Patrick: Birds of Prey found such a strong, clear voice early in its run. I knew who Dinah was, I knew who Eve was and I understood their dynamic. They even had a cool villain that could control minds and make heads explode. As the team grew, so did my enthusiasm for the series. But the narrative waters are getting murky, and when my expectations grind so violently against the book that was delivered, my enthusiasm wanes.
The bulk of the action in this issue takes place in a run-down-but-still-luxurious hotel. Black Canary, Katana and Batgirl are lured there with a bogus tip about a “murder that would interest [Black Canary] greatly.” But, it’s a trap, and three-fifths of the Birds of Prey have to battle their way out of a burning building while avoiding capture by a handful of weirdly augmented supervillain henchmen types (more on them in a bit). The leader of the burn ‘n’ kidnap brigade is a hologram — referred to only as Infiltrator 1. The bad guys seems hellbent on bringing Dinah in for the murder of one of their agents three night previous. Our girls best the baddies, totally destroying the hotel but making a clean getaway.
Meanwhile, at an undisclosed location in South Dakota, Starling breaks into… something — some kind of spy office? It’s not totally clear. What is clear is that she’s looking for information to help her determine whether or not Canary is a murderer. This, too, appears to be a trap, as Gangemi — a spy working for the same organization that attacked the other Birds — steps out of the shadows with a gun. But Starling is crafty, and after threatening to slice his scrotum open, the two spies put their weapons away and start chatting. They both want to talk about Black Canary and the revelations are two-fold: 1) she used to be a spy and 2) the man she killed was her husband. The issue ends with Dinah confessing as much to her remaining non-Poison-Ivy team members.
I’ve got so many questions. Chief among them is: what happened to the whole Choke story I spent the last 7 issues reading about? Last month, we debated the significance of Katana declaring that the man she killed wasn’t Choke. That discovery seems to hold no water what-so-ever; issue 7 was the close of the Choke arc. So what was the point of that final-panel phone call? To leave the door open for the real Choke to be revealed in the future? Or a cheap cliffhanger to get me back for the next issue? Either way feels like a cheat – at the time I gave the issue the benefit of the doubt. I assumed Black Canary would find something in Trevor Cahill’s apartment that would lead them to the real Choke. I was hoping that would happen this month.
But that’s not the story Swierczynski appears to be interested in telling. One of my pet peeves is when someone criticizes a book or movie or TV show for telling a story other than the one they were expecting. It’s insane to evaluate a narrative based on what you thought it was going be, but people do it all that time. But I find myself in that very camp right now, clamoring for resolution to a story the author doesn’t want to resolve.
It doesn’t help that the issue is essentially one long action sequence with copious amount of expository dialogue. Not only do the characters have to explain to each other that they’re bringing Dinah in for murder (over and over again), each of the uniquely augmented Bad Guy Spies has to have his special abilities explained. And there are three of these things! There’s Flesh, the mostly-naked former-Yakuza giant whose body is coated in a substance that makes his skin impervious to blades and bullets. There’s Head, whose helmet injects wonder-drugs into his brain that make him impossible to knock-out (hopefully it gives him other advantages as well, because that shit is narrow). And then there’s Napalm, your classic dude with flamethrowers strapped to his arm, who only seems to want to burn Poison Ivy. This issue attempts to a) explore Dinah’s past b) introduce this spy organization c) examine Starling’s trust issues and d) pack in an action sequence. Why in the hell are we getting so point-blank information about these guys? (Especially when you consider that they all get crushed by the imploding hotel.)
Also, I’m with Napalm: where is Poison Ivy? I know she stormed off in a huff at the end of the previous issue, but so did Starling. I’m convinced now that I’m reading implications into the issue that weren’t there, but when I read it, I thought Choke-not-Choke’s final hypnosis-spell put Ivy in mortal danger. Again, Swierczynski and I seem to disagree on the importance of such a development. So, is it my fault that I didn’t love this action-packed issue or the creative team’s?
I say I didn’t love, it but there actually is quite a bit to like in these pages. The art, for example continues to astound me. Jesus Saiz and Javier Pina somehow manage to keep all the action clear and fluid, even while half a dozen people brawl in a burning building. There are a couple examples of the team using multiple panels in the same space to imply motion, but my favorite is this one:
Mostly, I feel like I missed an issue. There wasn’t a Birds of Prey #7.5 or some kind of cross-over I missed, right? I think it’s silly when editor’s notes refer the reader to the previous issue in the same series. I mean: duh. But there’s an instance of that referring that had me scratching my head:
We didn’t know that Black Canary used to be a spy, and there’s nothing in BOP #7 that would suggest that.
Heading into the cross-over, let me just say that I’m going to be heartbroken if Starling’s stuck in South Dakota for the Night of the Owls. HEARTBROKEN.
How about you Drew? Did this issue somehow feel out of context to you too?
Drew: There definitely feels like missing information here: when does all of this happen in relation to issue 7? Do the Birds make a habit of agreeing to meet anonymous tipsters with hilariously vague information in tactically questionable locations? Does that policy change at all when they’re already working on a case that may still be affecting their minds? But, I also think more is explained than you’re giving it credit for.
Swierczynski pulled this kind of leap before, but it was in the midst of a story where that kind of gap represented the characters’ own amnesia. It makes less sense here, but it’s not as random as you make it seem. While we don’t know the blow-by-blow of how we got from the end of issue 7 to now, I think relatively little has shifted, character-wise. At the close of issue 7, Dinah, Babs and Tatsu seemed to have reunited after the falling-out in the sewer. Ev and Pam are still rogue — I don’t think Starling is helping Dinah so much as researching her. She calls it a “mission,” but I don’t think she’s taking her marching orders from anyone.
Ev’s story is probably my favorite part of the issue. She’s casually cunning, and totally in her element — in other words, just being herself. I also loved the detail of her suburban camouflage — that blouse-and-skirt ensemble is so not her style.
I really hate playing the intent game — and I know you do too, Patrick — so I’m calling you out for suggesting what narrative Swierczynski is “interested in telling.” I hate to make wild guesses, but I’m thinking he dropped the Choke thread in order to set up his entry for the Night of the Owls. Even if that guess is way off-base, I don’t think we’re done with Choke — these Infiltrators are either a distraction, or are somehow connected to that story. Swierczynski earned a lot of respect for us in a very short span of time, so I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on what occasionally feels like an out-of-place issue.
That respect cuts both ways, though, and it often means we hold this title to a higher standard than this issue was ready to deliver. You’re right, the amount of exposition we got on these villains is disproportionate to how important they end up being — they’re just muscle, they don’t all need an oddly specific Bond-villain ability. I get that this organization picked the team specifically for the weaknesses (or, rather, to counter the strengths of) the Birds, but when the best they can muster for canary is a guy in a soundproofed suit, you’ve got to wonder why a good suit of armor wouldn’t have been enough to replace any of these other guys.
I get that new villains are cool, but this just felt like pandering. If they’re planning so far ahead, why even bother trying to engage the Birds in hand-to-hand combat — just seal the room and gas them. I don’t want to be one of those guys that points out how illogical villains are in comics, but for a group that hangs it’s hat on being specifically prepared, they could have, you know, sent more than four dudes and a hologram. Speaking of that hologram, I got a pretty good chuckle out of Batgirl asking him to get out of her way. He’s a hologram, Babs, he’s not in anybody’s way.
Sorry, one more nit to pick: are we meant to assume that that hotel was empty? It’s one thing to break the all-sacred “no killing” rule for the dudes trying to bring you in, but it’s another to crush an entire building full of presumably innocent tourists and hotel staff. Frankly, that’s way more shocking than any murder-by-canary-cry.
My nerd-bitching aside, the issue stays true to it’s characters, which is exactly what had me singing the praises of this title in the first place. This title can handle action and plottier moments, as well, but this issue really hangs on the charisma of its leads. When Swierczynski treats that like the strength that it is, this title can hold its own with the best being published, when he doesn’t…well, then we get half-naked bad guys named Flesh.
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?