The first year of Birds of Prey in the New 52 era was mostly horrible. The characters and situation never developed beyond the basic team-of-female-heroes premise. Why was this team formed? What is their mission? What is their home base? Why should any of them trust each other given their sordid backgrounds? What binds them together? What do they do when they're not being manipulated, poisoned, and turned into walking bio-chemical weapons of mass destruction? None of these questions were answered. In issue #0, which came out after issue #12, we finally saw the first meeting of Black Canary, Batgirl, and Starling, but their encounter was antagonistic and hostile, and ultimately not very memorable.
Will the Birds' sophomore year turn things around? Let's see!
Birds of Prey #13: "Swear by My Eyes" was written by Duane Swierczynski, with art by the new team of Romano Molenaar and Vicente Cifuentes. Trevor McCarthy provided the cover.
The issue begins with some tattooed guy carrying a package down a flight of stairs to a heavy-looking door in the ground. Captions tell us we're in Yokohama, Japan, 1,000 feet below sea level. The man drops the package through the door into a black pit. Then we're told: 24 hours until detonation. This clock will countdown throughout the issue.
Cut to Gotham City where Katana is going on a "food run" while the rest of the team recovers from the toxin that Poison Ivy infected them with during the previous story arc. I know that Ivy used the rest of the Birds to do some horrible things, and some of them are wanted anyway, but I can't figure out why Katana would need to be in full costume, running across rooftops to get food. Is she going to walk into a convenience store or the drive-thru at Taco Bell dressed in her samurai armor and mask?
We'll never know, because she is ambushed by members of
The Hand The Foot Clan Red Ninjas some bad guy ninjas that we'll eventually learn are called The Dagger Clan. Still reeling from Ivy's poison, Katana is in no condition to fight them off. The Dagger Clan assassins stop short of killing her and take possession of her sword, the Soultaker, the vessel of Tatsu's dead husband. Taking the sword, they boast, will hurt her worse than death.
Katana returns to the Birds' hideout where everyone else is still taking the antidote that Batman created for them. The location of this place is unknown, but there are a lot of plants around and what might be the glass windows of a greenhouse in the corner of Panel 2. Was this the same base they used while working with Poison Ivy? We hardly ever saw them during "down time" so it's unclear. But if so, why would they return to a base known to one of their enemies. Even if Ivy was put back in Arkham Asylum, they would have to consider every safehouse that Ivy knew about to no longer be safe for them. Surely, people with Dinah and Starling's paramilitary backgrounds would know that. Or, were we supposed to think Poison Ivy was dead at the end of issue #12?
Tatsu tells the others that her husband-sword was stolen by her enemies and asks their help in getting it back. Dinah says, sure, when we get around to it. Starling and Batgirl back up her contention that they're not healthy enough to chase some ninja assassins to Japan, even though it's like, super important to one of their friends. Katana decides to go alone.
In Yokohama, the Dagger Clan members transporting the Soultaker are observed and then ambushed by a mysterious man called Condor who wears a flying suit.
Condor defeats the ninjas and takes the sword.
Tatsu arrives at the airport in Japan where she meets with representatives of the Dagger Clan. She has come alone because her friends totally suck. The Daggers capture her and tie her up in their hideout, all while the countdown from the beginning ticks away the hours.
When Katana comes back to the Birds' hideout after her attack, the countdown says 22 hours until detonation. When she arrives at Haneda Airport, the countdown says 16 hours until detonation. Only six hours have passed, even though a flight from the East Coast of the United States to Yokohama takes more than 13 hours! Hell, she probably couldn't even book a flight that left for six hours. In all likelihood, by the time she landed in Japan, whatever this thing that is supposed to detonate would have gone off under her feet. 1,000 feet below her feet, but whatever.
If this was a one-time mistake, I could forgive it, but these sorts of gaffs are littered throughout this series, and they convince me that either Swierczynski is an idiot or his editor is, or they both are.
Anyway, Tatsu wakes up in captivity, where the menacing leader of the Dagger Clan makes some cryptic remarks that suggest a personal or professional connection between the Clan and Katana.
He also claims the Clan stole the sword to lure her to Japan because kidnapping her and trafficking her illegally across boarders is really inconvenient. Are you $#@%ing me?!! People are kidnapped and smuggled from country to country all the time! You're a gang of knife-throwing ninjas and you can't transport a woman to Japan, even though you got all your knives and costumes through a metal detector? What the hell is wrong with you guys?
As the ninjas move in for the kill, the leader mentions that in less than fourteen hours, her homeland will be poisoned forever. Was the package containing a biochemical weapon? We haven't had many of those in this series? Just nine, I think, hardly any at all…
Then the cavalry arrives.
Yes, Starling says, "Konichiwa, bitches!" It's the only funny or memorable thing she ever says. Too bad Swierczynski stole it from a Dave Chappelle skit. Screw you, Duane, for thinking we wouldn't catch that!
Starling and Batgirl fight the ninjas while Black Canary rescues Katana. She explains that Starling planted a tracer on her and they followed that. Wait, why didn't they just go with her in the first place? Why did they have to lie about coming with her? She was in Japan for just two hours before they arrived--when did they decide to come after her? Again, how long does Swierczynski think a plane ride from the U.S. to Japan takes?
Black Canary uses her sonic scream to take out the head Dagger… except it doesn't take him out. Then she has an odd thought, that her "Canary Cry" has awakened something in her blood she didn't think possible. I don't know what the hell she's talking about yet.
Outnumbered and out-knived, they take one Dagger ninja captive and exfiltrate to a random safehouse in Japan where Dinah allows Starling to torture information out of their hostage.
The ninja eventually gives up what we knew ten pages ago.
The issue ends with Starling telling the others that Condor stole the Soultaker, and a creepy image of the ninja smiling, like this all worked out according to a plan of some kind. Not sure what that's about. Twelve hours have elapsed--somehow--in the countdown for whatever is going to detonate.
Dear Lord, it is nice to not have Poison Ivy tagging along anymore! Don't get me wrong, I like her as a Batman villain, but it was getting impossible to justify her membership on this "team" every month knowing who she was and what she would do the minute she got the chance. I wouldn't go so far as to say this team has chemistry yet, but they look and sound infinitely more natural without Ivy.
I really like that Katana is getting a story built around her past. I don't think Swierczynski understands what characterization is or how it works, but giving the lead to Katana at least makes her more compelling and shows off some of her other traits.
Black Canary and Starling's decision-making is incomprehensible in this story, and Batgirl is here for window-dressing only.
Behold! There are new characters worth noting! There are villains I more-or-less understand! Success!
Condor is a mystery, but from this little glimpse, at least, he seems to be a mystery worth solving. Is he the New 52 version of someone we know, maybe Black Condor from the Freedom Fighters? We'll have to see. I don't really like his costume… but what else is New (52)?
And the Dagger Clan! Thank God, a villain I can point to and clearly identify as the bad guy! The first six or seven issues of Birds of Prey were spent dealing with a villain that couldn't be seen or understood and didn't even end in any coherent fashion. It was painful, and even now I don't even remember most of the details. But I get evil ninjas! Simple. Perfect.
I would probably enjoy this series more if I didn't have to review it. When I finished re-reading this issue, I thought, hey, not bad, probably the best issue of the series so far. But the more I delved into it, the more flaws I found and I just get frustrated.
Well, it still is probably the best issue since the first one. There are dumb mistakes and dumb characters, but enough new stuff that didn't piss me off to make me forgive the other, dumber things. And, while Molenaar and Cifuentes aren't the greatest art team, they're the best fit for this series that we've had so far.