No, I’m not talking about the narrative itself (which was fun, pacing weirdness aside), but rather the genuinely strange lettering choices made by the Bensons. There’s a lot of reasons thought balloons aren’t widely used anymore, many of them because caption boxes are a lot less distracting. They’re easier to place, and it allows the art to breath a bit more.
Honestly, if that was just it, and they had decided to use thought balloons instead of captions (despite having already used them many, many times in earlier issues), I could buy that. Maybe they were trying it out, and that’s fine. But there’s frankly very little of what’s in Dinah’s thought balloons that we don’t already know, can’t figure out on our own, or needs to be said for any reason at all.
I’m not trying to be harsh, but it just reads as if the Bensons suddenly decided that their Birds of Prey audience isn’t as smart as they once assumed, yet that seems absurd considering their earlier work on this series. So, I don’t know if this was an editorial decision, which seems equally unlikely since they’ve got the same editor as Detective Comics, or the book’s new letterer Josh Reed had something to do with it, even though I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work like that or if there’s something else going on but…it’s probably not a great idea to continue with this style.
Just my two cents.
Anyway, that aside, it’s on to the actual content of the issue!
Canary in the Cage
We start off with Roulette—who apparently got her snake tattoo lasered off—doing business with Blackbird. Blackbird wants more emotionally vulnerable metahumans, and Roulette wants more cash to shove into her living safe made out of a man’s stomach cavity whose name just happens to be Knox. Either his parents hated him or he is just on the wrong side of dramatic irony. Roulette warns Blackbird that her newest fighter has been beating the snot out of every contestant, apparently non-stop, since she showed up, but Blackbird has no time to ruminate on such things.
We get to see Dinah beat up a wolfman and here I’m left wondering how it is that nobody has recognized her yet. I mean, okay, she hasn’t been on tour for quite some time, but she’s still a rockstar. And a member of the JLA which has tons of public global exposure in the news media. Plus she’s never actually had a secret identity, so the fact that she’s not just wearing a wig like she used to seems like a rookie mistake for Dinah. Maybe she just wanted to punch some anger out? Can’t really blame her for that with Fauxracle constantly looking over her shoulder.
Her next opponent is Osmium, a giant dude who works for Blackbird. After Dinah goes a little overboard by unleashing a point blank Canary Cry to his face, it turns out that Osmium is Blackbird in disguise! Which honestly answers the question of “why doesn’t Blackbird just absorb”—wait.
She just absorbed Gemini’s shapeshifting abilities last issue, so does that mean that Osmium used to work for her before she absorbed his metahuman abilities? Because she couldn’t have shapeshifted into him before then, which means she didn’t have his level of invulnerability, so this is the first time she’s pulled this…wouldn’t that piss the audience off? They’re betting big money on this game, so Roulette would be pretty miffed too if Blackbird threw a fight just to lure in a potential mark. No way the amount of cash she slipped Roulette earlier was enough to cover all of that gambling going on; I assumed it was for intel!
I guess Blackbird could have told Roulette about her new routine so she could put enough money on Dinah. Doesn’t really answer as to why the crowd seems pretty chill about all this, but maybe they’re smart enough to know that if they cause a riot the police will come and everyone gets screwed. I think that works.
Anyway, Blackbird gives Dinah an offer she can’t refuse—because it’s sorta her job—and they’re off to…Blackbird’s Dojo? There’s a dormitory and a gym, so that seems about right. We don’t get a clever location caption this time around, and that kinda makes me sad. Loved those. Ah, well. I’m sure they’ll be back.
You’re Gonna Need A Montage!
Blackbird quickly introduces Dinah to the rest of the class: Felicity the pyrokinetic, Kimi the one-who-can-make-force-fields and Owen the telepath. And they’re all 100% for Blackbird’s Magneto-esque thoughts on
mutant metahuman superiority. Guess I was kinda right when I said this book might be going old school X-Men. Dinah did make a reference to Wolverine, so there’s that.
We’re treated to a fun, two-week montage of Dinah and the rest training their abilities…and Dinah actually does get something out of this. I’ll admit, it’s a little strange that after all of that talk about controlling her abilities last issue that exploding an apple or flying never occurred to her as possibilities. Plus, all of her discipline with martial arts you’d think she’d be trying all sorts of crazy stuff. I mean, I get that the idea here is to raise Dinah back up to the level she was at Pre-Flashpoint, when she could explode tanks and not just apples, but ironically this is actually a great place for a look inside of her head.
My money’s on Dinah purposefully diminishing her abilities to keep her cover more convincing, and already knows how to do all of this stuff. Not that flying-by-screaming is the most practical of application of her abilities, but hey it’s a thing she can do to dodge something midair. That’s just what I’m feeling.
Blackbird: One Woman AMAZO
AMAZO was an android that could copy the abilities of the Justice League so yup, now you see what I did there. Heh. Right, Dinah witnesses Blackbird’s secret: she’s been stealing metahuman abilities after she enhances them since the implication seems to be that she can’t improve them once they’re stolen. Which makes sense as a possible limitation, honestly. So, Dinah tries to get out of dodge while I assume Blackbird disposes of Felicity’s body (otherwise she’d warn people but then why would Blackbird say her life was hers to keep?) but she runs into Owen before she can warn the rest of the Birds of Prey.
She drags him into a bedroom and explains that what’s been going on. Owen deflects, since Blackbird is the only one who ever cared about him and Dinah tells him that hey, she gets what it was like to live on the street and not trust people and also human trafficking (wow that got dark fast) which unintentionally frames her decision to stay at her surrogate father’s dojo as a terrible idea, but the important part is that they need to stop Blackbird.
Owen agrees, but then mind-controls Dinah into staying behind because for a dude with psychic powers, he doesn’t seem so smart. His plan immediately backfires in a clever little twist: one of Blackbird’s former students was immune to suggestion. It’s just one of those abilities that seems useless at first glance, but the more you think about it, the more you realize that it’d be kind of invaluable for making balanced decisions.
Then again, by that logic, you’d also be “immune” to seduction, encouragement, debate, and evocative forms of art so that’s…pretty depressing. No wonder her student was so resistant and angry! If she’s not dead, Blackbird was probably the best thing to happen to her.
Moving on, after Owen gets mind-controlled by Blackbird, Dinah bursts in and very quickly discovers her cover is blown…and always was, which makes way more sense. Blackbird mind-controls Dinah into murdering her friends. Then we zoom on over to Babs and Helena trying to find Dinah, since two weeks with no contact is grounds for alarm, and Fauxracle is being weirdly cagey and vague when he could just say “hey Green Arrow is over there threatening Gemini and he’s looking for Dinah because they’re a couple” instead of leading them on.
That dude is weird.
Babs and Helena manage to get Ollie to not kill/maim Gemini after she spills the beans about Blackbird’s true nature. But, because Helena keeps her phone on her at all times (so that’s what the jacket does!) unlike Dinah for some reason, she calls Nightwing in for backup.
There were some hiccups in this one, I’m not gonna sugar coat it. While nothing broke my suspension of disbelief (rather it sent me off to find a Watsonian explanation for what was going on, which I did!) this wasn’t anywhere near as tight as the previous ten issues (including the Rebirth one-shot, of course) and sometimes that just happens.
To be perfectly clear, I still highly recommend this book, as even when it stumbles a bit, it’s still pretty damn good. Which is saying a lot. I mean, I bought the first trade despite having all of the singles digitally because that’s how much I loved it. Did the same thing with Detective Comics and a few other series.
Anyway, hopefully next month’s Birds of Prey, which features a Babs/Helena/Ollie/Dick team-up will jump start things back on the previous more awesome track! Not really sure why it wouldn’t, to be frank. It’s 4 Badass Normals and a Scrapper against an opponent who’s basically using cheat codes so she can have all the powers. What part of that doesn’t sound cool as hell?
BATGIRL AND THE BIRDS OF PREY #9
Writers: Julie and Shawna Benson
Pencils/Inks: Roge Antonio
Colors: Allen Passalaqua
Letterer: Josh Reed