By: Rebecca Henely
Batgirl and the Birds of Prey #3 tries very hard to have fun. Barbara “Batgirl” Gordon and Dinah “Black Canary” Lance spar with new frenemy The Huntress (the New 52’s Helena Bertinelli version, although they don’t know that yet), break up a group of gangsters’ Taco Tuesday night, and begin each of their scenes with a humorous location caption. Yet the story feels too serious to be loose and breezy, too cramped and stuffed to be enjoyable.
Which is a shame, as Batgirl and the Birds of Prey feels like it should work. The underlying story of the Birds trying to take down a hacker using Barbara’s old identity of Oracle for nefarious mob deals is a great hook. With all the new changes in the DC it’s a neat idea to tackle one of the most controversial choices head on and potentially get a new villain out of it. I also dig the Birds fighting a team of snake-themed villains: The Asp, Lady Viper, Copperhead and Cottonmouth. It’s a neat idea to plumb DC’s back catalogue of villains to make a team that’s similar and yet looks so different.
Unfortunately, the plot rests on the doings of some barely seen and uninteresting mob boss family stereotypes. It’s hard to get into Batgirl and Huntress’ debate over whether their lives are worth saving when we know almost nothing about the characters. What is on page also isn’t all that clear. The story ends with a hostage situation, and I had to read the last few pages a few times to figure out how the hostage was taken as we never see the villains escape. Furthermore, while I do like the occasional levity (like Huntress “relaxing” by sitting stiffly in a folding chair) and funny captions, they don’t really work in a story where the heroes constantly spar over the ethics of killing.
That may be why the best part of the book comes when the storyline is decidedly not having fun. Despite Batgirl getting top billing, Black Canary has become the de-facto narrator of this series, and this book spends some time on her childhood. We see her leave her abusive foster family and enter a dojo, haunted by the mother who left her but also imbued her with a sense of having to perform a mission. These sections aren’t spectacular and truck in typical superhero origin tropes, but they’re easy to follow and have a clear emotional arc.
I’m not completely certain how I feel about Claire Roe’s art. I like how the heroines look muscular and bulky and have faces with strong noses, but some panels are very cramped and don’t flow well. However, I did like the art of Roge Antonio, who draws the flashbacks. His art is clean and attractive, the faces bring across the emotions of the characters very well, and the fight between Dinah and her sensei Lamarr is probably the best of the issue.
Ultimately, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey has parts of it I liked, but it’s a bit too hard to love. I love the idea of reading about DC’s most-prominent all-women team by a team of all women, but too much of it isn’t landing the way it should, and that’s a real shame.