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WHttDCnU? – Birds of Prey: Trouble in Mind

WHTTDCU-Titles-030

Welcome back true believers! Today we have the obligatory “Chick Fight” issue, as Queen Qeeko AKA, Trailblazer and Cinna At Heart AKA Glau, go head to head with DC comics own Birds of Prey!

I started reading Birds of Prey coming out of the 2006 DC event, Infinite Crisis. After reading a well written and well drawn comic, by Gail Simone and Nicola Scott, I went back and started reading the comics before the event, and I came to love the series. Bird of Prey however, started long before then in 1995 with s simple team up book, when one Chuck Dixon decided to put Black Canary and Barbara Gordon as The Oracle, together and called The Birds of Prey. Following the success of that one shot, a title series was produced, featuring The Oracle as the charlie to her angel Black Canary, and a revolving cast of cameo characters. In 2003 this series was taken over by Gail Simone, and Huntress and Lady Black Hawk were added to the permanent roster. Over time other characters like Lady Shiva, Black Alice, Gypsy, and Big Barda join the team, becoming an all female Justice League, and that was bad ass!

Following the events of Flashpoint and the establishment of the DCnU, I’ve been less enthused to picking up Birds of Prey. When the comics first came out, I bought all of the 52 titles, to the end of their first story arc, and as such Birds of Prey was one of them. Personally, I didn’t think that it was particularly well done, and the way it’s progressed, seems to have taken it in a different direction to how it once was, with the team NOT consisting of just the bad ass female characters, but instead being a team of mostly bird themed characters, like Black Canary, Talon, Condor and Starling.

So in the DC corner we have Black Canary, Starling, and Poison Ivy, and in the [B.P] corner we have Trailblazer and Glau, who will come out victorious, find out tonight in…

Whatever Happened To The DC New Universe?

-Andy Frogman

WHTTDCNU-synopsis

glau-rBlack Canary and Starling raid a church, where they know an unnamed assassin (which turns out to be assassins, plural) lies in wait for their appearance, using hired reporter Charlie Keen as bait. In the ensuing fight, Black Canary manages to pull off one of the men’s masks, only to be kissed by him! Surprise, surprise, she punches that creeper, and she, Starling and Keen escape. They take Keen to the airport, intending to send him off to someplace safe, but Keen receives a mystery message on his phone and promptly explodes.

In the chaos that follows, Ev (Starling) creates a distraction to enable Dinah (Black Canary) to retrieve evidence- including Keen’s phone- from the scene. One of the mysterious invisible assassins watches them leave.

Our lovely ladies turn up to Keen’s funeral, and his grieving wife mentions to Starling that he’d been having ‘headaches’; turns out, he’d been carrying a bomb inside his own head. They return to the ‘base of operations’ to find the unbalanced but skilful Katana- Tatsu Yamashiro- waiting for them. She accepts Dinah’s offer to join their team.

Dinah meets hot lab guy- Dr Trevor Cahill- whose information about an experimental drug with significant effects on the mind sends them to investigate a lab just outside of Gotham. The men in the invisible fencing suits ambush them once again, but are defeated easily enough between the three of them. But ooh! Look who’s waiting for them; it’s Poison Ivy! It turns out Dinah extended the Birds of Prey invite to more than just Katana.

Dinah’s choice of recruits is met with some considerable resistance, with Starling and Katana keen on killing Ivy. Intent on fitting in, the newcomer attempts to prove her mettle by trying to get the one man left from the ambush to speak. He does, but shows some modicum of restraint, and utters to himself a nursery rhyme before he combusts- much in the same fashion that Keen had. Ivy protects them from the blast and is more or less forgiven.

Black Canary, Starling and Katana go to check out the safe house the man had mentioned- it’s empty of people, but not information. They regroup to follow a lead, where they suspect two more men have the ability to go all explodey. Their targets are on a train, and the girls plan to knock them out before they can explode; only their rather straight forward plan goes awry, as it turns out to be another ambush.

Which is of course right about the same time Dinah discovers she’s been somehow affected by the same chemicals that had killed Keen. On the behest of the voice in her head, she tries to call off the operation before it can make her explode, and when that plan fails, tries to throw herself out of the train before Starling saves the day and knocks her out.

She wakes up back in pretty boy Cahill’s lab, and Starling fills her in on what happened after she was knocked out. The girls had managed to retain control of the situation and knock out their targets (who turned out to be unknowing spies, not bombs) and get a good deal of information from one of the men. Turns out they call themselves Cleaners, and are led by a man named Choke.

On this information, they team up with Batgirl to raid what they think is Choke’s hideout. But surprise! It’s another ambush- and then suddenly they’re on the streets of downtown Gotham (minus one Batgirl), disorientated and completely unable to come up with a coherent explanation for what they’d just been doing. They split up for some R&R, with the promise of meeting back up in 24 hours.

They do meet, but Starling is glaringly absent. Turns out, the address Dinah had written on her arm is completely different from everyone else’s (or at least it looks that way to her). She’s met by the angry fire of mercenaries hired to take her out, but manages to escape.

Later, after Starling is retrieved, the team- again with Batgirl and the help of Dr Cahill- works on picking out Choke’s sleeper agents and purging them of the drugs that were controlling them. They use one of the now ex-Cleaners to try and pull out Choke in the guy’s office. Very quickly the room is filled with nursery rhyming office workers holding a number of sharp pointy things.

Ivy, Katana and Canary battle it out in the office, but Canary is determined to ensure no lives are lost. The conviction leads her to punching Ivy for breaking a man’s neck. The ex-Cleaner falls back under Choke’s control and attacks Ivy. Meanwhile back in the basement of the building, Starling intercepts Choke’s orders- turns out it had been the good doctor all along! Choke- who has somehow compromised Starling- commands her to shoot Batgirl, and manages to escape in the fight. He is captured by Batgirl and Black Canary, and Dinah reveals the whole plan, and how they had suspected Cahill all along.

Cahill wakes in an abandoned aqueduct, the Birds of Prey team gathered around him. Choke uses more of his mind voodoo- crippling Ivy and commanding Starling to shoot Katana. As Black Canary grapples with the zombie Starling, Katana beheads Choke, ending his mind-controlling effects. Dinah is appalled, and Starling and Ivy recover from the effects of the mind control.

The scene ends with Tatsu calling Dinah later, armed with the revelation that the man she killed was not in fact Choke.

WHTTDCNU-art

trailblazer-lTo an extent, I was pleased with the work of Jesus Saiz. If nothing else he presented us with well drawn, excellent form work, extremely consistent bodies and backgrounds, Starling’s tattoos and car and all. What is a shame is that while there was a little difference in shapes of bone structure in faces, eyes and lips, Starling was a new creation for the New 52 and it seems Saiz just started drawing Dinah and then changed her clothes. I don’t care too much really, as a bit of sameness on the pages is forgiveable given some of the other art blasphemies of previous comics I’ve talked about. There aren’t any broken body poses or morphed  panels, everything is nearly perfect.

If I had to really complain about anything, it’s that Saiz’s work did not benefit from the colourist changing every damned issue. This resulted in massive inconsistencies, eg, Poison Ivy is in autumn colours one minute then leafy green the next, taking me out of the story a lot, and suddenly all the girls are a shade paler or the environment is a different shade of blue. The most annoying thing all the colourists actually maintained was a generally dull, bleak look for the entirity of the book. For however well drawn Birds of Prey is, it’s immediately lifeless with these washed out pages. I’m also not a fan of pink noses all around.

Now as I said before about how the girls aren’t too varied in the faces, I HATE David Finch’s covers which are all included in the collected volume. Every time, all ladiess have the same round face with a tiny nose and weeping doe eyes making them look like it’s always Taylor Swift in a bunch of different wigs. They look ridiculous.

 

glau-rI thought the artwork was pretty good in Birds of Prey #1. At the very least, there are no awkward faces, or terrifying plastic smiles, and bodies twisted into unrealistic positions. Jesus Saiz draws some pretty nice figures. For all this, there are a few things I’m a little peeved about.

For one, all of our lovely birds- excluding Tatsu, and to a lesser extent Pamela- look like the same stock face with a different hairstyle. Seriously; you check out Babs, Dina and Ev, and there’s almost no differentiation in facial structure. They’re all just your stereotypical pretty white girls. It’s kind of disappointing, really. Beyond that, Saiz’ expressions don’t seem to venture further than smiling (read; grinning), mid-way through speech, teeth gritting and shouting. So essentially, no one ever closes their mouths.

I guess it’s a good thing they’ve all got nice teeth.

Furthermore, I noticed a number of discrepancies that really annoyed me. For one, the swirly black things on Poison Ivy’s face. Let me just put it out there that I love Poison Ivy- she is my muse- and so, I had a few reservations about her character design in Birds of Prey. For a being steeped in nature, the sharp, inorganic black- whilst pretty damn hot- just seems kind of incongruous with the whole child of nature thing she’s got going on.

But anyway, she’s got these kind of head swirlies of black that extend up from her neck onto her cheeks, and the problem is that they literally disappear from frame to frame. It comes across as a lazy lack of diligence, and I found it really annoying, ‘cause I kept on looking for them, instead of just enjoying the story and its artwork.

WHTTDCNU-writing

trailblazer-lUp until the end of issue #4 I was mostly enjoying the story as we had a basic set up for the plot and reasonable set up of our characters, Starling aside but I’ll get to her later. I wasn’t too bothered yet by the lacking of questioning WHAT exactly our puppeteer villain wanted, the urgency of just stopping him doing more damage seemed like enough for the time being. Some of Ev’s numerous “connections” did seem a little too convenient, but still, none of our girls here really operated within the law anyway so let’s enjoy our small conveniences. But suddenly we then jump to a completely random place where all the Birds and the reader are left saying “Buh?” effectively breaking the spell of total immersion, and in turn, good pacing for the story. Memory loss can be a cheap move to make when writing a mystery just to get characters from Point A to Point B quickly, so fast tracking to Point F without any digging into just how much time was lost and just what exactly everyone has been up to is either lazy writing, or downright confused. Who the hell were those guys? Was that the national guard? Did you just kill soldiers of the national guard!? Wait, LAST night? Broken bones don’t heal overnight!

This was the first of a number of deal breakers for me. To begin with, if the dude playing Simon in Gotham’s deadliest game of Simon Says has the power and the means to make four to five lovely heroines all lose their memory and walk them to wherever he damn well pleases, why put them in a random street and not just kill them all off? A few birds and a nasty thorn gone from your evil side! Again, on broken bones, there has been no mention thus far that Starling has any super healing abilities, she’s just very smart and resourceful. Have you ever broken your hand or your foot? They take WEEKS to heal. Are we not going to chase up that Dinah wrote the wrong address for Starling accidentally but on purpose? Or that maybe getting a second opinion on a drug cure would be a good idea if you already suspect your little friend Cahil? Worst still, the dude that could have potentially drugged ALL of you with SPECIFIC WORDS TRIGGERED MIND CONTROL is left to continue talking in the dumbest interrogation ever.

Everything was just stupid to me by this point, only further annoying me with Katana’s solution to take Cahill’s head off and end the madness at the source. Hm, this seems familiar. Guy with mind control powers all tied up but still able to cause chaos around him with said mind control powers being executed to stop further catastrophe. Oh right, this happened in the old universe when Wonder Woman killed Maxwell Lord whom was in control of SUPERMAN and then Wondy copped crap from everyone for having to make a drastic decision. The difference here is Katana is a little more willing to take that plunge, but it leads to possibly the most hypocritical pounding of the “we do not kill!” argument I’ve seen so far. The Birds have been killing EVERYONE throughout the book and that Canary has taken until issue #7 to say no to Ivy and Katana about it is bullshit. But that’s then the end of Birds of Prey vol. 1, where we learn that oh no, Trevor Cahill was another puppet, and Choke is still on the loose, as are our ends.

 

glau-rI enjoyed the writing of Birds of Prey… right up to the point where I didn’t.

Really, I thought Duane Swierczynski’s writing was pretty good- the pacing was great, nothing overly confusing was going on and the interactions between characters- particularly Black Canary and Starling- was excellent. Everything was pretty straightforward, plot wise. Starling and Black Canary are working together, save a journalist… who then blows up. The girls become suspicious, then Katana and Poison Ivy join in. There’s the suspicions (later confirmed) that Dinah is under mind control, they find the baddies safe house and then some targets… and then everything turns to shit. Birds of Prey suddenly becomes this clusterf$#% of who’s actually doing what because oh goody; mind control.

Ick.

Seriously, there are so many confusing, perplexing and downright ridiculous scenes in this comic- like, when exactly was Dinah touched ‘three times’ by the Cleaners to fall under Choke’s head-explodey control?! ‘Cause I can count two, at best- and the first is pretty bloody tenuous.

And then we have Starling, who at some point fell under Choke’s control too. Like, full on zombie-mode. When in the hell did that happen? I mean, you’re literally never told about it. Ever. And then there’s their attempted raid on the Cleaner’s hideout, where Batgirl apparently joins them… but afterwards, we’re told that she was never there at all… WTF?! Like, I can get that they’d have been affected by Choke during the attempted raid, and he altered their memories or whatever, but why would they all imagine Batgirl being there at all?

… Because I’m pretty sure she wasn’t… But then maybe she was? I don’t know, it all got so goddamn confusing after that point.

Also, I found it really annoying that pretty much every combat the girls engaged in ended up being an ambush. That’s just lazy combat writing.

WHTTDCNU-characterisation

trailblazer-lFirst of all, Trevor Cahill was a paper doll bad guy of no depth, just bam, he was the villain all along (kinda). The most crucial thing about writing a believable character is an accurate portrayal of personality throughout a narrative. This can be hard, and for the most part all the Birds seem to behave believably for the majority of the book; their actions driven by their personalities, their morals and their hang ups, but there’s moments when all seems to be thrown out the window for the convenience of drama. In general I liked Black Canary and Poison Ivy, as for the most part they felt like whole characters who have equally been through some shit while still keeping information unearthed to discover later. Katana didn’t have as many layers, and perhaps her presence made much of this story more uncomfortable than it needed to be with her lack of restraint with cutting people down left right and centre. Now, this part of her alone doesn’t really bother me, Tatsu is recently widowed and that her husband may or may not occupy her sword gives question to her supernatural inclination or just a case of the cuckoos. No it was Dinah’s constant noting that Katana may lethally respond to certain matters and then when she does in the end Dinah has the audacity to be surprised about it. They don’t once touch on the fact that Starling and Katana were shooting and slicing up soldiers or SWAT teams or show regret over having killed probably a dozen or so innocent sleeper agents, but kill the deranged mind bender? Nope, that ain’t cool.

Barbara Gordon’s complete 180° in attitude irked me greatly. It already seems weird that her new lease on life would have her saying no to a friend in need to the point of not even HELPING Dinah clear her name. But then after turning her down, Babs is all to happy to pitch in for a day while conveniently ignoring Poison Ivy’s presence? And with the great mystery episode where the Birds lose their collective memory Batgirl goes right back to “I said no, bitch” and leaves Dinah hanging. Just what? Oh now you’re back again Barbara? Have you always been this fickle? The only time her coming and going makes sense in when she’s pissed at Dinah and subsequently forgives her later. That seems more like the Batgirl I know, understanding and helpful, but until that point it’s clear that Swierczynski didn’t have a clue what to do with her.

Now Starling. Agh. I went back and forth with her a lot, and in the interest of keeping this from being an essay about  her alone, let’s just say her character seemed disjointed at best. After the first issue where we learn she’s a self conscious chaotic bombshell with a mouth on her, no talk of her sins ever comes up again, her relationship with Dinah steps between being on equal ground to being her follower and back again. She rejects Ivy as a killer while very happily putting bullets in folks who look at her funny. Her attitude toward what’s going on around her flips like a switch right after she’s been through the first few mind games and as a result should be no where near as casual about Trevor’s missing head and Canary’s breakdown. That all the Angry Birds just up and leave at that moment is just tension shoehorned in, Starling’s dismissal of the whole situation is just infuriating and weird.

The best I can say for all characters in general is that there didn’t ever feel like a big deal was being made about them all being female, a type of team book I tend to avoid; it was more an emphasis of individuals chosen because of who their are, not their lady parts. This was reflected in the way they talked too, they were all women whom were being women while being flawed badasses, and so spoke like real, individual people, even using “guys” as a neutral term to call upon each other. It was relieving, honestly.

 

glau-rSo Birds of Prey is very obviously a comic filled with kickass female characters. I really liked all of them, though to be honest it’s only Black Canary and Starling that got any passable level of character development, and they’re the only ones that had any narrative space.

Black Canary is the skilled martial artist with a sonic superpower. She’s a bit of a classic DC character, but as it stands in the New 52 reboot, so far there’s not much to be known about her. What we do know is that she has a some point killed a man, who as it turns out was her husband (?), and I find it strange that for a character who insists on enforcing a no-killing rule on her team, she’s remarkably unaffected by this murder. And beyond that, Black Canary only seems to be concerned with her no-killing rule at the end, completely ignoring the swathes of Cleaners Katana and the rest of her team kills before then. It seemed very much like an afterthought on Swierczynski’s part.

And then of course we have Starling. She’s a master strategist, according to Dinah, who’s apparently been friends with her for a good long while. She’s bright, bubbly and a bit of a smartass- in fact I get the distinct feeling that she’s kind of like a sane version of Harley Quinn. Her almost gleeful approach to violence and destruction is a stark contrast to Black Canary’s serious view of things, and their interactions are warm and enjoyable. There’s a fair amount of name dropping of an ‘Uncle Earl’ that is never really explored, though it seems he may have been some kind of mentor for her at some point. But beyond that, there is frustratingly little to know about her.

Katana and Ivy are far less developed than our other lovely ladies, but there are hints as to their importance in future issues, what with Katana’s ability to commune with the soul of her dead husband trapped within her sword, and the mysterious acquisition of Ivy’s somewhere through the middle of the trade. These two characters will inevitably prove to be the cause of some tension no doubt with Dinah and her new no-kill policy.

WHTTDCNU-conclusion

trailblazer-lI enjoy reading an all female team’s book if their femininity isn’t being waved as me screaming “ALL GIRL BOOK GOOD FOR YOU AS YOU ARE GIRL TOO.” Provided that once this matter is out of the way, the story itself is actually good.

While the plot was fine for a while the conclusion seemed convenient and out of nowhere. And there was still a lot of that females-being-catty-with-each-other business that I don’t enjoy about all-female teams. I also don’t like it when the protagonists just out a villain and explain some of their process in caption boxes, it feels rushed and takes away from the mystery and discovery process, even if it’s meant to be an action heavy comic. More over, the characters should have been shown taking steps to out Trevor as Choke, rather than just saying “It’s Trevor!” “I knew it!” “I knew it too!” only to find he wasn’t Choke anyway.

I once referred to this as disappointingly bland, and no one save maybe Katana really has me wanting to come back to see things through. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great either, a rather okayish first outing into the new 52 and for those already fans of Black Canary or looking for an all ladies team to read, you might still enjoy this, but I frankly don’t think you’re missing much either by not picking it up.

 

glau-rRight, so, whilst I liked the characterization, and didn’t mind the artwork (you know, beyond the fact that all the characters looked the same, and the various inconsistencies littered around the place), the writing is what really did this for me. Sure the first half was great, but then it just devolved into a great big stinking pile of what-the-f$#%ery. Honestly I get the sense that when Swierczynski wrote Birds of Prey, he had all of these little hidden things in mind, and knowledge of characters and backstory locked away in his head, and then completely forgotten that us dumb readers don’t actually have access to the inner workings of his mind. Meaning we’re left completely and utterly confused, and totally dissatisfied. I don’t doubt he’ll come back on this years later, after he’s forgotten all of the nuances he didn’t stick in the comic, and think; “What in the ever living hell did I write here?”

God knows I’ve done it.

WHTTDCNU-comic

Sorry folks, comic will return on Friday with the review for Red Hood and the Outlaws.