Drew: Issue 2 of Birds of Prey opened with Katana standing over a roomful of Yakuza she had just killed. When we first see her in battle alongside the birds later in the issue, she is running through one of Choke’s henchmen. Dinah comments on how Katana is “everything I’d hoped for. Lethal. Disciplined. Able to watch my back.” Dinah even reminds her that they need “at least one of them alive,” which strikes me as permission to kill all but one of the goons they’re fighting. In fact, they kill a lot of people during that scene, so Dinah’s insistence in issue 7 that “Rule number one” is “We don’t kill people,” is a bit of a stretch.
Hell, Starling’s weapon of choice is a pair of handguns. Sure, it’s possible she’s a good enough shot to avoid vital organs, but how can she guarantee that whoever she’s shooting won’t just bleed out? Assuming your foes will receive timely medical attention is kind of a strange hook to hang your no-killing hat on.
I mean, sure, when they’re killing those goons, they don’t realize they’re all innocent people being mind-controlled by Choke. I can appreciate why Dinah would want to hold back now that she knows these are all innocent people, but I don’t really see why she would admonish Tatsu for killing who they thought was the root of all this, especially when they already killed so many of what they thought were his hired guns. Sure, they needed to interrogate him, but that seems like an afterthought to Canary’s surprise that she just killed “a man.” Relax, you’ve seen her kill lots of men.
But I guess I’m getting ahead of myself. When we last saw the Birds, they were surrounded by Choke’s brainwashed zombies. They’re in the middle of defending themselves as the issue opens, with a newfound restraint insisted on by Black Canary. Meanwhile, in the basement of that same building, Starling confronts Dr. Cahill, whom the’ve apparently suspected was Choke all along. He uses some mind control to make his escape, having Starling shoot Batgirl in the arm. Barbara, having some experince not letting a silly thing like a bullet stop her, makes chase. Dinah ends the action upstairs with her canary cry and cuts off Dr. Cahill’s escape. Babs explains that Ev is under Choke’s control, but Dinah won’t listen (in spite of the BULLET WOUND Babs is nursing). Babs leaves in a huff (probably to nurse her wounds, as well), while the rest of the Birds regroup in a sewer to interrogate Dr. Cahill. Sure enough, he mind-controlls not only Starling, but Poison Ivy, as well, forcing Katana to dispatch him with one of the best cheesy one-liners I’ve heard in a long time.
Katana plans to just have her sword interrogate Dr. Cahill post-mortem, but Dinah floats the what-if that that’s totally crazy. Katana finds the suggestion insulting, and stomps off. Pam, aparently put out by Choke’s machinations also quits, and Starling refuses to believe that Choke did anything to her. Alone, Dinah heads to Cahill’s apartment to look for clues. Babs shows up for a little reconciliation. Just then, Tatsu calls to inform them that Dr. Cahill isn’t Choke after all (according to the sword Dinah just wrote off as a reliable source of information).
My summaries always sound bitchier than I mean them to, but I honestly didn’t enjoy this issue as much as the previous six. Where before, writer Duane Swierczynski gave each character clear and distinct motivations, they now change willy-nilly to produce maximum drama. Canary’s sudden insistence that they not kill anybody is a great example of this — it seems to only exist to create friction with the rest of the group — but it’s unfortunately not the only example. Dinah questions the whole “Katana has a magical, soul-stealing sword” thing when it’s convenient to create drama, but believes it just as easily when that would be the most dramatic; Batgirl runs away in a huff even though her friend’s team my be compromised by a brainwashed member; Starling refuses to believe that she’s been brainwashed even though she had acknowledged as much in issue 6. All of these actions conflict with what we know and have seen the characters to do, and is particularly frustrating given how consistent Swierczynski had been with them before. He had gotten me to care about these characters because of who they are, but now he’s forgetting who they are if it doesn’t serve the story.
For all my complaining, there’s still a lot to like. Jesus Saiz art continues to be awesome, and deserves specific praise for the expressivity of his faces. I particularly like how Babs continues to favor her wounded arm throughout the chase scene and subsequent conversation with Dinah. There are also neat fourth-wall acknowledgements throughout this issue, from a lens flare Saiz throws into the chase scene to the fact that Dinah’s canary cry actually shatters the panel around her.
These details belie Saiz’s understanding and playfulness with the very concept of a “camera” capturing the action. We’ve acknowledged this playfulness before, but I like that he’s still digging to find new ways to surprise us.
And there are parts of the writing I like, particularly those regarding attempts to interrogate Dr. Cahill and Dinah’s canary cry. The ability to harm everyone around you indiscriminately is a strange one for a member of a team, and the fallout explains why she’s used it so sparingly thus far. It’s also a neat detail that Barbara hears it over her communicator — it’s loud enough to be really loud, but not loud enough to incapacitate her. As far as interrogating “Choke,” how would you question a guy who has the power to take over your mind just by speaking? Tatsu’s solution may be the only one that could really work.
We were both kind of surprised to be liking this title so much when we reviewed it last month, so I’m curious to hear what you think now, Patrick. Do you buy the break-up of the team, or did you find everyones motivations a little convenient? I found everyone’s stomping off to be a little teen-soapy, but I’m willing to hear (and kind of hoping you have) a defense for it.
Patrick: We haven’t mentioned our LOST fandom in over a week, but I’m going to break that streak right now. LOST took a lot of shit for spinning its wheels instead of simply addressing what fans perceived to be most interesting and important conflicts on the show. Usually, this meant meeting people from the back half of the plane or learning about Kate’s past or burying Nikki and Paulo alive. But LOST got really really good at wheel spinning and some of those shaggy-dog mysteries and one-off stories are among my favorites. I can’t imagine how hard it’s got to be to vamp for time when you’re so close to the end of your story. It is in that light that I chose to read Birds of Prey 7.
Which is my long-winded of way of saying that I don’t really have a defense for all the things you disliked about this issue. It’s far and away the least consistent book in the series, and some of those character inconsistencies can be written off by the whole mind-control thing, only they’ve all experienced this already. So like, when Starling blows off an obviously concerned Dinah because she doesn’t remember shooting Babs, the logic starts to break down. And for me, it’s just a matter of degrees. Starling can be testy about Canary’s attitude, but it breaks the reality that she dismisses the accusation entirely. Same deal with the no-killing “rule” — Dinah’s been saying for a while that they’re not killers, but that’s hardly their “number one rule.”
And then there’s the matter of Poison Ivy. It’s not a hard sell that Pam would drop this particular extracurricular activity the second the integrity to Dinah’s leadership started to fail. I mean, she’s a career super-criminal, and one that usually works alone. It’s sort of a miracle that she was working with these ladies for thing long. No, my question with Ivy is: is she going to be okay? Choke-not-Choke told her that she would most likely die within the hour because he implanted the idea in her brain that her human half and her plant half couldn’t co-exist. Now, I don’t totally understand how that would kill her, but those were the rules that the character stated, and when comic book characters (especially villains) get expository, I tend to take what they say as gospel. I know that dude doesn’t have a head anymore, but Ivy’s still got idea in her’s, right? She gonna be okay?
Okay, that’s the third picture we’ve posted from the scene in the sewer. Can we talk about how fucking awesome that persisting lighting effect is in that scene? It goes on for 7 pages and every single one is saturated with the cool light of the moon reflected off the running water. It’s a murky scene as far as character motivations are concerned, and this indirect, constantly-in-motion light-source appropriately sets a mood of chaos as the group disintegrates. I re-tip my hat to Jesus Saiz for that very specific contribution.
You also mention the acting as particularly good in this issue and I totally agree. All the fun camera details in the world amount to nothing if you can’t believe that your characters are real. And while maybe the writing falters a little bit in this one, it’s hard to argue with the emotional impact of a quiet reconciliation between Dinah and Babs.
Check out the look on Dinah’s face – that’s a woman holding it together because she absolutely has too. I’ve read a lot of people mourning the lady-hero friendships that were more-or-less reset in the relaunch. But in researching this team’s publication history, I have to say that I prefer the relationships that are currently developing between these characters. I wish these recent conflicts between members would have come about more organically — they all pretty rushed. And that’s what happens when writers and artists have strict timelines to adhere to (and cross-overs to incorporate). I don’t know how long the Birds will be tusslin’ with the Owls, but I am certain that the event has already affected the pacing at the end of this arc.
Oh and I will take you to task for one of your nit-picky points. You mention that Dinah states that she thinks the whole dead-husband-in-the-sword thing is insane one minute, but then believes it when it would be the most dramatically impactful. That would be infuriating (and it may well still be), but we actually aren’t privy to BC’s reaction to Katana’s revelation. Literally, the last words spoken in the issue are “The man in my sword is not Choke.” Whether this “news” will reunite the group or drive a greater wedge between them is a story yet to be told.
I want the best for these characters – both in the literal sense (I want them to be in good comic series) and in the narrative sense (I want them to succeed and be happy). I think this series — and specifically, this arc — is capable of delivering that. I don’t like placing too much emphasis in how a story ends, but a good rally-to-stop-the-villain in the next issue could scrub clean the somewhat icky taste this issue leaves in my mouth. ALSO, I wonder if Swierczynski will follow Nightwing’s lead and make Choke a member of the Court of Owls. The MO is sorta right, but I’m not going to do any further speculation on that one (unless encouraged to do so in the comments…)
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?