The preview for Batgirl and the Birds of Prey #6, which went up on Saturday, was a rather clever tease. See, it ends on the panel with the Birds of Prey reacting to FauxRacle “betraying” them. Normally, there wouldn’t be anything to that, but the last preview, for Batgirl and the Birds of Prey #5, started with their “big twist” from the get-go. Namely, who the FauxRacle was.
It’s a genuinely fun play on reader expectations, since I completely bought that Gus had sold out the team. And it would’ve been a cheeky addition to the Bensons’ running meta-commentary on DC’s hyper-merchandising of Barbara Gordon, after all.
See, because, he “sold out” the team. Sell out? Eh?
Right, anyway, it’s the finale of the first arc! The big payoff to the meta-commentary and the formal re-establishment of the classic Birds of Prey dynamic! But, the question is, does it work? Is it satisfying? Did I make the right call by putting my faith in the Bensons despite not knowing how it’d all come together? Does it ring true and, most importantly, does it keep its promise of carrying on the legacy attached to the title?
Is this book, truly, one worthy of its given name?
You bet your butt it is! Absolutely! As I went over in-depth in last month’s review, the Bensons’ accomplished something huge here. Something that, again, by all accounts really should not have been possible. I mean, how do you follow Gail Simone? Apparently, like this. This is what you do.
They’re Back! Because YOU Demanded It!
You’d be hard-pressed to find a creative team that took the Rebirth initiative to heart more than the Bensons did. Yes, Superman brought Superman and Lois Lane back (that’s not a typo and it’s funnier if I don’t explain it), and you all know how I feel about Detective Comics, but Barbara Gordon was, in my opinion, in far dire straits than any other character in those books.
They couldn’t just roll her back to her Pre-Flashpoint incarnation like Tynion did with Tim Drake. While that’s a gross oversimplification, you get the point I’m making. There wasn’t a roadmap here. They didn’t have guidelines or really any precedent on how the hell they were supposed to do this.
With Black Canary, the biggest hurdle was re-establishing her as one of the top martial artists in the entire DCU, which they’re still working towards. That and her relationship with Oliver Queen, but Green Arrow brought that back almost instantly. With Huntress, well, Grayson did a lot of the heavy lifting there. But, as we’ll get into, not all of it.
Point being, we’ve got a Barbara Gordon that everyone can be proud of again, and she brought her team as a package deal. And that’s no small feat.
All In The Family
Now that all of that praise has been delivered, let’s dive into the issue! We start things off on effectively the same panel we ended Batgirl and the Birds of Prey #5 on, but with different lettering.
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It’s one of the few times where I’ve seen re-used art used effectively, as it immediately brings you back to those final moments and Helena’s current state of mind. Most readers don’t re-read an issue right before starting the next one, so I found it to be a rather clever artistic choice by Roge Antonio for the benefit of the majority of the book’s audience.
Anyway, Dinah chases after Fenice and Santo, while Babs confirms that the woman in question is indeed a 100% facial recognition match for Maria Bertinelli. Helena steels herself and follows close behind, realizing that the only way she’s going to get any answers is to confront her mother. Face to face.
Except, apparently, Gus knew that Fenice was Helena’s mom this entire time. Which is just, wow, dude. His justification makes…a strange sort of sense, but even then it’s a bit of a stretch.
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It sounds like the kind of thing you’d hear from a teenager who takes things just a little too literally. Which, well, that might be the case here. We’re not really sure how old Gus is, but he’s younger than Barbara. Who is, again, Forever 21, but immaturity doesn’t make this okay. His primary motivation, as we learned last issue, was to get the Birds of Prey back together. Because he’s just that big of a superfan, and the lengths he went to do that were pretty extreme.
We’re seeing more of that here, I think. To me this, and the following sequences with Gus, reads like he’s putting Oracle and the Birds of Prey up on a pedestal in his mind to the point of obsession. They can do no wrong, and he’d do anything to make sure they stay together and active in Gotham. Which, again, can absolutely serve as a commentary on DC’s mentality towards both Barbara Gordon and the Birds of Prey brand.
Or just Batman in general. Oh! Perfect segue, right there.
Flash Bat Fact!
As most everyone knows, Thomas and Martha Wayne were gunned down in an alley outside of the Monarch—
Oh. Okay, I guess it’s the Majestic Theater now. Well, regardless, the Waynes watched the classic 1940 film The Mark of Zorro, the protagonist of which served as big inspiration towards the creation of Batman both in-universe and out. Zorro’s been around since 1919, after all.
It’s a rather striking choice for a final showdown between the mobsters, Fenice, the GCPD, the snake assassins and the Birds of Prey. I was thinking about as to why the Bensons would choose this location specifically, since it’s clearly not to show off Gus’s not-at-all-impressive knowledge of Gotham history, and it dawned on me that this is Helena Bertinelli’s first experience with vigilantism.
She doesn’t have years and years of being on the outskirts of the superhero community to fall back on this time around. Helena was a super-spy for Spyral before this. Not a hero.
We’ve seen her kill before, but so far Babs and Dinah have been able to talk her down from doing so again. But the role of Huntress has yet to be cemented once more, so that could potentially change. After all, this is her new origin story, so what better place to set the finale in the one location eternally tied to the man who started it all? Especially when it relates family tragedy.
Batman doesn’t kill, but Zorro does in many incarnations. So, the question is, which one will Helena emulate?
Who is the Huntress now?
LIVE! At The Majestic Theater! One Night Only!
After being forced to trust Gus again, Babs makes her way to the theater to lend support to her team. What follows is, honestly, a pretty inventive action scene. The snakes get tossed around into the Mafia contacts, who Gus manipulated to use as cannon fodder to take some pressure off of the Birds of Prey, and some of the old abandoned furniture is used as improvisational weaponry.
The GCPD busts in, because of course they do, and work together with the mobsters to take on the snakes.
This gives Helena the opening she was waiting for and she makes a beeline for the projection booth to confront her mother. But, before she can make it up there, she loses her footing and nearly falls off of the balcony. So, obviously, that means Babs has to be clever. And clever she is!
I really love this little moment. It’s such a small bit of support, but it speaks volumes about how synergized the Birds of Prey already are even after such a short time. Which is, of course, exactly how things should be. It’s a tried-and-true dynamic trio for a damn good reason.
Cry For Blood Year One Rebirth
After punching out another snake and proving that her ornithological knowledge is way more comprehensive than anyone considered, Helena finally reunites with her mother Maria. And the results are…kind of devastating.
As it turns out, there was a lot more going on to the murder of Pino and Frank Bertinelli than Helena realized. Maria and Santo fell in love, but because of Frank’s connections to the Bertinelli crime family, he’d never let her get a divorce and take her children away from that danger. He’d hunt her down, no matter how far she ran. The plan was for Maria to fake her own death while also killing Frank, and making it look like they’d both been murdered.
Of course, as we already know from Helena’s flashback from issue #4, that’s not how things went down. Pino and Frank were killed outright by the Cassamentos, but after that is where the story diverges.
Helena played possum too well, it seems.
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Instead of an unreliable narrator, which would be the typical way to “rewrite” a past event with new information, we get two sides of the same tale. Helena’s only alive because her own mother, and everyone else, thought she was dead. And Maria’s only alive because the Cassamentos assumed they’d killed her children. So, they start their turn at revenge at more or less the same point.
But, where Helena turned her rage towards something productive by becoming a teacher and agent of Spyral, her mother resorted to less than noble pursuits. After a failed attempted suicide, her only goal was revenge. As time went on, she became what she wanted to kill.
Faith and Pragmatism
It’s not a new story; becoming the thing you hated. It still works so damn well, though, when you can pull it off. And the Bensons did. There’s so much darkness in Maria’s story. Trying to kill Santo in a rage and being kidnapped all the way to Italy. Rationalizing her thirst for vengeance by attributing it as a mission from God. It’s heavy, but it’s good. Really good.
And I think that last part may have been what convinced Helena that killing Santo wasn’t the right choice. We saw her struggle with her Catholicism in the Rebirth one-shot many months ago. She admitted to what she’d done. Spying on superheroes, killing many. All of the lies and deception. Of course, she was talking to a corpse.
She’d already killed the corrupt “priest” in his own confessional booth.
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So, when Dinah and Babs talk her down, it seems to me like her mind was already made up. The only variable was that her mother had given the right to kill Santo to her, instead of doing the deed herself. Of course, this forces her to re-evaluate everything that’s happened so far since she returned to Gotham. And what her mother did.
It’s cold and it’s painful, and more than a little hypocritical but…that’s pretty much who Helena Bertinelli is a lot of the time. If she were warm and any more merciful than this—and one could argue that letting her mother know that she’s alive but hates her is worse than death—she wouldn’t be Huntress.
A serious woman who hunts.
The Birds of Prey, Guest Starring Gus
After a short scene where everyone gets to chuckle at the absurdity of Barbara thinking that her father doesn’t know that she’s Batgirl, the Birds of Prey head back to FauxRacle’s lair and confront him for all the crap he pulled.
But, as it turns out, that was off-set by the situational awareness he offered the team during their operation at the Majestic, since he watched their backs pretty effectively the whole time. He thought on his feet and provided a good example as to how Oracle is just like Batman.
An idea more than it is a name. Babs puts him on probational membership and then everyone leaves to pass out.
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand Gus is…a double agent. For someone. And he takes what I’m assuming are amphetamines to keep his mind up. Would certainly explain all of those panels of his eyes being super dilated. There have been a lot of those, now that I think about it.
This twist doesn’t exactly surprise me, but now I’m thinking that the FauxRacle thing might’ve been a bait-and-switch to make us think the main villain wasn’t the Calculator when it actually is.
I hope that’s not the case. I kinda hope it’s Spy Smasher again! That’d be awesome.
BATGIRL AND THE BIRDS OF PREY #6
Writers: Julie and Shawna Benson
Pencils/Inks: Roge Antonio
Colors: Allen Passalaqua
Letterer: Deron Bennett
All images courtesy of DC Comics