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Non-Review Review: Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is an immensely charming and high-energy romp, that is as unfocused as its central character and suffers more than a little bit from a non-linear narrative style that it never really justifies or employs effectively.

There is a lot to love in Birds of Prey, but perhaps the most charming aspect of it is the intimacy. Birds of Prey is bereft of the sort of city-, planet- or galactic-sized stakes that have come to define so much of modern superhero cinema, from Thor: The Dark World to Man of Steel to Avengers: Endgame. The bulk of Birds of Prey consists of a wrestling match over a diamond that happens to contain bank account details that point to an even larger payday. Its climax is on the scale of an eighties or nineties action movie, which means it involves anonymous henchmen rather than a literal army.

A cutting retort?

This consciously low-stakes approach allows Birds of Prey to simply enjoy itself, to revel in the charm of the cast and the relatively straightforward journeys of the central characters. Warner Brothers have been pushing their DC properties away from the MCU-emulating shared universe model that led to the spectacular disaster of Justice League, instead focusing on affording creators the freedom to do what they want to do. Joker rejected the modern superhero template to offer a throwback to films like Taxi Driver and King of Comedy. In contrast, Birds of Prey seems to hark back to The Long Kiss Goodnight.

Birds of Prey is perhaps a little too messy and unfocused in terms of narrative, which affects the movie’s pacing and rhythm. However, it also trusts its cast and its energy to carry it a long way, working best when it feels confident enough to play as a live action Looney Tunes cartoon.

Girl gang.

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The Spirit Archives, Vol. 5 (Review/Retrospective)

With The Spirit Archives, Vol. 5, we get our first real taste of what The Spirit looks like without Will Eisner. I’ve always felt like The Spirit belonged to Eisner in a way that very few iconic American comic book characters belong to a particular creator. The Spirit belonged to Eisner in the same way that The Adventures of Tintin belonged to Hergé. I am fond of Darwyn Cooke’s revival of the character, and there’s something interesting about the Kitchen Sink anthology series, but those exist mainly as curiosities or companion pieces to Eisner’s work on the character.

In many ways, this stretch of strips, published by Eisner’s staff and colleagues during his army service, feels the same sort of way. It’s more of a historical curiosity than an end to itself.

Lighten up…

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