Today, Shelby and Patrick are discussing Birds of Prey 13, originally released October 17th, 2012.
Shelby: A common trope for team titles is the “member with a problem.” You’ve got one member of the team with some sort of personal issue which spills into their superhero-ing. The team wants to help, the individual says they can do it alone and end up in trouble, the team saves the day. It’s tired, but it works; as a plot device, it injects character moments into the story while bringing the team closer together and providing a quest for us to read. Birds of Prey 13 delivers perfectly on this trope, so why do I feel like I’m missing something?
The issue opens with a mysterious man delivering a mysterious package to a mysterious basement. The countdown begins with “24 hours until detonation.” Katana is out getting food for everyone while they recover from Poison Ivy’s toxin, when she’s attacked by the Dagger Clan. They throw her off a building and take her sword. Back at HQ, Black Canary tries to convince Katana they need just one more round with Batman’s antidote and then they’d be well enough to take on any number of knife-wielding baddies; Katana plays the “I’m going, with or without you” card and storms out. Meanwhile, a man in a glider suit who calls himself Condor attacks the Daggers and steals the sword. Katana goes to Japan to negotiate, but it was a trap all along! The Dagger Clan stole the sword to lure Katana to their home turf so they could slice and dice her for dishonoring the clan. The rest of the team storms in to save the day, and things go pretty much as you’d expect: a fight ensues, Starling grabs a baddie to interrogate, she tortures him into telling them that Condor had the sword the whole time.
I feel like I’ve missed an issue of this. In 12, Katana had seemingly killed Ivy and potentially unleashed a deadly bio toxin which would kill everyone. Instead of dealing with that, Duane Swierczynski decides to just skip it, and just let us know Batman had an antidote for them. Now, we could very well have missed an issue of resolution to that story line because of zero month; I can totally see Swierczynski having to scrap an issue in order to make room for the zero. That doesn’t change the fact, though, that we’re left with a weak and nothing conclusion to an arc, and a leap into the next. I seem to recall that very same complaint about the Choke story arc. Maybe Swierczynski just doesn’t know how to end a story, instead they just sort of fizzle out and bleed into the next.
There were a couple other plot problems with this issue. I thought the introduction of Condor was a little graceless and abrupt. Introducing new characters has got to be hard, there may not be a good way to do it. Somehow, though, I don’t think that the new character introducing himself to us through his voice-over box is the best way.
The Birds have never heard of him, so why can’t he be a mystery to the readers as well? Its obviously ok for there to be mystery characters, because Swierczynski and artist Romano Molenaar leave us with a last panel of the captured member of the Dagger clan. Now, it seems we’re supposed to recognize this guy or know who he is and be shocked by it, but I haven’t a clue. Patrick, is this some character I’m forgetting about, some past villain who’s come back to haunt the team?
This issue wasn’t all bad. We got some nice little moments with Starling, which I’m always very much in favor of. Her style is unparalleled in the DCU, and anyone who shows up at a Dagger Clan meeting and quips about all the guys bringing knives to a gunfight is 100% awesome in my book. There’s also the matter of Dinah and her Canary Cry. When she does her sonic scream, she says there’s a buzzing in her blood, something she hasn’t felt in ages and shouldn’t be able to feel at all. With Team 7 counting down to now and Amanda Waller keeping Kurt Lance on ice, any hiccup in Dinah’s powers is something I want to know more about.
This issue is a hard sell for me. I like the voice Swierczynski has crafted for Dinah; like Batgirl, she’s strong and independent, but flawed in a very realistic and believable way. Starling is obviously just all-around awesome. I even like Katana; at first I thought her “my sword is my husband” thing was a little gimmicky, but now it just seems like a very unique character trait. I like the individual plot points and mysteries, but I just don’t have confidence in Swierczynski to craft a solid story arc. So far, I think these unique characters have been able to prop up the story arc where it’s been weak, but I don’t know how much longer that will be a viable solution.
Patrick: I’m with you, Shelby. Every one of these stories gets resolved with a flippant wave of the hand off-screen. As a reader, that’s incredibly frustrating. There are rare exceptions, but most successful serialized stories are driven by plot – that’s part of their design: you want to see what happens next time, so you tune in. Most of the exceptions I can think of rely on exploring related themes from installment to installment (both Mad Men and Watchmen spring to mind as examples of this). But Birds of Prey is clearly a serial adventure comic, with no meta-textual aspirations, so why can’t it get plotting right?
But enough about the previous failings of this series! We gots us a brand new installment in the rock and roll adventures of Black Canary, Starling, Batgirl and Katana! Katana’s had to be the odd-woman out for most of the Birds’ adventures. All the other heroes are such strong personalities, that the “stoic ninja” type tends to fade into the background. I’m hoping that we learn more about how exactly Katana disgraced the Dagger Clan and that this sheds light on who she is. Anything that helps to inform this character would go a long way toward rounding off the weaker ends of this ensemble.
Hey, does the morality of this series seem odd to anyone else? Drew and I have talked about how strange it is that Dinah occasionally claims to have a “no killing” rule, but she clearly recruited Katana, who’s whole MO is murder. That’s fucked up, but what about this Starling-tortures-a-dude plot point? Ev was one of Dinah’s harsher critics on the subject of killing Kurt – even going so far as to launch her own investigation. But neither Black Canary or Starling have qualms with torturing and mutilating a guy for information? Batgirl is the only one that appears to have a problem with it, but she sure as shit doesn’t take any action to stop Starling. It’s possible that — since we’re on Katana’s turf — the group has decided to defer to Tatsu’s morality. That just totally grinds against my view of Barbara Gordon – she’s too strong willed to be taken in by cultural relativism.
Also, I’m not sure what we’re supposed to make of that last page. That’s not anyone we know – so it’s not a character reveal. Does it look like maybe Starling didn’t actually do what she said she was going to do to his eyes? I mean, she clearly started to cut below them, but I sorta assumed she’d already popped one of those eyes out. Maybe we’re supposed to notice the smile on his face when Ev says “I can tell when someone’s lying” and they’re really heading into a trap.
But goddamned it all, Starling basically saves this issue by just being herself. I love that she started learning Japanese because of Tatsu – that’s so sweet. Ev seems like the kind of person that collects skills whenever she can, but it’s nice to see that hobby applied to her relationship with her teammate. We also got another mention of the mysterious Uncle Earl that trained Ev. I look forward to the day that we get to meet Uncle Earl (or, alternately, I look forward to the day we discover that there is no Uncle Earl). Also this:
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?