52 Catch Up is a series devoted to looking at issues from DC’s New 52 and seeing how they’re faring now that they’re underway, why they’re worth reading (or not), and places we hope they will go in time.
The Birds of Prey are an all-female group dedicated to stopping those who believe themselves above the law. Their ranks include martial artist Black Canary, master spy Starling, Gotham’s vigilante Batgirl, expert warrior Katana, and one-time supervillain Poison Ivy.
Previously on Birds of Prey: Covering Issues #1-#7
Reporter Charlie Keen has a secret source who has given him a lead on the organization the Birds of Prey. The Birds’ members have a rather sordid history, with Black Canary wanted for murder and Starling wanted by many a government. When meeting with his source, Keen is ambushed by men in featureless stealth suits, but Canary and Starling manage to save him. As Keen boards a plane, he receives a phone call and explodes.
The girls pick up some clues and thanks to Starling’s medical resource, Trevor Cahill, the Birds learn that Keen was carrying a bomb inside his head, one comprised of two explosive elements and one chemical designed to make connections between neurons. That same chemical had been stolen from three of four labs that carry it in the city. Canary and Starling pick up their third member, Katana, and hurry over to the last lab where they are confronted by more men in stealth suits. During the fight they manage to capture one of the soldiers. Poison Ivy joins the team and extracts the location of a safe house from their prisoner before he explodes. At the safe house, the team finds information about the group’s next set of targets, a federal judge and his aide who are presently boarding a train.
The Birds infiltrate and attempt to knock out the walking bombs but are each pinned down by stealth soldiers. Meanwhile, Black Canary’s head begins to pound, and she hears a voice in her head telling her that she’s the bomb, having been infected with the components during the fight to rescue Keen. Starling knocks Black Canary out and gets the team off the train. Needing to treat their injuries and help Canary, the team goes to Cahill, who patches them up and even manages to disable the bomb in Canary’s head. Ivy managed to learn that the judge and his aide were transmitters, not bombs, and that the wearers of the stealth suits are called Cleaners and obey the orders of a man called Choke. She also got an address for their base of operations. Batgirl, an old friend of Black Canary’s, joins the others and they infiltrate Choke’s base but only find a bunch of empty stealth suits, and then suddenly find themselves out on the street with their memories scrabbled.
The Birds scatter and try to piece together what’s happened. Canary realizes that the Cleaners are in fact sleeper agents, like the walking bombs and transmitters, completely unaware of when they are taken over and forced to do Choke’s bidding. This realization leads the Birds to the Cleaners, where they manage to capture them and bring them in to be deactivated by Cahill. The team splits up, half of them setting a trap for Choke but are themselves caught in one of his creation. Meanwhile, the other half of the team is guarding Cahill and the deactivated soldiers. That’s when Starling intercepts a transmission going out to the Cleaners, which is coming from Cahill. Starling confronts Cahill about being Choke, but then he activates Starling as a Cleaner, forcing her to start attacking Batgirl. Canary and the others manage to escape Choke’s trap and capture Cahill as he tries to flee the scene. While being interrogated, he manages to use implanted suggestions on Ivy to shut herself off from her plants and then another activating Starling again. Not one to mess around, Katana beheads Cahill. Tired and angry, the team separates to get some space. But, that’s when Katana calls Canary insisting the man she killed was not Choke.
The Women of BOP: The cast is all pretty amazing. Black Canary is as great as ever, Ivy is conniving, and other characters I wasn’t as familiar with, like Starling and Katana, really surprised me. Starling is a sassy spy not afraid to mix it up with superhumans and expert martial artists; all she needs are her guns and her brains. Later in the arc, Starling was also revealed to be a lesbian, meaning DC has given us two excellent lesbian characters with the DC Relaunch! Katana is an excellent killer who is slightly unbalanced. Her husband was killed by the Yakuza, and she now believes his soul resides in her sword. This delusion has led to many a funny or awkward scene, and there is some indication that a mystical presence is connected to the sword, as she is able to reveal the secrets of the men it kills.
Twists & Turns: The first seven issues definitely keep you guessing. The idea of using implanted suggestions to turn civilians into a criminal organization is a pretty cool one, and every issue raised more questions along the way, fueling the mystery and making the wait to the next issue all the longer.
Without an Oracle: Try as I might, Birds of Prey just isn’t the same without Oracle. Sure, Barbara’s on the team, but she’s easily my least favorite member in this incarnation, whereas she was my favorite in classic Birds. Having an expert hacker on the team to accompany the spies and fighters also made for a better espionage feel. Batgirl has been featured the least of any of the team so far, so it’s possible she’ll redeem herself as an interesting character in issues to come.
Wait, What?: The twists are sometimes accompanied by a groan or a frustrating level of confusion. When the team infiltrated Choke’s lair in Issue #4, they were ready to kick a– only to be transported with their memories Swiss cheesed. This moment was cheap, a let down, and a waste of an issue, even if it did set up some great moments later. As cool as this arc’s been, I’m ready to put it aside for a little while and have Choke make another appearance later in the series’ run, though given the end of Issue #7, I’m not sure that’s going to happen.
Ivy’s Play: When the team was split up, Poison Ivy talked to a man who asks her if she’ll “still honor our arrangement,” and then leaves her with a briefcase filled with something that glows green. There’s some implication that Ivy was maneuvered onto the Birds of Prey for some larger player. Ivy was initially distrusted by the other Birds. When this conflict comes to a head, it could spell the end of Poison Ivy, especially if Katana remains as quick on the decapitations.
Husbands: Revealed near the end of Issue #7, the man Black Canary murdered was her own husband. Just want happened there? Why did she run? Is that event somehow tied into Choke or is another power playing with her? Also, what about Katana’s belief that her husband’s soul is in her sword? There’s clearly something more to her and the blade, but is it what she believes or is another power at work?
Choke: Given the twist that Cahill was yet another pawn of Choke’s, I’m looking forward to seeing what other twists come next. Personally, I wouldn’t mind Choke being mysterious for a while and coming back as a faceless enemy in a later arc, though eventually it would be nice to know who the puppet master is.
Becoming a Team: The Birds of Prey do not get along. Despite Canary’s claims of trusting them, there are several betrayals in the first seven issues: most of the team believes Katana is crazy, Ivy clearly can’t be trusted even if the others don’t know that, and Canary and Batgirl are mad at each other every other panel. They clearly have some growing to do as a team. It’s making me think Barbara had the right idea when starting the original Birds when Black Canary was her only agent!