Birds of Prey #1
“Let Us Prey”
Writer: Duane Swierczynski
Artist/Cover artist: Jesus Saiz
Colors: Nei Ruffino
Letters: Carlos M. Mangual
Editor: Janelle Asselin
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US
When the Birds of Prey concept was first introduced at DC Comics, I was a fan. I bought all of the one-shots and limited series that preceded the first ongoing series, and I believe I have almost every issue of that title. When the title was relaunched under DC’s “Brightest Day” branding, I quickly lost interest as a result of some additions to the cast of characters. So when I approached this new incarnation of the book, I was neither vested in it nor disinterested. And after reading it, I feel neither vested in it nor disinterested. There’s still plenty of potential in the concept, even as it’s been tweaked here, and with art by Jesus Saiz, it’s quite a good-looking comic book as well. But Birds of Prey not only fails as a comic book designed to hook new and lapsed readers, it’s also inaccessible to people such as myself who are well versed in the characters. I was at a loss as to prominent plot points in this issue, and I couldn’t even tell if this was a continuation of the previous series or a soft reboot.
A young Gotham Gazette reporter makes the most an anonymous tip, tracking down wanted murder suspect and the criminal known as “the Black Canary.” As he follows her, he sees her encounter with mysterious women, including a tattooed wild child known as Starling. But weeks of surveillance hasn’t yielded much more information than that, so the journalist contacts his unseen informant, demanding to know more. Well, he quickly gets more than he bargained for, as he’s caught in the middle of a small war between a platoon of invisible goons and the two skilled women warriors he’s been tailing.
Jesus Saiz’s artwork is as attractive as ever. I was a big fan of his work on the J. Michael Straczynski run of The Brave and the Bold, but here, Saiz seems to employ a slightly different tack. In B&B, his lines were thinner, bringing a brighter look to the storytelling; that was in keeping with the Silver Age tone of much of the material. With this latest incarnation of Birds of Prey, he employs much thicker lines, which is in keeping with the darker atmosphere of intrigue that’s an integral part of the story. He still maintains a softness to his work that works well with the femininity of the heroines, but at the same time, his portrayal of the protagonists isn’t exploitative or gratuitous. There were a couple of moments when Saiz’s work reminding me of the styles of other comic artists, exhibiting such influences as Gary (Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes) Frank and Terry (Uncanny X-Men) Dodson.
The artist’s designs for Canary and Starling clearly strive to avoid portraying them as super-heroes. The color scheme from Canary’s past uniforms is still in place, even the fishnets, but it’s achieves a nice balance between a costume and a combat uniform. Still, while I understand why the creators are trying to downplay the super-hero genre angle, I wonder if Canary loses something in the process. A key component to these adventure/action comics is providing the audience with memorable, iconic looks for the incredible characters. I don’t know if that’s the case any more with the characters. Saiz’s design for the cloaked mercenaries is simple but striking, but I think what I liked most about it is how the advanced-tech look hints at a major, well-funded conspiracy against the title characters, long before the explosive cliffhanger confirms that notion without overtly telling the heroines or the reader who’s behind the conflict. Nei Ruffino’s faded color effects serve the portrayal of the invisibility mode of the mercenaries nicely as well.
It’s really Charlie Keen, intrepid and daring reporter for the Gotham Gazette, who’s the main character in this introductory issue, and honestly, I like him. He’s ambitious but principled, and it’s a nice reversal of the typical girl-reporter/damsel-in-distress dynamic we’ve seen in super-hero comics so often. I also enjoyed Starling’s free-spirit attitude; it makes for a nice balance to this stoic, grim interpretation of the Black Canary. Starling’s dialogue is fun and amusing; her lamentation over the site of the Birds’ confrontation with an unknown enemy is quite funny.
Black Canary is wrongly accused of murder, but having not read the entirety of the second, short-lived, Brightest Day-branded series, I don’t know if that’s something that carried over from the pre-New 52 world to this one. Either way, I really don’t have any sense of what’s going on. The same holds true for Barbara Gordon’s appearance in this issue. Whereas she founded the Birds of Prey before, in the world of the New 52, I can’t tell if she was still involved at all or was just approached to be part of this new era of the team. In other words, this is far from an accessible introduction to the property. And it’s not an accessible re-introduction either. While I enjoyed some elements in this comic book, I honestly don’t know what it’s meant to be about. 6/10
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