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Characters in Birds of Prey with more meaning than you realize

After months of hype and some incredibly colorful trailers, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) has finally hit theaters. Written by Christina Hodson (Bumblebee) and directed by Cathy Yan (Dead Pigs), Birds of Prey has a ludicrously stacked cast: Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Ewan McGregor, Chris Messina, and Ella Jay Brasco round out the cast.

Birds of Prey sees Harley Quinn on a madcap adventure through Gotham City as she's chased by mobsters, pissed-off roller derby girls, mask-wearing henchmen, and the cops. Along the way, she runs into plenty of recognizable characters from DC comics, movies, and cartoons. But while the movie itself is fairly self-contained beyond a couple of nods to the DC Extended Universe, there's plenty more to some of the characters than you see onscreen. Here are characters in Birds of Prey with more meaning than you realize.

Bruce the Hyena

In one of the most relatable moments in the film, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) tries to get over her breakup with the Joker by buying a wildly expensive pet that she might not have the time, money, or space to take care of. Slightly less relatable is the fact that she chooses to buy a vicious hyena that mauls the skeevy exotic animal dealer immediately after Harley buys him. Anyway, Harley names the hyena Bruce, in a pretty clear reference to Gotham City's most eligible playboy billionaire, Bruce Wayne.

However, what seems to be a spur of the moment decision for Harley is actually a deep cut reference to the character's long history. In the comics, Harley's often seen with her two pet hyenas, Bud and Lou. Fittingly, even though they've occasionally helped in the Joker's schemes every now and again, they've always been more Harley's pets than Mr. J's. Even though Birds of Prey changes some details, it's pretty clear that Harley without a hyena pet is like Batman without his bats.

Cassandra Cain

There wouldn't be much of a Birds of Prey movie without Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Brasco); her theft of the Bertinelli diamond is what motivates nearly every character in the film to chase her around and, in the case of Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Harley Quinn, and Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), ultimately team up. But while Cassandra Cain plays a big role in the film, she actually plays an even bigger role in the comics as one of Batman's many sidekicks. She's been Batgirl, a superhero codenamed Orphan, an assassin, and one of the deadliest women in the DC Universe. First appearing in Batman #567, Cassandra Cain was the mute daughter of a deadly assassin who raised her only to "speak the language of violence." That's a pretty comic book-y concept, which is likely why the film makes some major changes to the source material.

In the Birds of Prey movie, Cassandra is a hard-luck pickpocket with a rough family life and a tendency to attract sympathetic older female mentors. After she steals, and then swallows, the Bertinelli Diamond from Black Mask, every other character in the film comes together to save and/or murder her for the stolen jewel. She ultimately ends up as an "apprentice" to Harley Quinn, sporting a similar look and an identical love of breakfast sandwiches. Considering that the comics have seen her eternally passed over for a larger role in the Bat-Family, maybe the DCEU's version of Cassandra Cain made a better choice. After all, "Harley Quinn's kid apprentice" is still a better codename than "Orphan."

Mr. Zsasz

Played by Chris Messina, Mr. Zsasz seems like a pretty standard evil henchman to Ewan McGregor's Black Mask in Birds of Prey. However, there's more than meets the eye for this scarred-up, psycho killer. Can't you see? In the comics, Mr. Zsasz is one of Batman's most frustrating foes. While he's never reached the A-list potential of villains like Penguin, Scarecrow, and the Joker, Zsasz is a serial killer who carves a scar in his flesh for every person he's killed. Considering that Batman is generally anti-murder, Zsasz presents a problem that only a batarang and two decades of martial arts training can solve.

While Birds of Prey stays true to Zsasz's self-mutilating habits, they change the character a bit. For starters, he's got a full head of hair, but the film also makes it fairly clear that the DCEU version of Zsasz has a bit of a crush on Black Mask. While the two characters have worked together in the comics, this particular romantic pairing is a new addition to the canon — although considering how well Roman Sionis fills out that velvet suit, you can't really blame Zsasz for catching feelings.

The redhead in the slot machine

From the very first frame, it's obvious that Birds of Prey was going to blaze a new path for the DCEU going forward. The film starts with an animated recap of Harley Quinn's life in a bit of a synthesis of Batman: The Animated Series, the comic books, and David Ayer's Suicide Squad. One small detail that you might have missed is when Harley is describing her many heartbreaks. As a slot machine shows her various beaus, one of them is a redheaded woman. She's not given a name, or otherwise referenced in the film, but longtime Harley Quinn fans will no doubt recognize the similarity to another notable redhead in Harley's life: Poison Ivy. Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy have long had a subtextually romantic relationship in the comics that, as of 2016's Harley Quinn series, has more or less been acknowledged as text.

While Ivy herself doesn't make an onscreen appearance in Birds of Prey, Harley ends the film single and loving it. If a sequel's going to bring back one of Harley's exes for extra drama, Poison Ivy seems to have just as much dramatic potential as the Joker.

Digger Harkness

While Birds of Prey isn't really a Suicide Squad sequel, there's a few winks and nods to the movie where Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn first burst onto the silver screen. For starters, Harley's origin story is shot like (or directly taken from) David Ayer's Suicide Squad, while her "Daddy's Little Monster" shirt makes a cameo while the Birds of Prey are gearing up for the final fight against Black Mask. However, while Jared Leto's Joker is decidedly absent from the film, one member of the Suicide Squad makes a brief cameo.

While Harley invades the Gotham City Police Department to find Cassandra Cain, she notices a wanted poster featuring Jai Courtney's Captain Boomerang. She even tells the cops, "Hey, I know that guy!" in case anyone in the audience didn't get a chance to catch the reference. Just like an actual boomerang, it seems like Digger Harkness had to come back around eventually.

Black Canary's mom

Obviously, Birds of Prey takes some liberties with its comic book source material. That's especially apparent in its version of Black Canary. In the world of Birds of Prey, Jurnee Smollett-Bell's Dinah Lance is as far from a superhero as it's possible to be, working first as a singer in Black Mask's criminal club, and then eventually his driver. When Renee Montoya comes by Dinah's apartment to ask her to be her woman on the inside of Black Mask's organization, Dinah refuses. Black Canary tells Renee that she remembers that her mom was a hero who was left to die, even with her superpowers, with no help from the police.

While that's a pretty convincing reason for anyone to stay out of the superhero spotlight, Dinah's superheroic mother is a reference to one of the most confusing retcons in DC history. Originally, Black Canary was one of the very first super-heroines, and a central member of the Justice Society of America. Eventually, the Justice Society of America, along with Black Canary, were retconned to exist on a separate Earth from the regular DC Universe. Later, they were re-retconned into the main universe, and the modern Dinah Lance was reimagined as the daughter of the original. Birds of Prey wisely errs away from multiversal hijinx in its runtime, but it seems that, no matter the universe, Dinah's mother was always a hero.

Renee Montoya

Played by Rosie Perez in Birds of Prey, Renee Montoya is Gotham City's toughest and smartest cop... even if she can't stop talking in '80s cop movie cliches. Originally appearing in Batman: The Animated Series before making the jump to comic books in Batman #475, Renee's long been a fan-favorite character and an important member of Batman's supporting characters. Considering the ensemble cast, viewers don't get to spend a whole lot of time getting to know Renee before the craziness starts. Still, there are some nods to Renee's most integral qualities; most notably, her sexuality and knack for superheroic mischief.

Ali Wong appears in the film as Ellen Yee, Gotham City district attorney and an ex-girlfriend of Montoya's. As far as we can tell, Ellen is an original character for the film, but Renee's mixed business and pleasure before — she's dated Batwoman in the comics, and former district attorney Harvey Dent had a longstanding one-sided obsession with her. In Birds of Prey, Renee ends the film saying goodbye to the GCPD and joining the titular superhero team; although she doesn't take a codename on screen, she's worked as a successor to the Question in the comics, which seems as good a codename for Montaya as any.

Stefano Galante

Helena Bertinelli's character arc in Birds of Prey is arguably the simplest. When she was a young girl, her parents were gunned down by a crew of mobsters led by Stefano Galante. She was trained in secret by a family of assassins in order to gain the special skills needed to one day avenge her family as... "the crossbow killer." Or as "Huntress," if you ask her which codename she prefers. That's a pretty dead-on adaptation of her comic book origins — one of them, at least.

In the comics, her family is gunned down by a group of rival mobsters, most notably Stefano Mandragora and Junior Galante. The movie combines these two mobsters into one, played by Robert Catrini, presumably to keep the number of onscreen murders within a slightly more manageable scale. Although it's a small detail in the film, keeping the names consistent shows that the filmmakers certainly did their homework while making Birds of Prey.