The original Birds of Prey comic, pre-reboot, featured a core team of the Black Canary and Oracle. Black Canary, one of DC’s original female heroes from the 40s, was the field agent, and Oracle provided computer and technical support from the home base. Oracle was the latest identity of Barbara Gordon, who had to give up the mantle of Batgirl after the Joker shot her in the spine. Over the years, the Oracle version of Barbara Gordon became arguably more popular than the Batgirl version, and especially at the hands of writer Gail Simone, Birds of Prey became a popular midlist title for DC.
It’s also a very important title for DC in the light of this new relaunch because Birds of Prey was always a fairly popular comic with women readers. Among the women I know who regularly read comics, almost all of them read Birds of Prey, and almost all of them have a lot of affinity for these characters. And let’s face it, so far (and especially in several of the comics I haven’t reviewed yet), DC’s reboot is not exactly kicking ass in female department. While the company has shown remarkable dedication to increasing the ethnic diversity of its hero lineup with the reboot, in some ways it seems to me that the treatment and depiction of female characters has taken a step backward.
Add in the complication that the reboot fixed Barbara Gordon’s spine and returned her to her place as Batgirl (and removed her completely from Birds of Prey), and you have a book with an awkward relationship to its past incarnation, and a responsibility to keep female readers interested by presenting its all-female case as something other than a bunch of objectified sluts.
For the most part, Birds of Prey #1 is up to the challenge of its mission. While the two primary team members featured in the issue (Black Canary and a new gun-toting woman named Starling) are both good-looking women, Jesus Saiz’s art does not linger overlong on shots of their cleavage, little bits of their lingerie poking through their costumes, or close-ups of their asses. Given the all-heroine cast it would have been really easy to turn this into a T&A book, and Saiz mercifully resists that temptation. Beyond that, the art isn’t really anything special. Most of the panels have no background details to speak of. The figure work is all very clean and well done, but his style is not particularly interesting. It’s good enough to not distract from the narrative, but it doesn’t add much to the story, either. It just gets the job done.
Swierczynski’s script is a little more ambitious, cutting scenes out of chronological order to add interest to what is otherwise a straightforward story about a Gotham Gazette reporter who has been following the team at the behest of a mysterious tipster who, it appears, is trying to use him to flush them out so they can be killed. This leads to a couple of fights with invisible ninja assassin dudes, one of whom kisses Black Canary with what I assume is poison lipstick, a trick that would have seemed impressive if I hadn’t seen it four times already on Doctor Who.
The cover shows new team members Katana (who has a pretty cool costume redesign) and Batman villain Poison Ivy (can’t wait to see how they fit her in), but neither of these characters actually appear in the issue. We do get an awkwardly staged reunion between Barbara Gordon and Black Canary that leads to more questions than answers. I’m sure the powers that be felt this scene was necessary for all of the existing Birds of Prey fans, but I think it was more trouble than it’s worth.
For starters, it’s unclear that the old version of Birds of Prey ever existed in the new continuity. We still don’t know of Barbara was ever Oracle, for example. The dialogue dances around this topic. Black Canary says “You know I’m still putting together that team. I wish you’d reconsider,” and Gordon declines. The script seems to suggest that Gordon won’t join at least in part because Black Canary is wanted for murder (I presume this is a plot point carried over from the pre-relaunch), but since the last panel of this month’s Batgirl comic has a cop screaming that Batgirl just acted as an accessory to murder, at first I couldn’t tell which character was the alleged murderess. It’s confusing. This scene probably should have just been cut from the issue entirely.
Beyond that, we’ve got a competently told story about a team that could turn out to be quite interesting. I’m not sure this is fully up my alley, but I’m willing to hang out for a few more issues and see what happens.
Status: We’ll See.