Review: Batgirl and the Birds of Prey Vol. 2: Source Code (Rebirth) trade paperback (DC Comics)

August 1, 2018


Once upon a time the Birds of Prey used to have expansive, globe-hopping adventures. Writers Julie and Shawna Benson have a satisfactorily respectful take on these characters, but overall the Rebirth Batgirl and the Birds of Prey Vol. 2: Source Code feels small. The stories are all Gotham-based and none of the villains here pose much threat besides to the Birds themselves, nor do the stories really have a lot to do with the Birds or their own characters. There's no lack of Bat-books out there; for Birds of Prey to succeed, it first needs to differentiate itself in some way and second needs to offer some surprises or suspense; while not an unpleasant read, unfortunately this volume of Birds has neither.

[Review contains spoilers]

Among the best parts of Source Code is toward the beginning, when Black Canary sets out alone to track down villainous metahuman trafficker Blackbird. Canary's had a multitude of origins in the post-Flashpoint era, but the writers have settled on Dinah, child orphan, shunned for her inborn superpowers. This is used to good effect as Canary takes personal umbrage at Blackbird manipulating metas, moreover than her non-meta teammates, but then subsequently finds herself a little taken by Blackbird's mentorship. This version of Canary doesn't feel particularly authentic to me versus the one raised by a superhero mother, but the writers create interesting, emotional dynamics between Canary and the other Birds and between Canary and Blackbird. Ultimately what I want from Birds of Prey is a story with some teeth, and this is one of the places Source Code has it.

But I'm hard-pressed to recount what Blackbird's plan was other than just to steal a lot of metahuman powers, and it's only by coincidence of Nightwing tracking one of Blackbird's disciples that the Birds got involved in the first place. Essentially, the stakes in "Blackbird" are too low to offer much suspense, and the same is true of "Source Code" itself. Here, the Calculator needs the Birds' help to rescue his family, and that runs them afoul of Poison Ivy, but that's all again rather insular -- just Calculator's family, just Ivy plotting revenge against one company. Not every story needs to be the heroes preventing the end of the world, but both of these threats are trivial in a way that further questions the Birds' presence; it's not hard to see these as stories that could be told with only Batgirl or another of Gotham's heroes just the same.

Further, for a story involving major Birds of Prey bad guy Calculator, the Calculator himself comes off unimpressive. It's a boon perhaps that the writers preserve some of the Birds and Calculator's joint alt-continuity history such that this is their nth meeting rather than their first, but the result is that Calcular is no threat at all, just fretting in the background. In some respects I think we did need Calculator to make a splash and for the writers to reestablish him as a threat even if he was not going to be the book's antagonist. Faux Oracle Gus came off to me more whiny too this time than Batgirl and the Birds of Prey Vol. 1: Who Is Oracle's madcap absurdity; in the end, when we're supposed to care about a showdown between Gus and Calculator, neither one had really been built up enough in the story to get my blood pumping.

Source Code starts off with a pseudo-caper issue one-shot that morphs in the end into a Valentine's Day story. The stakes are even smaller here, with Canary and Huntress going undercover to find out why two real estate agents keep trying to break into Barbara Gordon's building. The issue is played purely for comedy, but it's not really not funny unfortunately, just cutesy, and possibly that's where this iteration of Birds of Prey is losing me. This used to be an international cyber-spy title, and now it's somewhat about the jokey lives of the Birds of Prey crew. There's an audience for that, perhaps, but reading the volumes of the last couple iterations of Birds of Prey, it doesn't mystify me necessarily why this book keeps getting cancelled.

I liked Clare Roe's art on this book both this time and last, but for me again Roge Antonio was the book's star, offering wide-eyed, animated dynamism. We get surprisingly little of Roe in this volume, just the first issue, and apparently none in the upcoming final book, which is a shame -- Roe's and Antonio's work are not far off from each other either, but Roe gives that first sitcom issue some needed realism and does especially well with the characters' facial expressions.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Batgirl and the Birds of Prey Vol. 2: Source Code

Again, Batgirl and the Birds of Prey Vol. 2: Source Code hews pretty devoutly to the pre-Flashpoint interactions of the Birds of Prey and Calculator, and also makes mention of Poison Ivy's membership in the Birds in the New 52. In the kind of wobbly space all Rebirth books occupy, the writers here do a good job of blending both old and new into something faithful to Birds of Prey lore. But I can't say this feels quite tonally right for me for Birds of Prey. Not for the first time, I agree DC needs to press pause, let it rest for a while, and try again. Surely the right creative team for Birds of Prey is out there somewhere?

[Includes variant covers]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Batgirl and the Birds of Prey Vol. 2: Source Code
Author Rating
2.75 (scale of 1 to 5)

Comments ( 4 )

  1. I haven't read these yet, but it really baffles me that DC abandoned the new Birds it felt like was being built up in Batgirl of Burnside and Black Canary to bring back together a trio based on some 1990s nostalgia. I wanted Batgirl, Black Canary, Spoiler, Bluebird, Operator, and probably someone else I'm forgetting. Once the Burnside run was over, it felt like DC just rolled it back as quickly as possible.

  2. Is there any monthly title from Rebirth that hasn't been cancelled or rebooted?

    Seems to me these books are doomed from the getgo since given their relatively slow schedule they can't ever get out any "light" stories like this one without it seeming like a waste of precious few issues. Plus in the time these books establish their tone the double shippers have already gotten some major stories.

  3. "Francis Manapul writes up to issue #42 and Brian Buccellato writes through #44, but the collection seems to stop when Manapul is no longer on art (a decision I don't necessarily agree with)."

    Maybe I'm in the minority here, but I buy comics first and foremost for the artwork. It's a visual medium, so the way the story is told is most important to me. I can't even begin to tell you how many sales DC has lost from me because they can't maintain the same artist all the way through on a series. When a fill-in artist illustrates two issues in the middle of an ongoing story, for me it's like watching a movie in which all the actors are replaced 40 minutes into the story. It's incredibly distracting, more so when these stories are collected (as a fan of Cliff Chiang I gladly would have dropped $125 for the Absolute edition of his Wonder Woman collection, but I refuse to do so because almost half the book is illustrated by fill-in artists whose work I cannot stand). DC needs to start focusing more on the long-term value of these stories and less on the short-term deadlines.

    30 years later, no one remembers how behind schedule both The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen were when they were originally published. Or how DC: The New Frontier had to shift from a monthly schedule to a bi-monthly schedule to allow Darwyn Cooke to keep up. All that matters now is the collected editions of those stories. Current DC management would be wise to heed that advice.

    1. Great comment, which I know you meant for this post:


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