Sunday, November 20, 2011

Birds of Prey vol 2, 1-13

I read a couple of the trades of the original series after listening to Jim talk about how wonderful Simone's work was on the series, and I'd read her fantastic work on Secret Six, too, so when this series re-launched I figured it was a good place to start. Of course, along came the new 52, and that was the end of that. In fact, this makes two books by Simone that appear to have reached a premature end because of the new DCU. While that's been a sore point for me with Secret Six, not so much for Birds of Prey.

In fact, I didn't continue with Birds of Prey to its end. Simone's last issue was 13, and that's where I stopped, though it went on a couple more. Even with Simone at the helm I never had as much fondness for this as Secret Six.

The cast for this run consisted of Oracle, Black Canary, Huntress, Lady Blackhawk, Hawk, and Dove. It made for a very pretty cast, with the exception of Hawk, who just appears insane most of the time. The book suffers from the modern comics scourge of a too langorous pace. It's a dernier cri we could do without.

The first 6 issues have to do with the Penguin and White Canary, with Lady Shiva thrown in for good measure. White Canary seeks revenge on Black Canary because Black Canary, in some previous story I haven't read, defeated White Canary's 12 brothers. White Canary killed her brothers because of the shame of their defeat. That may be the most interesting part of the story. It's a sort of reverse honor killing. Maybe introduction of that idea to the more backwards parts of the Muslim world would bring an end to the whole concept, but more likely they'd just want to burn some comics. Or buildings. Or people.

The rest of it's rather trite. White Canary works with Penguin to capture Black Canary and spirit her off to China. White Canary is also holding Sin, Black Canary's sort of adopted daughter, hostage, along with Sin's adoptive parents. When Lady Blackhawk and Huntress go after Black Canary in China, Black Canary is dressed as White Canary and doing White Canary's bidding. For some reason I'm not clear on, White Canary has also managed to bring Lady Shiva to the party and is trying to set up a fight to the death between Black Canary and Lady Shiva, figuring Lady Shiva will win. Instead, Huntress challenges Lady Shiva.

I've read this twice now and I still had to look a third time to remember how the fight ends. It's too pat. While Shiva and Huntress fight, Black Canary rescues Sin, with the help of a disillusioned disciple of White Canary (and Lady Blackhawk stands on the sidelines cheering Huntress on). Once Sin is rescued, the fight ends, with the goofy solution that Shiva, who swore to fight to the death, can still do so, just not right now. Maybe 40 years from now. It's a legalistic evasion of a sworn obligation for a character whose essence isn't her fighting skill but adherence to her own code of honor. It's weasley and not in keeping with the character. A poor ending to the first arc.

Hawk, Dove, and Oracle all appear to be tangential to what's going on, though Hawk does have some serious injuries along the way.

Issues 7-10 are the death of Oracle. Of course, it's never suggested at all that Oracle is actually going to die. It's all just a set up to make it look like she's died so that she can get back to her core mission. She thinks too many people know of her existence at this point and wants to go back to the shadows.

The machina for this is an attack by The Accountant via Savant and Creote. Savant and Creote were in some of the trades of the last series that I read. Savant is a brilliant blackmailer, gatherer of information, and Creote his devoted right hand man, eventual lover. Savant was turned to the good guys by Oracle but now appears to be working with The Accountant, a criminal mastermind of his own, to bring down Oracle. Of course, it looks like a double cross that Oracle has orchestrated to infiltrate The Accountant, but it turns out Savant really does want to bring her down because somewhere along the line he was captured and tortured. Due to a defect in his brain, he can't recall time lines, so his torture is relived every day. Yeah, that was a curious one to me, too.

Of course, Savant doesn't really want Oracle dead so much as he wants himself dead. He doesn't throw her off a height but tries to jump himself. She stops him and Creote helps pull him up, finally confessing his love of Savant. Oracle promises to get Savant help with his condition.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Birds of Prey are fighting The Accountant's underlings, none of whom are of any great note. The end result is that Oracle appears to be blown up in a helicopter and The Accountant appears a coward before his minions. Ta-da.

Now only the Bat family knows about Oracle. Well, and the Birds of Prey. All of which comes to naught in a few months when the Oracle character is wiped out of the new DCU.

Issue 11 is a one shot where Catman orchestrates a robbery with the object of Huntress figuring otu he's behind it so that she'll abandon any hope she might have a relationship with him. It's a nice story but like the last arc, it's meaningless a few months later, when the Secret Six simply doesn't exist.

The finale, for me, is again tied to Secret Six. Junior is the villain of the piece, but it rings hollow. Junior's holed up in a building in Gotham, once again running crime. She's not nearly as fleshedout as a character as she is in Secret Six, and seems to have been pushed into a more powerful physical role than in Secret Six, where she was primarily a manipulator of others, though fearsome in her ferocity. Here she takes out both Dove and Black Canary, both of whom should have been able to take her down easily. Hell, in the end Huntress pushes her off some strangely endless stairs to defeat her. How hard should that be for Dove or Black Canary, even fighting in the dark?

Probably the best part of these two issues was the interaction between Huntress and The Question, who's being asked to join the Birds of Prey. Two tough women with quick wits make for some fun conversations. I'd have much rather seen more of them and less of the rest of the cast.

At the end of this story Black Canary is demoted from field leader, apparently for allowing Dove to be stabbed by Junior, and Huntress is made the field leader. I have no idea how that worked out in the remaining few issues, but I guess it doesn't matter now in the new DCU.

On the whole this wasn't a bad series, but it wasn't anything overly memorable, either. Hawk and Dove didn't add anything to the team dynamic. Hawk was too one dimensional as a border line psychotic with something of a death wish. Dove was just kind of there. Lady Blackhawk never served much of a purpose beyond some amusement over her tough broad attitude. She didn't detract from the group, though.

Art on the book changed frequently. The first four issues were done by Ed Benes, but after that it was a rotating cast of Alvin Lee and Adraina Melo, Adrian Syaf, Guillem March, Inaka Miranda, Pere Perez, Jesus Saiz, and Diego Olmos. That's a lot of artists over only 13 issues. Really, over 9 issues. It certainly kept the book on schedule, but it meant a different feel from month to month. Truthfully, that was better than the four issues from Benes. He really likes to draw his women curvy. In fact, they're pretty much all the same curvy and all the same face. Looking at the cover of the first issue, other than hair colors and styles, Black Canary, Oracle, and Lady Blackhawk appear to be the same woman. Worse, Dove appears to be able to fly because she's got two huge helium balloons on her chest. In fact, with that kind of lift, it's a wonder Oracle doesn't just float up out of her wheelchair.

If you can find the book at a good price, I recommend it as a solid read, but don't pay full price.

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