I’m making it official. I’ve lost hope in Batgirl & the Birds of Prey. There will be no more optimism from this guy, because it’s only going to frustrate me more each month. You all know that I really want to like this title. I’m a champion for the Birds of Prey brand, and Huntress (Helena Bertinelli) is one of my favorite characters. That’s not a secret… But I’ve come to terms that I’m probably not going to enjoy this run. The writing and execution just isn’t up to par.
What really sucks, is that this opening arc should have been epic. As characters, Batgirl and Black Canary are both back to a good place. They aren’t depressed or angsty like they were when the Birds separated back in the New 52. On top of that, Huntress is back in the mix, and she’s arguably more interesting than she’s ever been. She’s hunting the mob – a nod to Helena Bertinelli’s original origin – but now she has a history of working with, and leading, Spyral. These attributes alone should make this a great book.
Throw in the story that Shawna and Julie Benson have created, and it should make it even more of a homerun! Batgirl discovers someone is using her former alias, Oracle, to create and traffic crime. She recruits Black Canary for back-up, and along the way they encounter Huntress, who is on a killing spree to permanently end the mob. Who wouldn’t want to read that story, right? It’s got everything you’d hope for in a Birds of Prey book! Everything except good writing. And don’t get me wrong, there are moments where the writing delivers… but I feel like it’s quite rare.
This issue gave me high hopes on the first page. I opened the book and immediately realized that we were being treated to Helena’s backstory. An issue focused on Huntress? I’m down! I’ve been waiting to learn more about her childhood ever since her character was set up in Grayson. I mean, it was made clear that she still came from a mob background, but I was curious as to how she was brought into Spyral considering continuity had her dead at a young age… but we don’t get any of those answers. Instead, we got a watered down retelling of her “original” origin (ie: hitman took out the mob boss and his family). And this is where my disappointment started.
I know this is Batgirl & the Birds of Prey, not Huntress, but they could’ve done a little more with this. It was all just so… generic. The progression of the plot points of Helena’s backstory felt like a checklist, and nothing else. It kind of reads as if there was a brain storming session with the writers and editors, and then when executing the script, the Benson’s made sure they hit those points and added nothing else. No textures, no characterization… just the moments. It was a total let down. There was no depth at all, and considering what takes place, that’s a little insane.
But this has essentially been my issue with Batgirl & the Birds of Prey so far. The entire thing feels watered down. Huntress feels watered down. The villains fill watered down. There isn’t any glimpse of reality or darkness for these characters, and that makes them feel like they aren’t true representations. Any form of character depth is mostly lacking. There isn’t any weight in the narrative or plot, and though the stakes should feel high, they don’t. I’m not saying this book needs to be dark or intense either. I get this is supposed to be a fun book, and with these three ladies, I would agree. They should have a fun chemistry with one another… But Batgirl & the Birds of Prey needs a dose of grit and reality. Just because you want a fun book, doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice weight in your narrative. Rob Williams’ Suicide Squad is a perfect example of this. He’s telling fun stories, but there are moments where he adds some darkness and some intensity when the narrative itself calls for it. This title just isn’t hitting the appropriate tones.
Speaking of tones, that’s the other general issue I have here. The tone is constantly fun/cute. The writers are always looking for ways to throw in “cool,” tongue-in-cheek, hip references to make Batgirl & the Birds of Prey rad, and unfortunately, it appears like there isn’t much energy going into anything else. There’s more of an effort going towards creating a single chuckle or “Whedonism,” and all of it is at the expense of anything gripping. So when this tone comes up when Huntress is trying to kill a mob boss, or a lead is about to get killed, or Barbara’s father is about to be killed… It just doesn’t work. Not for me anyway.
The Benson’s also struggle with consistency. Helena went from running a spy organization, and her makes some seriously stupid decisions that lead to a conflict. We’ve seen this with both Barbara, and to a lesser degree, Dinah as well. I’ve called these moments out before, and I’m growing more irritated with this because characters’ integrity are being sacrificed for a convenient plot point or a means to an end. Relationships don’t appear to carry forward, and all conflicts get resolved too easily. When I read this book, I feel as though I’m watching a children’s program where problems are wrapped up nice and neat without much effort or consequences (there’s that word!).
When this issue isn’t focusing on Helena’s past, it features on (yet another) conflict with the snakes. Since no character development has occurred with any of these characters, they’re literally just henchmen. They fight with the Birds, take one good hit, and then flee… It’s the same thing repeating over, and over, and over… My advice to the creative team: Show, don’t tell. Find moments to add in character depth and textures. Add some weight. And for the love of baby Jesus, please write to the tone of the moment because the dialogue has been rather awful. Oh, and I haven’t even touched on the Birds fighting robot rogues…
The Art: I was excited to see Roge Antonio come on for art duties… until I saw his art. Where I hated the Roes’ art because of the masculine frames and terrible faces, Antonio delivered blobby boddies… There is no hope here either… No hope at all. Well, except for Passalaqua’s colors. They’re still fantastic.
Breakdowns for this issue can be found in the spoiler tag.
The Good: I didn’t find much good here at all. I’m glad Helena’s back as Huntress, but as I said during Nocenti’s Catwoman, I’d rather go without the character than have a poorly executed version of her. And that goes for each of these characters. They deserve better treatment than they’re getting.
The dialogue. When it comes down to it, the script is bad. The story could be decent, but there are so many lines that make me want to roll my eyes. There’s only so many versions of “Yeah take that!” or “Girls rule, boys drool” that I can stand… And I’ve surpassed my limit.
Inconsistency. So snake dude has gone from being a threat, to getting his butt kicked, to getting his but kicked again, then somehow becomes invincible in one panel, to getting his butt kicked… Let’s get it together team. If you’re going to have arrows shatter against his skin in one panel, you can’t have a kick send him running in the next.
Girlfriends till the end. All of this is too easy… WAY TOO EASY. It’s not interesting. And then it just gets weird…
Convenience. Oh, by the way, it’s convenient for Barbara and Dinah to know who Huntress is by now, so while you were away they figured it out! Just wanted you to know. I mean… I know Huntress made it obvious, but that’s not how they found out. They actually deciphered some of fake-Oracle’s files to make the discovery… but none of that is important. Forget the how and why, and just know that they’re going to be friends now because there aren’t any secrets. BFF! (I’m rolling my eyes.)
Speaking of obvious. I’ve said this for months now, but Fenice will be related to Helena… and if that weren’t obvious already, it sure as hell is now. Every panel of Helena’s mom has her face covered or shadowed… The team could put forth a little effort… Just a little.
- You like mediocre storytelling.
- You’ll read anything that has Batgirl, Black Canary, or Huntress.
- You don’t need any actual depth to your story.
Overall: Let me just put it this way… If I could drop this book, I would…