Batgirl and the Birds of Prey #19
Story: Julie Benson & Shawna Benson
Artist: Roge Antonio
Colors: Marcelo Maiolo
Cover: Terry Dodson & Rachel Dodson
Batgirl and the Birds of Prey #19 is part 1 of the new arc, Full Circle. After some great team building/butt kicking back in #18, The Birds are closer than they have ever been. Things should be more in sync than every, right? Not so much. Barbara is still a Bat, and this issue explores her struggling with a bad trait that she picked up from Batman, keeping secrets from her team.
*** WARNING! THERE ARE SOME (NOT ALL) SPOILERS BELOW!***
The cover (by Terry and Rachel Dodson) does a pretty spot on job of summing up the basic idea of this issue. First off, the most prominent figure on the cover is Batgirl. This issue is all about Babs and the consequences of her choices, so it’s smart for her to be up front and center as well as being the only character with any color to them. Calculator pops out next; looming over Babs (looking all sorts of menacing) as she tries to Batarang her way out of his trap. All the while, Canary and Huntress are left on the outside looking in, unable to help. I do wish that Barbara didn’t look so much older on the cover than she does in the issue, but that’s a minor thing. The combination of the color and pose of Batgirl makes this issue stick out on the stand, and the story that the cover as a whole tells, makes you want to pick it up and read it right away.
As I said earlier, Babs may be a Bird of Prey, but at her core she will always be a Bat. Something that seems to backfire pretty hard on all of the Bat-Kids at one point or another is keeping secrets from their teams. Keeping secrets from the team is something Batman is notorious for doing (Dark Knights: Metal). Julie Benson and Shawna Benson do a great job of exploring how Babs would deal with keeping secrets from her team (and her dad), and how that would compare to how we’ve seen Grayson or Damian (or Jason or Tim or Kate or, you get it) deal with it in the past.
When Gus left the Birds of Prey, he left a backdoor into Calculator’s system, and Barbara has been using this to “catfish” criminals so she can stop Calculator by taking away his clients. At one point in their careers, all the Bat-kids (and Batman) try to take a run at getting ahead of the bad guys and bringing crime in Gotham to a stop. Tim Drake does it by wiring up all of Gotham and assembling a group of Bats as a strike force. Babs goes Oracle, sending Canary and Huntress to get the baddies, while she hunts down their next move behind a monitor. The point is, it never works out. Something always throws their plan sideways. It’s how they react when things go south that makes the story so interesting.
The Benson Sisters tell this story through Barbara’s inner monologue for most of the story. I loved this for a few reasons. 1, it allows us to see what Babs is going through as she struggles and reconciles with keeping Huntress and Canary in the dark, as well as how she processes her own grief and the grief that the rest of the Birds are going through. 2. She’s not talking to herself. I know it’s a small thing, but it drives me crazy when characters explain what’s going on and no one else is around. NO ONE DOES THAT! So yes, small, but I appreciate it being told through her thoughts.
Barbara’s only goal isn’t just to stop criminals, it’s also to get them help. Poison Ivy has become Babs’s experiment on if it’s possible to rehabilitate certain criminals so that they can use their gifts for good. Barbara uses the fact that Ivy is doing well in her position at Terracare to justify breaking the law by hacking Calculator’s system and using the info to arrest bad guys around the city.
The biggest question I have about what she is doing, is once the Birds get the bad guys, how does the GCPD keep them. Take the first villain Babs sends the Birds to pick up for example. Side note, no name was given for him, so I am calling him, The Mangler Fish. Anyways, Mangler is a low level thug who was dumb enough to ask for bank blueprints online (best/worst username ever by the way), he absolutely should be in jail. The issue with the GCPD keeping him locked up after the Birds bring him in is, has he actually done anything illegal? Yes, he showed up to the shipping yard, cash in hand, ready to make a deal on some blueprints, but there were no blueprints to sell. No money changed hands. What crime can the GCPD actually hold him for? Sure, he pulled a gun, but that seems like a pretty weak charge comparatively. That being said, this is the first issue of this story, and I am sure questions like this will get answers as we continue with the arc.
Obviously, Barbara keeping everything close to the chest and keeping her team in the dark doesn’t take long to bite her in the butt. After a run in with one of the Burnrate units (more on Burnrate in a moment), Babs is forced to tell Canary and Huntress what she’s been up to, and it’s not well received at all.
This is the scene I was waiting for since I figured out what this issue was about. As I said, yes, we’ve seen the story of a member of the Bat-Family keeping secrets from their team several times before, it’s about the way they react and adjust that makes the story worth reading. This isn’t a plot driven story, it’s a character driven story. Babs reaction is something we rarely see in Bruce, and something we only see Grayson deal with internally, and that’s what sets this story apart for me. Barbara has a lot of guilt (and has the whole issue) for keeping her team in the dark, and shows it both through her words and demeanor.
The Birds don’t have long to sort through everything, because Burnrate is after another person who would know who Oracle actually is; Gus. Gus became really close with the Birds back when he was Oracle (Batgirl and the Birds of Prey Vol. 1). It may be safe to say that Gus is the reason why the Birds of Prey are a thing right now. So, when Batgirl shows up to find Burnrate trying to beat the answer out of Gus (Gus won’t snitch), her guilt turns to blind rage. Canary ends up taking Burnrate down with a Canary Cry and the Birds rush to Gus’s side. Unfortunately, the Birds are just too late to save him. The loss of Gus is a huge blow to The Birds and to Barbara specifically. Gus was a super fan who wanted to carry on Oracle’s legacy while Barbara was out being Batgirl. Barbara’s choice to keep everyone in the dark (thinking it would keep loved ones safe) now has casualties, and that puts a huge rift between her and the rest of the Birds.
Roge Antonio is back as the artist for this issue with a new color artist to the series, Marcelo Maiolo. Overall, the two work great together and deliver an issue that brings all the emotion and struggle that The Birds are going through this issue to the surface. The most memorable moments to me were after Gus, when each Bird goes to process their grief. You can feel Dinah’s pain (and see it) as she unleashes a massive Canary Cries in an abandoned warehouse until she no longer has the strength to stand and crumbles to the ground crying. Barbara’s rage comes through loud and clear (even without the red background on these panels) as she smashes a hard drive with a sledge hammer. Huntress can’t even bring herself to look at the person she goes to meet at Blackgate. All you see is the pain and her struggling to figure out what she wants from this visit.
One thing that repeats itself throughout the issue is, “the only way to maintain this secret life is to keep friends and family in the dark,” but Babs realizes that, “But really, we are the ones in the dark, keeping them safe in the light.” The way that Antonio and Maiolo play with light in this issue is great. The light sources are often the focal point of a pane, and what they’ve decided to keep “in the dark” stands out in a big way. The best example of this is Babs sitting on the floor (after her sledgehammer rage moment), the bright yellow clock face over her right shoulder illuminates most of the room, but not Barbara’s face. That is in complete darkness.
On paper, Burnrate is what nightmares are made of. The best way I can explain it is, Ghost Rider and Deadshot smashed into the body of a T-800. Terrifying. Unfortunately, I feel not enough was done to really take advantage of this murder droid. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked Burnrate and am excited to see how it plays in as this story continues, but this is where I got hot and cold about the art. We do get to see a terrified Batgirl (seconds from being shot in the face) from Burnrate’s perspective. The problem is the art from Burnrate’s perspective isn’t different from the rest of the art in anyway. It does have a H.U.D. for identification purposes, but the rest is the same. I don’t believe that every robot perspective has to be like looking into the Matrix, but there should be something in the artwork or colors that separates it. Burnrate’s eyes are on fire. HIS EYES ARE ON FIRE!!! There should be atleast and orange hue over whatever he is looking at, in my opinion.
The only other problem I had with the art is Gus. Before Batgirl arrives, we see a Burnrate unit beating (and shooting) Gus within an inch of his life to find out Oracles true identity. I absolutely loved this panel. It showed how terrifying Burnrate is and how much Gus will sacrifice for the Birds of Prey. It looks brutal. Skip forward a couple pages and we see Gus slowly dying. The issue that I had with that was, Gus looks more like he was jumped in the alley and needs a solid nap, but ultimately will be fine; not like he was just pummeled by a giant flaming murder droid. There is very little discoloration of the skin and unnoticeable swelling in his face. I don’t need him to look like an extra from the Walking Dead, but there should have been more to show the damage Burnrate (and Barbara’s choice) can do. Gus dying should be a big deal and should hit the reader in the chest, but I didn’t get that at all, and was pulled out of the issue a bit. I was brought right back in on the next page though. Seeing Huntress taking off her mask and crying as Gus dies hit me right in the heart and I loved it.
Overall, this is a solid first issue for the new arc, Full Circle. To me this issue read like Barbara’s prelude for the actual Full Circle story, and I am excited to see how the Birds recover from this. Although the artwork does come up short on a few minor things, the exploration of Barbara Gordon as a character made this a great issue to read and one I would recommend to anyone. There are a lot of questions moving forward, like what is Huntress trying to get with her visit to Blackgate? How will the grief they feel play a role in how they move forward? What else can they lose? Most importantly, will the Birds of Prey be the same after Babs destroyed the trust they all worked so hard to build? Can’t wait to find out when Batgirl and the Birds of Prey #20 hits stands on March 14th!