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It’s Not You…It’s Me! Leadership, or Lack Thereof, in ‘Birds of Prey’


 

In AP Latin, students read and translate Caesar’s De Bello Gallico and Vergil’s Aeneid.  Both texts have a major character that, whether by choice or by fate, is a leader of a large group of people.  Perhaps the first paper that I give my students involves the following prompt:

 

‘What is a leader?  What are the most important qualities to have in order to be considered a ‘good’ leader?  Could one consider Caesar – and later in the year, Aeneas – a good leader?  Please use evidence to support your claim.

 

 

Obviously you have not come to The Batman Universe in order to hear me wax poetically about Latin and some of the ‘greats’ of literature, but this has gotten me to think about someone similar to Caesar and Aeneas: Dinah Lance aka Black Canary.  Birds of Prey, arguably one of the most consistently entertaining books of DC’s New 52, follows the team of roughly four or five members, and throughout its run has been led by Dinah Lance.  Every stretch of the way the team has encountered problems both within and without, and I have been wondering why for a great deal of time (I even wrote about it in a few of my Shipper Spotlight articles).  As I begin thinking about the inevitable start of school, refreshing my memory of Caesar’s exploits in Gaul and Britannia, it occurs to me that if I want to find out what is causing the majority of issues on the team, I need to explore the top of the ladder, and that means looking at the leadership, namely one Black Canary.  What follows are my top reasons, seven to be exact, as to why there are team issues within the Birds of Prey, and possible ways to resolve them.

 

1. Inconsistency or ‘Do what I say, not what I do’

 

My biggest issue with Dinah, and in fact the Birds of Prey book itself, is that there is inconsistency in the ethical belief system demonstrated by the leader, Dinah.  The leader is where you look to see what is expected of you.  Should you have a question, you may either ask directly or find your answer in his/her actions.  My main question is this: what is Dinah’s stance on lethal force?

 

Fans of the previous volumes would answer with a resounding, ‘Just say ‘no’ to lethal force,’ but the answer in this current series is not as clear.  Yes, the Dinah we once knew would absolutely be against lethal force on any type of person – besides Lady Shiva, perhaps, as witnessed in Simone’s previous run – but the New 52 Dinah seems to be a little grey around the edges, portrayed as an amalgamation of Dinah and Helena Bertinelli, aka Huntress. 

 

 

 

Take the second issue, for instance, where we see Katana using lethal force on a group of Choke-influenced individuals.  Does Dinah say anything about this?  No, and in fact she even applauds her skill, giving a sign of acceptance of this particular tactic.  Then, farther down the Choke storyline in issue 7, we see Dinah hit Poison Ivy in order to prevent Ivy from killing any Choke-influenced office lackies.  Hmmm, what’s the difference? 

 

 

This inconsistency will continue throughout the better part of the run, with Dinah telling her teammates not to use lethal force but sometimes being less than straightforward about her stance on the issue.

 

 

I am not going to argue for either stance here.  This is not the place for the discussion, and in fact, perhaps the best place for it would be within the pages of the comic.  Rather, I think it is time that Dinah settles on one side of the line and stays there.  This will be best sooner rather than later as we continue to see new members arrive who need to get an idea of the team dynamics and ethics from day one.

 

2. Trust Issues or ‘Trust no one’

 

Trust (as noun)

a : assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something

b : one in which confidence is placed

 

Usually when someone says that he/she has ‘trust issues’ it means that something happened in the past that has caused this person to have an inability to rely on another person in any given situation.  Dinah is not an example of this (unless we consider the ‘death’ of her husband and how that has impacted her romantic life, but that is a discussion for another time).  I would actually argue that Dinah trusts people TOO much and TOO easily.  She continues to let people on the team or work with the team, then is suddenly surprised when that person pulls an ‘I fooled you’ act.  ‘Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.’  What about times three and four?  Let’s make a list, shall we:

 

1. Trevor Cahill: turns out to be Choke…or is he?

2. Poison Ivy: turns out to only be helping for her self-interest

3. Starling: turns out to be working for Amanda Waller AND Mr. Freeze

4. Condor: knocked Dinah out in an alleyway in Japan…current allegiance TBD

 

 

 

 

Dinah has a nice little speech in issue 20 where she says that she should be used to playing the spy game and know better…and yet she does not take that to heart, nor did she probably ever believe in that!  Dinah’s main mistakes stem from bringing people on that she trusts right away but should never have trusted to begin with.  Be a team but watch your back at every moment.

 

3. No fun or ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’

 

Have we ever really seen the team working together outside of a mission?  Dinah and Starling have gotten ‘coffee,’ Dinah and Babs have ‘sparred,’ and there has been some work at a dojo, but really, what have the Birds been up to in their ‘off-time?’

 

I suggest bonding.  That’s right, bonding.  Now, there may be those of you who call me a hypocrite right now since I just said Dinah needs to ‘trust no one’ but I believe for any group to work together they need to also work/be together outside of normal circumstances.  Could I see the team going to some nice retreat and doing trust falls?  How about going out to some hot nightclub and dancing?  Not really, but I do think they need to get out of their uniforms and do something other than a mission.  Being ‘on the job’ 24/7 can cause stress and break-downs, which we may have already seen.  As a leader, Dinah should be getting to know her teammates, and vice-versa.  They may all be different people, but they need to understand each other and there is no way to do that while fighting a bunch of ninja!  There is a fine line between a team and a group of individuals fighting together, which brings me to my next point…

 

4. A group of individuals does not a team make or ‘There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’’

 

Each time you add a new member to a team, whether it be a workplace or a sport, the dynamic changes.  The first several issues of Birds of Prey continued to build the team up, first starting with the duo of Canary and Starling.  Katana, Poison Ivy, and Batgirl all added something unique to the dynamic, and the same can be said about Strix and Condor.  Have they ever truly been a team, though?

 

There are several fight sequences that see the Birds fighting as individuals rather than as one body.  They do their ‘own thing,’ barely listening to each other and sometimes even ignoring Dinah’s orders.  Yes, there have been times that they moved like a well-oiled machine, particularly on the train while on the trail to find Choke, but these moments are few and far between.

 

 

If I expect Dinah to get to know her teammates better outside of training, I also expect Dinah to do more training WITH her team.  I can only recall one scene where the Birds are training in a dojo, and Dinah is not doing anything with them.  Compare that with the hundreds of scenes we have seen (if you read any of the books) of the X-Men in the Danger Room training as one. In the field you have to be able to rely on those around you, not just go in and hope that all goes well.  Situational awareness is key to success on missions.  Just because the individuals are trained individuals does not mean they are going to work together as a team.  If Dinah assumes this, then that is foolish!

 

 

5. Responsibility…pass it on

 

Do you want to know what a true leader looks like?  It is one who says on occasion, ‘I’m sorry, I messed up.  Let’s fix this.’  As Caesar writes in third person, it is often difficult to decipher whether or not he takes blame for some of the catastrophes that occur in Gaul and Britannia.  There are some instances (take Sabinus and Cotta, for instance) that he will clearly blame one person for the mistakes, absolving the other.  There are other moments that Caesar will note something happened because a lack of supplies or readiness, and here is where you can see that it was more of an oversight or his fault than another’s.  Does he ever come out and say, ‘I messed up?’  No, but at least you can read between the lines.

 

I have trouble taking Dinah seriously sometimes when she does not own up to some of the mistakes that have been made.  Poison Ivy betrayed the team…please do not blame her for being what she is, think about the risk you took bringing her onto the team in the first place!  And then attacking Batgirl for bringing Strix on the team?  Batgirl had it right when she brought it back to Dinah bringing Ivy on the team.  Again we see some inconsistency with Dinah’s character when we hear her accuse Batgirl of bringing an assassin onto the team; that the Talon could kill them all, and one has already tried.  Hmmm, Poison Ivy…Strix…difference?

 

 

Candidate issues are merely one problem that we have seen with Dinah’s inability to own up to mistakes.  Katana left partially because she could not handle the dysfunctional team.  Batman has the team on permanent watch.  Starling helped a villain and has been a double from the beginning!  Even Batgirl originally did not want to join!  Some of these events could have been prevented if only Dinah had owned up to some of the challenges/mistakes and helped changed the team for the better.  I am also concerned because Condor is an enabler and will tell Dinah what she wants to hear.  *sigh*

 

6. Be open about your health or ‘Get tested’

 

If you turn on MTV, at any give commercial break you may see an ‘ask about getting tested’ commercial which instructs you to be safe for yourself and your partner.  Did you know that blood tests before you walking down the isle to get hitched are a rite of passage?  And why is that?  Because your partner deserves to know the status of your health so that he/she can be safe.

 

 

How does this relate to Dinah?  Surely you recall the mind-numbing headaches that Dinah has shortly before an uncontrollable Canary cry shoots out, taking anything/anyone down for the count.  This has already happened on two occasions, yet Dinah continues to keep silent about it.  Even when Starling, who knows what is going on, confronts her, Dinah basically says, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.

 

 

I ask you, does this show the responsibility of a team leader?  If you are a leader and you expect your team to follow you and be safe in the process, you need to let them in on what is going on with you.  Now, arguably this may conflict with number two above (‘trust no one’), but it is better to still have a team rather than a bunch of bodies.  Dinah took down an entire electrical facility and nearly killed her team.   Had she let her team in on the changes she had been undergoing, yes, this may have still happened, but the collateral damage would have been far less and the team could have gone into action to prevent many things.  Given Dinah’s penchant for hypocrisy, I am sure she would expect full disclosure from her teammates, so why does she not do the same?

 

7. Emotional baggage or ‘Leave your baggage at home’

 

Ah, yes, emotional baggage.  Doesn’t everyone have a piece of luggage or two?  I certainly do.  Do I got into work in the morning and unload on the students?  Do I tell my coworkers what I’m going through (not unless I want it gossiped about)?  Do I come onto the podcast and let loose with everything that’s been going on?  Certainly not – though I do own to having done it once or twice.

 

 

Kurt Lance: the bane of my reading existence.  Ever since his name dropped on the pages of Birds of Prey, I have had a headache ready to crack my skull.  Every time he is mentioned I know I am about to get an earful of Dinah bemoaning her life/dead husband.  Every time those two one-syllable names come out, the team suffers.  My advice?  Leave the baggage at home, Dinah, and only let your team in on what is most important to their survival (coughcoughCanaryCrycoughcough).

 

 

For Dinah, and actually for nearly everyone, I suggest finding a true friend that you can trust to listen to your burdens (that does not mean whine to them each time you see them).  Pre-new 52 this used to be Babs for Dinah…now it could still be Babs, but even Dinah admitted Starling was the only person she truly trusted (#fail).  Dinah gets so hung-up on her (not-so) dead husband, that she gets herself and her team in trouble.  She needs to get her head in the game and push all outside worries to the back when she is on-mission.  Do this, and you will go far, Dinah-san!

 

So there you have it; my seven reasons why the Birds of Prey are suffering from poor leadership.  Now, don’t get me wrong, Dinah has been (see pre-new 52 Justice League) and could be again, a 'good' leader, perhaps even 'great.'  She needs to grow more in this role and start changing the things that are mostly obvious problems.  She NEEDS to do this before people start dying and the team is destroyed.  Please…for all that is good, do this, Dinah!

 

 

 

Posted by Stella Bowman

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  • Great article!  I, too, have noticed all of these problems with the current Birds of Prey.  The lack of accountability and Dinah's horrible choice in allies damage the credibility of this series beyond repair.  I only follow it now because I review it on my blog.  But you nailed one of my bigger complaints with the team in its lack of bonding.  There's never really been much "down time" in the book, and events fall on top of each other so abruptly that there is no real status quo.  As I often ask in my issue reviews, why does this team exist?  What is their mission?  So far, I've found no in-story explanation; it's just a catch-all for second- and third-tier Batman characters.