New 52: 'Birds of Prey' Doesn't Soar, But Doesn't Crash, Either

Birds of Prey #1, Duane Swierczynski (w), Jesus Saiz (a) [Print]

THE PITCH: Dinah Lance, AKA Black Canary, is wanted for murder--but that's not going to stop her from putting together

HOW WAS IT? After Gail Simone's stellar work with the team over the last few years, I was a little iffy about the New 52 incarnation of BoP. It wasn't the fairly dramatic redesigns of the characters (maybe it falls into the body armor same-y-ness of the rest of the line) or the change in lineup (the whole point of this exercise was to mix things up, right). But there's a particular kind of trap a book like Birds of Prey can fall into, dragged into the same kind of quippy tough girl comic that exhausts its charm before you've even closed the book. Imagine if every character was a variation on Pam Anderson as Barbed Wire, and you've got the terrible book in you brain that I have in mind.

Thankfully, writer Duane Swierczynski didn't write that book, but that's not to say his introduction of the team to new readers doesn't go over as smoothly as I'd hoped.

First off, this is one of quite a few books in the relaunch that uses a fractured timeline to tell its story. We start with a Gotham reporter who's been trailing Black Canary in her civilian guise for a mysterious source who wants to expose the Birds as "some covert ops team run by a bunch of supercriminal hotties" (actual words, used, people). Cue the reporter's source deciding he's better off without the reporter and next thing you know, Black Canary and her new teammate Starling (civilian identity, Ev Crawford), come in with punches flying and guns blazing.

The bulk of the issue is spent on the fight sequence at the church where this whole sequence takes place, but we get a flashback to Dinah meeting with Barbara Gordon for a two page infodump that explains the premise of the book: apparently, Dinah is wanted for murder but still wants to fight crime, so she's assembling a team based, in part, on Barbara's recommendations to do that. This whole conversation has a lot of territory to cover and you can feel it bursting at the seams with forced exposition, but before you know it, the whole thing is over and Dinah is kicking dudes in stealth suits in the head and blowing out their eardrums. Oh, and a dude totally explodes on the last page, bringing the New 52 "Gnarly Death Count" to somewhere around "too many."

If you can't tell, I thought the first issue was a little rocky at times, but it was never an out and out failure and actually had enough to keep me interested. I'm becoming less and less a fan of the "getting the team together" books since the publishers keep making so many of them, but there's enough big, action in the issue to distract from the fact that we only have half of our lineup on the page. It feels like the pilot for an action series you think you might be into, but the whole cast hasn't been assembled yet and the writer hasn't quite nailed the voices of the characters that are there (which is to say both Starling and Black Canary sound a little similar at this point).

Also, I keep trying to rationalize that Starling is the New 52 incarnation of the Authority character, Rose Tattoo, but nothing really bears that out beyond, you know, some flowers on her tattoo.

Speaking of new character designs, in motion, the new Canary design looks fair enough--not overly fussy or busy with extraneous lines--but I think if they want to refine the look down the line, the shoulder pads have to go. With her corset/bangs/leather pants/tat look, Starling reminds me of an alt-girl style killer from a late 90's movie that I swear I've seen whose name I can't remember. But artist Jesus Saiz draws the hell out of her and Black Canary, and they look tough, they look plausibly physical and the action is kinetic. The fights (and the characters) look like they have actual weight to them, and it sells the overall action.

So, a decent-ish story with some pretty good art. Sure, I'll come back next month and see what this team gets up to.

BEST BIT: Artist Jesus Saiz's work with faces ensures that the female cast of the book is distinct, each with their own shape and personality.

WORST BIT: The way expository conversation between Barbara and Dinah is really clunky. While it gets the messy business of explaining the premise out of the way, there had to be a more elegant way to do it.

Also: no idea how "Ev" is pronounced and it's killing me.

EASTER EGGS: Random purple lady in the shadows.

ACCESSIBLE TO NEW READERS? Yeah, Swierczynski lays it out for the reader early on in the book, so there's no confusion what the concept is.

WILL YOU BE PICKING UP ISSUE 2? Sure, I want to see the dynamics between the whole team.

RATING: 40/52