Tuesday, June 25, 2013

BIRDS OF PREY #2 (New 52)

Previously in Birds of Prey

Dinah Lance, the costumed adventurer known as Black Canary, is wanted for a murder she may or may not have committed, but that won't stop her from putting together a team of crime-fighting super heroines.  Backed by her partner, Ev Crawford--alias Starling--Black Canary saves the life of Gotham Gazette reporter Charlie Keen from a team of hit men wearing suits that make them vaguely opaque-ish.  Black Canary and Starling escort Charlie safely to Gotham International Airport where he suffers a fatal case of exploding.

And now…

Bids of Prey #2: "Trouble in Mind" is written by Duane Swierczynski with art by Jesus Saiz.  This time the colors are provided by Allen Passalaqua.  They're much more muted colors, less of the subtle, multi-layered affect that Nei Ruffino gave to the candlelight in the church or the highlights of skin tone and hair color in issue #1.  The color along with Saiz's heavier looking inks make this issue look darker than the last.

This may be shocking to someone who has never read a comic before, but the action depicted on the cover does not appear in the actual comic.  I mean, I guess Katana does strike, but not against Black Canary and Starling.  But we'll get to that later.

"We're Going to Have to Get Used to Each Other's Quirks"

This issue opens in Japan, where Tatsu Yamashiro, better known as Katana, has made short work of a handful of Yakuza assassins sent to kill her.  Surveying the carnage of the room, Tatsu converses with her sword as though it were a person--an intimate acquaintance from her use of "my love"--but perhaps more important than that is she responds to the sword as though she can hear it talking to her.

Back at Gotham International Airport, the fiery blast that started with Charlie Keen throws Dinah and Ev across the terminal.  They wake amidst the chaos and confusion, unable to comprehend how, in the absence of an explosive device, Charlie could simply blow up.  Homeland Security arrives at the scene; the ladies have to get away, but Dinah refuses to leave without gathering some evidence of what might have killed Charlie.  Ev creates a distraction for the uniform guards, which is, apparently, a specialty of hers.

Dinah collects a busted cell phone and a piece of bloody tissue that had, just a few hours ago, been a reporter trying to expose her.  Ev, meanwhile, steals the keys to the security guards' cart and speeds away at a brisk seven miles per hour.  Ev picks up Dinah and they smash through the airport window as though it were a church wall.

Unseen by either woman, is one of the mysterious hit men from last issue, who refers to Charlie as the "carrier" and the explosion as a "test".  Then the man vanishes with his invisibility suit.

Three days later, Ev meets Charlie's widow at the funeral.  The paper's position was that Charlie was depressed and killed himself; the widow doesn't buy it.  Later, Dinah and Ev, dressed in Black Canary and Starling garb, skulk about a dark warehouse in a seedy part of town.  This is one of Starling's many safe houses, apparently, and the two argue the pros and cons of a permanent base of operations.  They also discuss the mode of Charlie's death.  The forensics report found three curious trace elements in his system, two of them explosives; the third is being tested.

Here they meet Katana, who Black Canary invited to join their "thing" (Starling's word).  Katana says she was not interested at first, but changed her mind at the behest of her husband.  The problem is Katana's husband is dead.  This, understandably, troubles Starling, but not nearly as much as it would if she knew what Black Canary knows--that Katana believes her husband's soul embodies her sword.

Dinah meets one of Ev's countless contacts in every kind of professional field.  This one, Dr. Trevor Cahill, is a neurochemical researcher… who happens to be attractive and single.  Dinah mentally scolds Ev for trying to play match-maker and refrains from flirting.  Cahill reveals that one of the elements in Charlie's body was an experimental drug that… Know what? I'mma let him tell it.

Cahill says four of the five labs that carry this experimental drug have had break-ins of late.  He gives Dinah the address of the fifth lab, because what's suspicious about that?

Back in costume, Black Canary, Starling and Katana check out the "lab", which looks a lot like another warehouse.  While looking around for… I don't know what they're hoping to find because I really don't understand the mystery of this book.  Anyway, Black Canary spots one of the invisible bad guys, and I cannot stress how horribly ineffective this technology is within the universe they've created.

Not-invisible soldiers descend on the ladies.  Black Canary fights them with her superior martial arts skills.  Katana slices through their ranks with her husband/sword, the Soultaker.  And Starling just shoots 'em.  When things get heavy, Black Canary brings out her super power.

Starling takes one of their attackers alive for interrogation, but as they leave, the lab becomes overrun by grass, trees, and other flora.  And at the heart of this new vegetation is the beautiful-but-deadly eco-terrorist, Poison Ivy.

Starling prepares to fight the Batman rogue, but Black Canary stops her.  Dinah invited Ivy--she's part of their "thing."

The Characters

This issue introduces us to the other two members of Black Canary's team, but Poison Ivy's appearance is little more than a cameo.  Katana, on the other hand, gets plenty of page space, from the prelude to her first in-story meeting with Dinah and Starling.  I can't say if Tatsu is different from the pre-New 52 Katana because I think I've only read, like, three comics featuring Katana where she was anything more than a background character.  She is essentially a blank slate in this series.

So was she good?  Yeah, I like Katana in this issue.  I love how she speaks to her husband through the sword, and how off-putting that is to other people.  It's endearing, and also provides some opportunities for humor.

I also like her look, which makes her one of the precious few whose New 52 redesigns I like better than her old costume.  It's simple, elegant and striking as her Soultaker.  It also reminds me of the character Fuji from classic pre-Warren Ellis Stormwatch.

We get a few more details of Starling this issue.  Dinah calls her a "master strategist" who can "drive, shoot and talk her way out of practically anything."  She also admits to being on multiple government watch lists, and says she likes smashing stuff.  At some point, she also received some CIA interrogation training.

Does any of this make her more likable than last issue?  No.  It reinforces my fear that she's a Mary-Sue created by Swierczynski to recapture the best (or at least the loudest) qualities of Oracle, Huntress and Misfit from pre-New 52 Birds of Prey.

What about Dinah?  Despite her narrating the story, we don't get much more insight into her character.  I'm glad that she doesn't go gaga over Dr. Cahill.  I like that she tries to think strategically, but I think the flaws in the story's internal logic and mystery don't help her look any smarter than the others.

When Dinah and Starling are arguing about establishing a permanent base, Dinah says, "I bet Batman has a base."  This line hurt to read.  In this continuity, Dinah doesn't know Batman.  She's not a heavy hitter, not a significant player in the hero community--if she's even considered a hero, which isn't clear.


I liked this issue more than the first one, mostly because of the inclusion of Katana.  I never had any use for her before this, but after this issue, I want to see more of her.  Less of Starling, though.

Where the series is lacking, though, is in purpose and mission.  Black Canary's crew--we'll call them the Birds from now on--Starling calls them a "thing", which suggests something amorphous between team and partnership.  Anyway, the Birds are investigating this mystery surrounding Charlie Keen's murder, but Dinah was recruiting women before she knew about Keen.  What is her goal?  Are the Birds meant to be a street-level vigilante version of the Justice League?  Are they private investigators?  And why is Dinah still wanted for murder?

There are some pros to Birds of Prey #2, but there are still too many questions.  The mystery they're chasing seems paper thin, to the point of non-existent, at times.  Jesus Saiz's art, though, continues to please me.

Grade: B-


  1. This new iteration of BoP is very so-so for me; I honestly don't know what to make of it. Its almost as if were dropped into a middle of a story - but then the New 52 universe of DC does have that overall feel.
    My collection is all boxed up and I cant get to issue one, which I have [somewhere] but this second issue is more malleable to read, anyway. the idea of living bombs isn't new but this has a refreshing twist, and I must say the cliffhanger of issue 3 is one of the most difficult the Birds would ever get out of. Dinah best not get too attached to that cute Cahill though...
    I was surprised at the end of the first issue when the reporter was killed off - I had that old dread he would follow them around for the entire series. Starling? Don't like her, and from current issues it appears we wont have her around much longer anyway. She has no style, no backstory, no...uniqueness about her to make us care, and her supposed friendship with Dinah is merely a friendship of convienience, if the recent '0' issue is anything to go by [they were working separately to infiltrate the Pengiun's gang]. Dinah and Starling seem to have worked together for some time, judging by the writing, as Di seems to trust in her abilities. I did think the crashing thru the window bit could get a bit old pretty quick tho.
    That whole sub-plot over if Di killed her hubby still hasn't been resolved in the book, and were on issue 21!! Is Black Canary a fugitive in this new reality? Or just a vigilante?
    Katana is the only interesting stand-out here...I haven't read her much in other books either so cant comment on if shes written well here than in others, but her weird nature does bode well for the most oddest BoP team ever. Pity she dosent stay in the book longer.
    Dinah looks lovely here, with nice homages to Dick Giordano in plenty of face-shots which have her looking in all directions, displaying lots of facial reactions. Her costume is pleasing enough, and a decent enough update on her previous, but those yellow epaulets on her shoulders are distracting from her blond hair. methinks.
    The art is very pleasing on the eye indeed.

  2. After thinking about it and re-reading these issues, I have very, very specific ideas and reasons why I don't like the series. I'll get into them as I continue to review the issues.

    One of my bigger frustrations is that Dinah's fugitive status is not just unresolved nearly two years later, but it's treated like it's not even important.

    Issue #0 does more to complicate things, I think, as--like you say--it makes Dinah and Ev's friendship just a working relationship rather than a rooted friendship. It also screws up Babs' timeline since she should have been in a wheelchair at the time she met Dinah in #0.