Birds of Prey #1 2023 featured Reviews 

“Birds of Prey” #1

By | September 8th, 2023
Posted in Reviews | % Comments

The Birds of Prey started in the 1990s as a very specific thing: a Black Canary and Oracle (Barbara Gordon) led team of female superheroes operating out of Gotham City. However, over the past decade plus, the team has morphed into something different, morphed again, had a movie come out that was yet another version, and now is part of the ‘Dawn of DC’ as something new again. With this most recent shift in membership and purpose, this team is the most interesting since pre-“Flashpoint,” features, perhaps, the best art in a book with this title, and is a stunning debut on a DC ongoing for its writer.

Cover by Leonardo Romero
Written by Kelly Thompson
Illustrated by Leonardo Romero
Colored by Jordie Bellaire
Lettered by Clayton Cowles

BREAKING HEARTS AND FACES–THE BIRDS OF PREY ARE BACK! Every mission matters. Every life saved is a miracle. But this time, it’s personal. Dinah Lance is one of the DCU’s most elite fighters, and combined with her sonic scream, she’s a fearsome foe in any scenario…but sometimes even the Black Canary needs help. Faced with a personal mission brought to her by a mysterious new ally, and up against near-impossible odds, she re-forms the Birds of Prey with an unrivaled group of badasses–Cassandra Cain, Big Barda, Zealot, and Harley Quinn–and only one goal: extraction without bloodshed. What could possibly go wrong? Kelly Thompson (Captain Marvel, Black Widow) makes her long-awaited DC Universe writing debut, and is joined by her Hawkeye partners-in-crime Leonardo Romero (Batman) and Jordie Bellaire (Wonder Woman) to debut an all-new, all-deadly Birds of Prey series…still breaking hearts and faces after all these years!

There is a certain amount of cynicism that comes as a DC fan when Harley Quinn shows up in a book. Over the past fifteen years, Harley Quinn has become, to paraphrase Jim Lee, DC’s fourth pillar, and her inclusion in a lot of projects seems primed to simply goose sales, even if the character has no real place in the title. And so, when Kelly Thompson instantly gave Harley a reason to be on this Birds of Prey team that had more to it than just ‘it’ll help us sell more comics,’ it instantly justified her place on this roster.

Thompson has crafted a premise for “Birds of Prey” that, on its surface, is not that different than a dozen other team books: a covert mission causes friends to keep secrets and a splinter team is created to deal with said secret. The goal that Black Canary brings to this team is to pack it with some of the most dangerous and deadly fighters in the DC Universe, which explains the team’s powerhouse core of Big Barda (a New God), Batgirl Cassandra Cain (one of the five best hand to hand combatants in the DCU), Zealot (she’s from Wildstorm, where everyone is a killer), and Harley Quinn (the most unpredictable fighter Cain has ever faced). So many times, a team is assembled like a Dungeons and Dragons company, with different skills being highlighted. This team is put together for sheer strength and firepower. That’s a very different Birds of Prey roster.

Leonardo Romero and Jordie Bellaire give this book a visual style that has one foot in the visuals of the Bronze Age and another in a cleaner, more modern aesthetic. Bellaire’s colors are somewhat muted and have a true ‘four color’ vibe, harkening back to older coloring practices. There are pages where Romero’s art practically begs for this treatment. Romero, especially in the scenes featuring Cain, opts to give her the spotlight by having her be either the only character in a panel, or the only character truly in focus. When he does this, Bellaire is able to use a solid block of color behind her, which is a technique that has mostly been abandoned in modern color, except for when a colorist is referencing the past.

But Bellaire’s colors are equally effective when Romero is showing off his refined, clean lines which allow for action to feel seamless and smooth. There is a three-panel sequence where Cain uses a chandelier to swing herself into a pair of villains, and it is one of the most effective uses of sequential art to imply motion that has been in a comic all year. A big part of that is that Romero doesn’t do too much here; panel one is Cain’s hands, reaching towards the light. The second panel shows her in mid-air, with those hands out of frame and her legs behind her. The third is where we see her hans on the chandelier itself, as well as her legs connecting with the bad guys. If a stiffer artist presented the same action in the same number of panels, it wouldn’t have the fluidity it does here. In any of the three panels, movement is implied by the way that Cain is positioned.

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Romero approaches Big Barda as, essentially, a professional wrestler. She’s punching, tossing, and ramming everyone in her presence. Here, Romero needs her to look like an unmovable object, and so Barda is, by design, drawn more upright and stiff. But through the vampires that basically explode off of her touch do the work of implying motion. When Cass and Barda share pages, Romero does both of these things simultaneously, and it makes for absolutely incredible work.

The action of this team of bad-asses is balanced against a truly wonderful script by Thompson. There’s a ‘story’ told by Cain that is instantly deflated by a comment by Barda, who Thompson writes as, essentially, goofy MCU Thor. Barda is the MVP of the comedy, calling Cass “small bat,” and generally being goofy and fun. There’s a twist at the end that is nutty and amazing, and every character acts in a way that seems natural to who they are.

All told, this is, perhaps, the best #1 DC has put out in some time and looks to be the best “Birds of Prey” book since its first volume and, perhaps, even the best since Gail Simone left that volume in September of 2007. It may sound hyperbolic to heap such praise on the book after just a single issue and, yes, it could all go sideways next month, but this book has been bad since that first volume. The New 52 version wiped out any charm the series had, and the Rebirth era never clicked. But beyond that, those books felt like perfunctory stabs at giving a DC legacy team a title. This book feels like a Black Canary story that is worthy of the name. That makes all the difference.

Final Verdict: 9.5 – A fantastic first issue.

Brian Salvatore

Brian Salvatore is an editor, podcaster, reviewer, writer at large, and general task master at Multiversity. When not writing, he can be found playing music, hanging out with his kids, or playing music with his kids. He also has a dog named Lola, a rowboat, and once met Jimmy Carter. Feel free to email him about good beer, the New York Mets, or the best way to make Chicken Parmagiana (add a thin slice of prosciutto under the cheese).