By: Duane Swierczynski (story), Travel Foreman (art), Gabe Eltaeb (colors)

The Story: Didn’t you know nearly all Birds in the Amazon are endangered?

The Review: Fiction writers follow hardly any rules but loose ones, and one of the loosest and most followed rules goes something like this: don’t always stick to your guns.  Big ideas are important, and if you bring some to the table right from go…great!  But don’t be afraid to traipse off the well-trodden path to pursue a plot thread or develop a character you never once thought about.  A lot of times, these wind up replacing your original plans as the real meat of the story.

On the other hand, let’s not get so excited about exploring new directions that we get totally mixed up about where we’re going—and forget how to get back to the trail to the picnic area.  I don’t think we’re at a point where Swierczynski can’t lead us back to where we laid out our blankets and lunch, but those sandwiches are feeling further away all the time, and we’re feeling a bit peckish, to say the least.  (The extended, completely ridiculous metaphor ends here.)

Swierczynski definitely has a focus issue, habitually moving on to new arcs before resolving the last, leaving storylines at loose ends.  Sometimes it’s unintentional, a case of ambiguous writing, like the whole mess with Choke.  By having Katana at the very last minute announce the guy she beheaded was not Choke, you felt sure that meant the Birds still had some work to do on that front before moving on to another mission.  But maybe that gives Katana too much credibility, and the scene only meant to give you an interesting “The End?”-type conclusion.

Sometimes it’s a case of bad timing.  This title was finally about to get to the bottom of this whole thing about Canary murdering her husband, when “Night of the Owls” struck and derailed that storyline entirely.  Swierczynski’s use of Ivy in that issue offered a pretty dramatic climax, but it also forced him to deal with the side-effects of her actions, namely how to restore her back to normal and why Canary feels such obligations to do so for the former villainess.

And while the Birds hacking off plant monsters in the Amazon does have its fun moments (including the discovery that Starling’s “ride” is actually a major cocaine distributor—and of course it is), you get the distinct feeling this isn’t exactly where Swierczynski meant to put his stars at this point.  Some clunky, expository bits of dialogue appear, almost as if to sum up all the conflicts thus far: “And who the hell attacked us?  One of Ivy’s many enemies?”  “Or more angry associates of Canary’s late husband?”

Still, there are things to like here.  Sending the Birds away from Gotham and into a setting where their covert-ops backgrounds seem totally out-of-place is a great way to break them out of the usual Bat-family stories.  It also seems like prime opportunity to test their abilities when they’re not facing the usual mortal threats, leading Canary in particular to a very cool, Banshee-like use of her powers.

Foreman is still weaning himself off the steady diet of horror he’d been having over on Animal Man.  Lucky for him, the script has been fairly accommodating, giving him some horror elements last issue and here, with (of all things) creatures of the Green bursting into scenes.  But Foreman’s also polishing his ability to draw the ladies with their traditional attractiveness, and amping up his action chops at the same time.  For now, they’ve got all the force and momentum that makes them credible fighters, but none of the free-flowing grace that make it seem natural and effortless.  But Foreman’s definitely getting there.

Conclusion: Enjoyable, but disjointed, and you can’t really overlook that this series has been wandering around without a map for a while.  Time to get our bearings.

Grade: B-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – To be an indie hero in Gotham, you need, to some degree, to not give a crap about what Batman thinks.  Happy to see Starling and Canary fit the bill.