Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Birds of Prey 9 originally released May 16th, 2012. This issue is part of the Night of the Owls crossover event. Click here for complete NotO coverage. Not caught up on Birds of Prey? No problem! Get up to speed with our video Cram Session.
Drew: Serialization is in. There have always been long-form narratives that have relied on dense mythologies to build-up stories over time, but until recently, they have always been balanced by more episodic works; for every Days of Our Lives, there was a Law and Order. Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages, but with the popularity of DVD collections for television and trade paperback collections for comics (and the availability of individual episodes or issues online) have made, dense, long-form narratives are easier than ever to gain access to. It’s understandable why serialization is so appealing to both creators and audience alike — characters have a chance to develop over longer scales than single chapters, and don’t have to jockey as much for space against the actual plot.
Birds of Prey is a fantastic example of serialized storytelling. The team is introduced over the first four issues of the series, giving each character a distinct voice and set of motivations. I’m not sure it would be possible to do this if each issue was populated with a villain of the month whose story would require a beginning, middle and end within 20 pages. Serialization is one of this title’s greatest assets, which becomes strikingly clear when it attempts a purely episodic issue like this one.
The issue begins in 1840’s Gotham, where that generation’s Talon swoops in to put a stop to a gang war, killing everyone. Jump ahead to 8:20 on the Night of the Owls, where Katana and Black Canary are already locked in battle with that same Talon. They had gotten a call from Babs alerting them to the goings on, but this Talon was apparently looking for them — he’d already done…something horrible but unspecified to Poison Ivy. Nothing the girls do can slow this Talon down, so they’re more or less on the run. Starling shows up, driving the same car from issue 1, and plowing the Talon through the same church from that issue as well. This has pretty much no effect on him, and he continues to fight the Birds until Babs shows up, detaining him temporarily while they have a chance to regroup. Babs explains the Talons’ aversion to cold, and they hatch a plan to get him into a meat-locker boxcar. They struggle, but manage to get him in with the help of Ivy, who shows up alive, if a little worse for wear.
In all fairness, this issue does move about some important pieces as far as serialization goes; it gets the team back together, with hints about where they’ve been and where they’re going next. Perhaps it’s significant that the team can’t beat the Talon until they’re all present, but the patten of “then this person shows up, buying them a little more time” was already getting old. So much of this issue is devoted to how to beat the Talon, or how they’re currently not beating him, that there wasn’t much time for the team dynamic that I’ve come to love so much about this title. Or, at least until Starling shows up. Once again, she has the best lines of the issue, telling the Talon he looks like something out of a Tim Burton movie, and mentioning her crazy fandom of Batman. She has a tendency to steal the show, but there’s not much sense of the rest of the team’s personalities coming through.
Part of that may be that so much time is given over to the villain this time around. Many titles participating in the Night of the Owls have made a point of giving a little of their Talon’s backstory, but writer Duane Swierczynski takes it an extra step. This particular Talon fancies himself a keeper of law and order, and sees his targets as vermin he must eliminate. I mean “sees” quite literally; we take on his delusional perspective several times, seeing the birds through his eyes as monsters or prostitutes.
By now, we’ve seen a number of emotionally scarred Talons, and while they all seem to justify their actions with mild delusions, these hallucinations are another level entirely. It almost makes me wish we could spend more time with this particular Talon, whose backstory might be particularly messed-up, but I’m happy to focus in on the Birds next month, as they venture to some far-flung location to keep a promise to Ivy.
This was an interesting issue for penciller Travel Foreman to make his debut; it really plays to his strengths. He does horror and the grotesque so well, that an issue featuring freaky hallucinations and utterly terrified heroes is perfectly suited for him. There are moments where faces get a little weird, but that same freedom also allows him to create truly visceral moments like Dinah’s Canary Cry.
Everything about that image, from the veins in Dinah’s neck to the Talon’s “feathers” to Tatsu’s posture, tells us that that cry is incredibly powerful. In the next panel, we see blood trickling over the Talon’s armor from all over his body, something that this image actually makes me believe is possible. It’s moments like this that make me sure Foreman will be just fine even when future issues have the Birds more in control. In fact, I can’t wait to see it.
There’s a lot going for this issue, but its place within both this series as well as the Night of the Owls crossover don’t make for the most flattering comparisons. I still like it quite a bit, but its certainly a lesser entry in both of those groups. The episodic nature of the crossover forced Swierczynski to tread water a bit here, so I look forward to a return to form next month — especially now that the team is back together.
Patrick: No joke about Starling stealing the show. It’s becoming harder and harder for me to imagine this series without her, even though the standard state of the Birds of Prey has always been Starlingless. She’s a badass for the ages, and Duane Swierczsynski should be proud of admitting her to the DC canon. That said, how disappointing is it that she doesn’t just aim a foot higher and end the Talon for good?
We’ve seen a number of other Talons felled with a shot to head. And I totally understand the dramatic significance of dragging out his defeat, but if any of these characters is just going to slice through the bullshit and put a bullet in his brain, it’s going to be Starling.
You’re totally right to point out that the horror elements play really well to Foreman’s strengths as an artist. In fact, his art coupled with this gorier-than-usual story made this book feel like an issue of Animal Man featuring the Birds of Prey. With one little wonky hang-up: the coloring. Colorist Gabe Eltaeb does a lot of texturing and lighting work there that almost seems at odds with Foreman’s blunt style. Foreman’s characters almost demand simple coloring, and the additional depth and texture achieved by more advanced coloring unnecessarily clutters his work. Just as a quick point of comparison, look how clean Lovern Kindzierski’s colors are in Animal Man 1.
I’m not going to say that one of these is better than the other, but it’s immediately evident that the art and the coloring aren’t working against each other in the image on the right. Travel Foreman is only tied to this title for a few issues (at which point, he’s expressed that he’d like to see Jesus Saiz return to the art), and I hope the powers that be can hook him up with a colorist more suited to his admittedly unique style.
I am a little confused about this Talon’s motivations. I like that we get a glimpse into his fucked-up psychology and even get the opportunity to view his opponents has he does (via those cool hallucinations you mentioned), but who was he sent to murder in the first place? He dispatched Ivy first, but I doubt that Pamela Isly would have made the Talon hit-list. Which means this particular Talon was just out choosing his own targets. Between this guy and Red Hood’s Talon, I’m starting to get the impression that the Court of Owls doesn’t command nearly the level of loyalty we were lead to believe.
I’m also starting to wonder if there’s any significance to the Talons that survive this cross-over. I’ve speculated in other Night of the Owls books about the future of the Court of the Owls. I think it’s possible that there’s room to reform a bunch of these Talons. Several of these guys (this Henry Ballard included) seem to have goals in-line with those of Batman: clean up the streets of Gotham. Plus, the cross-over has done wonders for DC’s sales, increasing readership of all their Bat-family titles. So could we see Talons in the future?
I’ve brought this up before (sorry to repeat myself), but it’s really interesting to me the way good ideas can grow to become something bigger than what they were intended to be. Think about the first appearance of Batman. Do you think Bob Kane understood what he was starting in that moment, or do you think they he just plugging a crazy character into the pages of his books? The only reason the character kept coming back is because people would spend money on the books featuring him. More recently, take a look at how many Green Lantern titles there are now that Geoff Johns revitalized that universe’s popularity. I’d be willing to wager the market could support an on-going Talon(s) series, even after the Night is over.
What do you say, internet? Would you read a Talon series? I’d at least pick up the first story arc.
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?