Review: Birds of Prey Vol. 5: Soul Crisis trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, June 01, 2015

Christy Marx's Birds of Prey Vol. 5: Soul Crisis is interesting in that it's the culmination of Marx's changes to the book (intentionally or by editorial fiat) since Duane Swierczynski's run before her; Marx gets to play with and show what her Birds of Prey would be about. In the long view, it's not a bad team line-up, and frankly has some similarities, I think, to where Gail Simone might have been taking the team once upon a time. But much as I liked Marx's Swords of Sorcery, her Soul Crisis is written too melodramatically for me, with art that's undistinguished and often too dark. All of this makes for a book not surprisingly cancelled with this volume, and one can only hope that Birds of Prey gets another chance later in DC Comics's Divergence era.

Review contains spoilers

Between Duane Swierczynski's last two Birds of Prey volumes, the second and third, and Christy Marx's first, the fourth, the original team of Black Canary, Starling, Poison Ivy, Katana, and sometimes Batgirl has now shifted to Batgirl, Canary, the Talon Strix, and new character Condor. That's a marked change, almost as if reading a new title. Marx got rid of (or had to get rid of) Starling in the last volume, so Soul Crisis makes for the first of Marx's volume with a solid team in place.

Again, this is not a bad team necessarily. Of course, any Birds of Prey line-up needs to be anchored in the Dinah Lance and Barbara Gordon friendship, so those two are a lock. As an un-killable, mute ninja, Strix brings to the team Huntress's toughness, but also a weird vulnerability like Katana or the Batgirl Cassandra Cain; to some extent Strix offers the "stranger to humanity" perspective of a Spock or Data in Star Trek. Men haven't traditionally been Birds, but I thought Gail Simone started down an auspicious path when she brought Hawk Hank Hall on to the team around Brightest Day as a headstrong presence to be tempered, and personality-wise to a great extent Condor is Hawk in everything but name, and even that's pretty close. That the Birds are now the emissaries of a benevolent immortal with agents everywhere -- from international politics to the Gotham City police force -- seems rife with possibilities.

Unfortunately, Marx utilizes them in stories that aren't very exciting. Ra's al Ghul threatens the immortal Mother Eve, and makes devil's deals with Canary and Condor -- that he'll resurrect and kill Canary's comatose husband Kurt Lance respectively -- if they'll give him access to Eve. The sheer amount of teeth-gnashing that follows is entirely over the top -- Canary considering betraying her friends and letting an innocent woman die to help Kurt, and Condor, so madly and inconceivably in love with Canary that he'd let her husband be murdered to be with her. The reader has really no expectation that either Canary or Condor will go through with it -- the most interesting thing would have been if one of them had -- and so therefore the story is a reductive re-confirmation of the heroic ideals we already knew the characters had.

Not to mention, though Marx scores points for having Ra's walk away honorably once he's been thwarted, she plays him most of the time like a cackling Ming the Merciless villain, which doesn't quite befit one of Batman's most powerful foes. None of this is quite as problematic as that time Chuck Dixon had Black Canary date Ra's and refuse to listen to reason that he was an immortal warlord, but it's still not great; in general I think we've learned that Ra's is best left just to fight Batman. Marx reveals that Ra's was tricking Canary and his "cure" would have killed Kurt anyway, which I think is dramatically less powerful than if Canary had actually thrown away an actual cure for her husband.

For continuity nuts, however, Soul Crisis is actually pretty significant in that it brings to a head the Kurt Lance storyline that's spanned Teen Titans, Suicide Squad, Team 7, and Birds of Prey on and off since the start of the New 52. Never has this story been particularly good or cogent, but if you've followed it this far, you might want to see it end. And if the story isn't particularly good, then Marx at least understands the story's themes and stakes, and ends Kurt's story with a face-off between former Team 7 members Black Canary and Amanda Waller (and the Birds of Prey and the Suicide Squad). The Birds/Squad fight is great (the Squad's appearance buffets the story considerably), but ultimately Marx gets mired in melodrama again, like Canary accusing Waller of being jealous of her relationship with Kurt. At the same time, Marx does finally explain away an irking continuity hitch, which was why Canary has always been said to have killed her husband when Team 7 has shown that she didn't and there's no reason to have thought that she did.

Marx finishes the book with a pretty good Futures End tie-in story, though the story's real pull is not Marx's future-Canary work, but how the story intersects with Gail Simone's superlative Batgirl: Futures End issue collected elsewhere. This, and most of the book, is drawn by Robson Rocha, who again just doesn't get my blood pumping here; Jorge Molina's covers are more attractive and I wonder if he might ever do some interior work for DC.

It's a time of great upheaval in the Bat-books. Roundabouts the fifth volume of these "Gothtopia"-era books we've been looking at lately, Batgirl, Detective Comics, and Catwoman each finished the runs of their latest creative teams before new teams came on with the next volumes. These are all titles now seeing some success with their "soft relaunches"; on the other side, the fifth "Gothtopia"-era collections of Batwing and Birds of Prey Vol. 5: Soul Crisis simply bring those series to a close. Birds hasn't been great in the New 52, as it was many times great pre-Flashpoint; the most I can hope is that greatness is once again in the title's future down the line.

[Includes original covers]
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2 comments:

  1. If it's any consolation, Strix is now in Gail Simone's Secret Six book, which is excellent when it actually comes out.

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    1. There is that. Strix is a character that I initially found to be something of an annoyance but who has grown on me, and I have to credit Swierczynski and Marx for that. I am curious to see Simone take Strix back, so to speak, for Secret Six and to see what Simone does with her -- what Simone's take on the character is, versus Swierczynski and Marx before her.

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