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Review: Batgirl and the Birds of Prey #1

birds of preyIn Brief: Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), Black Canary (Dinah Lance), and the Huntress (Helena Bertinelli) form a reluctant partnership in their hunt for the new Oracle.


Summary (Spoilers): Black Canary reminisces about her early days working with Oracle, stopping a train with a bit less finesse than optimal, but Barbara saves the day and Dinah’s life. As Canary and Batgirl race after mobster Terroni in the present, hoping to question him about his connection to the new Oracle, they contend with the Huntress, who simply wants Terroni dead. All three catch up to Terroni’s vehicle, only to find him dead, bitten to death by unseen animals. With their target eliminated, Huntress takes off after repeating the surprising information that she knows Barbara and Dinah’s secret identities. Dinah convinces Babs to take a step back and find a new lead in the Watchtower, their old (and now new) base of operations.


As they enter their base, they startle away Barbara’s realtor, who seems to have nefarious purposes for entering Barbara’s property without permission. Brushing off this strange encounter, they go through Terroni’s connections, and decide to question Terroni’s boss, Santo Cassamento.


Arriving at the mob boss’s mansion, the duo navigate around the tigers, lions and zebras, and find Huntress giving Cassamento a…more thorough interrogation than they planned. Huntress reveals her motivation for killing the mobsters responsible for the murder of the Betinelli family 20 years ago, but Batgirl and Canary fight her to prevent another murder. Huntress holds her own, and manages to grab Cassamento before Barbara figures out that Huntress is Dick Grayson’s former partner (from Batgirl Annual #3).


The standoff is interrupted by a strange new villain, the Asp, who also wants to kill Cassamento. The newcomer proves impervious to traditional attacks such as Batarangs, but Dinah’s Canary Cry blows him out of the fight. Cassamento tells the trio of a new player, Fenice, who seems to be attempting a violent takeover of the mobs in Gotham. Huntress offers a truce to take down Fenice and Oracle, and after some tense discussion, Dinah convinces Barbara to take the offer. Barbara delivers Cassamento to her father, Commissioner Jim Gordon, and the scene switches to Fenice, the mysterious female mobster who hired Asp to take out her competition. Oracle sells Fenice the Birds’ location, and she orders Asp to gather a team and kill them all.


In Depth: This issue’s art, by newcomer Claire Roe and veteran colorist Allen Passalaqua, starts off stronger than last issue’s already striking debut. While the facial design of Roe’s characters took a bit of getting used to in the first issue, the opening flashback of this story highlights her strength combined with Passalaqua. The bottom right panel of the first page shows Dinah’s face in shadow, an extremely expressive image highlighting Roe’s expressive ability and Passalaqua’s talent in capturing the mysterious, adventurous mood of the title. The fan and critical reaction to the art in this title has been mixed, but hopefully the team continues in the direction of this book, providing intense action, atmosphere, and character.


In addition to the impressive art, the Benson sisters continue their smooth, television-honed talent for dialogue and tone. Everyone speaks in a witty, Buffy the Vampire Slayer-style banter, and occasionally the confrontations are resolved a bit too quickly (such as when Huntress offers a truce, and Barbara and Dinah accept it without really dealing with the conflict over lethal force), but on the whole, each character gets action and character moments to carry the story and reader interest forward.


Some particularly nice notes in the writing were the captions in Black Canary’s voice, such as the description of their new hideout, a Watchtower, being “right twice a day.” The kind of dry, sometimes a bit cheesy wit is very reminiscent of Gail Simone’s chapter titles in her first run on the Birds, such as “In which I go fishing with nets,” giving long-time readers of the Birds of Prey much to look forward to in this new title.


The Bensons continue with their work melding the current, hipster-culture inspired Batgirl and Black Canary with the Chuck Dixon and Gail Simone-era Oracle/Dinah/Helena Bertinelli team up. Huntress, though she still refuses to reveal her identity to her reluctant teammates, expresses the same rage and frustration with the corrupt system that fueled her lethal activities in the Post-Crisis continuity, while Dinah slips easily back into the role of mediator and social facilitator between Babs’s more black and white worldview and Huntress’s red and grey.


The writing also displays a lot of structural awareness, layering in elements like Babs’s realtor which hopefully will payoff later in the main storyline of the clash between our heroes, the mob, and the mysterious Oracle.


A few flaws do crop up in an otherwise strong installment. The conflict between the Birds resolves a bit too quickly, as mentioned before, and some of the humor, like Babs’s phone going off, proves a bit awkward in the fusion of the Burnside characterization of Batgirl and the current direction of a more serious, conscientious figure. However, in general, the writing and art combine to a well crafted whole.


Pick up/Pass? With solid, if unusual art, and polished writing, Birds of Prey is a definite pick up.


In Conclusion: An action packed romp through the history and present of the Birds of Prey.


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