It’s a new month, and a new issue! Oracle is still operating in Gotham, and Batgirl isn’t going to allow it. Considering how personal this mission is for Barbara, she’s enlisted Black Canary to help track down Oracle, which leads them right into the path of Huntress – who happens to be on her own mission to wipe out mob families… permanently. With similar goals and a realization that opposing one another would most definitely result in both sides failing, the women decide to work together. At the moment, Batgirl’s only link to discovering who Oracle is, is a crime boss by the name of Santo. Now all Barbara needs to do is keep Santo safe from Oracle’s metahuman hitmen, get him to cooperate so they can get the information they need, and try to prevent Huntress from killing anyone along the way. Easy!
Last month’s issue closed with the Birds rescuing Santo from Fenice, before reaching out to the GCPD for a little assistance. Which is where this issue picks up. The moment you open this issue, you hit the ground running! The first sequence is a high energy, action packed car chase that stampedes through the streets of Gotham. The GCPD and Birds are trying to deliver Santo to a safe house, but they’re met with resistance from Santo’s men. Unfortunately, as fun and entertaining as the chase is, it doesn’t feel warranted. More on that in a bit though.
The issue navigates through the plot for the remainder of the issue quite well. The entire concept that there’s a criminal operating under the alias of “Oracle” is an epic opportunity to tell some amazing stories, and the Benson’s have done a decent job of throwing in personal conflicts as well to help ground the story. Last month introduced the x-factor that is Huntress, while this month brings Batgirl face-to-face with her father, as well as Batman who has his own concerns about the situation. All of these textures are layered in with the main plot, and all of them enhance the story… but this story is sadly plagued by inconsistencies.
Much like last month’s issue, one of the aspects that I love about the Benson’s work, is their ability to write these three ladies. There are many times throughout the issue where the characterization and representation of Batgirl, Black Canary, and Huntress are spot on! But also like last month’s issue, there are just as many moments where the characterization feels off. I keep finding moments where I feel torn on whether I like what’s going on or not. For example, during the car chase, Batgirl is riding in the passenger seat of her dad’s police cruiser while they’re delivering Santo to a safe house. This bugs the crap out of me because I can’t imagine Barbara getting this close to her father while operating as Batgirl. Yes, I know she did it in Fletcher’s run of Batgirl, but I had an issue with it then as well. I feel like Babs would shy away from her father to try and protect her secret rather than buddy up with him in a police cruiser. She’s smarter than that. But then again, some of the action was really cool (even if Barbara did use a shot gun), and I enjoyed seeing them work together… Maybe if they’d had a conversation at some point where she revealed her “night job,” and her dad knew she was Batgirl, I’d be down with all of this. That’s not the case though.
There’s another instance of this at the safe house when Gordon asks to speak with Batgirl. There are moments of the conversation that I love because of Barbara’s internal thoughts reading her dad through every beat of the conversation. That, that right there is good writing! However, I’m still completely bothered by the fact that she’s getting so close to him as Batgirl. Any father would know that’s his daughter! I read this issue three times. On the first read, I was just really bothered by all of this. On the second read, I managed to find the joy in the moment, but was still bothered. And finally, on the third read-through, I came to a solution that could have prevented me from having any qualms… And that’s to simply substitute Babs for Black Canary. If any of the three women were going to be in the car with Gordon, it should have been Dinah, and she should have been speaking for Babs at the safe house. It would’ve allowed Batgirl to have the dark and broody illusion like her mentor while she is actually protecting her father from her truth. The great thing is this approach still would have allowed for those outstanding internal moments that we were treated to. Babs still could’ve thought all of the things she does in this issue, even if Canary was the one talking to Gordon.
I don’t want to be negative, but this isn’t the only time I felt conflicted with this issue. Honestly, I felt conflicted through most of the issue, but every single instance was because of a small, minor detail or motivation. These moments were so minor that I actually found myself thinking, “Should I really be disappointed with this? Is this simply just a matter of preference, or is it worth bringing up?” It wasn’t until I reread the issue that I realized how often I felt this way though, so I needed to call attention to it. I feel like someone should have caught this at some point throughout the creation process. At the very least, the editors should have said, “Hey, this is great, but it doesn’t make sense that Barbara would be so casual with her dad while operating as Batgirl.” or “There needs to be more of a natural motivation for Gordon to want to bring Batman in.” And maybe the editors did make notes of opportunities, but the issues I had seem so small, yet so great in number, that I’m a bit befuddled that they’re in the final printing.
I want to clarify: I’m not saying this to attack anyone. Instead, I’m saying this as a fellow writer who is looking to potentially improve the material’s quality. For the sake of being constructive, I’ll expand on all of these specific moments that bothered me in my breakdown at the end of the review. That way, if members of the creative team happen to read this, it will provide something constructive to my dislikes rather than me just coming off as a cynical ass. But again, considering that there were so many of these moments, and that they served as the source of most of my uncertainty with Batgirl & the Birds of Prey, I felt like I needed to call attention to it.
As I mentioned earlier, the narrative is solid, and the core plot that drives this story is a winner! I’m hooked on the concept that someone is operating as Oracle, and that Barbara is hell-bent on stopping this person. I also love that Julie and Shawna are submerging the Birds in Gotham, and utilizing the world and characters around them. I am ready for the villain to become more urgent, and I honestly feel like the Benson’s can add a touch more intensity to the story. The stakes are high, but I feel like the delivery could use a little finessing.
The Art: Good news! I’m becoming more familiar with Claire Roe’s art, so it isn’t as distracting for me as it was the past two months. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’m a fan though. I still think there’s a lot of awkwardness to Roe’s art. While some of those instances might be able to translate as quirky or dorky/cute, her inconsistencies from panel to panel don’t. Let’s not focus on the negative though. As with last month’s issue, there were panels that were drawn really well, and were successful in sucking me into the story. That being said, I still feel that the real champion in the art department is Passalaqua. I’m a total fan of the rich colors he uses, and I think it adds way more to this book than most readers realize. If my dream of writing for DC Comics ever comes true (most likely by some act of God thirty years from now) I’d probably ask, “Is Allen Passalaqua available for colors?”
Breakdowns for this issue can be found in the spoiler tag.
Oracle. I mentioned this earlier, but a story featuring a villain who is operating as “Oracle” is brilliant. I don’t know why someone didn’t come up with this sooner. Everything involving this mission is interesting, and I feel it’s when this book is at it’s best.
Black Canary. If there’s one character that I feel is written perfectly, it’s Dinah. Her personality is shining through at the moment, and it’s the juxtaposition of Batgirl and Huntress that’s highlighting her. Where Batgirl is a stay-in-the-lines, “follow the rules” kind of hero, Huntress is a little more of a loose cannon (kind of). Canary, on the other hand, is right in the middle, and showcasing her best heroic side, as well as her quippy, edgy side. I’m loving every line of hers at the moment.
Babs being Babs. I love that we’re finally getting to see a Batgirl that is essentially a combination of Oracle and Batgirl. This issue showcases Barbara using her tech/ hacker skills as often as she’s kicking butt! That’s what I want from this Batgirl!
Humor. There’s some good humor here! I will admit that there are times that I feel as though it’s a little “girly,” but we are talking about three female characters, so I guess it’s acceptable. But seriously, I’m glad that there’s some light-hearted fun mixed into these missions. I would like it a little better of the stakes of the mission were a little higher and more intense though.
Let’s just take a moment to soak this panel in! I mean, seriously… I don’t know if any other panel this week will top this…
This is too easy. In an interview, the Benson’s mentioned that they didn’t want the Birds to be bitchy with one another, and that they wanted them to get along. I’m 100% on board with that! However, it shouldn’t be this seamless. Babs and Dinah? Yes, they should work seamlessly. Huntress and the team, however, shouldn’t. Huntress hasn’t adapted well enough to earn the ability to work in sync with Batgirl and Black Canary flawlessly. There still needs to be some conflict here, and while it’s being hinted it, it’s not actually happening. Everyone keeps referring to Huntress as dangerous, but she hasn’t done anything to earn those comments. Since she’s joined the team, she’s played by the rules. If they’re going to continue to act like she’s brash, then I want her to be brash. She agreed not to kill, that doesn’t mean she’s not going to be vicious. I want her to come across as extreme compared to Dinah and Babs. She’s not a hero yet. She’s still an anti-hero.
In response to this, I think Huntress should be creating a little bit more of a conflict. She has her way of working, and that has served her well for years. She also has a one-up on everyone (including Batman to a degree) because of her time at Spyral. She essentially knows everything about these people… but you would never know that. I’m kind of expecting her to undermine Barbara on some accounts, and it’s not happening.
Hunt for Oracle. Yes, I know you’re scratching your head. I just mentioned that the concept of a criminal using the alias of “Oracle” is brilliant. I really do think that. What I don’t like, is that the villain kind of feels like weak tea. We’re three issues into this story, and there hasn’t been a dire threat yet. Oracle continues to linger in the background, and I really wish he would toy with Barbara a little more psychologically. There was the trap involving the bomb in this issue, but it was also played off with some humor, which took away from the direness of the situation. Whoever Oracle is, they clearly picked that name for a reason, but at their lack of aggressiveness towards Barbara makes it feel more like a coincidence rather than a calculated move. (Oh, look at that word… Calculated. I wonder if Oracle is really Calculator?)
Fenice. Fenice is coming back, and this time he has some backup from Copperhead and other snake-themed metahumans. I feel like the Birds will mop the floor with him, so I can’t say that I feel the conflict of the next issue will be extremely dire. I hope I’m wrong though.
Those Tiny, Conflicting Moments:
In the body of my review, I mentioned small moments that bothered me. Here is a list of them, as well as the reason they bothered me. I already mentioned Batgirl working so closely and casually with her dad. These are the rest.
- The car chase, while entertaining, just doesn’t make sense. The police, along with the Birds, are escorting Santo to a safe house. This is something that you’d want to try and keep under the radar, but instead, there’s an entire police brigade speeding through the streets of Gotham with their lights and sirens running. In addition to that, Black Canary and Huntress are following suit. Then Santo’s men suddenly, somehow, start going after the cops to rescue Santo. How’d they even know he was there?
- Huntress scoops up a car bumper that came off during the police chase and throws it at one of Santo’s men on a motorcycle to stop him. She’s immediately reprimanded for taking potential lethal action, but on the very next page, Batgirl uses a shotgun to do the exact same thing…
- In relation to the Huntress/ motorcycle incident, when Batgirl and Gordon talk, Babs states, “I know Huntress seems like a wild card…” but nothing has happened to give her reason to say that. At all…
- During the same conversation, Gordon mentions that Batgirl and team are biting off more than they can chew, and that he wants to call in Batman. Why? He’s seen how capable Batgirl is in the past, and they handled the attack of Santo’s men quite well. There’s no need to call in Batman if nothing has gone south. There have been worse situations where Gordon has trusted Batman’s allies to handle the situation.
- At the Watchtower, Huntress hears someone enter and immediately grabs her crossbow. I really would’ve liked if she had taken a shot – even if it weren’t a lethal one – to justify all of the “wildcard” comments.
- While Batman is talking to Barbara at the Watchtower, he addresses Dinah and Huntress as “Black Canary and… Purple Person.” Aside from the fact that I find this WAY out of character, my main issue is on the following page. After establishing that he doesn’t know who Huntress is, he then makes the comment, “What about that Huntress? She’s dangerous.” How does he know? He doesn’t know her. He knows about a woman named “Matron” or “Helena Bertinelli,” but he has no idea that this is her.
- During the same Batman/ Babs conversation, Batman mentions that Gordon contacted him because he’s concerned. Again, why? Nothing has happened for him to be concerned. I can understand Batman checking in because he knows how personal this is for Barbara, but that should be the motivation, not “Gordon is concerned.”
- While going after Oracle, the Birds are led to an abandoned building. Huntress offers to keep watch while Batgirl and Canary get the info they need, and Black Canary immediately questions her loyalty. Why? As I stated earlier, since she’s joined the team, she’s done NOTHING to challenge them or go against their rules. To make this moment even more irritating, then very next panel has Canary telling Batgirl, “We’re probably going to have to start trusting her” only for Batgirl to reply, “She’s going to have to earn it.”
- You’re excited to Batgirl and Gordon work together.
- You want to go further down the rabbit hole with Oracle.
- Batman makes a cameo.
Overall: I feel like I have a love/hate relationship with Batgirl & the Birds of Prey at the moment. I’m madly in love with the idea of this book, the characters, and its story, but some of the things it does drives me crazy! While I consider it entertaining, there are so many small details that are preventing this book from elevating from “decent” to “really good” or “great!” For the moment, I’m still a fan and holding on to hope that this is the growing pains of learning to write in a new medium for the Benson’s but I’m going to want to start seeing some improvements by the end of this arc. Fingers crossed!
SCORE: 6.0/ 10