By: Duane Swierczynski (writer), Jesus Saiz (artist), June Chung (colorist)

The Story: Black Canary, there’s a reason why we call ‘em “frienemies.”

The Review: Another reason the Birds of Prey—and here I’m talking about the pre-relaunch version of the team—were so appealing was they acted not only as a highly effective team, they were a group of women bound together as much by friendship as necessity.  As much fun as it was to see them take names and kick butt, the moments where they bantered, poured their hearts out, or gave each other emotional support were even more enjoyable.

That’s probably the one thing this current version of the team lacks so far.  Swierczynski has given the Birds grit for days, what with a ninja, an agent of the Green, a master spy, one of the finest martial artists on the planet, and Batgirl banding up together.  But since Canary gathered many of these ladies more for the sake of their special abilities than anything else, the bonds among them were tenuous at best, always susceptible to snapping, given enough tension.

You don’t stress out the team spirit any more effectively than shooting upon your teammates.  Frankly, it surprises me none of the Birds thought something like this might happen, considering Choke obviously messed with their heads all the way back in #4.  In fact, I’ve been waiting for a mind-controlled betrayal to happen for a while, and since Starling has gotten the most brutal after-effects of all the ladies, it was almost inevitable she’d be the one to turn on them all.

Choke’s choice of Starling for his prime sleeper agent is brilliant for two reasons.  First, there’s definitely some kind of irony about the woman with an inbred sense of paranoia becoming an unwitting pawn for a mastermind, and refusing even to acknowledge that possibility.  Second, we know that of all the recruits to her team, Canary trusts only Starling, which she states outright to Batgirl.  Thus Choke’s turning of Starling seems to be a direct psychological attack against Dinah more than anyone else, indicating his agenda may be personal at heart.

Speaking of which, Swierczynski leads us on a roller-coaster ride of twists in regards to the villain’s identity.  At first, when—spoiler alert—the good-natured Trevor Cahill reveals himself as the man behind all this trouble, you can’t helping feeling a bit disappointed Swierczynski goes for the typical “supposed friend turns out to be enemy all along” bit.  At the same time, that makes your delight and surprise all the greater when Katana, using her “unique” investigation methods, discovers the truth is still out there.  It makes a lot of sense; if Choke has the ability to make people into secret killers, why can’t he make them into his secret proxies?

And now that the fate of the team is in such question, it may be Canary will only have Batgirl to depend on in her pursuit of the elusive Choke.  Swierczynski pays loving tribute to the Birds of old by giving Dinah and Babs a rather lovely moment together towards the end of the issue.  What’s particularly smart about the scene is how it contrasts the depth of trust they share, despite the seeming distance between them in past issues, with the apparent bond of trust Dinah thought she had with Ev.  As Batgirl says firmly, “We’re good.  We’ll always be good, no matter what.”

Saiz has only gotten better and better as the series goes on.  You always knew the man had a great eye for detail, but who could predict that extended to the floral engravings on Starling’s pistols?  His action sequences have also always balanced grace and strength beautifully, but his emotional expression has really evolved.  When Dinah wreaks havoc in Trevor’s apartment, you can actually see and feel the poignant rage in her every move, the anger not only over his turncoat status, but on the chaos he loosed upon her and her comrades.

Conclusion: Kelly Sue DeConnick, writer of the upcoming Captain Marvel, challenged readers to prove that a “female-led book about the power of the human spirit, about the many guises of heroism, a book wherein no one gets raped or puts her cervix on display, can break six issues”.  With all due respect, I’d like to say the point has already been proven in Birds of Prey, as you don’t get more female leaders, more spirit, or more heroism than here–and it’s lasted seven issues.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – A steady hand with a sword, and fast enough to dodge bullets from point-blank?  I may love you a little bit, Katana.