I’ve been waiting for these three heroines to come back together ever since Birds of Prey was first announced for the New 52. There’s just something about Babs, Dinah, and Helena that work so well together, and it feels even better considering Barbara is Batgirl, and that Helena has a high-ranking history with Spyral. It provides the nostalgia that we’ve been desiring, but injects a freshness that opens this book up to so many possibilities considering the characters’ recent history. And after reading Batgirl & the Birds of Prey: Rebirth #1, I feel confident that the Benson sisters are more than capable of satisfying my needs with this title.
This issue kicks off with a flashback of Dinah and Barbara back when they first started operating as the Birds of Prey. Barbara was still Oracle at this time, and was serving as Black Canary’s eyes and ears as she tried to stop a potential domestic terrorist attack. I thought this was a great scene, not only because it was written well, but because it served as a reminder of “what once was.” It also allowed the opportunity to set-up Dinah’s mindset going into the current mission, and solidifies why she’s helping Barbara, and establishes why the fact that someone using the codename “Oracle” is such a big deal (for those of you that didn’t start reading comics until the New 52).
Jumping back to the present day, the story picks up right where the Rebirth issue left off. Batgirl and Black Canary are chasing down leads to find and stop Oracle, and their attempts have thrown them into the path of vengeance that the Huntress is carving throughout Gotham. The problem is, Huntress’ end goal could ultimately prevent the Birds from finding Oracle. It’s an immediate conflict, but both sides recognize that the other isn’t necessarily the enemy, yet they pose a problem for one another. The women are also fully aware that trying to prevent the other from getting their way will only cause both sides to ultimately fail. Because of that, they decide to put up with one another, and go about the mission, albeit, it takes a little conflict before agreeing to do that.
If there’s one callout I have about the plot, it’s that the Birds agree to “work together” (perhaps the better phrase is “put up with one another”) a little too easily. Batgirl and Black Canary have an established relationship, so I fully believe that they’ll give and take each other’s opinions in form, because they know which battles are worth fighting with one another. Huntress, on the other hand, wouldn’t give up her vengeance so easily. And she doesn’t fully commit to here, but she does agree to some terms much sooner than I expected she would. At the same time, we have to remember that this isn’t the same Helena from pre-Flashpoint, so the spy in her could still have her own agenda.
At SDCC, Julie and Shawna made a point to repeat that you can have strong female characters without making them “bitchy,” and that it’s completely capable for the women to be friends and get along, despite their opposing outlooks on fighting crime. Considering the previous run of Birds of Prey, I COMPLETELY understand where they’re coming from, but I wish there would have been more of a long-standing confrontation with Huntress that lasted throughout the first arc. And that’s not to say that there won’t be, it just isn’t in this issue. We do get some more confrontation though, and it is joined by the appearance of a new villain, but I ultimately wanted a little more. I wanted a little more anger and angst from Helena, but only temporarily, rather than letting a little “girl-talk” provide a truce to terms. The plot moves along rather quickly – not in a bad way – but I desired a little more “meat.” I haven’t decided whether a craving for more is a good thing or a bad thing, but I’ll know for sure by the end of this arc.
The mystery behind Oracle, the ties to the mob, and the crossing paths of these heroes make for an interesting story. The Bensons’ aren’t afraid to throw in a little extravagance into their storytelling either, so that created a fun flare that I wasn’t expecting. I do want them to start asking a few more questions about their narrative and characters though. There are some holes and motivations here that aren’t fully realized in my opinion. If I’m being honest though, the plot isn’t what really makes Batgirl & the Birds of Prey an enjoyable for me… It’s the characters.
If you frequent the site, then you know that Helena Bertinelli is pretty much tied with Dick Grayson as my favorite character in the DC universe. I don’t hide that bias, and I’m not ashamed of it either. There’s just something about her, her backstory, and her approach to crime fighting that resonates with me deeply. Maybe it’s the fact that she’s a little more ruthless in stopping crime, but whatever the reason, she’s been a character that I’ve favored since her debut in the late 80’s. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that she’s my favorite thing about this title. I mean, she put a freaking cross-bow bolt through a corrupt priest in the last issue… That’s badass! And completely on-point with who she is as a character!
This same notion is also why I made the statement about how she sides/ teams-up with the Birds in this issue though. That ruthlessness is back, and she hasn’t really been presented as a fully realized hero in this continuity yet – although she came super close in Grayson. Considering the writers are going back to Helena’s “roots” and re-introducing her mob upbringing, I am curious as to why she’s just now deciding to seek out vengeance. Perhaps she’s been hunting mob members down this entire time, or perhaps she’s just incredibly patient and didn’t want to jeopardize her time with Spyral. Either way, these are angles worth exploring, and whatever the outcome, I can’t wait see how her history is addressed. And yes, I’m perfectly ok with it being covered in a mini-series if anyone at DC is reading this…
Continuing to touch on the characters, I’ve been very open that I wasn’t fond of the changes that were made to Barbara Gordon/ Batgirl when Fletcher and Stewart took over the run. It has less to do with the fact that I thought it was “bad,” and more to do with the fact that I felt like it was a regression for Barbara. I mean, this is one of the smartest, most grounded women in comics, and she was basically turned into an “Oh my gosh! This is totally rad!” hipster version of a character we’d known and loved for decades. The current presentation of Batgirl – both in her own title as well as this one – feels like a combination of the two. I see reflections of the “old” Barbara, but there are still moments of her being quirky, goofy girl that resembles Stephanie Brown more than Babs. I appreciate DC’s attempts to satisfy both sides of the aisle here, but it ultimately comes off as Barbara looking really inconsistent, so I’d prefer the various creative teams sit down and pick a lane. There are also some highly questionable mistakes that Batgirl makes in the field, and I found myself thinking, yet again, “Dude, this isn’t something Batgirl would do, this is something Spoiler would do.”
Thankfully, Dinah’s representation is near perfection. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Fletcher’s Black Canary either, but only because I feel like the title lost its identity and focus by the end of its run. This Black Canary that’s in this story actually feels like a progression from all of her stories since the launch of the New 52. I believe where she is, as well as her arc, and I think Julie and Shawna write her incredibly well.
I won’t deny that my excitement for these characters and this title have led me to be more forgiving than I typically would be with certain elements, but I’m also keeping in mind that the writing team is new to comics. I expected these first few issues to be a little rough around the edges, and prepared myself for that. That expectation works two ways though. While I’m probably a little more lenient with this title now, I do expect it to get better over time and the Benson sisters become more comfortable with the medium.
The Art: You know what the biggest downfall of this book is? The art. And it’s not even the entirety of the art, it’s Roe’s faces. I enjoy most of her pencils, and I love Passalaqua’s rich colors, but sheesh these faces are bad. Baaaaaaaaad!
No really… there are multiple instances of this…
Oh yeah, there’s more.
Despite how much I enjoyed everything else pertaining to the art, this almost ruined the issue for me. Comic books require a collaboration to tell a great story. The script can only do so much, but in the end – much like with a television show or film – you need a great actor to really deliver the words. The “acting” here is non-existent most of the time, because the faces are a hot mess. It practically eliminates the second best tool for storytelling that can be used – physical emotion. I’m hoping Roe takes a little more time with faces in the future, because this could seriously be a deal breaker for a number of readers.
Breakdowns for this issue can be found in the spoiler tag.
The Good: The core. This was most of what I praised up top, so I’m not going to spend much time on this, but Batgirl, Black Canary, and Huntress together are what make this book! These three have a unique chemistry and it works.
Huntress. Look, if you’re having Huntress put cross-bow bolts into priests, you’re going to win my favor. Aside from that, I’m so glad they’re making a point to utilize her time at Spyral. The fact that she knows the civilian identities of Batgirl and Black Canary give her a leverage over the two of them, and sets up some great stories going forward. But beyond that, we can’t forget that she knows who the entire Bat family is… and she’s proven twice now that she has no qualms about revealing their identities. Other than that, it’s clear she still has a soft spot for Dick, and that’s bound to come up at some point.
The opening story. I can’t describe how much I enjoyed the opening scene of Dinah and Babs past. It was a fun read, and showcased their relationship, as well as how far Dinah has come since that point. It was a wonderful moment.
Oracle. If you want to make this story personal, have someone networking crime and let them use the name “Oracle.” The moment I heard this was the story, I knew I wanted to read it! I’m crossing my fingers that it ends up being someone that isn’t obvious (Frankie or the Calculator), but I’m weary that it might be one of these two… Or perhaps we’ll all be surprised, and it’ll end up being someone from Spyral! Who knows…
The Bad: Batgirl. Seriously… I’ll give some of how she acts away as being too emotional, but having her phone ring while in the field? Come on! That’s a rookie mistake! It was played off in a way to create some humor, but it made me roll my eyes. I really want DC to sit down and separate which character traits fall under Barbara, and which character traits fall under Stephanie Brown… because this screamed Stephanie Brown, and Babs deserves better.
Heavy-handed hunting. When Huntress is confronted by Batgirl and Black Canary, and is asked why she wants to kill Santo, her response was a little too heavy-handed, and made her identity obvious. If someone is going to be so caught up with the murder of a single family, I feel like it would be pretty clear that this person has ties to that family. I know Helena Bertinelli is believed to be dead, but I’d start questioning that idea, especially considering everything that’s happened with Dick since Forever Evil. Instead, Babs and Dinah don’t bat an eye, and later on ask who the Huntress is… Like girl-code or something. Thank God, Huntress didn’t tell them, but it is pretty damn obvious.
Girl talk. I’m all for some girl talk, but not during action, and not this early in the relationship. I found the entire exchange between Batgirl and Huntress as to whether or not they should or shouldn’t kill Santos unbelievable. If Huntress is as mad as she was presented leading into this issue, then she would’ve just killed him… And I really wish that would’ve happened because I feel it would’ve been more honest to the character, and more interesting.
However, I will admit that I chuckled when I saw Santos vote for Huntress not to torture him… Granted, I still think she’d rather kill him then go along with things at the moment…
Consistency. The biggest struggle this title faces at the moment, aside from the art, is consistency. There’s a lot of inconsistencies throughout this issue, and I’m choosing to not be extremely critical towards it. As I stated earlier though, my level of acceptance for this will change over time. For the moment, I’m going to write it off as growing pains and move on.
- You’ve been waiting for Birds of Prey to return.
- You’ve missed Helena Bertinelli’s Huntress for the past six years or so.
- You enjoy books that showcase strong female characters.
- A cross conflict of an imposter Oracle and the mob sounds like an intriguing read.
Overall: Batgirl & the Birds of Prey hits many of the right notes, but it’s a messy arrangement when the “song” comes to a close (largely due to the art). Consistency and the art could potentially plague this book, but it’s the title’s potential that is keeping me excited and positve. There are so many good stories lined up, and if the execution can match, this will be a title worth reading! Unfortunately, at the moment, Birds lost a little bit of my favor… Just a little though.