“Birds of Prey” #18 marks the debut of writer Christy Marx as she joins artist Romano Molenaar on the title. Unfortunately, for this first issue at least, it’s not a great fit and Duane Swierczynski’s presence is sorely missed.
Marx struggles in her first issue, which is plagued by clunky dialogue and uneven pacing. The story jumps around unnecessarily, jokes fall decidedly flat and the plotting feels overly convenient. Perhaps most egregious is a scene with Black Canary and a random old woman in a diner that is painfully ham-fisted and movie-of-the-week in its “lessons” and “reflective moments.”
Additionally, though I can’t blame Marx for it, Strix feels like a cheap stand-in for Cassandra Cain, and as a reader I can’t help but wonder why in a rebooted universe it’s necessary. Cain has a large (and vocal) fanbase, so if the story wants a character that doesn’t speak, is a natural, brilliant fighter and doesn’t quite fit in a team environment, it’s perplexing why it needs to be this character instead of an already established and beloved one.
Molenaar’s artwork is functional but stiff. The storytelling is adequate as far as getting from point A to B, but it’s soulless and character expressions are particularly weak. The aforementioned scene with Black Canary and the old woman alternates between Dinah looking insanely surprised and then a panel later, her eyes narrowed like the most over acting of supervillains. But at least those are expressions. For most of the book the characters are saddled with blank pretty expressions, regardless of what’s happening.
One aspect that will hopefully improve with time is the collaboration between Marx and Molenaar, which at this point is awkward at best. Facial expressions don’t remotely match dialogue. For example a panel in which Starling seems surprised (in dialogue but not in the art) about the temperature in the room also shows an epic Mr. Freeze sized blue hole that only an idiot could miss. It’s a big disconnect between writer and artist that makes the book and characters feel stupid.
“Birds of Prey” has been beset by frustrating creative shifts since early on in the reboot. Though Swierczynski stayed on until just recently, the constant artistic shuffle has taken this book from a title I listed among the best of the New 52 to a book I totally lost interest in. Though Marx is just getting started and might be able to find her footing, this first installment is not promising and the art continues to be a miss.