Today, Shelby and Taylor are discussing Birds of Prey 18-19, originally released March 20th and April 17th, 2013.
Shelby: I have the most trouble writing beginnings and endings. Beginnings are hard because you have to draw the reader in, entice them enough to keep reading. Endings are hard because you have to conclude your message with enough finality that there’s a sense of closure without being too abrupt. My biggest complaint about Duane Swierczynski’s run on Birds of Prey was his endings; story arcs just sort of … stopped. There is little I find more frustrating than a well-written story that doesn’t deliver on the ending, that simply ends. Birds finds itself with a new beginning, though, as Christy Marx wraps up Sword of Sorcery and takes over writing duties here; her strong, female-centric take on Nilaa won me over from day one, and would seem to make her a perfect fit for this superheroine team title.
The team is trying to adjust to their new roster. Poison Ivy and Katana are out (what with the villainy, Justice League assignments, and lack of bird theme), and Stryx and Condor are in. You may remember Stryx as Mary, Batgirl’s mute Talon, and Condor as that dude who stole Katana’s sword and dragged the whole gang to Japan to get it back. Also, Black Canary is having trouble controlling her power, which can only mean her husband Kurt is around, which can’t be because he’s dead, etc. Anyway, Mr. Freeze bursts into the dojo demanding that the Birds turn Stryx over to him. After a bewildered, “what? why?” they fight briefly and he leaves with Starling as his hostage, telling Canary to meet him at the lab where the Court makes new Talons or Starling dies. Apparently, he has a beef with the Court because he concocted their Talon preservation formula and now he wants royalties or something. Stryx leads the team there only to discover it was a trick to get the lab’s secret location. A fight ensues, and the Birds discover that Starling has been working for Freeze the whole time.
As far as beginnings go, starting a title 18 issues into its run is not the smoothest way to go; as much as I generally like Marx’s work, these issues feel a little awkward to me. The dialogue is a little stilted, and some of the conversations are more expository than I would like.
It’s like Marx needed to flesh out Condor, but didn’t really have time, so just had Dinah and Babs brag about what they were able to figure out about him. It’s effective because I’m totally in the dark about this character, but it makes for a stiff conversation that’s not the most fun to read. I do like Romano Molenaar’s pencils in these issues; he took care to show us Stryx sneaking away in the background when he could have just as easily had her there one moment, and gone the next. I appreciate that attention to real-life detail, I think it adds more character to the scene. Also, it’s cheesy, but I am digging Dinah’s big hair. It’s a more traditional comic book style than I typically prefer, but there’s something about it that I really enjoy.
That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate what Marx is doing with this title. Things may feel a little awkward at times, but I saw that as Marx sorting out what she has to work with, ironing out the wrinkles between what Swierczynski established and where Marx wants to take it. I’m curious about the voice she is establishing for Condor; he’s a wise-ass, but also very nice and super helpful. Almost suspiciously helpful; it’s easy to share Black Canary’s paranoia. My current theory is that he’s Dinah’s husband Kurt in disguise; it would explain why he’s being so cagey about his identity. If there’s something from recent issues that proves me wrong, someone let me know. I’m also looking forward to seeing how Starling’s betrayal will pan out. She and Dinah were very close, like bad-ass sisters; this is going to be hard for our gal Fishnets. Way back in the zero issue we learned that Dinah started up the Birds in the first place because she missed the support and camaraderie of working with someone after her husband died. Sterling was the first one she recruited, and now Dinah knows her friend was working against her the whole time. This is a really interesting place for Marx to get to know this character, stretch her wings if you will.
Taylor, what did you think of these two issues? You haven’t read any of the previous Birds of Prey, we just tricked you into this one because Marx was taking over; was this a decent enough jumping-on point for you? Did you also find these issues to be a little cumbersome as Marx really gets into the swing of things, and are you interested in toughing it out to see where she takes this title?
Taylor: First off, let me tell you I feel betrayed. Betrayed and hurt that you guys were reading a series with a katana wielding heroine named Katana and never told me. You know I like samurai stuff (probably the goofier and more far out the better) so I feel like I should have been informed about her. Now she’s gone and I might never see her in this series. So on some level I suppose I can sympathize with Canary quite a bit. Beware, next time I see you, Shelby, I might just kick you in the face.
My first reaction upon reading issues 18 and 19 can be summed up fairly well in one word: okay. I wasn’t necessarily wowed by anything that took place in these two issues but there isn’t anything in them that makes me feel like they are bad either. I’m not sure if this is because I’m new to this series or because Christy Marx is writing it or if it’s a weird blending of the two. I’m not really drawn to any of the characters as of yet and I’m not sure what the cause of that is. Again, since I haven’t read anything preceding issue 18 I’m sure I’m not catching a lot of the undertones taking place in much of the dialogue. However, the characters I’ve enjoyed the most are probably Strix and Condor, both of whom are new to this particular action team. This makes me wonder how readers such as you, Shelby, are feeling about this overturn in the Birds. On the one hand it’s kind of poetic since the series is being handed to a new writer. On the other hand, it has to be kind of upsetting to see the ol’ gang taken apart, right?
Shelby, I agree with you when you say that these two issues feel a bit cumbersome. Each issue seemed to lack a natural feel or flow where I felt like Marx was totally in control of the narrative. Perhaps this is part of the process of taking over a series midstream and it will improve with time. My guess is that it almost certainly has to. Despite that hope, there is still some dialogue in these issues which are pretty hard to read, even for a new comer to the series. Take a look.
I mean, these puns are bad. And we aren’t talking enjoyably bad. We’re talking about Mr. Freeze Batman and Robin level bad puns. Shelby, you know I love puns in all shapes and sizes so you know that when I dislike a pun things are serious. So you know this is serious business. Yet while these puns are bad, they only exist because Mr. Freeze has made his random appearance in the series. While there are a lot of elements in these issues that struck me as flat, I have to say that Freeze isn’t one of them. Maybe I’m banking on my half remembered memories of Mr. Freeze from the Batman Animated Series or maybe my blind love of Arnold Schwarzenegger is clouding my judgment, but I’m happy to see him here causing a bit of trouble. Hopefully his reasons for being caught up with the Owls will be fleshed out better once Marks has more time with the series and then we can all enjoy our puns in peace.
Also, I mentioned earlier that I liked the characters of Strix and Condor in these two issues. In particular, I think my enjoyment of the characters was furthered greatly by the art team. When Strix is running in fear of being forced to return her place of creation she is found by Barbara huddled on a rooftop, obviously terrified.
To portray someone being afraid this convincingly, much less without being able to portray their face, deserves commending. I want to comfort Strix when I see her in this panel – it’s heartbreaking. This is a great way to build a character and with one who never speaks, almost necessary. But his type of building isn’t limited to just Strix. At the end of issue 19 when Canary is betrayed by her own team we are convinced it’s Condor. Part of the reason for this is that when Canary is kicked in the face it looks like his boot.
Of course it turns out to not be his foot, but it’s great that the art team fooled us (or at least me) so completely. It’s rewarding to see a creative team behind a comic work in such close conjunction with each other and while these first couple of issues of them working together has been a little rough, there is enough here to make me come back to Birds of Prey next month (instead of giving it the boot).
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?