I think it was back in November, possibly later (or earlier) that Tim Seeley, current author of Nightwing Rebirth, suggested the idea for a Nightwing/Birds of Prey crossover story. Whether or not this was what he had in mind, I can’t say. Except it probably was because this is fun and silly and steeped in continuity.
So far, that’s been the Bensons and Seeley’s collective jam to the point that the girl Dick is seeing? Defacer? Yeah, she was from one of those old Hostess Fruit Pie ads.
You probably think I’m kidding but I’m not. Go on, click it. I’ll wait.
Right. So, still a DickBabs shipper myself—shut up they’re amazing together—but I can’t help but enjoy Dick and Shawn’s relationship dynamic. Also Shawn might be pregnant aaaaand also kidnapped. By Deathwing. But that happened before this story, duh.
Not that anyone asked about what was going on in Dick “Has The Actual Best Butt” Grayson’s life but hey more context can only help. Oh, and maybe go read it? It’s great!
Anyway, it’s a new arc, so that means—okay, well it means that. That’s what it means. A new arc. New story. New elements based around the pre-established status quo. Y’know, basic narrative design. See, there’s this thing in modern comics (that I’m sure many of you are quite aware of, but hey not everyone is so be nice) called “decompression”.
Some people hate it, some people love it. I think it depends on the execution just like literally everything else.
Basically, it’s slowing a story down so characterization and other emotional things have room to breathe and, when done well, hit that much harder. Makes things more cinematic, in a sense. A great example of this is last month’s (oh my God it’s been a month?!) Batwoman Rebirth, which dedicated two full pages to the lead-up of Kate and Renee hooking up. With only twenty pages a month to tell a story, decompression is a double-edged sword. Do it wrong, and your story is super light and without much substance. And nobody wants that.
On the other side of the table is good old fashioned compression. Which probably shouldn’t be called compression since it’s just how things used to be done, and in some books it still is. Larger stories are squished into a smaller space, with lots of word balloons and captions and all that jazz. The tricky part there is avoiding overloading the reader and not allowing the art itself to shine.
Why bring this up? Well, because Birds of Prey was pretty compressed this issue. And it worked. That’s not an easy thing to pull off by any metric.
Four Birds With One Knife
Nightwing is back in Gotham to hunt down a metahuman named Gemini, who apparently killed all of her friends in Bludhaven. Honestly, I had to look her up since I’d never heard of her. But, she’s not new. Dates back to 2000’s Beat Boy mini-series by Geoff Johns and Ben Raab, where she…wait…fought the Titans? But already had shapeshifting powers. Y’know what I’m not gonna focus on this continuity scrambler anymore because reliving the days when Bette Kane existed solely to be a blonde ditz and have the hots for Nightwing is giving me a headache.
Anyway, after an amusing exchange wherein Babs and Fauxracle actually use the term “drive” for “using the computer”—something I’ve only heard two people use as a joke because the guy they heard it from was weird but I guess it’s real?—Dick turns down an alley with his dinky motorcycle and corners his target.
Why am I pointing out his motorcycle? Uh. See, Bruce did have a fancy new bike for Dick a while back, but Kate kinda blew it up. By shoving it into a kaiju’s face.
I don’t know if this was an intentional call back or not but I really hope it is. It’s just too perfect, especially since I’m pretty sure that those bikes didn’t even run on gasoline.
Back to Dick, who gets his butt handed to him by Gemini. Turns out the best way for Dick to drop his guard is for Batman to randomly appear in a dark alley and silently brood. That may sound sarcastic but I’m being completely genuine.
It makes sense. Why would Dick be concerned about anything with his adoptive father popping up? He does it all the time! That was like, his whole childhood. Cracking jokes while his dad was The Night.
The Birds of Prey arrive in time to stop Gemini from killing Nightwing, and the villain starts ranting about someone named Blackbird. The Birds have some trouble taking her down because she’s much stronger than they thought, and has a few dozen other abilities that they were not prepared for. After getting their heads conked around a bit, Dick figures out that if they set something on fire close to her, the extreme heat will destabilize her abilities. Because it would spread her already-apparently-super-spread-out molecules even more.
It’s comic book science. Seems legit.
Babs and Helena grab Dick and extract him back to the Clocktower while Dinah takes care of business. She screams, the motorcycle explodes, and Gemini scampers off with her tail between her stolen perfect butt.
I Said Featuring, Not Starring
Back at the Clocktower, Helena and Dick catch up as it’s been quite some time since they’ve seen one another. See, for those of you who haven’t read Grayson, Helena was Dick’s superior officer when he was a super-spy. There was a mutual attraction, but Helena resisted it and pushed Dick away. Well, she pushed everyone away since she decided to take her name back, and we all saw how that went.
But, regardless, things are chill except for the fact that Dick has this strange, almost surreal aversion to stripping naked in front of people despite getting stabbed in the back with a giant knife. I dunno what that’s about, but if I had to guess it probably has nothing to do with all of the toxic masculinity juice he never drank growing up.
Dick and Babs have a nice little heart to heart while Dinah and Helena go to work with Fauxracle (read: give them space) on finding Gemini and the mysterious Blackbird. Gus snaps at them for demanding things as quickly as Babs would normally have them, and peaces out for a few minutes. Which gives us just enough time to address the “elephant” in the room. The total lack of, for want of a better term, “catfighting” over Grayson’s very distracting abs.Not that there would be in a Birds of Prey book, because that’s just…really stupid and trite and cliche and honestly rather harmful in a big picture sort of way. Regardless of how many puns one could make about “Fighting over Dick”, it’s just not worth it. And since the Bensons are, again, clearly not messing around with this property, we’re not gonna see any of this. Friendship’s cooler, anyway.
What? It is!
After popping another pill—all but positive those are amphetamines now considering how quickly they appeared to act—Faxuracle pops up on the Main Screen and delivers some not-so-awesome news: he’s lived up to his not-name. He couldn’t find a damn thing about Blackbird. Well, nothing solid. The Birds of Prey debate on how to proceed, with Dinah asserting that they need street level intel and Helena politely reminding them that tracking down metahumans normally requires an entire intelligence agency because they are very good at hiding.
Fauxracle, as it turns out, can actually help with that plan. He’s got some random totally-not-important and inconsequential friend (hint hint) who runs metahuman fighting rings in Gotham. Dick volunteers to head out, but Dinah shoots him and everyone else down. Hard.
It’s easy to forget that Dinah—hey, wait are they really gonna do this? Are they gonna do classic X-Men? Like, “stand-in for any and all marginalized groups” X-Men? Damn, I hope so. Because that would be just—look, we’re talking about metahuman fights. Exploiting minorities for the amusement of the rich and powerful. And, boy oh boy, is Dinah one massive Social Justice Warrior in the most literal sense of every word in that term.
…as a positive. I don’t think I need to specify that, but if I do, there it is.
This has the potential for some very topical and frankly striking social commentary. At least, if I’m reading this right. But apparently I haven’t been wrong so far, so gonna lean on…mostly yes? Mostly yes. Also because Blackbird is more than a little like Rogue from, yeah, the X-Men. In that she steals people’s metahuman abilities. Except that she doesn’t kill them while doing it so that’s a plus. My guess is that she’s collecting them for—well, why not? She could have all the superpowers. That’s motivation enough.
And now we get to the whole big fancy reason that this section is linked and crossed out multiple times: they’re episode titles from Justice League Unlimited.
Both of which prominently feature Black Canary and Roulette, the “friend” Fauxracle mentioned. The first episode has Dinah team up with Green Arrow, who is apparently going to show up in Batgirl and the Birds of Prey #10. The second, she gets the job done with Huntress. Now, I’m not saying that it’s gonna happen even remotely the same way, but honestly? If you’re gonna riff of something, there are few things better.
Needless to say, this is gonna be a whole lotta fun.
BATGIRL AND THE BIRDS OF PREY #8
Writers: Julie and Shawna Benson
Penciler/Inker: Roge Antonio
Colors: Allen Passalaqua
Letterer: Deron Bennett
All images courtesy of DC Comics