10 May 2013

Faster than a DC Bullet: Birds of Prey, Part XVII: Trouble in Mind

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2012 (contents: 2011-12)
Borrowed from the library
Read May 2013
Birds of Prey, Volume 1: Trouble in Mind

Writer: Duane Swierczynski
Artist: Jesus Saiz
Additional Art: Javier Pina
Colorists: Nei Ruffino, Allen Passalaqua, June Chung 
Letterer: Carlos M. Mangual

Things have changed a lot since we last saw the Birds of Prey: the Huntress and Lady Blackhawk are nowhere to be seen, and Barbara Gordon is walking again, having resumed the role of Batgirl. Dinah Lance a.k.a. the Black Canary is still wanted for murder, though, and so in order to fight a new threat she's uncovered, she's put together her own "covert ops team run by a bunch of supercriminal hotties": herself, Ev Starling, Katana, and Poison Ivy. And Barbara Gordon wants to help, even if she won't be seen with them in public.

While it's quite a jump from The Death of Oracle to Trouble in Mind (some might say it's a whole new universe), the recognizable threads of Birds of Prey are still there, and Trouble in Mind is their best outing since Tony Bedard's Club Kids. The action is fast without ever being too frenetic, there are some great set-pieces (particularly the train fight), the narration keeps character without ever becoming overwhelming, there's an intriguing mystery. Though the story doesn't fit within this seven-issue volume, it never stops moving, and it doesn't feel decompressed; every chapter adds a new wrinkle or complication to the mix. The story's choppy sometimes, but that's never not on purpose, and it's good comics, serving to disorient the reader in the same way that the characters are.

The characters really shine even though the action doesn't stop moving. Dinah is still recognizably Dinah, an action hero with the right amount of compassion to get the job done, and Ev Starling is a lot of fun from panel one: kind of a crazier version of the Huntress. Both seem to have something lurking in their backstories-- the murder for Black Canary, something we don't quite know yet for Starling. Poison Ivy works surprisingly well. She might be a "villain," but it's obvious that in her own mind and own world she's a hero fighting the good fight, and she integrates well. Katana we don't know enough about yet, but her gimmick is entertaining enough all on its own.

Jesus Saiz also turns out to be the best artist on Birds of Prey since Nicola Scott left. Clean pencils and inks, great with facial expressions, resists the tendency to cheesecacke, draws cool and coherent action. I hope he sticks with this title a long time. (Maybe he'll get the pull to simplify Jim Lee's overly busy redesign for the Black Canary. Just losing the shoulderpads would be an improvement.) Javier Pina fills in for one issue, and proves up to the task, too.

This is my last volume of Birds of Prey for a while: the next volume, Your Kiss Might Kill, is out, but too recently for me to pick up via ILL. It's a series that's had its occasional false start and misdirection, but at its best it's delivered some fun comics with some entertaining characters. I look forward to coming back to it some day, and to picking up more stories about these same characters-- especially Black Canary and the Huntress-- elsewhere.

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