In "Birds of Prey" #0, writer Duane Swierczynski and new series artist Romano Molenaar deliver an origin story for Birds with unimaginative mechanics but compelling dialogue and formative team dynamics.
The action of the story happens only a year ago, which doesn't line up perfectly with New 52 "Batgirl" continuity. Barbara seems far more confident and PTSD-free here than she supposedly was at the start of her own title. Ignoring that, the plot works fine but there are few surprises in how the team comes to be. Ev and Dinah's connection happens through two women developing a natural workplace friendship, and Barbara's inclusion occurs through the "we have a common enemy" trope. The presence of Penguin to explain the bird names is amusingly literal, and his Iceberg Lounge provides an eye-catching visual backdrop for the issue and nothing more. He's not the real villain here anyway. The common enemy is a deal between an unnamed Seller and Basilisk terrorist cell, but this scenario doesn't any teeth behind it, existing only as a device to get the girls together.
Everyone remains firmly in character in the past, without much added nuance. Batgirl has the most unblemished past and most upright ethics, Starling begins firmly on the wrong side of the tracks, always a reluctant if not ambiguous heroine, and Dinah's leadership and desire for a team is the catalyst that binds the team together.
This sounds bland, but despite the plot-by-numbers action, "Birds of Prey" #0 is a smooth, engaging read because of Swierczynski's characterization through dialogue and mood. The star of the show is Black Canary and Starling's first meeting and subsequent camaraderie, and Batgirl's later introduction and interaction with both of them. Batgirl and Starling's insult-and-retort exchange about "letting your kink flag fly" is a fantastic starting point for their relationship. Starling continues to have a distinctive, charismatic voice, and I enjoyed the much-ballyhooed panel where she slaps Black Canary on the bum.
This is Romano Molenaar's debut issue for "Birds of Prey" and it's not a bad beginning. His work isn't as pretty as Jesus Saiz, Javier Pina or Travel Foreman's, but it is consistent page to page and his fight scenes are muscular and exciting, with challenging, kinetic-feeling camera angles. Unfortunately, the female characters all have the same bust size and chins, and there's some cheesecake, including an eye-rollingly gratuitous show of Dinah undressing for a shower. Overall, though, Molenaar handles the action-packed script well, and let's hope DC can have him stay on "Birds of Prey" for longer than a couple issues.
Inker Vicente Cifuentes has a steady, slightly heavy line and does a great job with clarifying and preserving Molenaar's detailed pencils. The double-page spread of a boat mid-issue is appropriately climactic and the teamwork between Molenaar, Cifuentes and colorist Chris Sotomayor really shines there.
"Birds of Prey" #0 ends with a cliffhanger that makes a lot of sense, but I didn't see it coming and it has me looking forward to the inevitable conflicts and juicy backstory to follow. "Birds of Prey" has had some odd pacing recently, but this Zero Month origin tale unfolded at a normal clip and has me hoping that Swierczynski will play more to his strengths of atmosphere and characterization in future issues.