Tuesday, November 26, 2013

BIRDS OF PREY #18 (New 52)

It took way, way too long for DC to put someone other than Duane Swierczynski on Birds of Prey, and initially they announced Jim Zubkavich as the book's replacement writer.  Of course, for reasons that have nothing to do with creating good comics, that never came to be.  Instead, DC signed Christy Marx to write the continuing saga of Black Canary and Company based on covers that were already drawn.

Birds of Prey #18: "Burning Cold" marks the debut of new series writer Christy Marx, with art by Romano Molenaar and Vicente Cifuentes.  Chris Sotomayor colored the issue and Emanuela Lupacchino provided the cover, which features yet another Batman villain infringing on this series.  "Mister Freeze Demands Vengeance" the cover proclaims.  Oh yeah, has he been reading this book for the last eighteen months, too?

The issue begins with a Talon held captive in ice, being tortured and questioned.  The opening image isn't dramatic enough to warrant a full-page splash, but given Marx only had fifteen minutes to write this issue, I'll let it go.  Mister Freeze has captured the Talon and demands to know some vital bit of intelligence that the Talon isn't coughing up.  Considering who Mister Freeze is and what his driving motivation has been for the past two decades, we can probably assume that he's after the Talons' regenerative secrets so that Freeze can save his beloved Nora.

Knowing that he won't get the answers from this Talon, Freeze lets his unseen partner execute their captive with a shotgun while they proceed to target another Talon.  And if I had to hazard a guess, I would think they're talking about Strix, the latest Bird to join Black Canary's team.

We then transition to the Birds of Prey's hideout, which is identified as Black Canary's dojo.  Hey, I think that's the first time we've ever been given a specific location for where these people meet other than rooftops.  (Because, you know, the previous writer sucked!)  Strix is combat training with Condor, the other new member, while Batgirl asks Dinah to let the formerly murderous Talon who very recently tried to kill Dinah live with her at the dojo.  Starling, for her part, just stands around looking grumpy.

Christy Marx does something interesting in the beginning of this scene.  She has Dinah think about the other characters and form conclusions about them as well as herself.  This is what people who get paid to tell stories call characterization, and it's something this series never really had before now.  (God, the previous writer sucked!)

Anyway, Strix gets a little carried away during their sparring session and throws Condor into a full-length wall mirror.  This upsets Dinah because, hey, that shit's expensive, which leads Strix to lash out and fight Dinah.  Then Batgirl has to come in and put Strix down.  Everyone is fighting because that's the kind of relationship these characters have.

Oh, okay.  I've thrown people into glass because I needed to get some buffalo wings in my face, too.  No hard feelings.  And seriously, there are none, because the next thing you know, Condor is taking Strix into the kitchen to make omelets.  Batgirl leaves because she has a life and friends and goals and consequences and stuff, all in her own self-titled series that probably doesn't suck.

Then we get a moment between Dinah and Starling that reminds us how much the previous writer sucked.

Right, right.  When we left our main character, she was a liar and a coward.  She refuses to take responsibility for the damage and bloodshed she has caused because she cannot control her super powers.  And the one person who is able to confront her about it--her friend, supposedly--Dinah refuses to acknowledge.  This is painful to read, but at least it's consistent so I can't fault the new writer.  Also, Starling walking out on Dinah is probably her best moment in the series.

Then we get another first in the series.  We see Dinah going to get a coffee.  She's not punching somebody in an invisibility suit.  She's not putting her trust in Poison Ivy.  She's not admonishing Katana for using lethal force.  Nope, she's sitting in a diner and reflecting on her life.  We're actually getting introspection and evaluation that we never got in the previous issues.

Dinah is approached by an elderly black woman, who, if you've ever seen TV or movies, you know is always a source of cosmic wisdom.

It's not terribly original, but for this series it's enough.

Yeah, she's evaluating her life choices while looking in a broken mirror.  Original? No, but it's as deep as this book has ever gotten.

Then the whole team returns to the dojo, claiming that Dinah sent out an emergency distress call.  I think this kind of trap was used back in the first story arc when they were all brainwashed, but whatever.  As they realize they've been duped, Mister Freeze comes a-callin'.

There's a bit where Starling shouts, "Freeze?!" and he replies, "That's Mister Freeze to you."  It's stolen from Batman: The Animated Series.  Just pointing that out.

Freeze's cold gun proves too much for the combined fighting prowess of Black Canary, Batgirl and Strix, as well as the Canary Cry and Condor's telekinesis.  But when Freeze realizes he cannot capture  Strix, he escapes with Starling instead.

The Characters

Black Canary is still a liar, a coward, a killer, and a dumbass, just like before.  Only now, she seems to recognize the problem, which is the first step to solving it.  Will she redeem herself?  We'll see.  Or we won't.

Condor has the potential to liven this book up with humor and a dash of machismo, but he doesn't do much this time.

Strix seems more like a plot device than a character, which is always tricky with someone who cannot communicate or even emote.

Batgirl continues to serve no purpose in this series other than wearing the bat symbol on her chest and supposedly bringing in more readers.


This issue reads better now than it did months ago when I first read it.  It's still not great, but it takes steps in the right direction.

The book still feels like it's clinging to Batman's coattails instead of trying to walk on its own.  Not only do we have another Batman villain in Mister Freeze, but the story is rooted in the Court of Owls/Night of the Owls saga.  That crossover already created one sort-of heroic Talon in his own solo series.  Why did we need Strix thrown into this book?  Her existence makes the other guy less special, and vice versa.

The action piece that takes up half the issue isn't that exciting or well-crafted.

What hurts this book the most, though, is that it doesn't depart enough from the dreck that came before.  It still feels like a Swierczynski story, or maybe the editor's story, with Marx's dialogue written over it.  Which it is, really; that much she admitted.  The stink of past failures lingers on this new issue, which tries very hard to seem fresh.

Grade: B-


  1. I think Strix is okay - at least she dosent talk and say something stupid, which seems to be a requisite for the girls in this series. And you must admit shes a better Bird than Starling, who from her dialogue with Dinah this issue finally seems to be on her way out of this book.
    Couldn't get why Di would talk to that mysterious back woman and all that faff about looking in the broken mirror - a vain attempt to get some characterization going? Until we get the gen on whats happened to her late husband and the lowdown on her powers I cant really be bothered.
    Batgirl's book does suck, trust me. shes living with a transsexual [no, really] and dating a boy/ex villain with one leg missing, while her pop Commissioner Gordon either knows shes Batgirl or doesn't, depending on which issue youre reading. Yes, its as good as that.
    The team fighting Mr Freeze just leaves me cold. When even one hero [the Cassandra Cain version of Batgirl] can take him down, or even Catwoman, this is a waste of time. And his raison 'd' etre never ever changes. Ever, No, ever.
    Only Condor impresses, and that's likely only cause hes either secretly gay or a traitor [given this series, its probably both].
    The new writer - well, when the previous writer departs, theres always a two issue 'interim' before the new writer takes over, and doubtless this explains Christy Marx's slightly elevated hike in both story and character-building. If its true that these books are being written from just seeing the pre-drawn covers though, that's very bad - usually in the old comic days [old fogey alert] the story was written first and then the cover was drawn afterwards as a 'hook' to catch the customers eye. But spuriously-drawn covers with little relevance are a boon to this current DC, its sad to admit.

  2. Yeah, the attempts at characterization are pretty forced and heavy handed... but in the complete absence of any development for the previous year and a half, I'm plenty willing to accept lame characterization.

    Strix is the least frustrating character because, as you say, she can't say anything stupid. I just feel like what's the point with having her? A heroic former Talon isn't special when you have a solo book featuring that same type of character. She has the ninja element that Katana had and the Batman villain element that Poison Ivy had; it's like the team has certain boxes they need to check off in their roster.

    I would care about Starling's indignation at Dinah's silence if it wasn't full of crap because she's been lying to Dinah from the beginning and her greater treachery will soon be revealed.