Frank Tieri really pulls it together in this fourth installment of the “Angry Bird” storyline. While we still have no idea what is motivating the Penguin’s cadre of assembled third-tier villains, the story is starting to take shape around Killer Croc in an expected, but interesting way. Especially nice to see, is the return to form for Harley Quinn in terms of using her psychoanalytic skills to talk villains down off their ledges.

We still have a little bit of a problem with the matter of characters like Dr. Hugo Strange and Mr. Freeze being somewhat undermined by slightly frivolous scenarios in which they have been inserted. But there is something very grounding in John Timms’ artwork that lends them a gravitas that perhaps they had been lacking up until now.

Tieri’s Focus on a handful of the key villains really help strengthen the narrative in this particular book. Instead of a giant sprawling cast full of chuckleheads like the Condiment King, we see more impressive villains taking the front stage and upping the stakes. By keeping some of the goofball antics at bay, we can take the threat of the Puppet Master more seriously for example.

Yes, even in the midst of crass butt jokes

Mr. Freeze in particular feels much more like he ought to: powerful, threatening, and maybe a little off his rocker–without it being goofy or limp in any way. Tieri also solves the problem of having the giant penguins eat Tweedle Dum in the last book, which although was kind of hilarious, it was also strangely distracting. There is likewise a funny moment in which Dee is trying to find a replacement and we get all sorts of alternatives lined up. It’s a nice mostly sight-gag, that resonates well and doesn’t need to take up a lot of room or energy away from the more pressing forward action.

There are lots of little moments like that throughout this: like a not-too subtle reference to Brian de Palma’s The Untouchables, and some low-key background silliness from Red Tool that’s completely within character. Finally it feels like things are falling into place and the style is meshing: the humor and violence work together in this issue instead of in opposition, which is a battle like I feel the book has been fighting since Tieri came on.

Lastly, Tieri puts the Gang of Harleys to really good use in this issue. Eggy had been kidnapped since quite early in the storyline and that continued to be a strangely dangling plot thread, but here the gang finally goes all out to rescue him from his captivity and it just feels like a great juxtaposition of heat and sweet in the timbre of Godzilla vs. Bambi.

Synergy and cynicism at its finest!

Timms’ art may constitute a large portion of my delight with this book, as he is a welcome sight for sore eyes after the last couple of issues! Past Harley alum Moritat also lends some pencils and inks to four pages toward the end of the book, The two artists’ style mesh well though I do think Moritat really needs to give Harley back her nose! In one profile panel it literally looks like someone dragged her face on the concrete and burned it off.

Usual colorist Alex Sinclair and more recent addition Jeremiah Skipper are on colors, and thought the book still relies on a lot of heavy dark palettes, it doesn’t quite feel as much like a horror-genre book this time around, even though plenty of Harley-typical horrible things happen. I hope the book is finding its balance because this all feels to be in the right direction.

Recommended If…

  • You have been patiently waiting for this story arc to find its legs.
  • You enjoy seeing Killer Croc as a violent but sympathetic character.
  • Less is more when it comes to cramming a book full of villains.

Overall

Frank Tieri manages to wrangle what was strongly beginning to feel like a warbling mess of a plot into something that’s beginning to not only make sense, but feel the weight of real stakes. Previous issues of random grudge-matching between Harley’s cast of characters and a variety of funny but low-tier villains has given way to more purposeful power struggles with the likes of Killer Croc, Hugo Strange, Puppet Master, and Mr. Freeze.  While I don’t think we’ve seen the end of Zebra-Man, King Tut and all of their kind, I do hope the coherence and thrust of this issue is setting a tone for a big finish on this arc–and for future arcs-to-come.

SCORE: 8/10