Props go to writer Duane Swierczynski for pulling off a nice trick of pacing in “Birds of Prey” #10. His plotting has a pattern of dropping seeds of information that later bloom into their true significance. In this issue, he tosses in a powers-expansion revelation right past the gate of the cover, then piles on the action non-stop, such that neither the characters nor the reader have a chance to think about it until much further on in the issue.
Swierczynski’s writing is well-supported by Travel Foreman, who is settling into being series artist for a couple issues. The visual spread on the second page is killer with an unusual panel design that serves the intent of the story; it’s not just for kicks or to show off. The page is kinetic and well-composed down to the spacing of text boxes flowing over it. Each unusually-shaped panel is balanced within itself and the page also works as a whole. Sprawling action spreads can slow down plot development, but in this case the full-page visuals exquisitely intensify a jarring moment of rising action and revelation.
Foreman definitely is no slouch in taking on visual challenges with lots of well-done foreshortening in the action shots and the flow from panel to panel is quite strong considering how often the camera angle changes.
The quality of the art is uneven across the issue, however. There is lovely facial and clothing detail in certain panels, yet in others, the facial expressions are cartoony and lack any kind of subtlety. The random use of Ben-day dots as Batman appears for a cameo was weird and jarring, especially because this effect wasn’t repeated for any other scene, and it made the moody city background extremely flat. The inking by Jeff Huet is too cobwebby and heavy at times, but there are places the textural, nettle-y look works, such as where the inking style reinforces jagged cliff edges and spiky foliage.
Speaking of foliage, it’s a pity that Poison Ivy is out cold for most of this issue. The villain-turned-hero is an easy archetype for a writer to coast on, because there’s always the underlying tension — that is, will they or won’t they turn back to their wicked ways — and ten issues in, Ivy is still distrusted in differing degrees by everyone but Canary, and readers are still in the dark about her motivations. Yet Swierzynski take on Poison Ivy doesn’t rely on just that. Ivy’s quiet, watchful demeanor is creepy, enhancing both her “other” status and her otherworldly powers. But as a counterpoint, we are given glimpses into her vulnerability and humanity. Ivy’s subtle gratitude at the end of this issue for Canary’s promise-keeping is oddly touching.
The actual baddies in the New 52’s “Birds of Prey” have been flat and curiously toothless by themselves. Although each new external threat has been refreshingly different, the villains have been largely beside the point thus far. In this issue, as in the others before it, the baddies of the week have merely been the canvas for the true brushstrokes of conflict within the team and within each team member individually.
The action of “Birds of Prey” #10 can seem slow, but this may be related to how Swierczynski’s writing emphasizes gradual character development. To that end, perhaps we’ll see some villains with sustained depth at some point down the line along with further emotional insights into the team dynamics and each team member.