Tuesday, July 9, 2013

BIRDS OF PREY #4 (New 52)


Birds of Prey #4 sports a cover by David Finch.  Once again, the image depicts the characters posing in front of a crazy winding tree.  Thankfully, they finally changed the background color to something other than reddish-pink.  Also, Batgirl is with them.  The story was written by Duane Swierczynski, with pencil and ink art by Jesus Saiz and colors by June Chung, making her second consecutive appearance on the tittle.

"Absolutely Mental" picks up where last month's cliffhanger left off.  The mysterious villains--whoever they are--have planted a neuro-chemical drug in Black Canary, turning Dinah into a walking bomb.  The voice of the bad guy leader--whoever he is--taunts Dinah telepathically and begins to recite the nursery rhyme that will trigger the bomb, killing Dinah, her partners, and everyone else on the train.

Dinah makes her way to a door and prepares to throw herself from the train.  She knows she'll die.  She is ready for it, and begins to sacrifice herself to save hundreds of innocent lives.  But as she's falling to her death…

Dinah regains consciousness in the office of Dr. Trevor Cahill, the scientist that Dinah and Starling consulted in issue #2 to learn about the biological bombs the bad guys were developing.  He has created a way to neutralize the drug so Dinah's head won't explode.  Starling makes Dinah flirt with Cahill, which is… awkward.

Leaving Cahill's office, Starling recounts what happened on the train after she clocked Dinah.

Katanna rescued Poison Ivy, leaving her free to stop the train with her…vine tentacles…?  What the $#@% is Poison Ivy now?  She's supposed to be sexy and mesmerizing; she's not the bride of Cthulhu!

Three-quarters of the way into the fourth issue, we're finally given some much-needed information like the name of the antagonists.  The sort-of invisible guys are called Cleaners, and they work for someone named Choke.

Dinah leads her team to the building where they hope to catch Choke, and to give them some added muscle and a sales boost, Batgirl joins them.  Each of the five women uses different route to access the Cleaners' lair, though they all end up arriving in the exact same room, so I'm not sure what the point of that was.

Dinah's boyfriend at Wayne Enterprises?  Who?  Cahill?  Did they ever say he worked at Wayne Enterprises?  Also, he's a "neurochemical researcher": what's he supposed to know about lasers and holographic invisible suits.

Anyway, the light reveals that the room is full of Cleaners surrounding the Birds.  Except the Cleaners all have their backs to them.  Are the suits empty?  Do they not know the ladies are there?  Either of those scenarios take the tension out of this situation.  Then the voice of Choke (I think) addresses the group.  I thought he could speak telepathically to Dinah last issue because she was drugged, but the  other Birds haven't been, and it looks like they can hear him.  So I don't know how he's talking to them.  And then… something happens.

The Characters

This issue establishes Batgirl as one of the regular members of the Birds of Prey.  She's listed second in the paragraph blurb on the title page.  Of course, she doesn't do anything in this issue except create more confusion for me and readers who were paying attention in issue #1.  Back then, Dinah and Barbara Gordon didn't look to have the closest relationship.  Babs acted cautious and guarded with Dinah, questioning her actions and criticizing her choice of friends.  And it was clear that Babs wanted no part in Dinah's "team".

So here she is.

Okay, I'm a Black Canary fan, but there is no question that the best part of pre-New 52 Birds of Prey was always Barbara Gordon as Oracle.  She was the heart and soul of the book.  She was the book; no matter how many other women ever joined the team, they were surrogates for her immobilized legs.  Oracle was unlike anything else in comics, and Barbara Gordon as Batgirl is not the same animal.

I get DC's reasoning for bringing Bat-Babs back in the New-52.  They want to scuttle the legacy nature of their superhero history and reset the characters back to their most iconic versions.  I get that.  I agree with it, actually.  I want Barry Allen to be the Flash.  I want Hal Jordan to be Green Lantern.  I want Ted Kord to be Blue Beetle--oh, wait…  Anyway, I want Barbara Gordon to be Batgirl.  She's the only one who can and should wear the Batgirl costume.

Also, Oracle filled a specific temporal/cultural niche in the late '90s/2000s.  The master hacker/info broker of cyberspace was a novel idea then.  But the fact is, technology has changed, and the giant bank of computers surrounding Babs is no longer innovative; it's impractical.  All of the information that Oracle could get for her agents, a clever teenager could get on her smartphone.  She also became a crutch to Batman, taking all of the legwork out of his detective work.  It does make sense for Cyborg to be the new Oracle of the DC Universe, and I'm fine with that.

The problem is, without Babs in the wheelchair whispering in Dinah's ear, there is no Birds of Prey.

I've said before the biggest problem with this version of Birds of Prey is that the book has no identity, no purpose.  Oracle was that identity, was that purpose.  So will the inclusion of Batgirl on this team fix that problem?  I'll answer that question in future reviews.

But the answer is no.


This issue sucked for a couple of reasons.  First, I can accept that storytelling does not have to be linear and you can do a lot of creative things with flashbacks.  However, if you put your characters in a tense, life-or-death situation, and then show that the situation gets resolved adequately (such as Dinah waking up in Cahill's office, underscoring that everyone survived), then when you flashback to the situation to reveal how it got resolved, well, you deflate all of the built-up tension.

There are also parts of the story that just don't make sense visually.  When the Birds discover they are in a room full of Cleaners who were invisible, well, there's no sense of danger or threat when the Cleaners are all standing rigidly side-to-side facing the other #@$%ing direction!

There's a scene on the train when the Cleaner uses his camouflage suit to attack Starling.

Did the Cleaners finally pull off a successful sneak-attack using their bafflingly useful chameleonic suits or is Starling just an idiot?  The art on this page makes that a little confusing.

And that's another problem.  This issue makes me question Jesus Saiz.  I have praised him in the past.  I'm a fan of his, but this issue does not make visual sense.  I'm not sure if the problem was in the script or how Saiz interpreted the script.  I don't know if there was editorial interference or last minute changes, but it just doesn't work.

Grade:  F


  1. It was a ... confusing issue, so many things unanswered or seemingly written as if its blindingly obvious whats happened.
    The cliffhanger from the previous issue is kinda wrapped up successfully [it was one of the best cliffhangers to a comic Ive ever seen and made me wonder how the hell they could get out of this one] but Starling's character dosent ring true; one moment she hates Ivy and tries to kill her, next moment she's her best friend after shes saved from a bomb.
    So the team is finally established, from only two issues the writer gives us a new Bird every issue, we have a standard hero [Canary] a newly-invigorated hero [Batgirl] a sneaky lesbian-cum-thief [Starling] a possible maniac [Katana] and a murderous criminal [Ivy]. Bit top heavy for a team but plenty there to do lots with. One wonders if Oracle were around apart from Dinah would she have any of these dubious people in her team.
    I agree 100% about Batgirl...I also want Babs to be the one and only [none of this Cassandra and Stephanie nonsense] but only as a FLASHBACK - despite the success of the current comic's Batgirl, I miss Oracle dreadfully and having Miss Bats here on the team is a misstep. We don't know the status of the team and if Oracle were still around it would at least go some way to explain why the Birds are together. Its also telling that in issue 5 Batgirl tells Canary she dosent want to be in the team so even the characters themselves are thinking it. At least Dinah and Babs [you can tell Im a old-time Batgirl fan from way back as I call her Babs not Barbara!] have a scene next ish to explain [slightly] their new set-up...but its not a patch on their original relationship.
    Why did they split up to sneak into the building? To demonstrate their different skills and abilities, naturally. But then they all eventually converged on the scene together[!!] so that was a waste.
    I couldn't quite work out how a simple nursery rhyme could trigger a bomb in someones head but its a neat trick, prob in the same vein as the 'don't think of pink elephants' trick.
    One thing that absolutely bugged the hell out of me about this opening story were all the red noses...why did all the Birds have such red noses? I thought it was some sort of villains 'tell' to indicate who had a bomb in them. Either that or everyone had a bad cold.
    The identity of who Choke is is becoming rather obvious now, considering the dearth of male roles so far.
    The artwork still looks nice [despite the red noses] but the story is slipping a bit.

  2. It's strange; when I think of pre-New 52 Barbara Gordon/Oracle, I think of her as Babs. That's her. That feels right. But in the current BIRDS OF PREY series, I think of her as Barbara. It doesn't feel like we have (or she has) earned the name "Babs" yet. The characters don't have that kind of relationship. I haven't seen evidence that they're that close. Even in Gail's BATGIRL title, I think of her as Barbara Gordon. She's a different character now.

    The cliffhanger from issue #3 was great, but, yeah, too easily diffused in this issue.

    As for why the team split up to all sneak into the same location… Well, I think this issue had about 17 pages worth of story that they had to fluff up to 20.

  3. I wish the current Batgirl comic was a flashback to when Babs first became her, back in the early Detective Comics days - her naiviete and clumsiness in Simone's writing isn't endearing at all.
    I bought all her appearances in Batman Family back in the 70s and two years ago got the Showcase Batgirl compendium...now there was good writing. I would never have brought her back in the Nu-52 as a full-time hero, unless it was as a 'retro' book, and Babs was still Oracle.

  4. That's kind of where I come down on the situation, too. If you're going to make Babs be Batgirl, then the emphasis ought to be on GIRL. She should be young, adventurous, fun; not weighed down by all of the baggage that comes from her shooting/paralysis.

    Among the many, maaannnny frustrating elements of the New 52 is that a portion of the books are treated like fresh, young almost Year One type of adventures, while the other books have continued with their storied histories. Batgirl should have been the former. I with they were all given the same treatment, but that would have undone the stories Grant Morrison was doing in BATMAN and Geoff Johns was doing with GREEN LANTERN, and THAT wasn't going to happen. Instead, the timeline for everyone is a mess.