Starling revealed her treachery--at least one part of her treachery--by leading the Birds into a trap meant to eliminate Strix. After Canary and the others fought off Starling and her partner, Mister Freeze, Strix was attacked by the rogue Talon, Calvin Rose, whose better angels won over when he chose not to kill her.
Birds of Prey #22: "Operation: Kaizen" is written by Christy Marx, with art breakdowns by Scott McDaniel, pencils by Romano Molenaar and Robson Rocha, and inks by Jonathan Glapion and Sandu Florea, and colors by Chris Sotomayor. McDaniel, Molenaar, Glapion and Sotomayor provided the cover. Typically, a book with this many artists in the credits is a bad sign that the book was behind deadline and could suffer from major lack of story cohesion. Will that generalization plague this story? Let's find out...
We pick up where we left off--with the Birds searching for Strix in the Court of Owls' revivification lab. I feel compelled to mention at this point that this is Christy Marx's fifth issue of the series, and only about two hours time has passed for the characters since the beginning of issue #18. Anyway, Black Canary, Batgirl and Condor find Strix in the basement. She can't tell them why the other Talon let her live or why he took the dead woman's body that had been in the lab before, but it really wasn't worth reading the first time, so let's move on.
Dinah blows up the lab so the Court cannot use it again. Then the full gravity of Starling's betrayal crashes down on Dinah as she realizes that she can't go home and she can't access her bank accounts because Starling knows too much. Dinah is effectively penniless and homeless. All because she trusted too many criminals.
Oh well, I'm sure that won't happen again.
The gang retreats to Condor's workshop.
Oh no, Dinah is stuck in Condor's manly garage... with all of its power tools and grease... and she doesn't have any clothes to change into... whatever will they do?
Meanwhile, somewhere in the Andes (Mountains, I assume), we meet Regulus, leader of the evil terrorist organization
Cobra Hydra Basilisk. Regulus tells his subordinate, Tsiklon, to assemble the strike team for Operation: Kaizen, a name we haven't heard since Kaizen Gamorra in Team 7; Gamorra was a haven for Basilisk back then.
Regulus dispatches the team to go retrieve their wayward co-terrorist, Condor, but he also wants Black Canary brought to him. It seems Regulus has something special planned for her, and there seems to be a history between them.
Back at Condor's workshop, we learn that days have past--whew!--but days where Dinah hasn't seen or heard from Batgirl. Damn, what kind of unit is she running here?
They've been hiding out for days and they still haven't bothered to put on some different clothes?
Condor, whose real name is Ben Reyes, heads out and withdraws some money from the bank. An elderly black woman asks him for some change, and he hails a taxi for her, paying the fare. Upon close examination, we can see that this woman is Miz Etie, the 99 year-old woman who sat across from Dinah in the coffee shop back in issue #18. She tells the cab driver that Ben passed the test. Who is this woman?
Batgirl returns to the hideout. She is emotionally shaken from having to kill her brother in the recent issues of Batgirl. Dinah offers her support, but then the Basilisk strike team kicks down the door.
Tsiklon ambushes Condor on his way back to the workshop. From the sound of things, they used to be lovers. Hammerdown attacks Black Canary and Batgirl, while Whipcrack uses his powers to stun Strix.
Then another crushing blow falls on Dinah, one that doesn't involve Hammerdown's rocky fists.
That's right, Dinah, the man you've been locking lips with, the most recent addition to your team... used to be a terrorist operative for Basilisk, the group your husband died fighting.
Uplink uses her mental power to psionically attack the Birds. Dinah and Condor are to be brought back to Regulus, while Whipcrack plans to kill Batgirl and Strix.
There is a non-dictionary definition of insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results." Black Canary keeps recruiting known killers like Poison Ivy and Strix, and people she hardly knows but meets under nefarious circumstances like Starling and Condor. Even her former boss, John Lynch, subjected her to experiments that activated her meta-human power without her knowledge or consent. Everyone she trusts tries to kill her.
Condor told her he was part of a team that didn't end well, and he dropped a line a couple issues ago about not falling for another blonde. Christy Marx does a solid job of salvaging these lost nuggets of characterization by making him a former Basilisk operative. It looks like he genuinely defected to the side of the heroes, but can we really trust that? We'll have to see.
Batgirl has to deal with the fallout from events in her own book. Marx does a decent job of taking her off the board while these actions happen elsewhere, but it does bring me back to the opinion that Batgirl does not need to be in this series. She doesn't add anything to it other than sales, naturally, because she's wearing the bat symbol.
The big addition to this book is the villains. Holy shit, we finally have worthy villains!
Okay, none of these characters are worthy of the Legion of Doom, or the Flash's Rogues, or Batman's enemies. They're pretty generic bad guys who look like something out of '90s WildStorm comics. But you know what? They're better than the Cleaners from issues #1-7 and they're better than Heartbreaker robots from issue #17 and they're better than another Batman villain.
Regulus looks like King Cobra or Serpentor, but that's fine. He doesn't strike me as a natural foil for Birds of Prey, but maybe that'll change. Hammerdown has rocky arms and strong-guy powers. Whipcrack can generate electrified whips. Tsiklon can turn use whirling gusts of wind like Red Tornado. And Uplink has some kind of psionic powers; I'm not sure if she was redirecting Dinah's sonic scream in that last page or not. They're all pretty one-trick copies of other characters, but hey, something is better than nothing.
This issue didn't piss me off. More than that, it actually entertained me. My Black Canary is a hot mess, but Condor is getting more interesting by the issue. The crew finally has some visually distinct, original villains to throw down with, and the painfully slow pace of the last couple issues' confrontation with Freeze and the Talons has picked up at last.
I needn't have feared the stack of artists on this issue, because they all came together if not seamlessly then complimentarily. Scott McDaniel's fingerprints are all over the three pages with Regulus, which looks straight out of '90s WildStorm in layout and composition. The Basilisk strike force members look like McDaniel or Jim Lee designed them.
I'm not going to say this was a great issue, because it's still plagued by the same problems that have weighed the series down from the get-go, but it showed me something new and it kept forward momentum. Hell, this was my favorite issue of the series. Is it finally coming together after two dark, dreadful years?