A Retrospective on Birds of Prey #56 (2003)

Updated: Feb 19, 2020

This year features the release of Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), a film that brings various notable DC Comics characters to life for the first time on the big screen.

With that being said, it is worth noting that much of the film develops its own material for the characters they depict with with some subtle influences here and there from the comic books. So, I thought it would be worth visiting some of the material that laid the foundation for the Birds of Prey squad itself.

In 2003, writer Gail Simone took on one of the most definitive runs featuring the Birds of Prey team. Along with a creative team featuring talents such as Hi-Fi and Ed Benes, the run depicts the unification of the titular squad and their efforts to redefine their own superhero personas.

So, without further ado, let's revisit the beginning of this iconic run in Birds of Prey #56.

Birds of Prey #56
Birds of Prey #56 (2003). Image courtesy of DC Comics.

The Present

Birds of Prey #56 opens with Black Canary conducting an interrogation of sorts, with the subject being a man called Mr. Fisher.

Black Canary believes Mr. Fisher, who happens to be a CEO, to be devising a plan to steal from his own employees. Thus, Black Canary is working to get a tangible confession of Mr. Fisher's plan during her interrogation of him.

Now, Black Canary is not alone in her efforts. In fact, Oracle is monitoring the interrogation live, communicating with Black Canary throughout the process.

Unfortunately for Black Canary and Oracle though, Oracle's intel on Mr. Fisher, intel she pulled from his personal devices, does not provide hard evidence of any wrongdoing on his part. All that the intel provides is implicit information.

So, without much more to go on, Black Canary ditches Mr. Fisher, leaving him terrified of being potentially exposed.

Later, Black Canary reconvenes with Oracle in their headquarters. The two talk about the nature of their case in addition to their own past histories in crimefighting.

Before they get too cozy though, Oracle becomes alarmed by activity taking place on Mr. Fisher's computer. She comes to realize that he is composing a note, one in which he reveals intentions to kill his family before ending his own life.

Upon realizing the nature of Fisher's note, Black Canary immediately races to his residence. However, when she arrives, Black Canary comes to realize the note was a ruse as she finds herself surrounded by thugs prepared to kill her.

So, Black Canary decides to make the first strike, engaging in a fight as the issue comes to a close.

Birds of Prey #56
Birds of Prey #56 (2003). Image courtesy of DC Comics.

The Past

There are a variety of aspects of Birds of Prey #56 that entrance me as a reader. With this, my personal favorite aspect is the organic dynamic between Oracle and Black Canary.

The two express a clear desire to differentiate their current crimefighting roles from those they maintained in the past. However, the two also face uncertainty in this process of defining a new identity.

Oracle, for example, questions her own methods, grappling with whether hacking Fisher's personal devices was truly the right thing to do. She acknowledges that one's right to privacy is fundamental. Though, she also acknowledges the fact that hacking Fisher's devices could expose his part in heinous crimes, therefore protecting the livelihoods of various individuals.

Thus, she finds herself at an impasse of sorts, unsure if she can truly be a neutral party when trying to rationalize her actions in the matter.

With this, what I admire most about the context of Birds of Prey #56 is the way in which Oracle and Black Canary do not present themselves as a seamless duo.

They conduct an unsuccessful interrogation, underestimate their opponent, and walk into a trap all in a night. However, one should note that these missteps do not minimize Black Canary and Oracle as a duo. Rather, these missteps serve as authentic exemplifications of their transition into a team.

One must take into consideration that their partnership is a merging of two different backgrounds and crimefighting methods. Additionally, their partnership is a merging of two evolving identities.

So, in the context of Birds of Prey #56, I look forward to the evolution of Black Canary and Oracle's partnership. I look forward to the methods by which they strive to differentiate themselves from their past deeds. I also look forward to the expansion of their partnership, one that will feature the inclusion of a third Bird of Prey.

Birds of Prey #56
Birds of Prey #56 (2003). Image courtesy of DC Comics.

The Visuals

One of my favorite aspects of this issue is the way in which the work's tone is depicted. The first few pages comprising Black Canary's interrogation of Fisher are grittier in nature as they include shadowy images and darker hues. However, this darker tone seamlessly transitions into a lighter one as soon as Black Canary and Oracle rendezvous at their headquarters.

So, ultimately, the artistic team behind Birds of Prey #56 does a fantastic job in managing the various, interconnecting moods of the issue itself. The work does not necessarily fall under one distinct tone, and that is clearly depicted in this installment.

Now, my favorite sequence is depicted above. As Black Canary rushes to Fisher's home on her motorcycle, Oracle observes her movements with great concern. I particularly like this sequence because the images alone suggest an increased pace in the story in addition to a sense of urgency.

The speed by which Black Canary drives her motorcycle and the exclamatory nature of the lettering all suggest that something terrible is happening, and the Birds may not be able to stop it in time.

Ultimately, these little nuances are what contribute to a solid issue, which is why Birds of Prey #56 serves as a memorable introduction to a definitive run.

The End?

Birds of Prey #56 does a fantastic job of setting up the pieces to an overarching story without leaving out detail or giving too much away.

Regarding this particular run, there is still much that lies ahead including the appearance of Huntress herself.

So, stay tuned as I continue analyzing this monumental run for DC Comics and the Birds of Prey themselves.