Reviewing the Birds of Prey
Year Five: 2003
Birds of Prey #49
"The Chaotic Code, Part Three: Family Matters", January 2003, written by Terry Moore, pencilled by Amanda Connor, inked by Jimmy Palmiotti, colored by Hi-Fi, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Lysa Hawkins, cover by Phil Noto.
And we pick up right where we left off last issue, with Dinah plunging into a river and Babs apparently very ill. When Babs comes to, she finds a bit more out about the mystery of what's going on from Madison while Dinah saves herself and all the mysterious mooks from the river — only to have the mooks suffer the consequences of their mission's failure as she watches, unable to prevent their fate.
What is so great about this story (among a lot of fun details, fun art, and good character moments) is that neither Barbara nor Dinah ever gives up. They both move from plan to plan, constantly reassessing the situation and coming up with a new attempt at a solution no matter what's going on or what the odds against them seem to be.
Canary makes a great entrance at a crucial point and ends up going up against her wannabe step-daughter and Batman's sometime lady love Talia al Ghul (who is now the head of Lexcorp, playing her own unfathomable game as one of Luthor's people — though I imagine she considers him one of her people).
The two then work out some unresolved anger issues (well, they don't work them out so much as over), but Madison accidentally has the last word in the fight (though I think Dinah pretty much had Talia on the ropes... ;-)
The story ends nicely with Babs and Dinah escaping with Madison and ensconcing the girl in a lovely boarding school (one wonders if former Arrowette Cissie King-Jones is also in attendance at this one?) and the trilogy ends with a stinger — Talia is keeping her eye on Madison (something Oracle should have foreseen...)
From that ending, it seems Mr. Moore may have finished it before deciding not to stay on BoP as the permanent writer as he was originally to have done. I imagine the editors decided to leave the ending as-is to give future writers some threads to pull on if they so choose.
This was the most satisfying BoP story arc in some time — I have to go all the way back to the "Hunt for Oracle" in mid-2000 to find one I think was as strong. I wish Mr. Moore could have stayed on, though I'm excited about his successors (Gilbert Hernandez and then Gail Simone), too.
Birds of Prey #50
"Busman's Holiday", February 2003, written by Gilbert Hernandez, art by Casey Jones, colored by Hi-Fi, lettered by John E. Workman, edited by Lysa Hawkins, cover by Phil Noto.
New story arc; new writer; new artist; and what fun!
The story starts with a bang and continues on into a full-on fight scene with Canary — in her terrific new fusion costume — kicking the snot out of a bunch of masked baddies while Oracle is semi-distracted on the other end of the line.
The fight ends with Canary triumphant and heading off to attempt some downtime while Oracle goes back to pondering her mulitiple screens.
Hernandez does a nice job of summing up both Oracle's and Canary's histories in a single page apiece with Casey Jones's art underscoring both personalities nicely.
But in the great tradition of superheroes on any sort of vacation, Trouble comes barging into town and Canary steps in to take it down.
There is a GREAT moment when Canary first appears on the scene when a nearby cop shouts out to his comrades "Hold your fire! JSA member on the scene!" — because, see, he recognizes her as most people would recognize a major public figure, someone who's been in the papers off and on for over ten years; someone who co-founded the JLA and helped save the world several times... I liked that moment.
This issue sets up Hernandez's six-part tenure on the book, and he's clearly headed off to play with some of the DCU's more quirky characters. From the tone of the story's setup and the character's "voices," I think this will be a really fun ride.
Birds of Prey #51
"Let's Get Elemental", March 2003, written by Gilbert Hernandez, art by Casey Jones, colored by Hi-Fi, lettered by John Workman, edited by Lysa Hawkins, cover by Phil Noto.
The opening splash page for this issue is just gorgeous. I've read a lot of complaints from fans who "don't like cartoony art," and while art preferences are entirely personal taste, I can't see where the critics are coming from on this. Casey Jones's art is very clean and I think deceptively simple. There is a great deal of detail and personality in the art, and coloring is gorgeous!
So since I like this art, I guess I must like "cartoony" art, but I still find this artist's work realistic enough to satisfy and the clean, pure, almost Silver-Age-old-fashioned lines really work for me.
And the story is in the same vein of being Silver-Age-old-fashioned but in a very fun, retro way (without corn, thank you). While I know little about the character Metamorpho except for his past JLA membership (and I thought he was dead!) and I know nothing about his family, this story didn't make me feel left out or confused. There was sufficient explanation to help me make sense of the goings-on and not so much that the Metamorpho family took over the heart of the story which focused properly on Black Canary's POV on what was happening.
In Oracle's part of the story, things aren't going so well. She's having break-in issues but for reasons of her own, she doesn't enlist any help from her partner.
This issue keeps the story moving along nicely. I look forward to the next installment!
Birds of Prey #52
"Reunions", April 2003, written by Gilbert Hernandez, art by Casey Jones, colored by Hi-Fi, lettered by John Workman, edited by Lysa Hawkins, cover by Phil Noto.
In the great tradition of heroes who are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves, Oracle puts the smackdown on the faux Killer Moth who has invaded the clocktower. Meanwhile, things are getting weirder all the time while Canary deals with Metamorpho's domestic issues. Her intuition — honed by years of working in the superhero arena — helps her sort out the weirdness and restores Metamorpho. He starts cleaning up the family mess himself while Canary dispatches some double-crossing evil scientists, thus removing any distractions. She is always competent, in control, smart, and funny. Babs is a bit bruised by her own harrowing adventure but seems more braced by it than bowed — as if she's aced a test she set for herself.
This is a good wrap-up to part one of Hernandez's run on the title. I think we'll be seeing Metamorpho and probably even Babs' bad guy again before he's finished with the Birds.
Birds of Prey #53
"Girls' Night Out", May 2003, written by Gilbert Hernandez, pencilled by Casey Jones, inked by John Beatty, colored by Hi-Fi, lettered by John Workman, edited by Lysa Hawkins, cover by Phil Noto.
This issue starts in a reminiscent fashion to BoP #1 — bathing suits and sunglasses — but this time Oracle is along for the vacation and the ultimate destination isn't supposed to be any sort of mission... we'll see!
In what is probably part two of Hernandez's six-part arc (I'm supposing — perhaps wrongly — that everything's going to tie together in the end), both the Birds are haunted not only by their most recent adventures but also by unsettled romantic situations. Canary is dealing with Ollie's return and is uncertain what she wants to do about it, and Oracle is dealing with some cold-feet feelings about her romance with Nightwing. Both of them consider playing the field to test their own feelings about the men in their lives.
Dinah meets a nice guy but realizes she still has strong feelings for Ollie, so when the guy turns up in Gotham, she takes Oracle along on their dinner date to keep things all friendly. And Tom and Babs hit it off.
They hit it off so well, in fact, that Dinah begins to worry that Babs is neglecting Dick... is there trouble looming in paradise for the former Batgirl and Robin?
Birds of Prey #54
"Gotham Magic", June 2003, written by Gilbert Hernandez, pencilled by Casey Jones, inked by John Beatty and John Marzan, Jr., colored by Hi-Fi, lettered by John Workman, edited by Lysa Hawkins, cover by Phil Noto.
Picking up thematically right where the last issue left off, Canary has gone looking for Nightwing in order to get a feeling for the state of his relationship with Oracle. When she finds him, he's working, and Canary hops in to lend a hand. Afterwards they chat for a few minutes, with Canary giving words of encouragement to the hurt former Boy Wonder while he also senses that Canary's friendship with Oracle is as strained as his is.
So, not being an idiot, Dick Grayson goes to see his lady love Barbara Gordon, and it is such a sweet scene, you must read it!
The larger plot develops with Tom — erstwhile beau to Canary and then Oracle — turns out to have a not-so-great relative in Danko Twag (this may be DC history I do not know about, or just new Hernandez stuff, dunno...) who is having some sort of breakdown and memory issues.
Hernandez throws the JLA into the mix by way of a "Behind the Music" style tv show on the superhero team which also talks about some of their old villains.
Metamorpho makes a thank-you visit to Canary and pitches in on a fight and they part while Canary realizes the morphing superhero has more of a family than she does.
Great emphasis is placed in this issue and the last on a series of tests of Barbara's improved security measures, so when Danko Twag, now posing as Felix Faust — an old JLA villain whose hook is magic — just pops into the clocktower finding not Oracle but Canary...
This has been a really fun, action-packed, but also character-driven tenure. I'm looking forward to the wrap-up next month. I think Hernandez really has a good take on the Birds and even though his affection for weird old DC means his references are often obscure, he gives enough info to keep the reader's interest.
Birds of Prey #55
"Heroes and Heroes", July 2003, written by Gilbert Hernandez, pencilled by Casey Jones, inked by John Beatty and John Marzan, Jr., colored by Hi-Fi, lettered by John Workman, edited by Lysa Hawkins, cover by Phil Noto.
Hernandez's six-part run on the title concludes with this issue, paving the way for the new team's debut next month. Hernandez wraps up his own threads, since he actually wrote two connected arcs rather than one six-part story. This finale is a bit of a muddle, though the fight scenes and dialogue are very well-done, and I do stand in the minority (at least from other comments I've seen) in liking Casey Jones's art on these issues. Hernandez did not make the mistake of letting his guest stars and creations (apparently Danko Twag is original to this story *shrug*) take over the focus from the Birds, but there are a few too many things going on overall so that the wrap-up feels scattered.
Metamorpho's brief appearance in the story seems to be merely to tie all the issues together as he serves no real purpose in this issue.
This almost felt more like the first six issues of an ongoing run rather than a mere visit to the Birds' world... hmm. It was a fun ride, and it's good to get a fresh, "outsider" view on familiar characters from time to time. Hernandez really captured the strength, humor, personality, and energy of both the Birds.
Birds of Prey #56
"Of Like Minds, Part One", August 2003, written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Ed Benes, inked by Alex Lei, colored by Hi-Fi, lettered by John Workman, edited by Lysa Hawkins, cover by Benes and Lei.
Well, I do miss Noto's distinctive covers, but introducing the new art team with this in-your-face cover is good, too.
The interior art really shows Benes & Lei's style in a clearer fashion. It's gorgeous, consistent, very clean, and vaguely reminescent of Gary Frank's original BoP work. Great.
The banter between Canary & Oracle is great, too. Very realistic, very familiar to me from my girl-friendships (without the whole crimefighting thing). There is even a bit of "heavy" discussion between them about what they do, their methods, and what lines they may be crossing that they maybe shouldn't.
I'd also like to add: We get Canary inner monologue! CANARY INNER MONOLOGUE!!
Canary's capture? Well, heck. But a really great setup for it. Not an embarrassing capture. By the time she (by her own methodology) would've gone to full Cry, they've got her by the throat and she can't. Since it's introduction, she has often tended to hold the Cry in reserve, so this works for me. Plus it was a very good fight.
Oracle is played by someone using her own game: Interesting, good; her overconfidence is a weakness and it's about time someone exploited it. I think this Savant guy will turn out to be a "good" bad guy.
All in all a great start for the new team. I loved it and am excited for part two. This issue had the same feel for me as my favorite early one-shots "Wolves" and "Revolution."
Birds of Prey #57
"Of Like Minds, Part Two", September 2003, written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Ed Benes, inked by Alex Lei, colored by Hi-Fi, lettered by John Workman, edited by Lysa Hawkins, cover by Benes and Lei.
We start with Savant and are given a small view into his psycho mind. From hallucinating Batman to toying with both Canary and Oracle, Savant, while he may be a crazy man, is no fool, and he's a dangerous crazy as well.
The rest of the issue follows Canary and Oracle as they both deal with trying to fight back against this new foe. Both are shown as more angry than frightened (though there is reasonable fear as well). Also introduced into the mix is the Huntress who Oracle calls in to rescue Canary. Now, there have been any number of guest stars and rescuers in past issues of Birds of Prey, but Huntress is introduced extraordinarily well in this story and the reason why she was the one called when there are lots of other options open to Oracle is very well explained and justified while giving a clear nod to Canary's very dramatic pre-BoP continuity.
Huntress and Oracle reluctantly team-up to complete Huntress's current job, and Gail uses this to give a quick look at her take on the character, her personality and her methods. There is some subtle stuff done with the art, too. Huntress is a deadly serious crimefighter; she isn't the devil-may-care type who banters and laughs (a la Nightwing) but Canary is.
Gail has been referring to this as "the last Canary Hostage story" and the final panels of this issue foreshadow some very dramatic, probably character-defining things to come in part three. Looking forward to it.
Birds of Prey #58
"Of Like Minds, Part Three", October 2003, written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Ed Benes, inked by Alex Lei, colored by Hi-Fi Design, lettered by John E. Workman, edited by Lysa Hawkins, cover by Benes and Lei.
The penultimate issue of the first blazing story arc by Simone, Benes, and Lei just amps up the tension, the action, and the terrific character-building. Huntress goes looking for information, with Simone writing her so that she is completely in character with her prior appearances in the DCU but less hot-headed and not at all nutso as some writers have tended toward. The interactions between Huntress and Oracle are guarded, a truce having been called for the good of their mutual friend Black Canary. With only this second issue, the idea that she may join the Birds permanently is a good one rather than an "oh, no!" one as it was previously.
Canary, meanwhile, is proving herself to be the badass we always thought she was. Though badly injured, chained up, and almost unable to talk let alone use her sonic cry, she is constantly strategizing, constantly adapting to the changing situation, and constantly working to rescue herself.
Savant, too, is shaping up to be a really excellent enemy... perhaps even an ARCHenemy.
The art is veering a bit too far on the cheesecake-o-meter side, but aside from that is excellent, and the faces are very expressive. The Benes/Lei covers are really gorgeous, too.
Birds of Prey #59
"Of Like Minds, Chapter Four, Finale", November 2003, written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Ed Benes, inked by Alex Lei, colored by Hi-Fi Design, lettered by John E. Workman, edited by Lysa Hawkins, cover by Benes and Lei.
Things don't look good for our heroines — Canary and Huntress are both in bad situations... will they ever escape?
Since this arc is written by Gail Simone, the answer is, shuh-yeah!
There are so many great lines in this issue, I can't even begin to list them all, but I will mention my favorite: "...Never bet against a former librarian." Oh, yeah!
Everyone is at their best in this issue. Canary continues to be a Batman-level badass (but with a much more self-aware internal monologue); Huntress proves to all concerned that she is "the bad one" but in a good way; and Oracle proves that knowledge (and serious research skills) is power, and she wields her data like weapon...
This issue ends on an interesting, philosophical note with Canary and Oracle arguing a very dicey ethical choice. Oracle's ultimate decision has "bad idea" written all over it. Expect repercussions.
Art still pretty and pretty cheesecakey; character-building excellent; motivations convincing. All in all a very satisfying first story from the new team. Welcome aboard.
Birds of Prey #60
"Feeding the Game", December 2003, written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Ed Benes, inked by Alex Lei and Rob Lea, colored by Hi-Fi Design, lettered by Rob Leigh, edited by Lysa Hawkins, cover by Benes and Lei.
We start off at Arkham Asylum where a new inmate is checking in: Savant, and his jailers don't seem like very nice guys... I smell LAWSUIT!
From there we switch over to Canary arriving for a meeting with a rich mystery man... but she isn't acting very Canary-like: calling her outfit "trampy", putting a nosehold on a guy, pointing a gun at the same guy... and, what the hey, didn't she just get several broken bones during her last mission?
Oracle in shadow advises as the mystery man shows himself and breaks up the standoff... And we find out mystery guy is a Senator!
A Senator who was being blackmailed by Savant... and who now is threatening to turn the blackmailing tables on our heroines!
We finally see Canary's face, and it doesn't look exactly like our Canary, and then the truth is revealed. Huntress is posing as Canary while the real Canary runs the "Oracle" ops end of things, all bandaged up but still in the game.
As Huntress quits the meeting with the "Senator", tension builds as Oracle and Canary discuss the status of the BoP team and Canary's role in it.
We switch back to Savant who is gaining insight into what it's like to be on the other end of stick, so to speak. As his "guard" (who works for the same evil Senator who threatened "Canary" earlier in the issue) pummels him for information about Oracle, Savant gains a new appreciation for Canary's strength and bravery.
The issue ends with things looking bad for Savant and therefore for Oracle since his info about her is what's at stake. And things are looking even worse for the Birds of Prey as a team as Oracle's worries about her friend's effectiveness in the field lead her to make a fateful decision.
Great issue with lots of far-reaching threads being woven. The art is really good, with enough distinction in the illustration of the three women for their separate personalities to shine through. Still pretty cheesecakey. Not sure why Canary's pretty much in her sport undies while Oracle's in long pants and long sleeves and mock turtleneck... what IS the weather like in the Clocktower, fer crying out loud? Looking forward to part two of this story...