This series is an absolute mess! I've hated the last three issues, especially the last one, which ended with Starling, a character I don't like, being set up, ambushed, and leaping off a bridge into the river and being shot!
But she seems okay on the cover of Birds of Prey #6: "Clean Getaway".
Jesus Saiz provides the best cover of the series so far. It has a bit of action, a sense of place and background, and most of all: context. It actually tells you a little bit of what the issue is about. Sadly, though, Black Canary is not on this cover. For the first time, Saiz does not provide interior pencils for the issue. Last month's inker, Javier Pina, gets full art duties here. I'm not sure if this is a compliment to Pina or a slight against Saiz, but it took me a couple pages to notice the difference.
Issue #6 opens up with a very different feel from the last couple issues. We meet Brendan Bowman, a statistical analyst for an investment group or insurance company in Gotham City. He's having a good day at work, and when he goes to get a coffee, there's a gorgeous blonde checking him out. Before Bowman tries to pick her up, however, he realizes that his phone has been lifted by a brunette with bandages on her wrist and leg. (So, Starling didn't die. Pshtt…)
Bowman follows the Starling outside to an alley, where he's ambushed by the blonde from the bar--Black Canary, of course.
Bowman pushes them away and rushes back to his office. Dinah tells Katana to get ready. This part is unclear whether Dinah wanted the target to escape her or not. I don't think she did; I think they just did a horrible job of capturing the guy.
Anyway, Bowman gets back to his cubicle and decides to post his experience on something called The Hive before he calls the police. Is this writer Duane Swierczynski's commentary on social media addiction, or is The Hive something more insidious? We'll have to wait to find out, because we abruptly jump ahead forty minutes to Bowman being restrained by Katana.
I posted the three pages above because I want to point out that it takes three characters to subdue Brendan Bowman over the course of three pages. Katana is a world-class martial artist who would eventually be selected by the U.S. government to take down $@#%ing Wonder Woman! And she can't stick a syringe in an accountant's neck! And we've seen Poison Ivy enthrall a Cleaner before, so what takes her so long this time that Batgirl shows up to finish the job? The only reason Batgirl gets it done is because Bowman thinks she's there to rescue him.
So, yeah, three damn pages just to render this guy unconscious after he's captured. Swierczynski and Pina spend the first eight out of twenty pages capturing this guy and he's barely capable of defending himself! Yes, he is a sleeper agent for Choke and he can be "activated", becoming somewhat of a deadly stealth-suited warrior. But that doesn't happen. The first forty percent of the issue is a bunch of awesome female "superheroes" stalking and beating up an accountant.
Bowman wakes up in whatever compound the Birds are holed up in, and he's not alone. The ladies, with help from Dr. Trevor Cahill, have neutralized half a dozen Cleaners, "deprogramming" them so they're no longer under Choke's influence.
This is the best explanation for who the Cleaners are and how they operate that we've gotten so far. It's clean, simple, and relatively efficient as far as exposition goes, but we should have gotten this page back in issue #2 or #3. This isn't revealing information for a mystery; this is clarifying poor storytelling.
After Bowman agrees to help the Birds take down Choke, we're finally shown the fallout of last issue's cliffhanger. Starling survived her fall, bandaged herself up, realized her memory was altered by Choke, and rejoined her friends.
WHAT?!! Okay, I accept the comic book physics of her survival, but as she was leaping into the river to save herself, she thought that Dinah had set her up. Where did that fear go? Why didn't we get a chance to see her confront the other Birds and have her altered memory fixed by Cahill? When and how was her memory modified by Choke? And why was she the only one led into a trap? Who are the mercenaries trying to kill her?
The only thing I like about this is Black Canary making fun of Starling's "Uncle Earl" wisdom, because seriously, it's really annoying.
So, after fourteen pages, seventy percent of the issue, the Birds finally take the fight to Choke by sending Brendan Bowman back to work at his office. Starling, Batgirl and Dr. Trevor Cahill are the security team, controlling the elevators. Before long, all of Bowman's coworkers begin reciting nursery rhymes, revealing an entire office full of Cleaner sleepers. One woman is about to execute Bowman when Dinah springs into action!
Katana and Poison Ivy join Black Canary in fighting the brainwashed investment brokers. Choke, speaking through the Cleaners, asks Dinah how much she trusts her team. She responds:
We don't learn anything new about the characters from this issue, other than Starling's Uncle Earl maybe tried to kill her. (Who wouldn't?)
Once again, the script makes it impossible to tell whether Black Canary's strategy is carefully crafted and multi-layered, or whether each member of this team is atrocious at her job but somehow manages to luck into accomplishing something.
This issue is leaps and bounds better than issue #5, but it still fails on many levels. We finally get the exposition I've been wanting from the beginning, but at this point it's just too little, too late. The characters still come off as stupid and their actions nonsensical. The end of the issue should be thrilling, but it only serves to remind how much time was wasted on the first two-thirds of the issue.
The capital crime of Birds of Prey #6 is the ridiculous decompression. This issue did not have twenty pages worth of story. I would be generous in saying there was enough plot and characterization here to fill out six pages. The rest is filler. A lot of filler.