Oh Batgirl & the Birds of Prey, I just don’t know how to feel about you! I love the idea of you and there are moments when I genuinely enjoy you, but then there are times when I wonder what your actual goal is in this universe. Birds… Don’t take this the wrong way, but I believe I need to change our Facebook status to “It’s complicated.”
Seriously though, you guys know that I love the Birds of Prey brand, and you know that I genuinely enjoy the plot concerning “Oracle,” however, the execution is leaving something to be desired. I almost get the impression that this book isn’t sure what it wants to be, and I’m hesitant as to where to point the blame. Some issues I have with the title are due to the fact that the Benson sisters are new to this medium. That’s not an attack on them, I’m simply stating that it will take them a little while to find their groove. I also feel that editorial might be creating some of the issues as well due to demands that may conflict with the Bensons’ direction. Then, adding insult to injury, there’s the art – which I find atrocious most of the time.
I feel like there’s this desperate attempt to make Batgirl and the Birds of Prey “hip” or “cool” – which I’m fine with – but then, there are times that it feels as though the book plays more straight forward. I strongly believe a book can contain both elements, but I don’t think it can necessarily be both things. For example, if you’re telling a straight-forward hero/crime story, you can easily have a hip or cool character(s) that brings a younger, fresh energy to the narrative, and it can work successfully. Or, you could reverse that, and have a hip, cool story that incorporates some “straight-forward” narratives (think Gotham Academy and Olive’s story concerning her mother during the first and second volume). Instead of trying to be one thing, and incorporate the other aspect, Batgirl & the Birds of Prey is unfortunately trying to be both.
When I read this book, there’s an overwhelming sense of “this is a female-based team, so we need to make it cool and hip to prove female heroes are just that… cool and hip.” As I mentioned earlier, I’m all for that notion, however, I believe there are better ways of accomplishing this. I also feel that if you try to make something cool, it typically results in the opposite. The new direction of Barbara alone has transitioned her to become more trendy thanks to Stewart’s run, and even Dinah has endured some pop cultural flares following her stint as a famous musician. I’ve embraced both of those aspects and accept them for both characters. Once you add in the tone of the relationship between these three women, the tongue-in-cheek elements found in the location descriptions (ie: “Then-ish.” “Now-ish.”) as well as the asides involved with certain scenes, and it’s clear the narrative is shooting for a lighter, more fun tone. But then you read a few pages, and the tone of the book itself changes. Note that I’m not talking about the characters’ tones, I’m referring to the book’s tone. Now that we’re three issues in, it’s clear that Batgirl & the Birds of Prey is in a bit of schizophrenic battle with itself.
To make matters worse, these schizophrenic tendencies make themselves even more evident by highlighting moments that would probably be best if presented with less of a focus (the multiple snake-themed villains), while other plots that should steal focus (the actual hunt for “Oracle”) get lost in the shallow aspects of the action. And to reiterate, the Oracle plot is a good one, and there are elements that work extremely well by creating an emotional tie to Barbara, while also working to include Black Canary and Huntress in a believable way. I just happen to feel that it could be done better.
When you break it down, there is a lot going on in this book: Barbara discovers a criminal is operating under her old alias “Oracle.” She recruits Black Canary to help her. They meet Huntress – who is on her own mission to take out the mob – and include her with their mission. There are snake people who are practically just hitmen. There’s a mob boss overseeing them named Fenice. There’s a separate mob member from another family that has intel on “Oracle,” but Fenice wants him to stay quiet, so she sends her hit-snake-men after him. The GCPD are looped into the ordeal. There’s differences of opinions between the Birds. Batman has stepped in… I mean, seriously, there’s quite a bit going on. But in all of this, I really just want more finesse.
The only character that feels like she’s received a good representation is Black Canary. There are some nice moments that feature her during her early childhood in this issue, and much like the scene with her on the train in Batgirl & the Birds of Prey #1, it plays it’s part in the larger story. Surprisingly, despite the fact that this should easily be Batgirl’s story, Dinah feels like the more important character in all of this. That’s not to say that Batgirl and Huntress are bad eggs here though. Their representation is good at times, then not-so-good at other times. Huntress is written incredibly inconsistently if you assess her arc from the end of Grayson until now. And considering the leverage she has on EVERY hero at this point, she’s going along way too easily with Batgirl’s plan, despite the fact that it ultimately goes against her own desires. There are some disagreements in this issue though, however, all I could think was “That should have happened before now” followed by, “Sheesh, that was a little over dramatic.”
What I find frustrating, is that these problems aren’t even specific to this issue. They’re popping up in every issue, and they’re all the same root problem. There’s questionable judgement with humor, poor character motivations, and forced progression. I’ve said this before, but I really hope this title improves soon because this should easily be Barbara’s best arc since the New 52, but it is sadly looking as though it will be a forgettable one.
The Art: Alright, don’t crucify me… I know that last month I said that I was becoming used to Roe’s art (which does not mean that I grew to care for it), but this week I’ve moved back to a “God, this seriously looks awful” mindset. I mean, there are panels where these ladies look more like drag queens than women, and trust me, I know a fair share of drag queens. But even outside of the physical appearance of these characters, the layouts aren’t that great, and the reactions/ emotions appear over exaggerated at times.
There’s one particular panel during a fight when one of the antagonist states, “I like a woman not afraid to hit a lady” to Huntress… but there was no panel showing a punch, or any type of physical confrontation for that matter. A few similar instances occur, which I find distracting because it feels as though there are holes in the story.
As for the reactions, this ties back to the issues I have with the conflicting tone and identity of the title itself. The narrative will focus on a serious matter (say the potential death of one of Gotham’s finest), and then the physical depiction of the reaction is one that more resembles an “Oops! (pause for laughter). My bad! (pause for more laughter).
When it comes down to it, I can put up with the story itself because I still find it enjoyable overall. The art, however, is cringe worthy. I’d love to see an announcement that Batgirl and the Birds of Prey is getting a new artist for the second arc because I think it would solve quite a few problems, but I don’t think that will happen.
Roge Antonio cover art duty for Dinah’s flashbacks. In my opinion, her flashbacks are the highlight of this issue, and Antonio’s art is also a breath of fresh air. His work is vastly better than Roe’s, and I wish he were overseeing this title instead. I can dream, right?
Breakdowns for this issue can be found in the spoiler tag.
The Good: Dinah’s flashbacks. Though they’re not perfect, Dinah’s flashbacks are easily the best thing about this issue. They do a great job of grounding her as a character, and that’s something that the other two femme fatales could desperately use.
Fenice. I thought Fenice was the gray, snake dude… Apparently, he’s not. Fenice is the lady that the gray snake dude reports to. Despite being slightly confused, I’ll note this as “well played.” I do have a suspicion that Fenice might be related to Helena though… Cause, you know, we need that type of soap opera drama… (That was sarcasm.)
Huntress walks out. Why hasn’t this happened sooner? I feel like this back and forth between Barbara and Helena should have been ever-present since issue #1! That doesn’t mean these two characters need to be bitchy with one another, it just means that they have different approaches to doing things (not to mention different goals), and both strongly believe their stance is the right stance.
The Bad: Forced progression. As a writer, I often tell people that my stories are all about my characters. That’s not to say that there isn’t a plot, or that the plot doesn’t matter, it’s just that when a conflict arises, the first thing I ask myself is, “What would _____ do? How would they deal with this?” This allows me to step out of myself and out of my head, so I can focus on the character’s mindset in my story. This approach often progresses the plot in a natural way, and leaves me satisfied with the direction of my story. Batgirl & the Birds of Prey could use a bit of this approach. I fully believe the writing and editorial team are strictly looking at “big moments,” then filling in how to get there. Every issue I read, it comes across as, “Oh, it would be cool if there were a car chase! We should have gang members go after the Birds and the GCPD!” Then they huddle to find a way to make that happen, while ignoring character motivations and logical bullet points (read my review for issue 2 for a full breakdown of this specific incident). Every issue has had moments of this. Whether it was a sequence, a panel, or dialogue, there have been too many moments that felt forced just for the sake of executing something that would be cool or neat.
The snake gang. You know what I hate about these villains? They’re generic. The feel like losers, and they’ve been the predominant threat so far in this arc. My advice: if you’re going to right antagonists in this way, make sure you have a villain that is actually gripping. Fenice and “Oracle” haven’t done that yet. Apparently these snake people won’t either.
Taco Tuesday. Alright, here’s a joke that I actually enjoyed (a lot), but I hated the circumstances of it. “Maybe taco Tuesday is sacred.” Amazing joke… had the Birds been undercover in a sting operation type of wait. But bursting through a window and creating a sense of hysteria, as well as the appearance of an offensive attack on a mob family not only feels like the wrong time to crack jokes, but it also feels completely out of character. This is one of those, “It could have been great, but…” situations.
- You’ve been waiting for the Birds to battle the snakes!
- Batgirl and Huntress having choice words with one another sounds like a good time.
- Frankie makes a cameo.
Overall: Batgirl & the Birds of Prey is more of the same. If you’ve been enjoying the book, then you will continue to enjoy this title. If you’re like me, and have been expecting more, then you’ll most likely just grow more frustrated because more cracks are starting to form under the weight of the various plot threads. I’m still hanging in there, but just barely.
SCORE: 5.0/ 10