One year in, and "The New 52" has now shifted to "The 52." How's it been? Steve Morris investigates in a series we're calling "One Year Later."
A spy series which makes for a surprisingly cohesive companion piece to Brian Wood's X-Men at the moment, Birds of Prey has had assured writing from the start, thanks to Duane Swierczynski. It's also had some really weird, disjointed pacing and structure.
The book sees a team of women assemble to fight corporate evils, avoiding superhero stuff (for the most part) in favor of spy missions and conspiracies. Led by Black Canary and slowly bringing in names like Poison Ivy and Batgirl, the real star of the book has actually been Swierczynski's own creation, Starling. Immediately settling into the tone of the book, her easygoing chemistry with the rest of the cast, helped by some great dialogue and characterization from Swierczynski, has made her into a fan-favorite.
Elsewhere in the New 52, new characters are running somewhat scarce — especially heroic ones. Starling injected a sense of verve into the story, which helped keep things fast-paced and fun for the whole of the 12-issue run. The characterization has been great for every member of the team, in fact, with Poison Ivy benefitting from the creative team continuing Greg Rucka's all-too-brief work with the character. She's now an eco-terrorist as opposed to a pointless seductress, with an agenda and personality which give her a strength at the same time as confirming her status as a villain.
Of all the team, perhaps Katana has struggled most for space, as Swierczynski's stories have centred around Canary, and mostly boxed Katana in as "the ninja." And those stories have been a bit of a mixed bag. Told well, the use of cliffhangers and internal continuity has been a fair struggle for wade through at times, with plot points dropped seemingly at random, and abrupt leaps forwards/backwards in time. This is a problem mostly seen inbetween issues, but the "Choke" storyline which kicked things off also saw a number of strange gear shifts which left the reader somewhat lost.
"Choke" was a story where the team fought against a man who had implanted triggers into civilians which meant they would become his sleeper agents — or simply explode. The team fought him for something like the first six or seven issues, but without a particular strong resolution. Instead the book swerved into building up an arc for Ivy, as she forced control of the team in order to go take down multinational corporations who harmed the environment. And in the middle was a crossover with "Night of the Owls," too. The constant switching around is perhaps the most notable problem with the book at the moment — if it can start to consolidate and juggle the multiple subplots, it will become a much more enjoyable book.
Not that it's bad at the moment. Despite some leaps in pace and story, the book has managed to make superhero spy stories which were fun, energetic, and madcap, backed by great dialogue and some strong artwork. Cliff Richards finishes off the run, but Jesus Saiz and Travel Foreman have also both been working on the series, to great effect. Foreman's twisting artwork was well-served by the story offered him by Swierczynski, whilst Saiz created strong designs for all the characters in the first story, and some great action sequences.
Birds of Prey has some problems, but is DC's best team book. The characters are fun and engaging, the stories engrossing, and the mythology being created by Swierczynski is incredible. The book already has a fresh backstory established, and being offered out to readers slowly. It has a clear purpose and attitude, and stands out amongst the rest of the Batman titles.
- For more not-so-new-52 coverage, check out Steve's other One Year Later essays:
- One Year Later: Animal Man/Swamp Thing
- One Year Later: Demon Knights
- One Year Later: Suicide Squad
- One Year Later: Catwoman
- One Year Later: Batwing
- One Year Later: Aquaman
- One Year Later: Wonder Woman
- One Year Later: Birds of Prey
- One Year Later: Justice League Dark
- One Year Later: The Flash
Steve Morris is the head and indeed only writer for Comics Vanguard, the internet's 139th most-favorite comic-book website. You can find him on Twitter at @stevewmorris, which is mostly nonsensical gibberish you may enjoy or despise. His favorite Marvel character is Darkstar, while his favorite DC character is, also, Darkstar. He's on Team X-Men, you guys.