batwatch's Birds of Prey #19 - A Cold Day in Hell review

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BatWatch Review: Birds of Prey #19

A Cold Day in Hell

I have mixed feeling preparing to read this book. On one hand, it's been bad for months, and the new writer Christy Marx (former writer of Epic's The Sisterhood of Steel and current writer of Birds of Prey and Sword of Sorcery) does not inspire much hope that she will revive the series. On the other hand, it is difficult to imagine this issue possibly being worse than this week's Catwoman, and in comparison to that, Black Canary's foolish bumbling might seem charming and astute.

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Still, I'm not feeling much in the way of high hopes. Mr. Freeze is the baddie, and he simply does not seem like a credible threat. Even a team carrying this much incompetence should be able to take out Freeze by virtue of their powerset and numbers alone. I am somewhat interested in seeing how Starling betrays the team if that is indeed what happens as is hinted on the cover and by all indications of the story thus far. Starling is by far the best member of the cast, and I would think she would be sticking around, but Swierczynski (former writer of Cable and Birds of Prey and current writer of Valiant's Bloodshot, IDW's Judge Dredd and Dark Horse's X) did write Poison Ivy off the team who was the only other interesting character, so maybe DC has just lost all sense of sanity.

Does this issue prove to be a cold day in Hell or a fun breezy jog with the Birds?

In this issue, the Birds prepare to take on Mr. Freeze at the secret base of the Court of Owls.

I Did Not Expect That

Much to my surprise, this issue threw me for several loops. Every time I thought I knew where the story was going, it took an unexpected turn, and I love that. I truly believed this series was going to stay as predictable and dull as possible, but it appears that Marx might just surprise me by being an extremely talented writer.

Do not let me oversell it. None of the reveals in this issue were jaw dropping, but starting with Strix's emotional breakdown, I suddenly realized things were not going as I'd imagined. Having Strix act as nothing more than a rabid animal who attacks everyone foolish enough to try to pet her or, you know, look at her...did not do much to make Strix a lovable addition to the cast, but show this immortal assassin have an emotional breakdown? Okay, now I'm interested.

(Spoilers) Bigger shocks were revealed later in the story. Even when it was clear that the team had been played, I found myself scrambling to come up with an explanation. I had actually concluded that Waller had decided to use the situation to get a bead on the Court of Owls, so I was surprised to see it was Freeze behind the trickery. Starling's alliance with Mr. Freeze would have come as a huge shock had it not been given away by the cover. I doubt very seriously that this is a real alliance. It is more likely that Starling is working an angle with Waller's forces, and if she was truly evil, I think she will soon defect for I doubt she will be leaving the team for long.

There were lots of little things that made the ride go more smoothly than usual too. When the Birds finally got to fighting, the action actually progressed logically rather than how things happened in previous issues where the winners and losers of battles seemed based on nothing more than the requirements of the plot. The dialogue, though not perfect, sounded pretty reasonable. All in all, the entire narrative structure was much better than previous issues.

Black Canary Womans Up

Black Canary has been a horribly inept leader. She has the loosest of grasps on her troops, she whines constantly, she lets people walk all over her, she inevitably makes the wrong decisions, and she occasionally engages in acts of terrorism both intentional and unintentional. (side note, I'm not sure which speaks worse of the character, the intentional or unintentional terrorism)

However, Black Canary actually stands up and starts making some sensible decisions in this issue. I'm not saying she deserves team leader of the year or anything, but she was worlds better than usual.

The moment I first noticed the change in her character was at the end of the opening scene. Black Canary tries to make a plan but gets caught up putting Condor in his place. During the exchange with Condor, Strix sneaks off, and then, without waiting for her orders or even consulting Black Canary, Condor and Batgirl takeoff and Dinah is left alone. At this point, I could nearly hear the words in my head as Dinah started whining in inner monologue about how she doesn't seem to have any control over her team and nobody listens to her. If she could work it in, she would probably complain about math being too hard and not having a date yet for prom. However, this new Black Canary breaks free of the nagging, incompetent, whiny stereotype she used to be in this series. Instead of complaining, Dinah roles with the instincts of her teammates and works the plan around their actions. When the gang comes back together, she directs them sensibly. I'm not saying every call she made was ideal, but she kept them focused and alive instead of letting everybody do their own thing. This was miles and miles better than Dinah was in the last issue, and I hope it continues.

Bat Droppings

1. I've never been crazy about Romano Molenaar's (current artist for Birds of Prey) art. It's not bad, but it's not especially good either, and I think his style might better fit another series. In scenes where things should have been serious, I found myself feeling a disconnect between the situation and the art conveying it. Molenaar's style is so smooth and light that it somehow just does not make things feel real or serious.

2. I like Batgirl's climbing attachments.

3. The flashback appears as if it is setting up for the return of Kurt Lance, but I'm wondering if it might actually be prep for the return of Amanda Waller. A writer, I don't remember which, said there would be a crossover between the Birds and the Suicide Squad at some point, but I've not heard a peep about that since. Could that be on its way?

4. Strix getting her anger back and kicking the door in was also pretty cool. I would love to have seen that scene in live action.

5. I found it odd at first that the Court officials were wearing masks around a dead body, but then I figured they are probably trying to hide their identities from each other.

6. I think Molenaar adjusted Freeze's costume between the last issue and the current issue a little. I like this new one much more.

Conclusion 8/10

I still can't quite believe I'm giving Birds of Prey a eight out of ten. I don't think they've earned anything that high in the last six months. Nonetheless, it is deserved. I'm not sold on her yet, but Christy Marx has just made a solid case for being a top notch comic book writer. Let's hope she can deliver again next month.

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