By: Duane Swierczynski (writer), Javier Pina (artist), June Chung (colorist)

The Story: Just when you think you know a guy, he turns out to be a secret killer agent.

The Review: Some would argue that the real measure of a great superhero is a great supervillain, and that seems pretty true.  You can’t really think of any of the giants—Batman, Superman, Captain America, Spider-Man—without simultaneously thinking of their evil counterparts—Joker, Lex Luthor, Red Skull, John Jonah Jameson (and yes, that last one is, in fact, a joke).  So it stands to reason that often, the failing of any new hero can often lie with mediocre nemeses.

For these new Birds, their first antagonist is kind of a weird bird.  On the one hand, the scope of his abilities and his altogether faceless nature poses some worthy challenges for our heroines.  On the other hand, we haven’t really seen Choke actually do anything, nor do we know much about his motivations.  Without a clear goal, he’s just being manipulative for the sake of being manipulative—which in itself might be interesting, but this issue hints nothing like that.

The real antagonists the Birds have faced thus far have all been these Cleaners, sleeper agents activated by remote hypnotic triggers.  Swierczynski makes the rather pleasant decision to buck the trend of leaving nameless thugs to be nameless thugs and actually follow one of the Cleaners around.  And his name is Brendan, by the way.  Seeing his experience of living a fairly normal routine most the day, only to black out and find himself in pants-wetting situations later (by which I mean he’s been suddenly stripped naked in a warehouse, Katana poised over him with a syringe), definitely shows you how disorienting and frightening it must be to live his life.

One thing you’ll notice this issue is how Starling and Black Canary make the bulk of the title’s natural chemistry.  Anytime more than two Birds talk at once, you can bet it’ll be those two.  Sure, Poison Ivy isn’t exactly the girlfriend-type and Katana’s not given lively banter and Batgirl has only just joined the team.  At some point, though, Swierczynski should take some pains to pair off the women in more interesting combos and see what sparks fly.  In the meantime, enjoy such fun exchanges as: “…my Uncle Earl always said, ‘Fortune favors the bold.’” “Was this before or after your Uncle Earl tried to stab you in the face?

Lately, it seems like Swierczynski’s getting too lax with his logistics.  Considering the splashy cliffhanger with Starling last issue, it’s a bit annoying he skips past the aftermath, only to have her sum up in a rather unnatural string of exposition: “Just because this sick ticket messed with my memories enough to lead me straight into a trap set by private mercenaries?  All of whom are being offered beaucoup bucks to kill me on sight, no questions asked?”  Try saying it out loud without sounding awkward.

Would you believe I had no idea Jesus Saiz didn’t draw this issue until I started writing up the credits?  Pina has an uncanny, almost creepy, similarity of style to Saiz, down to the characters’ facial features, even down to Saiz’s sense of movement and paneling.  Squinting your eyes, you might pick out a difference in the shape of the eyes, which may or may not be bigger and brighter than Saiz is usually wont to draw, but that’s a stretch.  I guess this all boils down to say Pina makes for an ideal fill-in artist, as you can’t even tell a fill-in is at work.

Conclusion: Still a lot of fun, despite a few minor shortcomings, and no matter what happens, this will always be the best all-female team book on the market—seeing as how it may be the only one.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – So I’m guessing Trevor is going to be in on the Birds’ operations from now on?  I’d be down for that.  I see him as a kind of hapless Bosley figure to this team of not-Charlie’s Angels.