Review: Birds of Prey Vol. 3: Clash of Daggers trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Duane Swierczynski's debut New 52 Birds of Prey volume was stellar, easily dispelling any concerns about a writer other than Gail Simone taking over this title; art by Jesus Saiz didn't hurt, either. But the second volume was dull more than it was interesting, and I found the third volume, Birds of Prey Vol. 3: A Clash of Daggers unfortunately fairly dull too. Once again, Swierczynski does nothing to disrespect Black Canary and the Birds, but the story doesn't offer much more nuance than the superheroes fighting boilerplate bad guys and bickering uninspiredly amongst themselves. Really die-hard Green Arrow or Katana fans might enjoy a couple of continuity notes here, but I couldn't recommend it to anyone beyond that.

[Review contains spoilers]

If I've got my timing right, the lead three-part story in Clash of Daggers came out just as Jeff Lemire's Green Arrow was starting and before Ann Nocenti's Katana. To that end, Swierczynski's use of the Dagger Clan in this title serves as an unofficial prequel to those two books. Swierczynski introduces them, however, as if the reader is already familiar (none of the Birds stop to ask Katana, "What's a Dagger Clan?"); I like the weapon clan mythology in Green Arrow and I've read that book already, so I felt up to date, but I imagine a Birds-only reader might feel they missed something.

But in comparison to how well Lemire defined the Shield Clan and others in Green Arrow Vol. 5: Outsiders War, Swierczynski's Daggers are basically just ninjas. They steal Katana's Soultaker sword such to trick her into capture, but their motives are no better defined than that they "know her sins." For Katana fans, there's a nice amount of Katana-action in these pages (and the last chapter of this storyline is drawn well by Juan Jose Ryp), but the story ultimately has no more depth than the good guys versus the bad guys, a far cry from the paranoid intrigue of Swierczynski's Birds of Prey Vol. 1: Trouble in Mind.

Particularly dull, in my opinion, was Swierczynski's introduction of new hero Condor. I don't mind a man on this historically female-focused team; I thought Simone's addition of Hawk would have been quite interesting given a chance to play out. But the similarities between Hawk and Condor underscore that Condor is less interesting; Swierczynski barely hints at his past or identity, giving us nothing really to relate to, and the passes he makes at Canary are mostly toothless. Condor is neither charming nor funny nor even offensive, just plain. In all the character isn't worth the number of pages devoted to him.

Additionally Swierczynski occupies a number of pages with the various team members fighting one another -- the team fighting Condor, Condor fighting former Court of Owls Talon (and new Bird) Strix, Strix fighting Black Canary, etc. They're a team, we know, and they're eventually going to get along and save the day, we know, so the various fights -- which reveal nothing new about the characters -- just serve as action pieces to fill the page count.

Indeed those pages need filling because, like the Dagger Clan, the villain of the last two issues is equally uninspired. Swierczynski ties this to last volume's Birds of Prey #0 issue in that Canary, Starling, and Batgirl are hunting the same Basilisk weapons dealer as when they met. But, I'm not sure we even learn the man's name in the story, and the threat he ultimately poses is in the form of spherical robotic drones that release electrical charges. As compared even to the Birds conflict with Poison Ivy in Your Kiss Might Kill, your average comic book robot hardly inspires fear or suspense.

Artist Romano Molenaar draws in the standard New 52 style, mostly akin to Eddy Barrows and the like. His figures are realistic and there's no awkwardness to his positioning, for instance, but neither is there anything to differentiate or make notable his work here (Ryp, in contrast, has a slight animation to his lines, toward Frank Quitely on the spectrum). Additionally, one too many instances of characters leaping around with Rob Liefeld-esque teeth bared gets distracting.

Christy Marx comes on with the next volume and I rather liked her Swords of Sorcery: Amethyst, so I'm optimistic for this title's future, even as I know it's cancelled as of the volume after that. I still recommend Duane Swierczynski's Birds of Prey: Trouble in Mind as a really, really good Birds of Prey story, but Birds of Prey Vol. 3: A Clash of Daggers is not. If the Marx book holds up, readers may just want to skip to there.

[Includes original covers, cover sketches and Romano Molenaar character designs]

Next week, one last look at the Suicide Squad and Scott Snyder's Wake. Happy Halloween!
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