Review: Birds of Prey # 1
[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Writer: Kelly Thompson
Art: Leonardo Romero
Colors: Jordie Bellaire
Letters: Clayton Cowles
Reviewed by: Matthew B. Lloyd
Dinah (Black Canary) Lance has to put together a team to rescue her sister, Sin. Who will she recruit and will they all say, “yes?”
The art by Leonardo Romero is simply fantastic. Romero has a clean, uncluttered style that looks great. There are some great action sequences that he approaches in different ways and they all work. It’s clear what’s going on and he brings a dynamic flair to the pages. In the quieter moments he also shines as he is able to communicate emotion effectively through body language and an economy of line. Plus, there are some interesting angles he chooses in telling the story. Jordie Bellaire chooses lighter tones of colors that compliment Romero’s style, which elevates the look of the issue as well.
Thompson focuses the story around Dinah and her character and it works well. The play here uses DC continuity with the inclusion of Sin who hasn’t been seen since before the New 52 line wide reboot. It’s a nice touch that makes the series feel connected to the DC Universe as a whole as well as the greater history of the DC Universe. The character that contacts Dinah for this rescue mission is a well-played surprise that will remain such. However, the inclusion of this character is a fun and interesting reveal that brings about more questions than it answers.
There was a lot of speculation and internet discussion of this new line up when it was first teased teased. The proof is in the pudding, and with Birds of Prey # 1 in stores, we get to examine that pudding, now. As stated above, it’s great to have Dinah be the focus. Thompson puts her and her family at the center and this works well. Cassandra is a logical and believable choice for a rescue mission. She’s stealthy, a known quantity to Dinah and maybe THE best fighter in the DC Universe. As stated in the opening pages, Dinah needs a team that will make the adversary, “$@#% their pants.” Cassandra fits this bill.
Next up we have Big Barda. Barda is definitely a heavy hitter. For a fight she’s a good choice, but on the stealth side of things, maybe not. She could’ve learned some things from husband, Scott (Mr. Miracle) Free in this area. Even so, she’s the muscle of the team and that works well enough. This is a solid start to the team and the path that Dinah takes to recruit these two is done well, especially as it continues to rely on Dinah’s relationship to the target, Sin.
Things start to go in a different direction with the next two choices Thompson has included for this story arc. Zealot is totally unknown to me, and as a longtime fan of Dinah and the Birds of Prey, it’s seems odd that Dinah would go outside her previous teammates for a mission that is this important and for one she herself says she needs people who are “impeccably trustworthy.” Cass fits that, and Barda ‘s been in the Birds of Prey before. It’s alluded that Zealot owes Dinah a favor, and while she may think that Zealot has the skills (whatever they are) for the mission, is Zealot the best choice if it’s only a favor? Is Zealot really invested in Dinah’s sister or anything that matters to Dinah? The details in Birds of Prey # 1 are not convincing in this matter.
Thompson herself admitted in the release publicity for this book that she knew Harley Quinn would be divisive. As with Zealot, the argument Thompson makes for her inclusion is not only unconvincing, and illogical, but…laughable. It would be one thing to have a character argue that some element of Harley’s skills make sense for the plan, but Thompson has put the team before the plan, so it’s not clear how Harley would fit into this. What makes even less sense is the argument we do get for her inclusion.
Cassandra shares a story with the others claiming that Harley is such a good fighter that Harley almost beat her in a confrontation recently. It’s simply bad writing to suddenly imbue Harley Quinn with this sort of skill level. It’s just as hard to imagine that Dinah would believe it. So, even if Cass has an ulterior motive in convincing the team, Dinah should see through that fairly quickly. It also doesn’t make sense that Dinah would go against her instincts on Harley’s trustworthiness that Thompson does include in the issue. The bottom line is that Harley will always feel forced when included on a Birds of Prey roster. There’s an argument coming up below that will claim this isn’t the Birds of Prey, just a team Dinah’s putting together for a mission. However, Birds of Prey or not, like Zealot, Birds of Prey # 1 doesn’t make a convincing argument for Harley being on the team or for Dinah to go against her instincts.
The idea that Harley is a “wildcard” is nothing more than Thompson not having a real reason to include her that makes sense. It sounds cool, but is ultimately shallow. Unless of course, like her newfound fighting ability Cassandra describes, Harley manifests whatever Thompson needs for the plot to work! Thompson wants to use Harley, but it doesn’t add to the plot in any way or even make sense.
Here’s a real wildcard for you: The individual that contacted Dinah about Sin’s abduction claims she can’t tell Barbara. which is then the in-story reason for Barbara not being included. What if, the Harley they recruit isn’t Harley at all, but Barbara in disguise as Harley? That’s about the only way that it would make sense for Barbara not being on Dinah’s handpicked team, or Harley being on it!
Perhaps, the single greatest negative with this issue is that Barbara Gordon is not part of the team Dinah puts together. I’ve argued before that Barbara is essential to the Birds of Prey, she’s what makes the team THE Birds of Prey, otherwise it’s just a collection of female heroes/anti-heroes or whatever. (The Birds of Prey aren’t always female either, just ask Hawk, Savant or Creote).
Additionally, and as mentioned above, it doesn’t make sense that Dinah wouldn’t include her closest allies. She’s got Huntress marked off the list on page 2! While the final reveal of who’s abducted Sin implies that Dinah needs some heavy hitters, it also suggests that this team will need to be committed to Dinah (trustworthy!) and it stands to reason that those closest to her would be the best choices, friends and former teammates like Babs, Helena, Nightwing, Ollie and Roy, Zinda (Lady Blackhawk) Blake etc….
This issue is a bit of a mixed bag. The art on Birds of Prey # 1 is great. The plot and focus on Dinah is interesting and engaging. It’s the details that detract from the overall big ideas. The line up of the “team” is obviously the biggest with some of the sub-details that go along with that which logically follow, the inexplicable reasoning for including Harley for example. The line up ends up being confusing instead of exciting. This line up might be interesting if Dinah fell into the situation and had to make do with them to get the job done. This suggests that if this were not called Birds of Prey, it would get a higher rating because it could be viewed as its own thing. Or, if Barbara Gordon (as Oracle OR Batgirl) and Helena (Huntress) Bertinelli were in the line up it would feel like the Birds of Prey and it would’ve been a 9/10.