HEAT VISION

Where 'Birds of Prey' Could Go After That Ending

The film's fate remains unclear at the box office, but its ending leaves plenty of room for more stories to come.

[This story contains spoilers for Birds of Prey]

The latest film in the DC film universe has arrived and with it comes new possibilities for the future of the franchise. Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey is yet another burst of fresh air in the ever-growing comic book movie market. It’s a lightning bolt of energy, one that blends pop-punk aesthetics with Looney Tunes-esque cartoonishness, and bone-crunching ultraviolence in a film with a surprising amount of heart. Written by Christina Hodson, who’s also penning scripts for Batgirl and The Flash, Birds of Prey utilizes elements from the comics, particularly the heartfelt and goofy earnestness of Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, alongside the grit and crime of cult classics like The Warriors (1979), and Streets of Fire (1984), to present a unique vision of Gotham City that balances comic faithfulness with artistic vision. It’s the kind of visionary film I hope to see a lot more of in the future. And there’s plenty of road set up in this film for those future stories to travel.

Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn had already broken out with Suicide Squad (2016), and Birds of Prey hopes to do the same for newly introduced DC movie characters: Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), and Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) by launching stories that put the focus on them. There are a number of major DC characters who the cast has already mentioned they would love to see introduced in sequels, Oracle and Poison Ivy, whose potential inclusions are both deserving of their own separate discussions. But beyond them, there are a wealth of Birds of Prey stories, particularly those written by Gail Simone, and other DC Comics elements, that could see the Birds, and Harley Quinn, back in action.

Lady Shiva and David Cain

The most drastic departure in Birds of Prey in terms of comic to film is the characterization of Cassandra Cain. The originally mute, and super-serious assassin who redeems herself and becomes the second Batgirl, is depicted in the film as a pick-pocketing foster kid, with a sense of humor and no problem speaking for herself. While this change is sure to vex some fans, the decision by a Chinese-American filmmaker and screenwriter of Taiwanese descent to give their Asian-American character a voice should not be dismissed simply for not being comic accurate. Nor should the fact that the film leaves room for elements of Cass’ origins to be introduced in the future. As she rides off with Harley at the end of the film, and away from her abusive foster parents, I couldn’t help but wonder about her biological parents.

In the comics, the Cass is the daughter of the assassin David Cain, who instructed a young Bruce Wayne, and Lady Shiva, the world’s greatest martial arts master. What could begin as a road trip for Harley and Cass to track down her parents could become a global adventure that requires the assistance of the Birds of Prey and puts them in the crosshairs of an assassination plot that has Cain and Shiva at odds. Shiva played into many of the Birds of Prey’s early adventures during Gail Simone’s run on the title, and she eventually became an instructor to Black Canary, who struggled with the morality of a teacher who was also a cold-blooded murderer yet effective crimefighter. The struggle that Cass could face between a mother who abandoned her and sees Black Canary as the daughter she never had, and a father who sees her potential as a weapon could make for an incredibly interesting sequel that gets the crew out of Gotham City.

The Original Black Canary and JSA

Since we’re on the subject of mothers, Dinah Lance has a pretty famous one as well. Birds of Prey makes several references to Black Canary’s mother, Dinah Drake, the original Black Canary who died fighting crime. This is obviously a sore point for Lance, and the central reason behind her reluctance to get into the crimefighting game and use her powers. Lance may not have the chance to reconnect with her mother, but she could get to know her and her heroism through her allies. In the comics, the original Black Canary was a member of the Justice Society of America, a precursor to the Justice League. Its members included Doctor Fate, Hour-Man, Sandman, Flash (Jay Garrick), Green Lantern (Alan Scott), Hawkman, and Wildcat. Members of the JSA are rumored to appear in Black Adam, which will release in December 2021, preceding any Birds of Prey sequel. Even without linking the two films very closely, Black Adam could lay the foundation for the JSA for audiences and lead to their appearance, as older, and somewhat outdated characters, in the contemporary set Birds of Prey sequel.

Gail Simone’s run explored the close relationship between Lance and Ted Grant aka Wildcat, the boxer turned superhero who taught her how to fight and became a second father to her. While it seems like this iteration of Black Canary in the DC film universe didn’t have the JSA to lean on, which kept her in the services of Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), there’s still a lot of potential in her relationship with those characters. And given the tone of Birds of Prey, a sequel featuring the JSA doesn’t even have to play those characters straight. There’s a lot of room for honest comedy and criticism that could be done with a uniquely modern team of female superheroes and an older team of mostly male heroes. The clash between ideologies, and the sexism of the past could make for a fascinating back and forth in Yan and Hodson’s hands, perhaps even more so if a Golden Age villain like the emotion manipulating Psycho-Pirate were the central threat.

The Question

Who is Renee Montoya without her badge? The end of Birds of Prey sees the detective walk away from the police force and join Black Canary and Huntress as a vigilante, one lacking a code-name. It’s rare to see female superheroes in films out of their 30s, let alone one in her mid-50s. While the idea of older men redefining themselves and donning a mask is ever-popular, the same can’t be said for women. And that’s part of what makes Perez’s casting of Montoya, who is often depicted younger, so interesting. There’s an opportunity to watch a more experienced woman, one whose identity was seemingly defined, lose the things that defined her and put her on a path to rediscovery. Montoya had a similar arc in the comics, one that saw her resign from the police force, and sink further into alcoholism before teaming up with noir-inspired hero, The Question.

In the aftermath of The Question’s death, Montoya picked up his mantle, donning his faceless mask and blue trench coat. While it seems unlikely that we’ll see Montoya sink to the same depths she did in the comics since she has a support system around her, the question of who she is and what she stands for could still become a driving force for the character in a Birds of Prey sequel. The possibility of a Question film was discussed in The Hollywood Reporter's weekly Comics Watch column last year, and even without Vic Sage being previously introduced in the DC film universe, he could easily play a small role in the sequel, serving as a reminder to Montoya of why she became a detective in the first place, and ultimately allowing her to redefine what that means without the corruption and gender politics of the Gotham City Police Department.

The Huntress

If there’s one character in Birds of Prey who could have benefitted from more lines, it’s Helena Bertinelli, aka Huntress. Her origin story in the film sticks close to her post-Crisis origin in the comics, which saw her hunting down the mob. But part of the complication with Huntress is that she is closely tied to Batman. Pre-Crisis, she was the daughter of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle from Earth-2. And Post-Crisis, her murderous methods early on brought her into numerous confrontations with Batman, and left her later seeking redemption through his approval. The state of Batman in the DC film universe is a bit of a mystery. Suicide Squad, and therefore Birds of Prey, established Ben Affleck’s older Batman, who we could easily see butting heads with this Huntress, especially after his failings as a hero and the murders he committed prior to the death of Superman in BvS. But next year’s The Batman, which we still don’t definitively know if it’s part of the DC film universe or a stand-alone franchise, will see Robert Pattinson portray a younger Batman. So with her vengeance completed and Batman out of the picture for now, what does a Huntress-centric Birds of Prey sequel look like?

I'm going to go out on a limb a bit here, but maybe the answer to the complicated history of the Huntress is to lean into those complications by exploring the multiverse. A decade ago, such a concept would have been too risky a subject for general audiences. But with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and The CW's The Flash, all exploring or set to explore the multiverse, it seems all too exciting a playground to explore. Helena Bertinelli meeting Helena Wayne the superhero from Earth-2, and Helena Bertinelli the master spy from the New 52’s Prime Earth could be a really interesting way for the character to explore her family legacy. Not to mention the idea of the rest of the Birds of Prey and Harley Quinn coming along for the ride and meeting alternate versions of themselves sounds like the kind of fun that could really escalate the sequel.

Birds of Prey has already connected with critics, and currently sits at an 84 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. It's projected to earn around $35 million — less than initially expected — at the box office this weekend. But perhaps it will connect with audiences in the same way it's connected with critics over the next few weeks. There’s a lot of potential with all of these characters, but also in continuing to see Yan and Hodson expand their voices. Harley Quinn is already set to return in James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad next year, but hopefully the rest of the Birds of Prey will fly high and help shape the future of the DC film universe.

  • Richard Newby
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