Review by Frank Plowright
Released to pre-empt the 2020 Birds of Prey movie, this anthology features material from DC’s back catalogue stretching all the way back to 1996. In selecting content intended to cover six different characters one problem is locating anything that’s just a single chapter, which is just not the way comics are written anymore. Beyond that, the requirement is to find stories not too tied to other continuity. It leads to some enforced decisions with strange results, such as Barbara Gordon being the character most often seen, having appearances in the Cassandra Cain and Black Canary stories. The result is that not everyone appears at their best, and Huntress teaming with Nightwing seems a random chapter rather than anything given consideration. The story remains incomplete here, and the dynamic of will they or won’t they get a room transmits sleazily when out of context.
Anyone picking this up only familiar with the movie will be surprised that in the comics for the past eighty years or so Black Canary has been blonde and white, here teaming with Lois Lane to bring down an exploiter of slave labour in the oldest story. The depth is provided by Black Canary coming to terms with the recent death of her boyfriend Green Arrow, but as he’s been around and healthy for twenty years since then, many may be puzzled. The same applies to the Cassandra Cain solo. It’s been chosen to avoid her later spell as Batgirl while still highlighting her capabilities, but Kelley Puckett’s intention was a broader story of challenging family dynamics, and they intrude too far for a chocolate box selection.
Perhaps it’s down to her having the largest role in the movie, but the title gives prominence to Harley Quinn, and hers is among the better inclusions, plotted by her creator Paul Dini as complete in twenty pages, and nicely drawn by Don Kramer. It does have the drawbacks of featuring the comic version in the harlequin costume, and of requiring some knowledge of the Ventriloquist as a Batman villain, but is otherwise tight, has a point and delivers Harley with some depth. Going for a very different mood, Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s spotlight on the way Gotham police detective Renee Montoya’s day just spirals down and down is another highlight. It comes with more than an insight into the conflicts in Renee’s life.
However bad Renee’s life is, it could be worse. She could be Catwoman’s sister in Ed Brubaker’s story featuring Black Mask, the film’s villain. The sadistic worst of what he’s done actually occurs in the episode before this, but he’s still resolutely unpleasant, driven by revenge on Catwoman and unconcerned about innocents in the way. Cameron Stewart’s art has a similar noir style to Lark, although is coloured more brightly, and Brubaker’s clever plot twists effectively.
If you’re hooked by Renee Montoya’s predicament, the cliffhanger ending is continued in Gotham Central: In the Line of Duty, the full consequences of the Huntress contribution are found in Nightwing/Huntress, and the Black Mask’s full villainy can be found in Catwoman: Relentless.
Three very good stories from six is better balance than most tie-in collections manage, and it’s not as if anything is poor, but just don’t expect much resemblance to the Birds of Prey movie.