Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) hit theaters this past February, bringing an R-rated, action-packed tale of some of DC Comics' most beloved female characters. The film's release was supposed to coincide with the launch of a new Birds of Prey ongoing series under DC's Black Label, which was later resolicited as an oversized one-shot, only to be delayed even further due to the coronavirus pandemic. Months later, Brian Azzarello and Emanuela Luppachino's take on Birds of Prey has finally arrived—and it both was and wasn't worth the wait in different respects. The 100-page story has some admirable and entertaining moments, but it feels like it only scratches the surface of what the Birds of Prey can—and have—offered the DC Comics universe.
This one-shot takes place in a slightly edgier version of DC canon, as a new crime syndicate makes its presence known in Gotham City. Black Canary is most directly affected by the syndicate's rise, as her time as frontwoman of the Black Canary band and experience with the military are both impacted. Harley Quinn, meanwhile, has just been released from Arkham Asylum, but quickly crosses paths with Huntress and Renee Montoya. Through a sequence of events that are almost too convoluted to explain here, the four women join forces for their own survival and the good of Gotham City.
What unfolds from there is both well-executed and underwhelming, especially when it comes to each of the Birds' individual stories. The right character dynamics are definitely present (especially if you're a fan of Harley and Huntress' rapport), but the nature of the one-shot makes those moments far too fleeting. While Azzarello's narrative makes a notable effort, there's a sense that he might not be the best fit for accurately characterizing these women. This is most apparent with Dinah, whose storyline is layered with regret and empathy, but also peppered with moments that feel out of character, coming across like a weird regression to the worst qualities found in her New 52 characterization.
Some readers will surely find issues with the plot itself, as the action of truncating this idea down to 100 pages seems to have caused key details to slip through the cracks. The villains of the one-shot are wildly underdeveloped (and, as some have argued, deploys offensive Latino stereotypes), and the ending reads more like ellipses than an exclamation point. Given the changes that were made to this now-a-one-shot's release, you can't fault any one individual for those problems; there remains a question of how the story would have played in its original miniseries format.
One of the biggest strengths of the issue—and something that makes it worth reading regardless of the previously noted flaws—is Emanuela Lupacchino's art. Many of the costumes featured in the issue, ranging from Black Canary's Rebirth costume to Harley's Suicide Squad-esque outfit, have been victim of some awful comic renditions in the past, but Luppachino brings them to life in a tasteful, empowering fashion. Beyond the costume designs, Luppachino continues her stellar work making each woman comfortable in their own skin, in spite of all the bizarre situations they occupy. This is especially the case in fight sequences, which are clearly violent and bring a kinetic, yet still clean, feel, enhanced by Ray McCarthy's inks. That crispness also comes through in colors from Trish Mulvihill and John Kalisz, which bring warmth and a candy-colored quality to every sequence. Steve Wands' letters are unpretentious, but dynamic, and suit the wildly-different tones spread throughout the issue.
Although the plot has many enjoyable moments, this Birds of Prey one-shot still reads as what some fans had feared from the beginning—the general concept of the Birds of Prey movie filtered through a superficial, male voice. It certainly isn't the most consistent or character-accurate tie-in comic that the Birds movie has produced, but it is still far from a complete wash. The art is gorgeous, featuring some incredibly clever sequences, and it may help fans bide their time until Birds of Prey returns to the realm of DC canon.
Published by DC Comics
On June 2, 2020
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Emanuela Lupacchino and Ray McCarthy
Colors by Trish Mulvihill and John Kalisz1comments
Lettering by Steve Wands
Cover by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, and Alex Sinclair