Frank Tieri continues to kitchen-sink this book full of names and faces that stretch all across the decades of Batman lore. Unfortunately reading this book is more like a Who’s Who game or a flip-visit through a Batman villain encyclopedia that a meaty plot we can actually sink our teeth into. “Angry Bird” is now in its third book and the arc hasn’t really introduced anything new since it began: Harley is separated from her friends (by choice), Penguin has shopped in a lot of villains to create havoc, and everyone is trying to handle the problem in their own way. Also, there’s been a lot of kidnapping and ransom-type scenarios being set up: First with Eggy, now Coach. But beyond that I feel like we’re mostly spinning our wheels.
Everything in this comic pales in comparison to the introduction, which takes place in a gorgeously rendered aquarium setting, and features a great white attack (from King Shark himself). The horror-story “big fish gets eaten by even bigger fish” quality of this scene is thrilling and suspenseful.
But from there were wade into shallower waters with Oswald Cobblepot pushing Nateman out of business (while Pierre and Louis appear to eat one of the Tweedles). The incident with the Tweedle is bizarre and distracting. Did that really just happen? I honestly don’t even know whether to take it seriously, which is what I continue to struggle with in Tieri’s work: the tone and the action always seem to be competing in an unsettling way that doesn’t exactly feel purposeful.
Take, for instance this scene: which is just straight-up dead serious and scary
I keep thinking it’s a matter of adjusting to a new writer and a new artist and a new direction for Harley, but I honestly feel Tieri is writing scripts in the vein of the former team: wacky ludicrous things happen that shouldn’t make sense in the real world. But there’s some edge that Tieri just feels perpetually too close to. Harley’s depression isn’t played for comedy, the combat is all straight-up with the villains actually drawing blood, etc. That’s nothing new, but again, the scope makes it weird. When you have this many villains crammed into a book and all of them being nefarious, you start to wonder where the punchline is.
But there is no punchline thus far. And so we’re left to take moments such a Tweedle Dum getting eaten by a giant penguin as serious as anything else. Or, if we’re not to take it so seriously, then I have to wonder why the artist seems to be drawing it without any particular cheekiness or sense of fun. Because although Inaki Miranda’s pages are mostly solid, they are also very conventional in terms of comic book style: there’s very little to queue the reader that we’re in Harley’s playground in which crazy things can (and do) happen all the time.
This is not a fight for funsies, and yet what is it for?
Miranda’s art as a whole oddly isn’t doing much for me in this issue. Harley feels off-model with her huge forehead and her Medusa-esque hair (maybe this is just me? I can’t seem to be satisfied with any of these hairdos lately). I am also strangely disappointed in the way Pierre and Louis were rendered in this book. Something of their marshmallowy softness went too far over into “ripped to the point of striated” which just looked overdone. It’s silly enough to have giant muscled penguins; sillier still to try to treat them with an attempt at something like anatomical accuracy.
And while some of the villains (Killer Croc and King Shark most notably) are effectively rendered as dark monsters from the deep, others lack menace or humor, so it’s hard to know, tonally, how we’re supposed to feel about them. And then others (like Zsasz), just feel a bit shoehorned into the mix. Why is Zsasz here? What does he get out of messing with Harley? Why does he care?
It’s a question we can ask of a lot of these villains: what has Penguin offered to draw them out of Gotham? For the moment it’s only Killer Croc who seems motivated and that makes the whole premise a little problematic.
- You’ve been waiting for the likes of Zsasz, Signalman, and the Ventriloquist to show up.
- Killer Croc rocks your socks. He may yet be the major player in this storyline.
- You didn’t get enough of conniving penguin in Batgirl last week.
I can’t help feeling at this point like Frank Tieri had an opportunity to use a bunch of interesting old (even second-rate) villains in a new and unusual way, but by lumping them all together, they’re just being flipped through like an old deck of cards. Dave Sharpe’s letters are full of big caps and buoyancy: bright and bold as always, and yet now feeling out of place against Inaki Miranda’s heavy contrasts. The clash of style, the tonal juxtapositions, and what feels like a lack of a driving story makes this third part of the “Angry Bird” ongoing arc feel like a stepping stone and little more. The highlight here is Red Tool revealing himself as Harley’s protective stalker, but that seems like pretty thin development in a book that otherwise seems to sideline its title character for the most part.