The Lego Batman Movie

This Review includes SPOILERS.

  • Title: The Lego Batman Movie
  • Director: Chris McKay
  • Date:  2017
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre:  Animation, Action, Fantasy
  • Cast: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Siri, Conan O’Brien, Billy Dee Williams, Eddie Izzard, Channing Tatum, Mariah Carey
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  Blu-Ray

“Black. All important movies start with a black screen. And music – edgy, scary music, that would make a parent or studio executive nervous. And logos, really long and dramatic logos.” – Batman

“Whoa. Let me tell you something, J-bird. Batman doesn’t do ‘ships.” – Batman
“What?” – Joker
“As in ‘relationships’. There is no ‘us’. Batman and Joker are not a thing. I don’t need you. I don’t need anyone. You mean nothing to me. No one does.” – Batman

“Sir, if you don’t mind my saying, I’m a little concerned. I’ve seen you go through similar phases in 2016, and 2012, and 2008, and 2005, and 1997, and 1995, and 1992, and 1989, and that weird one in 1966. Do you want to talk about how you are feeling right now?” – Alfred
“I don’t talk about feelings, Alfred. I don’t have any. I’ve never seen one. I’m a night-stalking, crime-fighting vigilante, and a heavy metal rapping machine.” – Bruce Wayne

The Lego Batman Movie is one of the best Batman movies ever made because it gets to the core of the Batman character, and it revolves around both as a plot point and as the emotional core of the movie the fatal flaw in Batman’s character. The film is also a ton of fun, funny, packed with action, full of references to every previous version of Batman and quite a lot else besides, and one of those movies that one can enjoy over and over again. The Lego Batman Movie is funny and colorful but it is not a parody of Batman, something that also makes it a great Batman film.

The film opens with “McGuffin Airlines” flying over Gotham City in a plane loaded with a ton of weapons and bombs. Joker attacks the plane, and plants bombs that will blow-up an energy plant causing Gotham City to fall into an endless abyss. The attack itself resembles the opening of The Dark Knight Rises, while Bane’s later plan results in something akin to the No Man’s Land storyline from the comics. But Joker also, in a conversation with Batman, references the two boats from The Dark Knight and the “parade with Prince music” from Tim Burton’s Batman. In other words, within a few minutes, this movie is acknowledging its predecessors. Joker also isn’t working alone, he has a number of B-grade Batman villains, all of whom did appear in the comics at some point, and Harley Quinn helping him. Yet when Batman catches Joker he has to let him go – so he can stop the bomb Joker and his gang planted earlier. It’s when Batman catches then releases Joker that we get their conversation with Joker insisting he is Batman’s Greatest Enemy and Batman insisting he doesn’t do ‘ships with anyone.

Once he releases Joker, stops the bomb and celebrates his win, Bruce heads home. He changes into a comfy robe, eats a meal made by Alfred and heated-up in the microwave, and then watches a sad, romantic movie in his home theater. He is very alone. Bruce stands before the picture of himself with his parents at the theater and asks if they would be proud of him. At this point, Alfred arrives. Alfred is worried about Bruce, stating he’s gone through these stages before. But Bruce insists he doesn’t talk about feelings. Alfred then reminds Bruce he’s to attend a gala retirement party for Police Commissioner James Gordon. Bruce objects, but finally reluctantly agrees.

At the party, he meets Dick Grayson but doesn’t really pay much attention to the young orphan, as he also sees Barbara Gordon and has one of those “love at first sight” moments. Barbara is the new police commissioner, having already cleaned-up Gotham’s “sister-city” of Blüdhaven (and graduated from “Harvard for Police”). Barbara’s plan for Gotham? It takes a village, not a Batman, to truly reduce and eliminate crime. But Barbara also wants there to be a partnership between the police and Batman. Bruce isn’t having the no Batman idea, though he’s intrigued by Barbara. Still, Bruce, being distracted at the time, agrees to adopt young Dick Grayson, as we find out later.

Joker hangs out with Harley Quinn and his B-grade villain friends, plus a few well-known ones like Bane, Clayface, and Scarecrow. He sees a TV interview with Superman, where he’s talking about banishing Zod to the Phantom Zone. The Joker gets an idea and he and the other villains attack Gordon’s party. But once chased back outside, they all surrender. Every one of them, including Joker. Batman is confused – without crime, what is he to do? Barbara and her police department organize arresting everyone and taking them to the prison.

Batman then gets the idea of using the Phantom Zone projector to send Joker to the Phantom Zone. But when he returns to the Batcave he finds a parental lock on his computer. Alfred, who is reading, Setting Limits for Your Out-of-Control Child, tells Bruce he must raise Dick, whom he adopted last week at the orphanage. Alfred shows clear affection for Dick already and tells Bruce that he and Dick have a lot in common. But Bruce cruelly tells Alfred he “knows nothing about raising a surrogate son”. So Alfred lets Dick into the Batcave. In what becomes a running joke, Dick says, “Wow, Batman lives in Bruce Wayne’s basement?” Bruce points out that Bruce lives in Batman’s attic. But with the parental lock released, Batman makes a plan to steal Superman’s Phantom Zone projector, and he takes Dick along because he’s perfect for getting through the death traps protecting the projector that Batman himself would never be able to negotiate alone.

They arrive at the Fortress of Solitude, Batman tells Dick that all superheroes are brooding, serious people who need a quiet place of reflection and solitude, then rings the doorbell – which plays the theme to Richard Donner’s Superman film. Superman sticks his head out of the crack of the door and reluctantly lets Batman in. There is literally a party going on. The entire extended Justice League is there, celebrating the 73rd anniversary of the Justice League. Superman pretends Batman’s invitation was lost in the mail. While Batman encounters the Flash, Superman, Wonder Woman, and many others in the League and gives instructions to Dick Grayson over a communicator, Dick negotiates a series of intricate death traps and successfully borrows the Phantom Zone projector. Then he and Batman leave the Fortress of Solitude for Gotham.

Batman and Dick attempt to sneak the projector into the prison and Batman, after getting caught, manages to obtain the Phantom Zone projector and use it on Joker. Barbara, very disappointed in Batman, arrests him and Dick for what they did. Meanwhile, Joker ends up in the Phantom Zone, is greeted by Phyllis the brick, and starts to prepare a long speech to the villains in the Zone about getting out to wreak havoc. The villains don’t even let him finish his speech, before agreeing. The villains include: Daleks, Sauron, Voldemort, the Wicked Witch of the West, a shark, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, those guys from The Matrix, King Kong, Medusa, Godzilla, etc. Joker releases them all after Harley Quinn gets Joker out.

The villains and Joker attack Wayne Manor and they take over the Batcave (he also assumes Bruce Wayne is Batman’s roommate).

Barbara releases Batman and Robin, and the three work together with Alfred. At Arkham, the B-class villains who are still incarcerated offer help to Batman, Robin, Barbara, and Alfred (in a 60s Batman outfit). This allows Batman to remark on the “stupidity” of the idea of getting criminals together to fight criminals. Joker turns Wayne Manor/Island into “Joker Island”.

Batman, Alfred, Robin, and Barbara are squeezed into the Batwing, but one by one their engines fail. Batman goes to the outside of the plane to fix the engines and is joined by Dick and Alfred. Flying monkeys attack and Dick falls off the plane and through the sky. Batman barely rescues him, but Alfred falls. Bruce is really upset and freaking out when Barbara flies the Batwing and rescues Alfred. Batman realizes he would have lost Alfred without Barbara and the four begin to work together. They defeat Sauron, and Godzilla leaves. The Batwing lands. But when Robin takes a picture of everyone together to celebrate, Batman looks at it and is reminded of the picture of himself with his parents when he is younger. He tricks everyone else into getting into the Scuddler and sends them off to get burritos on the edge of town. Now he is doing this to protect them, but at the same time, his friends don’t want to be “protected” they want to help. Once more, Batman wants to work alone.

Batman arrives at “Joker Island” and confronts Joker, who again brings up their “relationship”, including a heartfelt, “I hate you”, before sending Batman to the Phantom Zone. In the Phantom Zone, he meets Phyllis (the brick) who thinks he’s a villain. There’s a series of flashbacks, showing Batman in his worse light, hurting others. He agrees that if Phyllis releases him for 24 hours, he will bring back all the villains. Phyllis agrees – and emphasizes that Batman must return all the villains.

Batman gets back just in time to rescue Alfred, Barbara, and Dick – but they are all angry at him for sending them away in the first place. Batman admits he was afraid and even says he’s sorry (barely). He then shows the Babs-signal, as well as signals for Robin and Alfred to Barbara and everyone. They agree to work together again and even go to Arkham to release all the B-villains to get them to help in rounding up the villains from the Phantom Zone as well as Joker.

There’s a massive, complex, fight scene between the Gotham family and the Evil Army. At one point, Batman tells Robin, “Okay Robin, together we’re going to punch these guys so hard words describing the impact are going to spontaneously materialize out of thin air!”, which they do, in true 60s-Batman style. Voldemort is sent to the Phantom Zone. Other bad guys are sent to the Phantom Zone. Robin actually uses the shark repellant which came up earlier (another 60s reference as well). But the bombs that Joker and his evil gang have placed around Gotham City go off and, as mentioned earlier the city is cut off and heading for the abyss.

The only way to save Gotham is to “stick together using [their] heads”, they build a bridge. Batman admits his connection to Joker to save Gotham and they stick together creating a bridge. With a click, everything comes together. Citizen bridges, um, bridge the other gaps, and again with a click – Gotham is saved. Batman tells Joker, with a sunset behind them, “I hate you, Joker.”

Batman gets ready to go to the Phantom Zone. He lets Dick call him Dad and, and reveals he is Bruce Wayne. Bruce talks about what he’s learned. Bruce and Dick even hug. But when Bruce tries to send himself to the Phantom Zone he hits a wall and bounces back. Phyllis points out that Batman has changed for the better. The movie ends with a white screen (and a montage of Bruce with his new family).

The Lego Batman Movie is a great film. Yes, it’s funny and smart and references all the previous Batman films. Yes, the idea of Batman and company fighting famous movie (and television) villains from Voldemort to “British Robots” as the Daleks are called is amusing. But what makes the movie re-watchable is that it tells a very moving story. That story is of a man, finally, facing his demons and moving on. It’s a story of a man putting aside his loneliness and creating a new family. Dick Grayson is central to this story. And in the comics, Dick was introduced for three main reasons. First, narrative necessity – giving Batman a partner gives him someone to talk to, this improves the story because it becomes reliant on dialogue instead of the main character’s monologue. As well as someone to talk to, a sidekick, partner, or companion also gives the main character someone to worry about and rescue when they get in trouble, this, in turn, humanizes the main character. Second, Robin was a lighter character. After Robin was introduced in 1940, Batman introduced his famous “no kill” rule, and Robin’s Joie de Vire lightened up the Batman comic books considerably. Finally, Robin as a young character was meant to give the children reading the Batman books a character they could identify with who was their own age. In many ways, by introducing Robin, The Lego Batman Movie is the first time we’ve seen this transition in Batman on the screen. Yes, we don’t see the dark, brooding, willing to kill, stalker vigilante of circa 1938 Batman or solo adventures like Dark Victory, but by constantly referencing the entire Batman canon, The Lego Batman Movie is using a shorthand that both trusts the audience hasn’t been living in a cave for the last ten or twenty years and that they know who the Dark Knight is or was. Additionally, the film itself shows you the lonely, desperate for approval Bruce Wayne in the scenes in his mansion where he heats up the dinner Alfred made in the microwave and watches sad movies – alone.

Needless to say, The Lego Batman Movie, is one of the best Batman films ever made and I highly recommend it. And, there is a considerable about of action and humor too. It’s not grim. It just gets to the core of just who Bruce Wayne and Batman is, alongside his Bat-family of Alfred, Dick Grayson, and Barbara Gordon.

Recommendation: A must see!
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Advertisements

Favorite Female DC Heroes

The Mary Sue website recently published a list of The Ten Most Powerful Female Villains of the DC universe, then challenged readers to list their favorite female DC heroes. So here we go.

1 – Birds of Prey

The Birds of Prey are not a single hero, but a group. Specifically, they are a team of female superheroes. First created by Chuck Dixon in the 1990s. The original group included Oracle (Barbara Gordon who also gets a place on this list herself), Black Canary (yes, she also gets her own listing), Huntress, and others. The team was rebooted in the New 52 and again in Rebirth. The membership of the team tends to rotate, but Barbara Gordon, Dinah Lance, and Helena are usually members. The series has been written and drawn by women as well.

2 – Zatanna

Originally a “joke” character who appeared in Justice League International and cast spells by speaking backward, Zatanna has emerged as one of the most powerful magic users in the entire DC Universe. At one point in New 52 – John Constantine describes her as the most powerful magician on Earth because she can bend reality itself. This after John discovers she cast a spell on him to make him a better person. Zatanna has been a member of the Justice League and Justice League Dark. She’s also one of the main characters in the animated series Young Justice and a supporting character in Justice League Unlimited. Zatanna is also one of the main characters in the recent mini-series Mystic U.

3 – Barbara Gordon (Oracle, Batgirl)

My favorite version of Barbara is Oracle. After she was shot by the Joker in Alan Moore’s famous The Killing Joke, Barbara doesn’t curl up and die. She doesn’t become bitter and decide to be a villain. Barbara goes through intense physical therapy, learns to use a wheelchair, returns to grad school and gets her MLS – Master’s of Library Science, and gets a job at the Gotham City Library. All of that would make her an admirable character, and representative of a very under-represented group: those with physical disabilities. It is not easy to get a master’s degree. It is not easy to get a good job when one has physical disabilities – discrimination is alive and well. But for Barbara, this isn’t enough, she uses her computer skills and becomes Oracle – running the Birds of Prey single-handedly (for much of Birds of Prey the other Birds don’t even know who the “voice in their ear” is), she also became knowledge gatherer for Batman and his allies, especially Nightwing. Barbara is strong and admirable for all that. New 52 retconned her back to Batgirl, and personally, I felt that was a step back for the character. There are plenty of tough female superheroes, how many superheroes in a wheelchair can you name? Rebirth has Barbara as Batgirl, but back in charge of the Birds of Prey, and keeps her computer skills, so that’s something.

4 – Black Canary

Black Canary is more than the girlfriend/wife/ex-wife of Green Arrow. She has been a member of the Justice Society of America (back in the 1940s), then Justice League International, Justice League, and the Birds of Prey. Her main power is her Sonic Cry, which is strong enough to kill someone. She also is a gifted martial artist, and at times has lived in the dojo where she teaches self-defense to at-risk women. Dinah is strong in more ways than one, and she remains one of my favorite characters.

5 – Jessica Cruz, Green Lantern

Jessica Cruz is one of the newest female DC heroes on this list, as she was introduced in the Rebirth book, Green Lanterns, with her partner, Simon Baz (a Muslim man). Jessica is Latina and suffered such severe acrophobia that she didn’t leave her apartment for two years. This is the woman who gets a power ring for overcoming great fear. Although Jessica is at first unsure of herself, she grows and becomes the hero her ring knows she can be. She and her partner, Simon, have a great relationship that is entirely platonic, a refreshing change for a story essentially about two cops. Jessica also is, by default, a member of the Green Lantern Corps and the Justice League, meaning she also goes on missions in space, and world-saving missions, as well as her “normal” work as Earth’s Green Lantern.

6 – Batwoman

Kate Kane is Bruce Wayne’s cousin, a lesbian, and a kick-ass superhero. Raised in a military family, when she was young and the family abroad, she, her sister and their mother, were kidnapped. Her mother and sister were killed, and Kate was raised by her father. As a young adult, she enrolls in West Point – and is kicked out when it’s discovered she’s a lesbian. She goes wild for a year but then returns to Gotham as Batwoman. For much of Rebirth, Kate has been the leader of the Batfamily in Detective Comics, but after a few serious arguments with Bruce (lets just say Kate is more pragmatic than Bruce, and she doesn’t feel as strongly about his “no kill” rule as he does), she’s currently on her own. Kate is a strong fighter, has the intelligence common in Batfamily members, has military contacts through her father, and has her mother’s money. She’s basically Batman but a woman, which makes her awesome.

7 – Huntress

There are two versions of Huntress, and I really like them both. The Earth 2 version is the daughter of Batman and Catwoman. (Bruce and Selina both grow older, retire from their respective “night ” jobs, and then marry.) The newer version is the daughter of a mob boss, who gets disgusted by her family’s violence, especially after her boyfriend is killed. She seeks revenge by killing mobsters. Bruce decides to bring her into the fold and gets her to agree to non-lethal ways of curbing the mob in Gotham. Both versions of Huntress have the first name, Helena, with the Earth 2 version being Helena Wayne and the modern version Helena Bertinelli. Helena is usually in a purple costume (sometimes black), and has strong fighting abilities, intelligence, and loyalty. As mentioned above, she’s frequently a member of the Birds of Prey.

8 – Fire and 9 – Ice

Fire was a Brazilian woman who had green fire powers. Ice was a Nordic Ice goddess. Both were characters in Justice League International. Both really need to be brought back!

10 – Wonder Woman

What new can one say about Wonder Woman? Diana is an Amazon princess, originally she brought American airman Steve Trevor back to America during World War II (which was contemporary with the times of her comic which was first published in 1940), where she stayed to fight Nazis, evil, and supervillains. She has the strength of Superman and the intelligence of Batman. Diana is part of DC’s Trinity of superheroes (the other’s being Superman and Batman) and is a member of the Justice League.

Book Review – Batman Beyond: Batgirl Beyond

  • Title: Batman Beyond: Batgirl Beyond
  • Author: Adam Beechen
  • Artist: Adam Archer
  • Characters: Batman (Terry McGinnis), Bruce Wayne, Barbara Gordon, Dana Tan, Max(ine), Dick Grayson, Ace the Batdog 
  • Publication Date: 2014
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 7/14/2016

**Spoiler Alert** Batman Beyond was an excellent animated television series produced by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, with voice direction by Andrea Romano. Bruce Wayne has, amazingly, lived to a ripe old age, so much so that he has to give up the cape and cowl due to his physical limitations. But Terry McGinnis ends up as the New Batman in a tech savvy suit – saving Neo Gotham from a new breed of super villains. Although Terry’s father was murdered (by Amanda Waller it later turns out), Terry’s mother and younger brother survive. Terry is also dating Dana Tan, and his best friend Max(ine) is a computer expert who knows Terry is Batman. And Bruce has a dog, Ace.

This is the second Batman Beyond graphic novel I’ve read (the other being Batman Beyond: Hush Beyond) and I really enjoyed this book. I thought that in Batman Beyond: Batgirl Beyond the characterization was excellent. We see the familiar characters from the TV series, even the Bat-dog Ace makes an appearance, and they are all in character. The world of Neo Gotham also seems very familiar and true to the animated series. Even little details that were confusing, such as Barbara Gordon not only being the police commissioner but being able to walk are explained. Dick Grayson, a character completely ignored in the series and the follow-up movie, makes an appearance that begins to explain what happened to him.

The story starts with the aftermath of a disaster, the street gang the Jokerz are blowing themselves up all over Neo Gotham – causing chaos, destruction, and death. But rather than focusing on this disaster – the story starts in a hospital waiting room. Present are Dana Tan, her mother, Terry, and his mother. Dana’s father is in intensive care, Dana’s brother is also in emergency and dying and the one behind the Jokerz bombings, Bruce Wayne is also in the hospital, dying of liver failure. A doctor tells those gathered that Dana’s brother has died. Dana asks Terry to come with her to see Bruce Wayne, as they make there way there, Terry makes up a story about being saved by Batman but being knocked out (he’s beaten-up and has a concussion).

When they see Bruce however, Dana tells them both she’s realized that Terry is the new Batman, and that Bruce was once Batman. Bruce welcomes her to the family and stresses the need for secrecy. Terry tells Dana he loves her. A doctor comes in and tells Bruce they’ve found a compatible liver for him – Bruce realizes it was Dana’s brother’s liver, but allows the transplant to take place.

Meanwhile, Max has gone on a mission on her own to investigate the Undercloud, a secretive hacker group, lead by Rebel. She’s forced to work with some old superhero tech to create a giant robot to destroy the upper levels of Neo Gotham that are home to the rich and powerful. Max struggles to find a way to send a message to Terry secretly.

Max finally sends an SOS, and Terry arrives but not before the robot is released on Neo Gotham. Yet Rebel’s control box doesn’t work. Terry tries to lead the robot away and minimize damage. Max knocks out Rebel and tries to decode the box. Terry shocks the robot as a defense mechanism – and the different metals start to pull apart. Max realizes that the six metals need to be separated and urges Terry to “do it again”. He does – and what emerges is the Metal Men.

Terry and the Metal Men work to prevent further damage in Gotham and to safely bring down Reed Tower in a more controlled fashion, as well as evacuating the restoration crews inside. Max angerly condemns Rebel’s selfish “point” of mass destruction – telling her she could have made her hacker army a force for good.

With the success of Terry and the Metal Men, and Max getting rescued and Rebel turned over to the police – everyone meets up at Wayne Manor. Bruce mentions the hundreds of space junk satellites in Earth orbit, and suggests that the Metal Men take up residence in one as Watchmen for Earth, to respond to any disaster, natural or man-made, immediately and world-wide. He adds Max and Dana to his bat-family (Max already knew about Terry) and Max comes up with the idea to secretly focus the Undercloud into a force for change and for good (moving it away from the destructive model that Rebel had set-up). Finally, Bruce tells Terry he has to decide if he wants to continue to be Batman (Terry has doubts) but that he will support him no matter what.

Commissioner Barbara Gordon, meanwhile, walks through Crown Point – a less than good neighborhood in Neo Gotham that’s in the middle of a gang war. She’s able to take care of herself, but when the odds are overwhelming she’s rescued by a new Batgirl. This Batgirl tells her the violence isn’t just a co-incidence – there’s literally something in the water. Gordon goes to the ME’s office and is told one of the dead from Crown Point is soaked in chemicals and has very low serotonin levels. Gordon remembers Bane. She also takes her officers and a search warrant and goes after a businessman for his “super steroid”. The businessman attacks in a rage. Gordon’s cops arrest him. Barbara looks up Batgirl and offers her a type of partnership – but insists Batgirl not go to far. At first, Batgirl thinks she can ignore this – but she learns she can’t.

In a story drawn to look very much like the animation style of the Batman Beyond and featuring Ace, Terry’s mom, and Terry’s brother – Bruce and Terry go up against Spellbinder, who puts Bruce in a hallucination using television signals.

Finally, Terry goes up again Inque – a unique character also from the series.

I loved this book – again, it’s very in keeping with the television series and everyone is in character. The only negative comment I have is that for a book entitled, “Batgirl Beyond” – there really wasn’t much of Batgirl. And we didn’t see the new Batgirl meet Terry, or Bruce or anyone in the cast. I liked seeing Commissioner Barbara Gordon being given her own story, and watching Batgirl meet a new Batgirl was fun, but considering the volume title it needed more “oomph”. Maybe other volumes will include more of this new Batgirl.

Highly recommended.

Book Review – Birds of Prey vol. 5: Soul Crisis (New 52)

  • Title: Birds of Prey vol. 5: Soul Crisis
  • Author: Christy Marx
  • Artists: Romano Molenaar, Daniel Sampere, Travis Moore, Robson Rocha, Jonathan Glapion, Vicente Cifuentes, Jordi Tarragona, Oclair Albert, Mark Deering, Julio Ferreira, Scott McDaniel, Chris Sotomayor, Taylor Esposito, Dezi Sienty, Travis Lanham, Carlos M. Mangual
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), Black Canary (Dinah Lance), Suicide Squad, Amanda Waller
  • Collection Date: 2015
  • Collected issues: Birds of Prey #25, 27-34; Birds of Prey: Future’s End 1 (2013-2014)
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/15/2016

**Spoiler Alert** The fifth volume of the collected New 52 version of Birds of Prey really feels like the end of this series. The book opens with a flashback, telling us how Black Canary became Black Canary. It’s a wonderful story. The book ends with a flash forward to five years in the future – having survived a dip in the Lazarus Pit, Black Canary now leads the Red League – rescuing women from abuse, sex trafficking, slavery, and other crimes. Some of the women she rescues willingly join her. Black Canary runs into a future bizarre Batgirl called Bête Noire (the Black Beast). I liked this taste of a future Black Canary – the only issue I had was the internal monologue boxes were red print on a black background which is very, very hard to read. Actually, I find red print difficult to read on any background.

Beyond those two very separate books – this volume wraps up the loose ends from the previous volume. Then the newly regenerated Mother Eve sends the Birds of Prey on a rescue mission to the Congo in Africa to retrieve one of her operatives. There they run into the Suicide Squad (Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Capt. Boomarang, and King Shark) and Amanda Waller. Waller tells Black Canary “the truth” of why Kurt, her husband, has no memory of her – their marriage was a sham and part of Kurt’s cover. Waller then takes Kurt out of the rehab facility he’s been in since his recovery. Black Canary is devastated by this “truth” – but this is Amanda Waller we’re taking about – a master manipulator who wouldn’t know the truth if it walked up to her and introduced itself.

The story ends, however, with the Birds breaking up – Batgirl leaves in disgust and returns to Gotham. Condor tries to stay with Black Canary, since he’s fallen in love with her (for awhile now) but we know the relationship will go nowhere. Canary strikes out on her own – and the flash-forward last story I already mentioned tells us how that will go.

Birds of Prey is a great graphic novel series because it features all women superheroes. Women who are bad-asses who can take care of themselves. The New 52 version compromises that premise (which has been around since the Chuck Dixon series of the 1990s) by introducing Condor who, although cool, doesn’t really belong in this series. These “birds” do not need a man to rescue them. The series also compromises Black Canary, a long-time DC heroine by making her entire existence about her guilt over accidentally “killing” her husband and then her determination to rescue and restore him. Canary even considers betraying the team and allowing R’as al Ghul to kill Mother Eve – simply to get her husband back and whole. Come on! This is the woman who was the defacto leader of the Justice League! (Batman was the leader on paper, but as he tended to be busy he appointed Canary as his lieutenant.) Canary was the trainer for Young Justice in that animated series. She’s had her own series. And for awhile, she was married to Oliver Queen – the Green Arrow. So why wimp her out? Oh, that right, this is New 52.

Fortunately, Rebirth brings her bad-ass self back. Birds of Prey becomes a story of betrayal and of character after character leaving – another trope of “women can’t work together”. There are some great moments (Starling – I miss her!) and some truly beautiful art. But I prefer the original series. And Rebirth is looking to be good too. I rate things based on it’s own merits – and by that score, this novel was pretty good, but other versions of the Birds are better.

Book Review – Birds of Prey vol. 4: The Cruelest Cut (New 52)

  • Title: Birds of Prey vol. 4: The Cruelest Cut
  • Author: Christy Marx, James Tynion IV
  • Artists: Romano Molenaar, Jonathan Glapion, Vicente Cifuentes, Julio Ferreira, Scott McDaniel, Graham Nolan, Miguel Sepulveda, Robson Rocha, Sandu Florea, Oclair Albert, Chris Sotomayor, Rain Beredo, Taylor Esposito, Dezi Sienty, Travis Lanham
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), Black Canary (Dinah Lance), Starling, Strix, Talon, Condor, 
  • Collection Date: 2014
  • Collected issues: Birds of Prey #18-24, 26; Talon #9 (2013-2014)
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 9/29/2016

**Spoiler Alert** Volume 4 of the Birds of Prey series focuses on betrayal. Starling is kidnapped from Dinah (Black Canary)’s Dojo and a ransom demand sent: turn over the Talon and get Starling back. Batgirl begins to reassure the Talon (now called Strix) only to have Strix run. Black Canary and Batgirl follow – only to find Strix at the Court of Owls experimental lab. Suddenly, Mr. Freeze shows-up with Starling. Starling had thrown in her lot with Freeze, declaring, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and since Freeze wants vengeance on the Owls for stealing his cryogenic technology, Starling figures she can use Freeze to get to the Court and the Owls. Black Canary and Batgirl don’t see it that way, and are angered at and feel betrayed by Starling. Condor, meanwhile, proves his mettle, and provides shelter at his workshop.

No sooner are the Birds settling in than Batgirl gets a mysterious message and leaves.

We follow the Talon who refused to kill Strix, on his own adventure to try to free his girlfriend (or wife) and child and then to invade Santa Prisca to challenge Bane.

Back at Condor’s workshop, Basilisk attacks, including a new member, Uplink, who psychically attacks the group, trapping them in dreams. Black Canary and Condor are kidnapped. A former police officer arrives and offers help from “the Benefactor”. Batgirl and Strix go to free Black Canary and try to figure out if Condor, a former member of Basilisk, can be trusted.

At the Basilisk stronghold, Canary discovers her husband, Kurt, isn’t dead – but he is comatose and he’s also a metahuman who’s power is the ability to magnify or block the powers of other metas. She also discovers the leader of Basilisk, Regulus, is a fused being that combines Kaizen and Dean Higgins. Canary had thought Dean was killed in a disastrous black-ops mission to destroy the villain Kaizen, and also “killed” Kurt.

The book ends with Canary holding Kurt, whom Batgirl has returned to his coma because he is experiencing continuous seizures. Condor has proven himself, as has Strix. Presumably, the Birds of Prey will escape.

Book Review – Birds of Prey vol. 3: A Clash of Daggers (New 52)

  • Title: Birds of Prey vol. 3: A Clash of Daggers
  • Author:  Duane Swierczynski, Gail Simone
  • Artists: Romano Molenaar, Vicente Cifuentes, Admira Wijaya, Daniel Sampere, Juan Jose, RYP, Dezi Sienty, Dave Sharpe, Chris Sotomayor
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), Black Canary (Dinah Lance), Starling, Katana, Talon, Condor, Catwoman, Comissionor Gordon, Amanda Waller
  • Collection Date: 2013
  • Collected issues: Batgirl Annual 1, Birds of Prey #13-17 (2012-2013)
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 9/26/2016

This volume of Birds of Prey consists of essentially three stories. In the first story, Commissioner James Gordon visits a Talon in jail. He’s trying to get some information from her, but she’s a Talon and a Mute, so his inquiries are a bust. However, Catwoman frees the female Talon. Later this Talon helps Catwoman and Batgirl in a fight against a group of Talons, led by a man who is organizing the arson of a series of buildings occupied by the poor in one of the worst sections of Gotham (and framing Bruce Wayne for the destruction and death). The Talon fights her former cult-mates and helps Batgirl and Catwoman saving their lives. Batgirl is especially impressed by both Catwoman’s heroics and the Talon’s integrity. The art of the first story is beautiful with a painted/watercolor look and a sepia tone.

In the second story, Katana is attacked and her sword is stolen. Katana follows the sword to Japan where she’s captured by the Daggers – a secret society and crime organization. The Birds of Prey follow her. Throughout the story there’s a countdown to something, “24 hours to detonation, 12 hours to detonation”, etc. which gives the story a tense undercurrent. The something turns out to be a scorched Earth bomb. The Birds, Katana, and a mysterious maybe-hero called “Condor” stop the bomb and Katana recovers her sword which she believes hold her husband’s soul. But in the end, Katana decides to stay in Japan.

Black Canary, Starling, and Batgirl return to Gotham. Batgirl brings in Talon as a new member, upsetting the other two who see her, well, by her costume, as The Enemy. Events happen so fast, Batgirl is unable to explain why she trusts this Talon. Condor also arrives, intent on joining the team – despite it being all women. A few weeks later, this new team is up against the Basilisk tech-terrorist group. Things again go terribly wrong when Canary loses control of her powers, Starling covers for her, and then Starling secretly calls in Amanda Waller. Basilisk turns from attacking a building and power grid to attacking the team with “heartstoppers” electric balls that can fire power that would literally stop the heart. Talon saves Canary, and Condor and Starling’s cry to Waller help the rest of the team.

The art in the rest of the collection varies by book. However, it’s all competent to good. Birds of Prey continues to be a fun series to read – full of powerful kick-ass women. I could do with a bit more characterization, but it’s still well-worth reading. Recommended.

Book Review – Birds of Prey vol. 2: Your Kiss Might Kill (New 52)

  • Title: Birds of Prey vol. 2: Your Kiss Might Kill
  • Author:  Duane Swierczynski
  • Artists: Travel Foreman, Jesus Saiz, Javier Pina, Jeff Huet, Timothy Green II, Joseph Silver, Cliff Richards, Romano Molenaar, Vicente Cifuentes, June Chung, Gabe Eltaeb, Chris Sotomayor, Carlos M. Mangual, Dave Sharpe
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), Black Canary (Dinah Lance), Starling, Katana, Poison Ivy
  • Collection Date: 2013
  • Collected issues: Birds of Prey #8-12, #0 (2012)
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 7/13/2016

The second volume of DC Comics New 52 version of Birds of Prey builds on Black Canary’s background – explaining why everyone is after her. Dinah Lance, it seems, was not framed for murder after all – but did actually kill her ex-husband, though it was an accident. He was training her to learn to control her Canary Cry, and well, things didn’t go well.

This volume also explores Poison Ivy’s character – she does betray her fellow teammates as well as show her more violent tendencies. However, this gives her some depth – and in many ways she becomes sympathetic – despite everything in the comic that tries to point to her as an “terrorist” and extremist. There is also some background and information given about Starling, though she remains enigmatic. Batgirl – and yes it is Batgirl, not Oracle, also shows up. Katana remains one of my favorite characters – despite her extremely violent nature.

Birds of Prey is a fast-moving action-packed book, but there is some characterization that manages to sneak in. And it is awesome to see unique, powerful, strong women who are determined in their convictions. Poison Ivy may be called a “terrorist” and Black Canary condemns her for betraying the team, but you can also understand her point of view, even if her methods are a bit extreme. At least Ivy focuses her attacks squarely at criminals rather than the innocent.

It will be interesting to see how this version of Birds of Prey develops.

I will say that although I prefer the Chuck Dixon Birds of Prey series from the 1990s; this book is one of the better New 52 books.