Friday, February 22, 2013

Pull List Review: Birds of Prey #17

And so Duane Swierczynski's tenure as the writer of Birds of Prey ends not with a bang but with a quiet, rushed farewell. It didn't feel like Swierczynski saw his departure coming, because there's a lot of unseen action and sudden exposition in this issue. Basilisk, presumably the primary villain of the arc, is defeated off-panel, so that Black Canary and Strix can have more time to get to know one another. And though I enjoyed Strix's attempts at communication, Black Canary's speech about her power spikes being connected to her late husband was far to rapid and unnatural, so the scene fell flat overall. And there was a lot of that kind of dialogue, like when Starling was talking to Amanda Waller. First of all, did I miss something? Was I supposed to know they worked together? And secondly, their conversation explained their relationship in such a forced manner that it took me out of the story. I was so distracted by trying to figure out if this was new information and make sense of what they were saying to each other that I forgot what I was even reading for a minute. Very awkward work.
     The arrival of a paramilitary strike force comes out of nowhere and isn't resolved, nothing really develops with the recent weirdness of Black Canary's powers, and Strix is the only member of the team we get to see in action. So there are a lot of holes and missteps in Swierczynski's final script, but it is so difficult these days to know whether to blame author or publisher. It could be that DC took this title from Swierczynski with too little warning, forcing him to tie up all his threads in a final twenty pages when he had been expecting much more space to do so. Either way, this was an unimpressive showing.
     Romano Molenaar, inked by Vicente Cifuentes, does stronger work, but is still wobbly. It seems to depend on who is being drawn. Strix basically always look great, detailed and sharp and menacing. The same goes for Starling, who's spiritedness and sass shine through brightly. But Batgirl is far less consistent, with the shape and thickness of her mask varying, as well as the face underneath. And Condor's helmet grows and shrinks with every panel he's in. It seems like Molenaar just has a better handle on some of the cast than others, a problem I hope gets fixed as the new writers step in. After an issue by Jim Zub we'll get Christy Marx, who I think could be a good fit, but she'll need the support of solid visuals if she wants to return this series to its former glory.
     There were a few banging panels, though, like Strix attacking Black Canary or Strix being shot. They mostly involved Strix, who hasn't won me over entirely yet as a new member of the team but looks great, at least, in Molenaar's hands. So I am excited to see her developed, perhaps even devising some means of speaking with her teammates, since she seems to have no voice. Swierczynski gives us a bit of that here, and I liked what he came up with, so there's potential for her to be a breakout character, I think. I suppose that is true of anyone right after they are introduced, but the potential still hasn't been squandered with Strix.
     I'm not sure how bright the future of Birds of Prey looks right now, but Swierczynski's run ends, sadly, on a low point. He hasn't really gotten his groove back since the wedged-in "Night of the Owls" crossover, and now it seems he'll never get the chance. Too bad, because for a while this was one of the New 52's strongest titles. Maybe fresh blood will bring it back, but with the rocky artwork and petering out of this issue, my hopes aren't especially high.

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