Everything to know about the Birds of Prey comic book history and other onscreen adaptations
Step aside, Suicide Squad — Harley Quinn’s getting her own badass girl gang and it’s going to make you go, “Joker who?”
Margot Robbie‘s standalone DC Comics movie Birds of Prey finally hits theaters this weekend and it’s full of R-rated, glitter-covered action and comedy mixed together in a neon-colored blitzkrieg of girl power comic book goodness. Reprising her fan-favorite, unhinged antihero from the 2016 villain team-up movie Suicide Squad, Robbie leads a fierce flock of cohorts in her own spin-off that begins with Harley Quinn getting unceremoniously dumped by her “puddin'” Joker (played by Jared Leto in Suicide Squad) and coping with the breakup in the most relatable ways — giving herself a haircut she immediately regrets, getting embarrassingly drunk, and binge-eating ice cream before blowing up the ACE chemical plant that was her romantic spot with her ex. You know, normal post-breakup activities!
But Birds of Prey truly earns its title once all the other kickass women finally join forces, including Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Dinah Lance/Black Canary, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Helena Bertinelli/The Huntress, Rosie Perez as Detective Renee Montoya, and Ella Jay Basco as Cassandra Cain. If some or none of those character names sound familiar to you, then you’ve come to the right place! While the Birds of Prey movie serves as a great introduction to each of those comic book characters, EW’s primer on the history of the Birds of Prey team will tell you all the basics you need to know to fully understand the backstories of each one. That way you can feel like an expert while watching them absolutely destroy Gotham’s criminal underworld on the big screen.
Who are the Birds of Prey?
The first appearance of the Birds of Prey in the comics was published back in 1995 in their own series titled — what else? — Birds of Prey by Chuck Dixon. The first team-up consisted of Oracle a.k.a. Barbara Gordon (who previously fought as Batgirl until one fateful interaction with the Joker put her in a wheelchair) and the Black Canary a.k.a. Dinah Lance (who is skilled in martial arts along with possessing a supersonic canary cry superpower). In 2003, Gail Simone took over the series and The Huntress a.k.a. Helena Bertinelli, the daughter of a slain mafia family who became a vigilante hellbent on revenge, joined the team. While many other comic book characters cycle in and out of the Birds of Prey team over the years, those three are known as the main trio.
As for Harley Quinn, when she’s not attached at the hip to the Joker, she actually ran around with a different girl group in the comics — the villainous Gotham City Sirens. Birds of Prey director Cathy Yan is switching things up for the big screen, having Harley essentially bring together the Birds. In the comics, Cassandra Cain is sometimes associated with the Birds of Prey as well as succeeding Barbara Gordon as Batgirl at one point, but in the movie, expect a much different version of that character. And Renee Montoya — initially created for Batman: The Animated Series — while having fought alongside the Birds of the Prey in the comics, never actually considered herself part of the team. That’s the biggest change from the page to the screen, as she actually operates under the moniker Question in the comics.
But that’s not the only history to know before seeing the Birds of Prey movie — these characters have actually been brought to life onscreen many times over the years on TV.
Who played the Birds of Prey in the past?
2002: Birds of Prey
The most obvious, if not most well-known, onscreen adaptation of the Birds of Prey was The WB’s short-lived live-action series that ran for only one season. The dark comic book series predated the Arrowverse by a full decade, and was introduced a year after Smallville‘s debut but unfortunately did not enjoy the same kind of success as that DC Comics adaptation.
Birds of Prey starred Ashley Scott as Helena Kyle a.k.a. Huntress, the daughter of Batman and Catwoman with metahuman abilities who was raised and trained by Barbara Gordon (Dina Meyer) a.k.a. Batgirl turned Oracle. They eventually take in young metahuman Dinah Lance/Redmond, the daughter of the Black Canary (Lori Loughlin) to round out their team as they fight against Harley Quinn (Mia Sara), posing as Helena’s psychiatrist Dr. Harleen Quinzel, who is seeking revenge after Joker was arrested.
2005: Justice League Unlimited
A few years later the birds came to life once more in Cartoon Network’s animated series for the episode “Double Date.” Season 2, episode 6 saw Huntress and the Question team up to battle Black Canary and Green Arrow and before long, both duos begin their respective romantic relationships.
Years before the character would appear on Arrow, The WB-turned-CW DC Comics series Smallville saw Alaina Huffman bring the Black Canary to life. Sporting the iconic fishnets and black body suit from the comics as well as a canary cry, she maintained her double life as a talk show host by day and vigilante at night. First appearing in season 7, she continued to fight alongside the Justice League until the series ended in season 10.
And while Allison Mack’s Chloe Sullivan operated under the name Watchtower in the later seasons, her role on the team served the purpose of Oracle, especially in season 9. Not only did she provide much-needed tech support from their headquarters for the entire team of superheroes, her arc also closely mirrored that of Barbara Gordon’s in the comics.
2011: Batman: The Brave and the Bold
In season 2, episode 17 of Cartoon Network’s animated series, titled “The Mask of Matches Malone!,” Black Canary and Huntress team up with Catwoman a musical number while pursuing Two-Face (as Batman has amnesia). Check out the innuendo-laden song “Birds of Prey” below:
Most recently, the Birds of Prey got new life on The CW’s Arrowverse. While Katie Cassidy’s Dinah Laurel Lance was the first to pop up as early as Arrow‘s series premiere, the first woman to actually suit up as a Bird of Prey was Jessica De Gouw as Helena Bertinelli in season 1 of Arrow. She became the Huntress to avenge the death of her fiancé who was murdered by her own father. She sported Helena’s iconic crossbow from the comics.
The next Bird to pop up on Arrow was Laurel’s sister Sara Lance (Caity Lotz) in season 2. She began her superhero journey first as the Canary before becoming the White Canary after her death and resurrection, and now she’s currently saving the world on Legends of Tomorrow. Her canary cry is all technology-based.
After Sara died, Laurel took up the Canary moniker to honor her sister before making it her own as the Black Canary on Arrow. She was killed in season 4, but Cassidy returned to the Arrowverse first on The Flash before her homecoming on Arrow as the evil Earth-2 doppelgänger of Laurel Lance from an alternate dimension. This version called herself Black Siren, and while she started off as a villain she eventually earned her redemption and fought as a hero on Arrow (and Arrow‘s potential Green Arrow and the Canaries spin-off). And just like her sister, her canary cry comes care of technology rather than a metahuman power.
And last but certainly not least is Arrow’s second Black Canary played by Juliana Harkavy. Dinah Drake is a metahuman, possessing canary cry powers, and joined Team Arrow back in season 5 as one of the “new recruits.” She remained a crucial part of the team until the series finale, but should Arrow‘s spinoff move forward, she’ll continue to bring Black Canary to life on Green Arrow and the Canaries.
Birds of Prey is now playing in theaters.