Birds of Prey #4A comic review article by: Ray Tate
The mysterious mastermind behind the explosive humans primed Black Canary on a speeding train last issue. Can the Birds of Prey stop her from succumbing to a messy death? Will the recruitment of Batgirl be enough to weigh the scales in the Birds' favor? Duane Swierczynski and Jesus Saiz combine forces for another exciting issue of DC's version of Charlie's Angels.
Death of a Canary
Swierczynski nails the Canary's characterization in the above scene. She's an older hero, quite willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to save the innocent. It's however that willingness that blinds her to another possibility provided by the new, young Swierczynski/Saiz creation Starling.
Starling gets put through the wringer this issue, and she demonstrates why she's the Canary's lieutenant. We see her make command decisions, coordinate the team while the Canary's incapacitated and tend to the overall welfare of all the Birds including the Canary.
Starling to the Rescue
Notice as well the visual continuity in that scene. Saiz creates the illusion of natural movement by incrementally changing the positions of the characters as well as displaying a mastery of forced perspective and distinctive body language. It's this holistic illustration enhanced by the nuanced colors of June Chung that make Birds of Prey such a sweet treat for the eyes.
In addition to this organic depiction, Saiz and Chung whip the Birds into fighting shape this issue. Katana deals with the flunkies.
Poison Ivy sees to the speeding train.
The Birds fly in formation, and while it's easy to see Katana rising to the occasion. Ivy's actions are quite the surprise.
The Birds of Prey Ivy is different enough from the traditional Ivy to actually be mostly independent from the animated series Ivy, and that incarnation is likely the ultimate source of Ivy's turn-over of a new leaf.
Timm and Company planted the seeds by turning the comic book villain obsessed with Batman into a somewhat sympathetic eco-terrorist in love with Harley Quinn. Diane Pershing's sultry voice is still what you hear when Ivy speaks in Birds of Prey, yet it's an Ivy devoid of menace. That distinguishes her. This incarnation of Ivy seems to have accepted evolution. Plants cannot live without humanity, and even if you don't like humans, you might want to save them for the sake of the garden.
Ivy's reform appears even more complete when a representative of the bat shows up and doesn't even comment on Ivy fighting for the good. Batgirl guest-stars this issue, and although Swiercynski and Saiz do not evolve the depth that Gail Simone does for Babs, their Batgirl is a valid interpretation.
Batgirl's acknowledgement of Starling is another reminder that we're reading comic books set in a universe that's only tentatively related to the previous ones. Indeed, the camaraderie of the heroes is more in tune with the pre-Crisis than the post-Crisis. Starling and Batgirl knowing each other or at least being aware of each other gives both characters more weight and grants this superbly cohesive cosmos greater substance. Best of all, it's done with a subtle touch.
Some fans of the previous series might expect Batgirl to logically jockey for command, but Batgirl defers to Starling and the Canary. She offers only a tactical suggestion, which suits her return as a fully able crimefighter. Some of the Wheelies might bemoan this subsuming of Oracle from the Birds of Prey. They might see Batgirl's return as the perfect excuse to set her up on a computer with a microphone rather than ready her for battle. Suck it. Batgirl belongs in the fight not vicariously experiencing it from afar.
Swiercynski and Saiz end their story on a curious note that appears to reference the Silence from Doctor Who. It's a surprising twist, but it suits the ultimate signature of the villain the Birds face, which is to use the entire capacity of the human body as a tool to commit crime. Batman readers may also want to note a curious connection to the Court of Owls. Perhaps, the Birds of Prey and the Bats ally themselves in a carefully waged war pitting the Gotham heroes against the new vermin in the city.
Ray Tate's first online work appeared in 1994 for Knotted. He has had a short story, "Spider Without a Web," published in 1995 for the magazine evernight and earned a degree in Biology from the University of Pittsburgh. Since 1995, Ray self-published The Pick of the Brown Bag on various usenet groups, where he reviewed comic books, Doctor Who novels, movies and occasionally music. Circa 2000, he contributed his reviews to Silver Bullet Comic Books (later Comics Bulletin) and became its senior reviewer. Ray Tate would like to think that he's young at heart. Of course, we all know better.