Birds Of Prey #1 Review: No Joker In This Pack

Jun 14, 2020
Birds of Prey comic book cover Black Canary Harley Quinn Huntress Dia De La Muerta masks

I have the oddest feeling of time failing to pass at the moment, with lockdown days all rolling into one and the daily commute across the landing failing to sufficiently break up the routine. It has been a massive relief then to start to see our single issue comics orders starting to wind back up again and here I want to talk a little about one of the highlights of one of my recent deliveries, DC's Black Label one-shot, Birds of Prey

The reason for the lockdown rambling is that I think the last piece that I wrote for our original site before that phoenix set light to its nest to rise again here was the movie review of Birds of Prey and the Fabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, so it's with a wry smile that I set out on my maiden piece for the new site talking about Harley and co again. 

A one-shot deal, this was scheduled initially as a miniseries, which was a surprise to me as it fits so neatly into the extended one-shot format. It's a true done-in-one story, throwing the 'traditional' Birds of Prey team of Huntress, Rene Montoya and Black Canary into Harley Quinn's maelstrom of disruption and spicing the mix with the ever present influence (though very brief appearance) of Mr J. 

Harley is such a versatile character for DC - she's that unusual conundrum of a villain who has appeal to all ages: just as my kid only ever wanted to dress up as Darth Vader because he has the coolest powers in the Lego games, Suicide-Squad-and-beyond-era Harley has become both a ubiquitous cosplay and the 'hero' of choice for little girls everywhere, with tiny 'Daddy's Little Monster' baseball shirts and teeny baseball bats available in high street clothing stores - and yet role model she surely is not. There's no sugar-coating this red and blue confection: this one-shot is clearly labelled Ages 17+ and with excellent reason. 

There is extreme violence throughout, almost always perpetrated by HQ: at one point she takes down Huntress with a haybailing swipe - smacking her sometime compadre around the chops with a disembodied head. There is plenty of 17+ language going on too and I don't think the gesture she makes as she splits from Belle Reve is a finger gun. 

DC's Black Label swiftly established itself as the mark of quality, and each of the books in this imprint has a heft and substance, not just in terms of its physical weight - this one-shot, though it has a smart square spine and is pushing up towards the 100 page mark, is thankfully in standard comic book size (just when I'd bought a magazine size storage box especially for the DC oversize issues which are starting to proliferate) - but also in terms of quality of storytelling and artwork. 

The art here requires a team of four; colours from Trish Mulvihill and John Kalisz complement McCarthy's inks, and Lupacchino's pencilling work here suggests that she may be a star to watch in the DC firmament: dynamic action and violence, exciting page structure in both splash and format pages and a moving subtlety of expression - the agony on Dinah's face just as she loses control at the loss of a friend is perfect. A couple of errors in the lettering which should have been easy catches for the editing team jarred me right out of my involvement in the story - hopefully these will be resolved in future printings. 

Azzarello's story here is exactly right for this format: a done-in-one for a known team (I use this loosely when talking about BoP) which doesn't start with the team already formed is challenging, but Azzarello masterfully weaves together the story of how each of Montoya, Huntress, Black Canary and our Harley (who converses in heartfelt tones with Dr Quinzel any time a mirror is available) get drawn into the attempted takeover of Gotham's local drug scene by stylish Dia De La Muerta themed out-of-towners. 

The pace is spot on, punchy and fast where needed, sensitive, smart and thoughtful at times: a book this long so easily sags in the middle but there wasn't a scrap of that here. Definitely not one for the kids, but boy, for the grown-ups, it's a smash. 

Writer: Brian Azzarello
Art: Emanuela Lupacchino, Ray McCarthy, Trish Mulvihill, John Kalisz
DC Black Label $9.99


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