This is part of our new series The Reading List, a monthly column in which we encourage you to take your enthusiasm for a particularly groovy film and direct it into a wide array of extracurricular studies.
Forget Batman. Forget the Joker. They are gods of Gotham, but the people have no use for them anymore. Let them eternally struggle against each other; we’ve moved on.
The refreshing jubilation of Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is how, for the first time in the DCEU (or whatever the hell we’re calling it now), it revels in the massive realm of comic book characters. All roads need not lead to Wayne Manor and its subterranean basement, nor should those that travel the roads be defined by Gotham’s most famous citizen.
Walking out of Birds of Prey, a great desire for a sequel took hold. I want more of this world. I want more of these characters. That’s the beauty of comics, there are many ways to continue the adventures of your favorite characters. The trick is discerning where to go when there are so many splinters (with many leading to dead-ends). Don’t worry, I’ve got your back. I’ve done the curation for ya. Below, you’ll find my top picks for the best stories featuring the raddest characters from Birds of Prey.
The Batman Adventures: Mad Love
Harley was never meant to be anything more than a one-off character, making her first appearance in the Batman: The Animated Series episode “Joker’s Favor.” The gangster’s moll was an immediate hit amongst fans, and series writer Paul Dini took every chance to insert her into various Clown Prince of Crime stories. In 1993, Dini was given the opportunity to detail Harley’s origin in a one-shot graphic novel.
Mad Love explores the twisted, utterly unhealthy, and somewhat one-sided love affair between Harley and Joker. When a heist goes wrong, Mr. J loses his temper with Harley and kicks her out of his hideout. Alone, Harley takes the opportunity to reflect on her first meeting with Joker, as his psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum. Sympathetic to the tales of woe he told her, Harley swooned for the cracked soul behind the smile.
Dini begins the process of removing Harley from the role of sidekick, fleshing out her personality, and revealing a character that’s as equally compelling, if not more so, then Batman’s (supposed) greatest rogue. The comic book was deemed worthy of adaptation by the producers of the animated series, and a slightly softer version was put on the small screen.
Batman: Harley Quinn
After a few years, Harley’s popularity on television was too much for the DC Comics publishers to ignore. The time had come to incorporate her character into regular comic book continuity. Once again, Paul Dini was tapped to tell her saga with Yvel Guichet providing pencils.
Batman: Harley Quinn retells the origin of the character with slight alterations, tying it up with a Batman crossover event called “No Man’s Land,” which involved a massive Earthquake erupting through Gotham City and freeing the crazed patients of Arkham Asylum. After the Joker tries to dispose of Harley as little more than unwanted trash, she’s rescued by Poison Ivy and a new friendship, that’s somewhat more than a friendship, solidifies. For Harley, Joker is hard to quit.
Birds of Prey: Murder and Mystery
Batman: The Killing Joke is probably the second most popular Caped Crusader story after The Dark Knight Returns. We get it. They changed the landscape and brought in mainstream attention. Blah, blah, blah.
As years pass, the less interested in these two books I become. Alan Moore having the Joker punch a bullet through Barbara Gordon’s spine is shocking, but it’s what DC Comics and writer Gail Simone did with that event afterward that might actually validate The Killing Joke. Robbed of her physical prowess, including the Batgirl mantle, Gordon fully invests herself into her mental abilities.
From Batgirl to Oracle, Gordon takes on a leadership role pulling the strings of crime fighters all across Gotham City. The Birds of Prey become her instrument, expertly dispatched by Gordon with heroes like Black Canary and Huntress strategically selected to battle crimes most in need of their uses. Assassins and sociopaths beware, Gotham doesn’t need Batman with these superwomen on the case.
The Question: The Five Books of Blood
Rosie Perez is a god damn delight in Birds of Prey. Her Detective Renee Montoya is a brutally tough, take-no-shit badass who easily stands apart in a world populated by men of steel and billionaire winged rodents. The character is another fan favorite, fighting the good fight inside Gotham City Central as well as various Detective Comics appearances. Of all the characters in the film, she’s the one I came away clamoring for more the most. Thankfully, for a brief window, she had a couple of solo adventures well worth your time.
Life as a GCPD officer will eventually end in despair. When that moment hits Montoya, she discovers new purpose as the masked vigilante known as The Question (a.k.a. the guy who inspired Rorshach in Watchmen). The original faceless detective was Vic Sage, but when he died, he passed the mantle to his friend. One of Montoya’s first missions as the blank crime-stopper was to track down the whereabouts of “The Crime Bible.” Dun-dun-dunnnnn.
The dark tome is one of the wildest ideas to come out of DC Comics. The text details the exploits of Cain, and the dust jacket is composed of the rock used to slay Abel. The secrets within grant its readers diabolical knowledge, so clearly, Montoya can’t allow it to fall into the wrong hands. Written by crime writer Greg Rucka, and illustrated by a slew of noir-influenced artists, The Question: The Five Books of Blood is a vicious Gotham City side-quest, featuring one of the toughest bruisers in the business.