Birds of Prey #1
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Emanuela Lupacchino, Ray McCarthy, Trish Mulvihill and John Kalisz
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC/Black Label
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10
Simultaneously publishing comic books with movies is always a tricky business, but it’s rare to swing and miss as hard as Black Label’s Birds of Prey #1. Starring Harley Quinn, Black Canary, Huntress, and Renee Montoya, writer Brian Azzarello and artist Emanuela Lupacchino find themselves at odds with each other both stylistically and in terms of the cinematic material they were clearly meant to reflect.
While the recent Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) film was defined by its distinct aesthetic and point of view, Black Label’s Birds of Prey comic book can’t decide if it wants to be a traditional superhero story or something edgier altogether. Unfortunately, while Azzarello starts with a kernel of something unique as he introduces his three main leads, it’s all quickly tossed aside for something that feels largely run of the mill and largely forgettable. In one corner, we have some paper-thin drug dealers characterized only by tired Latinx stereotypes of sugar skulls and grim reaper iconography, and on the other, Azzarello conjures up the Joker’s gang in an anemic retread of Margot Robbie’s journey in the Birds of Prey film.
Despite there being some couple of interesting moments here and there — particularly Azzarello’s decision never to show the Joker’s face, letting hardcore violence do the talking for him, or Dinah shattering the windows of an entire apartment building when a friend is found dead — there’s a general sloppiness that mars the majority of the narrative. Harley, Dinah, and Helena cross paths with only the flimsiest of contrivances and a subplot about Montoya being a crooked cop has a resolution so truncated that it doesn’t even make sense. Combine that throwaway fight choreography that saps any tension away from these clearly bulletproof Birds, and you’ve got an oversized storyline that never really goes anywhere.
But I think where the disconnect becomes most apparent is in the visuals. Emanuela Lupacchino is great at what she does, but I don’t think she’s a great fit for the tone of this particular project, or Azzarello’s style. She’s so meat-and-potatoes superhero in her visual style that there’s no edge to this series, and it makes Azzarello’s already occasionally wrongheaded edginess feel more juvenile. While her opening sequence featuring the drug cartel counterpointed against Dinah’s domestic life feels like an effective opener, like Azzarello, Lupacchino’s artwork quickly runs out of steam going through the rest of the story. Harley Quinn, for example, lacks any of the specificity of design that her film counterpoint had, and Black Canary and Huntress’ designs are just ported over from the mainstream DCU. Even the villains feel particularly unimaginative, with just sugar skulls and clown makeup to set them apart, while the action is just the Birds diving away from whatever bullets are headed for them.
Drawn out but never really fleshed out, Birds of Prey #1 feels even more disappointing given its lengthy delays. Far missing the mark to tie into the long out-of-theaters Birds of Prey film, Azzarello and Lupacchino’s styles feel like a poor match for one another, compounding the issues this threadbare story already brought to the table. Unless you’re a diehard fan of the property or one of the creators involved, save your money and stream the movie instead.