What's Wrong with Birds of Prey? (Plus Rachel Update)

Before I talk about Birds of Prey, I thought I would talk a little about Rachel. A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned in one of my commentaries that I had just found out my girlfriend's best friend Rachel was terminal with brain cancer. Though few people comment on BatWatch, I did get a large outpouring of concern when I posted the article on ComicVine, so I thought you might want an update. Keep in mind that my info is at least three times removed, so details might be sketchy. (That's Rachel on the right and my girlfriend Mary Jane on the left)

To see this article with images, Click Here.

Rachel had surgery a couple of weeks ago, and they removed much of the brain cancer, but of course, it is nearly impossible to completely eliminate cancer in the best of circumstances, and in the case or rooting around the brain, the doctor simply cannot get it all without doing major damage. The surgery and healing has gone about as well as possible; Rachel had a similar surgery a couple years ago, and in comparison, she is healing much, much more quickly. She is fairly close to feeling and acting normal now. She is not quite as sharp as she should be,she is a little child like at times, and she occasionally has trouble remembering specific words, but she is aware and can carry on regular conversations for the most part. Her slowness is not due to the cancer but to the swelling from the brain surgery, and as the swelling continues to decrease, she should get back to normal...at least for a while. She is doing chemo and radiation to slow down the cancer growth, but barring some miracle, it's just a delaying tactic, and she will probably die within eight months.

I've got some issues with God which I will probably talk about some time, so I'm a bit..,cynical about the helpfulness of prayer, but hopefully, my cynicism is misplaced. If you feel you have a connection with the Almighty, go ahead and say some prayers for Rachel.

Birds of Prey

From one depressing subject to another, let's discuss Birds of Prey. Birds of Prey, unlike Nocenti's Catwoman or Hurwitz's Worlds' Finest, is not horrible, but it sure as heck is not good either. Contemplating this subject for the past few days, I realized I actually did not have any scalding remarks for the series. Birds' failing is not in being particularly bad, but just in being frightfully dull. After consideration, I've thought of three things that would dramatically help the series improve.

1. Develop the Characters!

You might think you read team stories for cool action, but you don't. You read it for the team dynamic. Seeing the personalities of Batman, Superman, Green Lantern and the rest of the League members bounce off each others is at least as entertaining as watching them pummel the baddie in any given Justice League comic. The same is true of any team book, and that is the main area in which Birds is failing

Of the five current members of Birds of Prey, only one of them has a discernible personality, Starling. Starling is a foul mouthed, no nonsense, impulsive, wise cracking, extroverted, double dealing, mysterious chick with an attitude, and I love her. The rest of the cast sucks.

Now some people might think I'm talking smack about Poison Ivy and Katana, but these two ladies are no longer on the team. In Poison Ivy's case, her absence is a shame because she was the only character outside of Starling who added some dynamic to the team. Whereas all the other girls were busy playing hero, Poison Ivy was purely in the game for herself, and her jaded attitude and selfish interest gave the team a little personality. As if he was fearful that the book might break free of mediocrity, series writer Duane Swierczynski killed her off. Katana, for her part, really did not add much to the team. She was one of three martial arts experts, and her personality was identical to the rest of the team except she was quieter and more secretive. I guess this might have added a smidge more flavor to the team, but it is irrelevant now because she was written off in a three part arch which went nowhere so she could have her own series written by the ever so talented Nocenti. It's judgment calls like this that really make you question DC editorial.

That leaves Black Canary, Starling, Batgirl, Strix and Condor. I've enjoyed both Dinah and Babs pre-Flashpoint, but they both come off as incredibly flat in the DCNU Birds of Prey. Perhaps Dinah is a tad more bossy. I think Batgirl might make an occasional joke during combat, but beyond that, they seem identical. Strix and Condor are pretty much brand new characters, and neither of them have made much of an impression. Strix is an ex-talon who does not talk to anyone but Batgirl and seems almost childlike at times, so I guess their might be some potential for chemistry there. Condor has no apparent purpose or point, and he's a moron.

In review, the current team chemistry consists of one interesting character, Starling, and a bunch of one dimensional throwaway characters. As long as the majority of the team is nothing more than blond chick, redheaded chick, mute girl, and moron, nobody will invest much in these stories.

2. Define the Nature of the Team

In all seriousness, I cannot tell you one thing that separates Birds of Prey from every other team comic book on the market. Justice League is about the best heroes on the planet handling the largest threats. Batman Incorporated is about Bruce creating an army of heroes that will fight crime on a local level while aiding in the battle against the global threat of Leviathan. Teen Titans is about teen heroes who unite out of necessity and for mutual support. Birds of Prey is about...I have no idea.

The Birds seem to just bounce around from conflict to conflict dealing with whatever crops up. If they have some specific focus, I have no idea what it is. Perhaps they word as counter terrorist operatives?

Most of the team members are human, so that might make them stand out from the crowd, but wait, Condor is a metahuman with telekinesis and Strix presumably has resurrecting powers.

There is the obvious angle that all the characters are girls, but Condor screwed that up.

Condor is a bird name though, so could the teams identity be that all the characters are named after birds? That's completely shallow and a meaningless justification for a team, but at least its something, but no, even that will not work because Batgirl is on the team, and Bats are not birds. In fact, if we look at all the DCNU members of Birds of Prey, then the series should actually be called Birds, Bat, Plant Lady and Sword of Prey which does not have much of a ring to it.

Anything that defines the team's purpose could only help.

3. Portray Black Canary as Intelligent.

Would anybody describe pre-Flashpoint Dinah as stupid? I would not, but as much as I have tried to enjoy her current presentation, I just can't think of her as anything other than an idiot.

The first issue I ever read was the best example of Swierczynski making Black Canary an imbecile. The issue in question, number12, started with Poison Ivy trying to kill some innocent dude because he played a role in what she considered a crime against nature. (if I followed the plot correctly. This issue never explained why Ivy was trying to kill him) Black Canary stops Ivy and chews her out, yet Dinah still proceeds with the team's next mission which involves the Birds destroying an oil mining platform to help with Ivy' environmental crusade. On the plane ride there, Poison Ivy and Black Canary nearly kill each other, but despite this, Dinah again decides to move on with the plan and destroy the oil rig. Now, for perspective, an oil rig can cost as much as $500 million dollars and employ hundreds of people. The oil this rig produces fuels the entire world economy, and the damage to this one rig would cause energy prices to go up for every person in the world. Still, Black Canary carries out the plan. How can you respect a team leader who makes such incredibly stupid judgment calls?

Though that is certainly the worst example, the last issue also had quite a spectacle when Dinah decided to accept two new members to the team. Black Canary accepted Strix, who Dinah knew nothing about other than that she formerly worked as an assassin. Oh, also Strix hit Dinah without provocation. Dinah also brought Condor on board who nearly killed them on the Birds last mission and has proven himself to be incompetent and prone to violence several times.

The current Black Canary, I'm sad to say, is a complete moron.

By the Numbers

Birds of Prey has had a mediocre reception among fans, but it has continued to sell fairly well. Last month, it sold 24,000 copies to rank it 29th out of the 52. It sales have been fairly steady with a little loss of readership over the past several months but no major drop off. Duane Swierczynski's next issue will be his last, so we will soon get to see a new interpretation of the Birds from Kristi Marx. Sadly, Marx is the writer of Sword and Sorcery which has sold horribly and is generally regarded as merely okay, so that does not exactly inspire high hopes for her run on Birds of Prey. Still, let's cross our fingers and hope that the gods of good writing guide her hand.

8 Comments
8 Comments
Posted by entropy_aegis

I hope Rachel stays healthy.

On topic agree with everything you said about BOP,it lacks identity and interesting characters.Ivy was interesting and she's gone,Katana had like only 2% personality as compared to her Pre-Flashpoint counter part but ofcourse they're gonna give us the whole"it's a new universe" excuse and it annoys me,eventually the characters will go back to what they were with enough development, will obviously take a few years.DC is basically recycling the same stories,same goes for Stirx aka Cassandra Cain.BTW Black Canary has always been an imbecile,Gail Simone is the only who writes her as smart,some examples of her stupidity would have you rolling with laughter.

Posted by Ravager4

@BatWatch said:

Strix is an ex-talon who does not talk to anyone but Batgirl.

Strix, or Mary, doesn't talk to anyone at all because she's completely mute. I think she may have had her tongue cut out? I'm not sure, but she cannot talk ever, according to Simone, who created her. I do love her child-like personality, though (attributed to her being traumitized during world war II, before she became a Talon, I believe). It adds a completely different dynamic than the other characters. Also, her hitting Dinah without provocation... is not entirely true. Yes, Dinah did not provoke her, but Condor did, and given her nature, that set her off to pretty much go after anyone she could get her hands on (she is still very much adjusting to the world, since she'd been on ice as a Talon since, what, the 30's? plus, she's very simple minded and aggressive, being a Talon and all).

Also, about Dinah going along with Ivy's plans, at the time she was under the threat of themselves and the entire world being taken out by a killer plant virus or something (which never did get resolved, really...), so it was either that or let all humans on the planet die, so *shrug*

Condor is dumb and pointless, though, he does not interest me at all. I'm hoping that when the new writer comes along, he'll leave. Maybe he's the traitor (though my gut tells me it's Ev... since she's been working with Waller and all, from what I remember. And yes, the ejection of Poison Ivy hurt the team, too. She was the only one who interested me aside from Starling (I love Babs, too, but she's not being written great here. Just kind of average).

Anyway, I'll be happy to get story arcs with actual endings now, instead of vague time skips that leave nothing answered...

Posted by daredevil21134

Helena Bertinelli is not there

Posted by lykopis

Oh wow --- if I can just say, Rachel sounds like a scrapper to me and considering her rapid recovery from this surgery -- it says a lot about her zest for life and love.

I do know what your mean about delaying tactic -- how the prognosis isn't good considering they were unable to get out all of the tumor. Chemotherapy has been known to help -- awful though it is --- I am not peddling false hope here, I know you and other that love this individual ore very aware of the odds stacked against Rachel, but really -- what do you have to lose? Treat every day for the miracle it is and treat it as though Rachel will live long and strong. Trust me, acting differently won't make the pain any less powerful and difficult to bear should things not go well after all. And I am saying this for your sake, as this girl's friend.

I am an atheist but I do send my thoughts in your direction and I hope despite all the suffering Rachel has/is going through -- there will be a happy ending here. Keep strong for your girlfriend -- and all the best.

Haven't read Birds of Prey in a long time (so woefully behind in my reading) but sounds pretty awful. Maybe with this new writer coming up I should catch up and hopefully come across and new and better approach to these characters.

Posted by Duo_forbidden

I agree with everything you wrote. I haven't read BoP since issue 7 or 8. I miss the Pre-Flashpoint BoP where they meant something. I MIGHT give it another shot when the series get a new writer tho.

Posted by BatWatch

@lykopis:

BOP isn't awful; it's just very meh. It certainly has awful moments.

Thank you for the kind words on Rachel. I don't know her super well. I've hung out with her a few times, and I like her a lot, but its obviously a much larger issue for Mary Jane, my girlfriend, than it is for me. MJ lived with her when she was first diagnosed and went through her first round of treatments. MJ also had two of the kids in her youth ministry die in a plane crash the same year Rachel was diagnoses, so she had one really awful year, then things were better last year, and now, it seems pretty likely that Rachel will be dying too, so it just sucks.

I feel kind of weird asking people to pray for her because I will not pray for her myself. I used to be a fundamentalist Christian, but quite frankly, I'm just ticked off at God because of the way he runs things, Rachel being a perfect example. It's also kind of awkward since I know a lot of comic fans are atheist, (which is an odd little idiosyncrasy I've never figured out) but it seems like I should ask for something. I'm hoping maybe I am wrong about God being evil and he will care if people ask for mercy. (sigh) I'm a very weird person.

@Duo_forbidden said:

I agree with everything you wrote. I haven't read BoP since issue 7 or 8. I miss the Pre-Flashpoint BoP where they meant something. I MIGHT give it another shot when the series get a new writer tho.

Yeah, you definitely have not missed anything of recent. I actually think it was better at the beginning than it is now, so if you gave up on the series around issue eight, you definitely don't want to read 9-16.

Posted by lykopis

@BatWatch:

You are far from being a weird person -- you are a deeply reflective person and accept emotion. It's always a good thing to be introspective and I believe it's times like these you discover more of who you are. Poor MJ -- my heart really goes out to here experiencing so much tragedy in such a short amount of time. She has you to seek comfort with and I am sure she is grateful to you.

Thank you for replying and keep going strong as you have been. :)

Posted by GWHH

Black Canary never gets any respect. Happen to her since day one! Its her cross to bare!