Like most comic book movies, Birds Of Prey (aka Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey) takes great liberties with its source material to tell a more coherent story. But that doesn’t mean it ignores the history of these characters. Screenwriter Christina Hodson delved deep into the wellspring of Batman lore to bring us a story filled with delightful details derived from an abundance of material, from comics to video games, spanning the breadth of DC Comics canon. While you may be familiar with the movie’s main character, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), here’s a guide to the rest.
Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez)
This character dates back to 1992. In the comics, Officer Renee Montoya takes on the alias of “The Question,” whose costume, that of a plainclothes detective with a blank-faced mask, became the basis for Watchmen’s Rorschach. Montoya takes up the mask after resigning from the police force and being hired by the first Question as an assistant to his vigilante investigation. Eventually, she became his successor when he died of lung cancer. The movie version of Montoya also quits the Gotham City Police Department to become a vigilante. And she is, as in the comics, a lesbian. Montoya’s alcoholism, which led to her partner leaving her in the comics, is also referenced in the movie through a pointed jab from her ex (Ali Wong).
Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell)
In the movie, when Renee Montoya approaches Dinah Lance at her apartment with a coffee and an offer to become a snitch, she refers to Dinah’s mother, who evidently worked with the police as well. The comic book character Dinah Laurel Lance is the daughter of a police detective and the first Black Canary, who passed on her superpower gene. Like her mother, Dinah has the gift of the “Canary Cry,” the sonic scream that Black Canary uses during the movie’s climax. Dinah Lance is also a singer in other media, including music albums released by DC Comics.
Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco)
In the comics, Cassandra is the child of Lady Shiva and abandoned her upbringing under the League of Assassins as the ultimate martial artist to eventually become the new Batgirl when Barbara Gordon established herself as Oracle. While the movie Cassandra’s origins aren’t detailed, she is a foster child in an abusive home, possibly alluding to her comic self’s years of homelessness after fleeing the League. Cassandra is also a pickpocket, marking her as an expert of sleight-of-hand and deception, able to escape handcuffs effortlessly, meaning that there may be more to this young lady than meets the eye.
Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead)
Most of Helena Bertinelli’s history has been condensed for the sake of the movie, but a few key details in her background stand out. First is her early life trauma associated with the mafia clans of Gotham City: in the comics, she is kidnapped by a rival family. Afterward, her parents assigned her a bodyguard, Sal, from whom she learned the skills necessary to become a vigilante. The movie has a nod to Sal in the form of the mafia enforcer who takes pity on her as the sole survivor of a massacre and sends her to be raised and trained by his own family.
Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor)
The comic book version of Roman Sionis is considerably less complex than the Ewan McGregor portrayal, but many details remain and have been modernized for the movie. The Roman of the comics possibly killed his own parents and subsequently ran their company, the Janus Corporation (which also makes numerous cameo appearances in the film) into the ground through poor management. In the movie, though, his parents seem to have picked up on his self-destructive and hedonistic behavior and cut him off, creating a very distinct cause-and-effect motivation for him to become a crime boss. The Sionis of the movie still retains his fixation on masks, living in a downtown loft apartment filled with them, and his obsession with trust, a consequence of his childhood where he felt that everyone was “wearing masks” in public. These two things are probably related in some psychological way.
Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina)
Birds of Prey isn’t the first time we’ve seen Victor Zsasz on the big screen. Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins features the psychotic serial killer as a random mafia enforcer whom Rachel Dawes is trying to get convicted. He also appears in the Batman: Arkham video games as an easy enemy to defeat in the tutorial of the first installment and as a side-quest in the second. Name-dropping him seems to be a bit of a shortcut into the fans’ hearts. But Messina’s performance gives Zsasz more depth than ever before. Obviously unhinged, Zsasz is a true madman, convinced that death is a gift and covered in his trademark tally-mark scars. This movie version of Zsasz even works as one of Black Mask’s enforcers, which parallels current comic book canon.
Bruce the Hyena
First introduced in Batman Adventures: Mad Love #1, two hyenas named Bud and Lou (after Abbott and Costello) were originally co-owned by the Joker and Harley Quinn, but they have since come to be more associated with the latter; in Batman: The Animated Series, the hyenas behave more like Harley’s pets than the Joker’s. Incidentally, hyena packs are matriarchal, which may explain their fondness for her over Mr. J. They also make a cameo appearance in the 2011 video game Batman: Arkham City as trophies taken by the Penguin. Birds Of Prey only includes one of the wild dogs, named Bruce (after Bruce Wayne) due to CGI budget limitations.
Places can have character too! The location of Birds Of Prey’s finale is a storied Gotham City landmark. First appearing in Batman #569, Gotham’s answer to Coney Island is actually most notable for its appearance in the video game Batman: Arkham City, where it serves as the Joker’s base of operations, along with the steel-manufacturing plants right next door. The location has since come to be heavily associated with the Joker and was offhandedly mentioned in the eponymous 2019 Oscar-nominated movie Joker. But Birds Of Prey takes place in a post-Joker Gotham City, and as such makes Harley’s decision to make the exchange there more logical, because of course there would be weapons caches all over the place. Assuming the Joker hasn’t emptied them out since he dumped her.