Birds of Prey, Vol. 1: Trouble in Mind review

Birds of Prey is a series that I’ve been reading regularly since the New 52 started, but I haven’t reviewed more than once because it’s a fringe Bat-title and I need to budget how many reviews I do each week otherwise I’ll go crazy. This week however, the first trade paperback collecting issues 1-7 came out and I’m ready to sit down and talk about Gotham’s femme fatales.

Content

Notice how I used the phrase “femme fatale”? I mean that. The girls on this team are quite deadly(except for Batgirl who doesn’t show up until near the end of the book and didn’t even earn a place on the cover). I was surprised at how lethal this foursome could be at times and I was even more surprised at what an espionage thriller this story would be. When I first picked up issue #1 back in, well I guess it’s  a year ago now, I expected Birds of Prey to not catch my attention and be fairly easy to discard. Not the case. It’s not one of my favorite series, but it’s consistent in its quality month to month and I l really like the characters.

With Oracle gone, Black Canary has to take on a leadership role. She was probably the least appealing character in this book, but that seems to be the case with leaders in every team book. The top dog is always sort of a buzz kill and the rest of the crew must supply the personality. Canary definitely has some major issues that are hinted at throughout the book, but you won’t dive into that story until the next TPB.

Poison Ivy joins the team in the New 52 and although I don’t like her new costume that sprouts vines or the fact that she’s becoming more and more of an anti-hero every day rather than a true villain, her abilities give the book a visual boost and she adds some interesting drama since the team can’t really trust her. Although her motives for joining aren’t quite clear in these seven issues, it should be addressed more in the following volume. I haven’t gotten around to reading those issues yet and I’ll likely wait until the TPB. It’s apparent now that this is a series that works far better in the collected format.

I knew basically nothing about Katana before this series. Apparently she was a member of Batman’s Outsiders but I never read Batman and the Outsiders. It always felt like an excuse to take a bunch of lame characters that no other series had any use for and stick Batman on the cover to sell some books. I’m not sure how she was portrayed pre-New 52 but I like her here. She’s a master swordsman (swordswoman?) who believes that her sword absorbs souls and that her husband is inside the sword as well. Is she crazy or is she telling the truth? The team never knows for sure and it makes for some amusing situations whenever Katana begins to converse with her blade. Interestingly, Katana will be portrayed as Batman’s teenage sidekick on the upcoming Beware the Batman animated series.

Starling has to be my favorite member of the group and she’s possibly my favorite brand-new New 52 character. She’s a bad ass, she’s funny, and the voice I hear in my head when I read her lines is always Rogue from the old X-Men cartoon. Starling is an old college friend of Black Canary, a former hechgirl  of the Penguin (I remember reading some mention of Penguin but I can’t find where it was now, correct me if I’m wrong), and ever since she left his employ she’s been on every government watch list. She just makes the book fun. The series wouldn’t be half as entertaining without her.

As for the actual story by Duane Swierczynski, like I said it feels like an espionage thriller. The whole book is filled with plot twists, chase scenes, futuristic gadgets, and it all revolves around a secret organization that must be stopped at all costs. The problem with all of this is that the pacing never feels quite right. It’s a story that takes 7 issues to conclude but it could’ve been told in around 4 or 5 parts. The weakest aspect of Trouble in Mind, the thing that hurt it the most for me besides its tendency to drag things out, is the ending. It essentially negates much of the action that occurs over the course of the story and it seems to happen for no other reason than to shock the reader. You get to the end and there’s this really awesome moment that I would rank up there as one of the most bad ass moments of any bat-title in the New 52 this year…and then it washes that away to tease a possible sequel. It left me disappointed, which is a shame because had it just ended with the cool moment I mentioned it would’ve been a solid read.

The artwork here by Jesus Saiz looks nice, especially in the action sequences. The movements are always captured at just the right moment so you get a sense of momentum, impact, and most importantly, it’s easier for your mind to fill in what happens between the panels. And for a book about an all female team it’s surprising how little the women are sexualized. The girls are never struggling to bend their spines enough to get butt and boobs in frame and not a one of them heads into battle wearing a thong. I find all of this very refreshing. They are not here to be ogled at, they are layered, driven characters. And although Javier Pina had to play fill-in artist on chapter 6, his style matched Saiz’s perfectly and I hardly even noticed the transition.

Supplemental Material

Original New 52 character sketches of the four leading ladies (sorry, no Batgirl) by Jim Lee. It’s pretty weak bonus material since you could find these sketches online with a simple Google search months ago.

Value

The $14.99 cover price is awfully good when you consider that the monthly issues would’ve set you back over twenty dollars. You can also get the book for $8.13 at Amazon and a price like that is hard to pass up.

Overall

Trouble in Mind is a good action/espionage story with strong characters, but it drags on a little longer than it should have and the ending doesn’t really satisfy. However, at only $8.13 you can’t really go wrong with giving this series a chance!

SCORE: 7/10

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