Posted by: erikmona | October 1, 2011

NEW 52 REVIEW 29: Birds of Prey #1

Birds of Prey #1
Writer: Duane Swierczynski
Artist: Jesus Saiz

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.



  1. Happy Sunday –

    Assuming the fact that I know almost nothing about the previous canon….

    I like the new Barbara Gordon. Batwoman is still my favorite of the new 52. πŸ™‚

    I have to assume that the past hasn’t happened in the same way. Yes, they were both paralyzed by a shot from Joker.

    I am really interested in how Barbara Gordon’s Batwoman deals with the Birds of Prey. As an adviser? As a partner or eventual enemy?

    You seem to have a much deeper level of reading than I do. While I am reading a comic, As a new comic book reader, I am focused on text boxes and dialog and the way the key scene players are gesturing and reacting with the scene around them. The flow is important to me.

    Erik, you are able to see detailed backgrounds, inking techniques, pencil and colorization styles, and… well… Due to your experience, I feel a bit undereducated. πŸ™‚

  2. Note: As an adult, after a life of modern movies, 3-D,and a host of past hero movies. (mostly NOT DC Characters)

    Reading the comic book medium, I would guess that it takes at least 2-3 months of reading to feel natural it, Just on the front end, the combination of front scene images, medium scene items and background.stuff. Then there’s the story and dialog that needs to draw the reader into the scene.

  3. Keep in mind that I also read these comics at least twice. Once generally on Wednesday night after picking them up at the store, and then again immediately before I write the review.

    Have you never read comics at all prior to the relaunch? If so I think you are patient zero for the exact type of customer DC is hoping to get.

    Also, Barbara Gordon is BatGIRL, not Batwoman. I enjoyed both Batwoman and Batgirl this month, but just to be clear, these are two different characters.

  4. Yes, my bad, I got them confused for a bit. Reading 52 different titles and being new it is going to be tough to keep the stories straight. I did like both Batwoman and Batgirl, and I do like Barbara Gordon as Batgirl. I don’t really know anything about her previous incarnation as Oracle(?).

    And, yes, truth be told, I have never been a comic reader. Except, well… OotS doesn’t count in this case. πŸ™‚

    As far as classic DC or Marvel characters, I have always been interested in them but never picked up the comics and started reading. I have read a couple of modern non-classic stuff (Watchmen, Artesia) but never the big-boys, DC and Marvel. Whenever I looked up stuff on Wikipedia or other comic wikis, I got overwhelmed by history and canon so I passed.

    This launch is great for me. I am following your idea of getting all 52 for two months and then whittling them down to a more affordable set group I’ll try to follow regularly.

  5. Cool. It will be fun to compare notes when we both get to the finish line!

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