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.
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.