Review – Birds of Prey #1: Red in Tooth and Claw

Comic Books DC This Week
Birds of Prey #1 variant cover, via DC Comics.

Birds of Prey #1 – Brian Azzarello, Writer; Emanuela Lupacchino, Penciller; Ray McCarthy, Inker; Trish Mulvihill, John Kalisz, Colorists

Ray – 6/10

Ray: It’s been a long, strange road to the finish line for Brian Azzarello’s take on the Birds of Prey. First announced as a new ongoing series, it was then converted into a Black Label miniseries, and then into an oversized one-shot. And by oversized, they mean oversized – it’s almost a hundred pages long, making up the full first arc of what would have been the series. But it’s also not hard to see why they didn’t go ahead with this as a series – it’s so far afield from the usual take on the characters that it almost feels like a reboot or Elseworlds, and it’s also filled with all the graphic violence and swearing a Black Label fan could want.

Of course, it’s easy to see why DC was considering a mature-readers take on the Birds – the movie landed with an R-rating and the promise of much Harley Quinn-led carnage. But the disappointing box office likely sent DC back to basics. Not the first time a plan for Birds of Prey was inspired and then aborted by Hollywood – back during Terry Moore’s run, the TV show (featuring a teenage Black Canary) was going to lead to a plot in which Dinah was de-aged in the Lazarus Pit. It hit solicits – and then the show was cancelled and it was never mentioned again. Nothing so dramatic here, but it’s an odd little parallel.

Rude awakening. Via DC Comics.

The creative team of Brian Azzarello and Emanuela Lupacchino is strong, but this issue doesn’t give a great first impression of what the title was going to be like. A mostly generic crime thriller, it focuses on the core Birds – Canary and Huntress – with an assist from Renee Montoya and Harley Quinn. No Batgirl or Oracle in sight. Each character has their own motivation – Dinah is investigating the murder of an old friend with Steve Trevor’s help, Huntress and Renee are tracking a cartel from opposite sides of the fence, and Harley is just trying to stay ahead of Joker’s gang of clown goons who want to kill her for leaving him. There’s little trace of the zany, independent Harley we’ve seen in other books recently, although she seems to hate Joker as much.

The main weak link of this issue is the villains. They come off as a collection of generic goons straight out of a cable action movie. There’s a cabal of assassins who have Day of the Dead-themed facial tattoos, a bunch of evil clowns, and assorted cartel goons. Their main purpose is to shoot, get blown up, and trigger conflicts between the heroines. And oh, boy are there conflicts. I’m not sure if this is supposed to be a reboot, but it largely feels like none of these people know, trust, or like each other. Harley is seen as an unstable psycho, Dinah is preoccupied by her personal issues, and Helena and Renee are constantly accusing each other of betrayals.

Overall, if Birds of Prey #1 was going for a grindhouse action-movie vibe, it achieved it. Its story is competent and the art is excellent. But as a Birds of Prey team, it doesn’t remotely live up to the Palmiotti/Conner miniseries it’s competing with. The Birds always had some fun energy, and this take just feels like a dirge.

To find reviews of all the DC issues, visit DC This Week.

GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.

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