The previous volume of Birds of Prey was bad. Duane Swierczynski’s run began strong with a debut arc that emphasized strong characterization and thrilling espionage, but after a Night of the Owls cross-over interruption the quality of the comic began to slide. The stories that followed all seemed to deal with swapping out members of the team as though editorial were stepping in to shake up the roster in an effort to boost sales. And speaking of roster changes, the series’ art team was constantly changing and that made for an even less enjoyable experience. While artist Romano Molenaar is only substituted for one issue of Birds of Prey here, the trend of placing line-up changes over quality storytelling continues in “A Clash of Daggers,” a not-as-bad follow up that concludes Swierczynski’s run.
Birds of Prey, Vol. 3: A Clash of Daggers collects issues #13-17 of Birds of Prey as well as Batgirl Annual #1, which deals more with Catwoman and Strix than Batgirl or any other members of the Birds of Prey. I had already reviewed the annual back when it was initially released so I’ll just point you in the direction of that particular article by clicking HERE. I skipped over it when it came time to read this TPB, I found that story by Gail Simone to be mediocre the first time and didn’t feel like going through it all again. It basically exists just to set up Poison Ivy’s replacement, the former Court of Owls Assassin named Strix.
What follows is all taken from the actual Birds of Prey title. Issues #13-15 are little more than an exit point for Katana, who was getting her own solo title as well as a supporting role in Justice League of America. With those major factors influencing the title, plot lines of Starling/Waller’s connection and Canary’s haywire powers/the mystery of her husband are placed on the backburner. Again. And the real kicker is that Katana’s solo series was canceled in no time at all due to poor sales and she isn’t a card-carrying member of the JLA anymore either so there is nothing to show for this transition! It’s like seeing an actor on a TV show get a little popularity and then decide to ditch television to be in movies only it doesn’t pan out. Katana is the Shelley Long or David Caruso of DC Comics.
The story in which she leaves the squad has some interesting elements but it moves along at a hurried pace, features villains with no clear motivation, and, again, serves to introduce yet another new member of the team– Condor, the first male member of The Birds. At the very least it was a quick read, but it definitely wasn’t what I would call “good.” It centers around a clan with some sort of past affiliation with Katana (it’s never clearly explained) out to steal her sword, melt it, kill her, kill themselves, and blow up part of Japan in the process but it all doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Let me break it down for you: Throughout the comic there is a timer which begins counting down on page #1. The clan has planted this weapon of mass destruction deep under ground and in 24 hours it’ll go boom and they want to have their whole group, Katana, and the sword present at the 00:00:00 mark. Right? Every so many panels we even get an update on where the clock is in the countdown. Well, they steal the sword and leave Katana to “suffer.” and just sort of hope that she follows them to Japan where they can beat her up again, capture her, and continue with the next phase of their plan (Nevermind that it takes 12-13 hours to fly from the New York/New Jersey area to Japan– Katana & the Birds make it there in 6 even though it’s not explained how, we just cut to Japan and everyone is there). But here’s the thing that bugs me the most: What’s the point of the timer? If they are a suicide cult whose main goal is to wipe out a city with a bomb that will blow up themselves and Katana then why would you put a timer on it? Wouldn’t you just wait until you capture Katana, give your villainous monologue of revenge, and then press the detonate button?
It’s a story that’s full of a lot of half-baked ideas and a really forced attempt at chemistry between Condor and Canary. Molenaar does a decent job drawing it, but he had to be benched for the finale which was drawn by Juan Jose Ryp who style is way different and came as a bit of a shock to the system even if it’s more richly detailed. The covers by Trevor McCarthy were the most impressive aspect artistically.
The final two issues which reference the Batgirl Annual & Birds of Prey #0 issue (not included) heavily, bring Molenaar back and again he does well even though the faces of all the girls look a little too similar. The story gets a bit of an upgrade in its pacing and coherency, we even have a return to that ol’ espionage feel from volume 1, but at the heart of Swierczynski’s goodbye comics is the real purpose of this 2-parter: introducing Strix as the replacement for Poison Ivy and Condor as the replacement for Katana. It’s the usual “let’s have all the heroes fight at first, but then set aside their differences in the end to fight a common enemy” spiel but it comes with some little robots that give Molenaar the chance to try out some unique infrared/motion tracking visuals that made the action sequences more attractive.
5 pages of cover designs by Trevor McCarthy and 1 page of character designs for Condor by artist Romano Molenaar. Meh.
Value: Dirt Cheap
I wouldn’t give $14.99 or the current Amazon offer of $11.65 for this softcover. If you happen upon it in some Used Graphic Novels bin for under $5 bucks then maybe, just maybe it might be worth it for you if you’re a big fan of Katana or Strix or Condor.
Not as bad as the previous volume, but still pretty bland. It’s a collection of stories written with the purpose of explaining an unnecessary roster change and little else. If you’re interested in Katana, Strix, and Condor then this will be of interest to you, but I’m ready for the team’s line-up to finally solidify so we can get back to stories that flesh out these characters, their relationships, and give us a complex obstacle to overcome. Wrapping up whatever is going on with Canary’s powers and the story of her dead husband would be nice, too.