Reader’s Guide to the New DC Universe

Reader’s Guide to the New DC Universe: Birds of Prey

Each weekday, Tim will take a look at what we know about each of the upcoming 52 new comics from the September DC relaunch, one series at a time. Today: BIRDS OF PREY!

The Concept and Characters: The core Birds of Prey have been Oracle, Black Canary and Huntress, female vigilantes operating out of Gotham City and beyond. But this is a new take on the concept. Oracle can walk again, and she has resumed the Batgirl mantle, so she’ll be off in her own series. Huntress may yet appear, but she’s not listed in any press surrounding this book.

Now, here’s the information we have so far: “The Birds of Prey are Gotham City’s covert ops team, taking down the villains other heroes can’t touch.” A pretty clear high-concept, and based on the cover image for issue #1, and some things writer Duane Swierczynski has said online, it will remain an all-female team—a Charlie’s Angels meets the A-Team of the superhero set—featuring characters like Black Canary, Poison Ivy, Rose Tattoo, Katana, and someone called “Starling.”

Poison Ivy is the famous Batman villain, and we don’t yet know how deep the continuity changes go in this relaunch, but it’s presumably a case of a former villain working with the good guys now. Rose Tattoo, if that is her on the cover, is actually a character from the Wildstorm Universe, an imprint of DC that has now become folded into the main superhero line. The character with the katana seems to be Katana, formerly of the superhero team known as “The Outsiders,” though with a distinctly different costume. We haven’t seen any Starling designs, and I have no idea if that’s a superhero identity or just a code name for a civilian character.

As a concept, this Birds of Prey relaunch seems to have a solid core. It will occupy a different narrative space than most of the other DC titles, with its all-female cast and its presumed focus on specific missions, each one of which would probably pace out to a nice, trade paperback-friendly story arc. Plus, the covert ops team concept lends itself to the kind of wheels-within-wheels uber-plot that would make for interesting longform storytelling as well. Unless everything is exactly as it seems, and none of these characters have any secrets that will come back to haunt them. Yeah, that would never happen in a superhero espionage book.

The Creative Team: The pretty-solid concept for the series is matched by a pretty-solid creative team. Writer Duane Swierczynski has written a bunch of novels I’ve never read, but he’s also written quite a few comics for Marvel over the past five years, and I’ve seen what he can do in comics. His work hasn’t been phenomenal, and some of his earliest work on Cable was really quite dull and trite (even with a time hopping chase story), but he won me over with his run on The Immortal Iron Fist, and I’ve found him to be quite a capable comic book writer ever since.

He still seems like he’s holding back, though. Maybe his jump from Marvel to DC, and his work on this seemingly fun high-concept series, will be the spark he needs to do something really energetic in the superhero genre.

Jesus Saiz is the artistic equivalent to Swierczynski. A safe choice with an upside. Someone who will do consistently good work, and has a bit of style to him, but he seems capable of even more. His work on DC’s cancelled Manhunter and Checkmate showed him capable of combining high-superhero action with business-suit politics, and he does make a good fit for a series that will be a little bit of costumed hijinx, a little bit of shadowy action, and a lot of potential intrigue.

The big question mark here is how much free reign Swierczynski will have to let his authorial voice shine through. How much latitude will DC give him? How much latitude will he give himself? Because if he really goes wild on this book, it could be one of the best of the new bunch.

Recommendation: Wait for the trade. Swierczynski writes much better for story arcs than he does for single issues, and though I suspect this series will be an entertaining read, there’s not much that makes me feel that it’s something you have to rush out and get each month. No, it falls into a different category, one that might be called, “oh, that was more enjoyable than I expected. I’ll look forward to the next collected edition.” Then again, if Swierczynski and Saiz really unleash their talent, this could bump up to, “oh, I will pre-order the collected edition now.” But, of course, we have to wait and see. Either way, the single issues don’t seem like the way to go.


Tim Callahan writes about comics for Tor.com, Comic Book Resources, Back Issue magazine, and his own Geniusboy Firemelon blog.

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