Comic Book Review: ‘Birds Of Prey’ #1

Posted Thursday, September 22nd, 2011 05:00 pm GMT -5 by

Sadly, it appears, at least from the first issue, that ‘Birds of Prey’ is another of The New 52 whose entire prior history has been wiped out.  The groundbreaking all-female super team enjoyed over a decade and a half of adventures and was primarily responsible for turning Barbara Gordon, as Oracle, into one of DC’s best developed, most beloved characters and for officially vaulting Black Canary to headliner status.  It was also the gateway into comics for countless female readers.  Oracle, being one of the very few differently-abled super heroes in comics, inspired others with disabilities, giving them someone to relate to in the four-color world.  Scrapping the pasts of Superboy and other young characters, while probably infuriating to their loyal fans, can at least be argued (though not necessarily justified) by DC’s establishment that their hero universe is only five years old.  But to lose such a stand-out book as ‘Birds of Prey’ may prove a toxic move on DC’s part.

But aside from that, let’s look at the story itself.  Written by Duane Swierczynski, ‘Birds of Prey’ kicks off with a bang… or rather a BOOM as a car crashes through a cathedral’s wall.  Inside the cathedral, a reporter named Charlie Keen is meeting with his mysterious sources, a small army of men in suits of armor that can turn (at least partially) invisible.  (Although their weapons stay opaque.  Did you learn nothing from Wonder Woman’s Invisible Jet?)  These sources have had Keen trailing two women, alleged to be criminals; Dinah Lance, the Black Canary, who is wanted for killing a man with one blow and her partner Ev Crawford, who uses the codename Starling.  These two women don’t seem to like being followed, so they trailed Keen to this rendezvous and take on his sources.  The fight sequence is fairly straightforward, if not a little trite.  I’ve seen this fight in two dozen action movies, right down to crashing a car through a huge wooden door.  During their escape, Black Canary may have been poisoned, but she doesn’t feel it right away.  The book ends in a cliffhanger as the women attempt to get Keen to safety.

The sequence is interlaced with flashbacks, to Keen following the two Birds, which they are aware of the entire time, as well as the beginning of formation of the team.  First Dinah meets with Barbara Gordon and comments on her sudden ability to walk, indicating she knew her when she was paralyzed.  She also says it’s good to have Batgirl back.  While the women clearly have some past association, it isn’t clear exactly how deep that runs, although since their body language is so stiff, it clearly wasn’t as intimate as their pre-Flashpoint partnership.  This scene appears early in the book, as if to “get it out of the way,” so readers wouldn’t read the entire thing wondering when or if Babs would show up.  Dinah wants Babs on her team and Babs wishes Dinah would give up on forming one.  She does relent slightly and suggests a candidate, Katanna.  In the past, Katanna was a longtime member of The Outsiders, but who knows if that history still exists.  There is no mention of the team’s fourth member, Poison Ivy, who only appears on the cover.

Starling, a new character is established as a party girl.  Keen says, “She’s a natural born hell raiser.”  While Black Canary mostly seems like herself, Canary Cry and all, very little is revealed about Starling.  She doesn’t seem to have any super powers.  She brandishes a pistol and shoots one of the inviso-guys in the chest, which doesn’t strike me as very heroic.  If she weren’t guilty of a crime before, she is now!  Like Canary, she seems very agile and is a skilled hand-to-hand combatant.  It bugs me a little that she bears so much resemblance, both physically and personality-wise, to Grace Choi from The Outsiders.  Hey, DC, you already had a character just like this one!  Why create another one?

It’s not that this book is necessarily bad, but it’s not as good as Gail Simone’s take.  I love Black Canary and even though she was the star of the book, she didn’t really do much, so I don’t really have a feel for her yet.  Clearly, a large chunk of the series will focus on her struggle to clear her name.  Reservations aside, Starling is at least fun!  I want to learn more about her, including how she and Dinah know one another in the first place.  (And what her ethnicity is.  As of now she’s just… tan.)  It’ll be interesting to see how the other cast members make their entrances and how they will be depicted, although something tells me both Katanna and Poison Ivy will be a far cry from their previous incarnations.

As for the story, I’m getting tired of time jumps in comics– it seems every other book is doing it now– BUT in this case, I don’t think the story could have been told any other way, as the flashbacks are all fairly low key.  You don’t want the first half of the book to be people talking and then tack a fight scene onto the end.  (I could argue, ” Well then, maybe tell a different story.”)  As I said, the fight sequence was very derivative.  Not enough “story” has been told to judge that aspect.  The dialogue is serviceable.  I didn’t have any trouble with the pacing like I did on ‘Wonder Woman.’  All in all, not stellar, but not bad either.

The art by Jesus Saiz is just lovely.  It’s clean and nicely detailed.  His storytelling is coherent.  Let’s face it, he draws gorgeous women!  Let me rephrase that, he draws gorgeous women NOT posed in a sleazy, overly-sexualized manner where the reader can somehow see a woman’s breasts and backside at the same time!  His women stack up comparably to nearly any other “cheesecake” pencillers out there (whom I shall not name, but you know who I mean), yet retain their dignity.  I wasn’t sold on his redesign of Black Canary based simply on the cover art, but reading the entire book, I’m sort of digging it.

The trademark fishnets are there, but with the blue underneath, actually look like they could offer some protection.  The boots looked odd to me initially, but now I think they’re sporty, kind of like athletic shoes.  The shoulder pads might be too yellow for me, but the rest of the leotard looks great!  It’s close to her previous costume, but with some more lines and sleek yellow detailing.  It looks like either padded leather or armor, not just some kinky leather bustier bought at an adult novelty store.  She wears elbow pads which make perfect sense and some doodads on her gloves, presumably a small arsenal of gadgets for various situations.  I was wary at first, but now I’m sold.
So, yes, although I wasn’t knocked out of my seat by this book, it was good enough that I’ll be sticking around.

BIRDS OF PREY #1
Written by Duane Swierczynski
Art by Jesus Saiz
Cover by Jesus Saiz and Nei Ruffino