Birds of Prey #4 sports a cover by David Finch. Once again, the image depicts the characters posing in front of a crazy winding tree. Thankfully, they finally changed the background color to something other than reddish-pink. Also, Batgirl is with them. The story was written by Duane Swierczynski, with pencil and ink art by Jesus Saiz and colors by June Chung, making her second consecutive appearance on the tittle.
"Absolutely Mental" picks up where last month's cliffhanger left off. The mysterious villains--whoever they are--have planted a neuro-chemical drug in Black Canary, turning Dinah into a walking bomb. The voice of the bad guy leader--whoever he is--taunts Dinah telepathically and begins to recite the nursery rhyme that will trigger the bomb, killing Dinah, her partners, and everyone else on the train.
Dinah makes her way to a door and prepares to throw herself from the train. She knows she'll die. She is ready for it, and begins to sacrifice herself to save hundreds of innocent lives. But as she's falling to her death…
Dinah regains consciousness in the office of Dr. Trevor Cahill, the scientist that Dinah and Starling consulted in issue #2 to learn about the biological bombs the bad guys were developing. He has created a way to neutralize the drug so Dinah's head won't explode. Starling makes Dinah flirt with Cahill, which is… awkward.
Leaving Cahill's office, Starling recounts what happened on the train after she clocked Dinah.
Katanna rescued Poison Ivy, leaving her free to stop the train with her…vine tentacles…? What the $#@% is Poison Ivy now? She's supposed to be sexy and mesmerizing; she's not the bride of Cthulhu!
Three-quarters of the way into the fourth issue, we're finally given some much-needed information like the name of the antagonists. The sort-of invisible guys are called Cleaners, and they work for someone named Choke.
Dinah leads her team to the building where they hope to catch Choke, and to give them some added muscle and a sales boost, Batgirl joins them. Each of the five women uses different route to access the Cleaners' lair, though they all end up arriving in the exact same room, so I'm not sure what the point of that was.
Dinah's boyfriend at Wayne Enterprises? Who? Cahill? Did they ever say he worked at Wayne Enterprises? Also, he's a "neurochemical researcher": what's he supposed to know about lasers and holographic invisible suits.
Anyway, the light reveals that the room is full of Cleaners surrounding the Birds. Except the Cleaners all have their backs to them. Are the suits empty? Do they not know the ladies are there? Either of those scenarios take the tension out of this situation. Then the voice of Choke (I think) addresses the group. I thought he could speak telepathically to Dinah last issue because she was drugged, but the other Birds haven't been, and it looks like they can hear him. So I don't know how he's talking to them. And then… something happens.
This issue establishes Batgirl as one of the regular members of the Birds of Prey. She's listed second in the paragraph blurb on the title page. Of course, she doesn't do anything in this issue except create more confusion for me and readers who were paying attention in issue #1. Back then, Dinah and Barbara Gordon didn't look to have the closest relationship. Babs acted cautious and guarded with Dinah, questioning her actions and criticizing her choice of friends. And it was clear that Babs wanted no part in Dinah's "team".
So here she is.
Okay, I'm a Black Canary fan, but there is no question that the best part of pre-New 52 Birds of Prey was always Barbara Gordon as Oracle. She was the heart and soul of the book. She was the book; no matter how many other women ever joined the team, they were surrogates for her immobilized legs. Oracle was unlike anything else in comics, and Barbara Gordon as Batgirl is not the same animal.
I get DC's reasoning for bringing Bat-Babs back in the New-52. They want to scuttle the legacy nature of their superhero history and reset the characters back to their most iconic versions. I get that. I agree with it, actually. I want Barry Allen to be the Flash. I want Hal Jordan to be Green Lantern. I want Ted Kord to be Blue Beetle--oh, wait… Anyway, I want Barbara Gordon to be Batgirl. She's the only one who can and should wear the Batgirl costume.
Also, Oracle filled a specific temporal/cultural niche in the late '90s/2000s. The master hacker/info broker of cyberspace was a novel idea then. But the fact is, technology has changed, and the giant bank of computers surrounding Babs is no longer innovative; it's impractical. All of the information that Oracle could get for her agents, a clever teenager could get on her smartphone. She also became a crutch to Batman, taking all of the legwork out of his detective work. It does make sense for Cyborg to be the new Oracle of the DC Universe, and I'm fine with that.
The problem is, without Babs in the wheelchair whispering in Dinah's ear, there is no Birds of Prey.
I've said before the biggest problem with this version of Birds of Prey is that the book has no identity, no purpose. Oracle was that identity, was that purpose. So will the inclusion of Batgirl on this team fix that problem? I'll answer that question in future reviews.
But the answer is no.
This issue sucked for a couple of reasons. First, I can accept that storytelling does not have to be linear and you can do a lot of creative things with flashbacks. However, if you put your characters in a tense, life-or-death situation, and then show that the situation gets resolved adequately (such as Dinah waking up in Cahill's office, underscoring that everyone survived), then when you flashback to the situation to reveal how it got resolved, well, you deflate all of the built-up tension.
There are also parts of the story that just don't make sense visually. When the Birds discover they are in a room full of Cleaners who were invisible, well, there's no sense of danger or threat when the Cleaners are all standing rigidly side-to-side facing the other #@$%ing direction!
There's a scene on the train when the Cleaner uses his camouflage suit to attack Starling.
Did the Cleaners finally pull off a successful sneak-attack using their bafflingly useful chameleonic suits or is Starling just an idiot? The art on this page makes that a little confusing.
And that's another problem. This issue makes me question Jesus Saiz. I have praised him in the past. I'm a fan of his, but this issue does not make visual sense. I'm not sure if the problem was in the script or how Saiz interpreted the script. I don't know if there was editorial interference or last minute changes, but it just doesn't work.