It's a Deense. It's a Deense said: A gorgeous post, worth reading ❤ RT @ Gonzochaote DC 30 Day Meme #6: favourite book @GailSimone 's Birds of Prey http://bit.ly/bPOzvq […]

  3. ulla says:

    I completely approve 🙂

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