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.

Book Review – Birds of Prey vol. 1: Trouble in Mind (New 52)

  • Title: Birds of Prey vol. 1: Trouble in Mind
  • Author:  Duane Swierczynski
  • Artists: Jesus Saiz, Nei Ruffino, Allen Passalaqua, June Chung, Carlos M. Mangual
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), Black Canary (Dinah Lance), Starling, Katana, Poison Ivy
  • Collection Date: 2012
  • Collected issues: Birds of Prey #1-7 (2011-2012)
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 5/30/2016

I’m not normally a fan of DC’s “New 52” Era of Comics, which is why I’m very excited about Rebirth but I’ve heard good things about the new Birds of Prey so I thought I’d give it a try. And much to my surprise I did enjoy this book, enough that I plan on buying volume 2.

This story features Black Canary as the nominal leader of the Birds of Prey, Barbara Gordon having bowed out to become Batgirl again. Black Canary is joined by Starling, an expert with guns, Katana, an expert with a katana sword as well as a martial artist, and Poison Ivy. The group each has their own troubles, Black Canary for example is wanted for murder – which she probably did not commit, though we aren’t given any information about why she’s wanted for murder or even who she supposedly killed. The group investigates what turns out to be a mind-control operation. The men in stealth-suits they are fighting are ordinary people who are being controlled by a drug that is supposed to be used to treat stroke, and nursery rhyme control phrases. When an operative is compromised, the control phrase can be used to literally make the person’s head blow-up. The Birds of Prey fall into the mess and try to figure it out. However, by the end of the book it’s clear that one or more, and possibly all of the Birds have also been influenced by “Choke” as they are calling the person in charge of the nefarious plan.

This version of Birds of Prey includes both villains (Poison Ivy) and chaotic good (Katana, Starling) characters as well as heroes (Black Canary, a very brief appearance by Batgirl) but the classic 1990s Birds of Prey featured around thirty female characters, some of which had been considered villains (Catwoman, Poison Ivy) or chaotic good (Huntress), so I don’t have a problem with the inclusion of “bad guy” or villain characters – the Birds of Prey had always been more open about membership than, for example, the Justice League (who seemed to have a Code of Conduct for members).

The story in Birds of Prey volume 1 Trouble in Mind was interesting, enough so that I will buy the next volume because I want to see what happens. However, I did feel the characterization was a little flat. Not as flat as other New 52 books I’ve read, which were awful. But when I compare this version of Birds of Prey to the Classic version, which I’ve also read, it comes up wanting a little – because the book is a slug fest for the most part, and character takes a back seat to the action. Now, I will say, again, I did enjoy Birds of Prey (New 52) but I just don’t find it as good as the original group led by Oracle.

Book Review – Birds of Prey vol. 3 (1990s – Chuck Dixon)

  • Title: Birds of Prey vol. 3
  • Author:  Chuck Dixon
  • Artists: Greg Land, Gloria Vasquez, Patricia Mulvihill, Dick Giordano,  Albert T DeGuzman, Patrick Zircher, John Costanza, Butch Guice, Drew Geraci, Jordi Ensign, Jose Marzan Jr.
  • Line: 1990-Era (Early Modern Age)
  • Characters: Oracle (Barbara Gordon), Black Canary (Dinah Lance), Power Girl, Nightwing, Alfred Pennyworth, Robin
  • Collection Date: 2016 (reprint)
  • Collected issues: Birds of Prey #12-21 and Nightwing #45-46 (1999-2000)
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 3/22/2017

This is the third volume of the collected Classic Birds of Prey written by Chuck Dixon and illustrated by Greg Land and others. First, Black Canary is out to stop the breakout of a number of super-villains from a prisoner transport train. She, the military officers protecting the train, and the villains are transported by Boom Tube to Apokolips. There, with the help of a weaker parademon that isn’t part of the hoard, they must all escape. Barbara meets Ted Kord at a technology conference – and discovers he’s the co-hacker she’s been chatting with on-line for months. Diana tries to help an abused woman in her apartment building but is too late to prevent her from killing her abuser. Barbara interviews the Joker from an unseen position. Finding out the Joker has sold nuclear cruise missiles to a terrorist group, she asks for more information. When she tells Joker he isn’t in Arkham but New York, he tells her the nukes are on missiles that will hit New York. Oracle calls in Powergirl, Black Canary, and even the US Military to stop the attack. Dinah (Black Canary) is sent on a humanitarian mission to Transbelvia to help refugees and victims of ethnic cleansing and war between Krasy-Volnans and Belvans. She helps a group get to a shelter, overall things do not go well. Meanwhile, Jason Bard calls Barbara from the hospital where he’s undergoing an operation to restore his sight. Barbara offers to get him some investigative work.

There is a flashback story of Barbara setting up her Oracle base with the help of Richard Grayson (Nightwing) and Robin. She ends up also having Ted Kord visit her apartment and meeting with Jason Bard as well (who discovers she is in the chair).

The final volumes collected in Volume 3 of Birds of Prey reprint Nightwing and Birds of Prey in order. Nightwing is captured by Blockbuster, but freed by Cisco Blaine, who turns out to be a Federal agent. However, while Nightwing goes to get the files to bring down Blockbuster, Nite-Wing (Tad) the not-that-bright vigilante kills Blaine. Grayson freaks. Meanwhile, Black Canary is being pursued. Alfred and Robin rescue Dick, and they race to rescue Oracle. Meanwhile, Blockbuster has hired Mouse, Giz, Stallion, and Lady Vic, to find and destroy Oracle. Alfred, Robin, Nightwing, and Black Canary rush to help Barbara (Oracle). Barbara survives but Dinah is captured by the bad guys who think she’s Oracle.

Birds of Prey Volume 3 collects Birds of Prey 12-21 and Nightwing #45-46. Note this is NOT the Gail Simone version of Birds of Prey – it’s the original Chuck Dixon version.

Book Review – Birds of Prey vol. 2 (1990s – Chuck Dixon)

  • Title: Birds of Prey vol. 2
  • Author:  Chuck Dixon
  • Artists: Greg Land, Gloria Vasquez, James Sinclair, Dick Giordano,  Albert T DeGuzman, Pete Krause, Nelson DeCastro, Tim Harkins, Drew Geraci, Mark Propst
  • Line: 1990-Era (Early Modern Age)
  • Characters: Oracle (Barbara Gordon), Black Canary (Dinah Lance), Ravens
  • Collection Date: 2016 (reprint)
  • Collected issues: Birds of Prey 1 – 11 and Birds of Prey Ravens 1 (1999)
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 4/18/2016

Goodreads has this book mis-identified, though I can see the confusion. The cover shown is for the Chuck Dixon, Greg Land, Drew Geraci DC Comics Brids of Prey Volume 2 graphic novel published (or rather re-published) copyright 2016. Gail Simone is author of the current New 52 Birds of Prey run. This is a reprint of the 1999 series, and features: Birds of Prey 1 – 11 and Birds of Prey Ravens 1. So either the wrong cover is assigned (I looked at the other Birds of Prey book listed in Goodreads and it has the wrong cover and only lists Birds of Prey 1 -2 for content.)

Birds of Prey are the female heroes and sometimes chaotic good characters (such as Catwoman or Huntress) of the DC Universe. This book also introduces the Ravens a group of female assassin characters. Volume 2 of DC’s collected reprint of the 1990s run of Birds of Prey focuses on Black Canary and Oracle. In the first story, Oracle sends Black Canary to Rheelasia on a rescue mission. It’s a set-up, but in the midst of the chaos, Black Canary does manage to rescue Jason Bard – Oracle’s former fiancé and a PI sent to rescue the rich and privileged hostages a villain named Pajamas has kidnapped. Although Jason is injured, they manage to rescue the hostages and shut down Pajamas operation.

The next story is a Ravens story and introduces the Ravens: Cheshire, Vicious, Termina, and Pistolera, assassins all – who are on a mission to prevent the terrorist organization S.I.M.O.N. from exploding a neutron generator – which produces a continuous stream of deadly radiation over a controlled area. The Ravens are betrayed by Termina who thinks the radiation from the generator will reverse her illness that makes her deadly to everyone around her. The other three Ravens escape.

In the next story, Black Canary heads to the Minnesota lakes country – only to run into the Ravens again as well as an honest-to-goodness lake monster, and Kobra (an international criminal syndicate) – throw in a little time travel and Canary’s vacation becomes a Busman’s Holiday. However, the story is fun, light, and very, very enjoyable. I loved it.

There is also a short story of Barbara Gordon (the real identity of Oracle) and Dick Grayson (Nightwing) going out on a date to Haly’s Circus. It’s a wonderful and sweet story.

Getting back to the Birds of Prey, Black Canary also is sent on an humanitarian rescue mission, only to discover the man she was sent to rescue is the stereotypical “mad scientist” and his experiment is a super-powered clone of Guy Gardner (one time Green Lantern). Evil Guy Gardner clone nearly kills Canary but he is stopped by a big and pleasant surprise!

Birds of Prey is an awesome series – and this graphic novel I found to be even more enjoyable than volume 1 because it focused on Oracle and Black Canary. The guest-starring Ravens were introduced with enough detail to make them understandable as characters – and to make this reader sympathetic to them, even with their rather shady profession. Still, assassins who kill the lowest of the low / scum of the earth types although considered evil or at the very least chaotic good in the DC Universe (where killing people is always bad no excuses) seem to have their place at least in Birds of Prey. It’s also wonderful to see a whole series devoted to the female heroes and characters of the DC Universe.

I recommend this graphic novel and the series.