By Gail Simone (writer), Ed Benes and Adriana Melo (pencils), Ed Benes and J.P. Mayer (inks), Nei Ruffino (colors) and Steve Wands(letters)

The Story: White Canary continues to torment the Birds, so Black Canary sets out to destroy her hold over them once and for all. Meanwhile, Barbara is forced to focus on an even more personal—and just as deadly—blast from her past.

What’s Good: I love Gail Simone, let me put that out there right off. Despite that, Birds of Prey—my high hopes for the series notwithstanding—has yet to really grab or impress me. It’s been alright of course, and I don’t regret purchasing any of the issues, but it just hasn’t been able to clear the bar that Simone set for herself in books like Wonder Woman and Secret Six. That said, this issue of Birds is absolutely the best one to date, and I take that as a very hopeful sign that the series is finally starting to find its feet.

All of the pieces that have been planted and set in motion in the last three issues come to a head here, in quite spectacular fashion. The opening sequence (in which we gain some insight into White Canary’s tragic origin) is some of the best writing and storytelling I’ve seen in the series yet, while the tense interaction between Barbara, Creote and Savant has some truly winning nuggets of characterization to mine.

Another thing this issue does very well is balance action with exposition and dialog. All three are important all three are important ingredients in my recipe for a good comic, and they harmonize in this issue quite well—in an (almost) Secret Six fashion, in fact, which is about the highest compliment I can give. Although the stakes always remain pleasantly high, cutting back and forth between the high octane physical battle between the Canaries, and the much more quiet (but equally intense) verbal and psychological confrontation between Barbara and her nemeses make for a good contrast, and the shift never feels abrupt or ill-timed.

What’s Not So Good: Benes’ artwork as a whole isn’t bad. But taken panel by panel it’s just not working for me. He draws the characters well—an obvious plus—and when the characters are still, or not moving much, the illustrations look quite good. But his action sequences lack the energy and dynamism that I would hope a combat-heavy title like this would be able to bring to the table. The action panels have no vitality or sense of motion, so although they tell the story well enough, there is no sense of flow or choreography to the battle; it’s more like looking at isolated but related images. It doesn’t hurt the book much, and the overall story is still exciting and easy to follow enough, but its small details like that that can elevate a book from ‘just okay’ to ‘good’ or from ‘good’ to ‘excellent.’

Conclusion: If you aren’t a fan of this series this issue won’t change your mind, but #5 will be one to watch for everyone if the slow but steady increase in quality (and the fresh start a new storyline will provide) is any indication.

Grade: B-