Tuesday, October 15, 2013

BIRDS OF PREY #0 (New 52)

In September, 2012, one year after the launch of DC's line-wide altering New 52 initiative, they released a #0 issue for every one of their monthly titles.  Meant to to take place before the events of the first issue released in September, 2011, the "zero" issue was frequently used as an origin story or an early years adventure for the hero of the series.

Considering how much information appears to be missing from the first year of Birds of Prey, a prequel adventure starring Black Canary and the other ladies is the perfect opportunity to flesh out her mysterious past or show how and why she became friends with Batgirl and Starling.

Birds of Prey #0: "First Flight" is written by series scribe Duane Swierczynski, and welcomes the new regular art team of penciler Romano Molenaar and inker Vicente Cifuentes, along with Chris Sotomayor doing colors.  Stanley "Artgerm" Lau provided the cover.

One year before Poison Ivy's betrayal and defeat, Dinah Lance is still mourning the loss of her husband, Kurt, when she busts into The Penguin's Iceberg Lounge.  No longer a bar in the heart of Gotham City, the Iceberg Lounge is now a private club built into what looks like a real iceberg floating a mile or so off the shore of Gotham.  Dinah sneaks past the club's security until she finds the Penguin soaking in a frigid ice-tub.

Dinah is a woman on a mission, and it's not to take down the Penguin.  She wants a job on his security team, and she proves her quality by defeating every metahuman bodyguard he throws at her.

Impressed by her initiative and skill, Penguin gives Dinah the job.  Before long, we get the very first meeting of Black Canary and Starling, who is also working on Penguin's security detail at the time.

We find that the real reason Dinah infiltrated The Penguin's operation was to prevent the mysterious organization called Basilisk from obtaining a biochemical weapon to someone at the Iceberg Lounge.  Just when Dinah identifies the seller, the Lounge is disturbed by a familiar bat-shaped silhouette crashing through the skylight.  But it's not Batman, no, it's Batgirl.

Dinah's first impression of Batgirl is annoyance that the young vigilante is ruining her weeks-long stakeout.  Batgirl briefly scuffles with Starling, and then it's time for Dinah and Barbara Gordon's first encounter.

When Dinah realizes that Batgirl is a more formidable opponent than she assumed and that a continued fight would allow the buyer and seller of the bio-weapon to escape, Dinah reveals her true allegiance to Batgirl.  They take down one of their targets, and then try to convince Starling that they should all be on the same side.

There is absolutely no reason for Starling to join up with Black Canary and Batgirl unless she's planning to spy on them and probably betray them later on down the line.  Does that stop Dinah from pledging loyalty and friendship to her?  Does it ever?

Naturally, the final page of the issue teases the true depths of Starling's betrayal.

Yeah, Starling is working for Amanda Waller.  Skinny-ass Amanda Waller.  And Waller has Dinah's husband alive in stasis.  Shocking!

The Characters

First off, the major continuity snafu with this issue is that Batgirl should not be here.  According to the timeline established in Batgirl's own series--in particular, Batgirl #0, which came out the same month as this issue--Barbara Gordon was still paralyzed one year before the current comic events.  The Joker shot her roughly three years ago, and she didn't start adventuring again until Batgirl #1.  She certainly wasn't in any condition to crash through windows and fight superheroes the way she does in this issue. So, big continuity gaffe, but other than that, her intro is fine.  I'm not sure I feel the love between her and Dinah, though.

That same complaint could and should be leveled against Starling, too.  Swierczynski does the same thing in this issue that he's done for the previous year: establishing characterization by telling rather than showing.  We don't know why Dinah takes a liking to Starling.  There's no reason to trust her, but she does.  And knowing that Starling is secretive and treasonous only serves to make Dinah look foolish.

What else do we learn about Dinah?

The "zero" issue of Team 7 billed her as the squad's Infiltration specialist.  She certainly does that here, sneaking into Penguin's gang, ingratiating herself to his staff, playing the role of brutal mercenary enforcer.  But there's nothing especially inspired or original about her approach, and I would rather see her go undercover in a costume other than the one she's had since issue #1.


The highlight of this issue isn't the milestone meeting of Black Canary and Batgirl, nor is it the shocking last page revelation.  No, the best part of this issue is the welcome addition of artists Romano Molenaar and Vicente Cifuentes.

This is my favorite page of the book, and not because Dinah strips down and gets naked.  Well, yeah, actually that's exactly why.  I've said from the beginning that Birds of Prey is steeped in the gimmick of sexy female agents, and needs to embrace that with sexy, occasionally cheesecake art.  I like Jesus Saiz, but he never brought that quality to the book.  Travel Foreman brought the opposite!  But Molenaar gets it; even when his women are fully covered, he makes them shapely and comely enough that you buy into the fun style of the series.

Beyond that, though, the story is pretty simple.  The first encounters don't seem as momentous as they should, and the dialogue never snaps or pops.  Swierczynski isn't very good on this title.  He just doesn't understand the women or he doesn't know how to make them smart and competent.

On the other hand, other than the continuity error regarding Batgirl's timeline, there wasn't anything about the book that I hated or found objectionable, which makes it probably the best issue of the series.

Grade:  B

1 comment:

  1. I found the issue rather hit and miss. Dinah was undercover but not explained if she was working by herself or for someone else, an das you say Batgirl' seemed very 'off'. I didn't like the initial meeting of these two being so confrontational as in previous series weve always seen them as friends.
    Starling's switch wasn't badly handled, as from the get-go its hinted shes undercover also so her joining Di isn't so odd. I did like the hints towards future storylines [which were actually happening in the current book with her betrayal]. The art still doesn't do anything for me, however. And wouldn't Penguin know that thats Black Canary undercover in his casino anyhow?!? Why would he allow her in.