Reviewing the Birds of Prey
Year Seven: 2005
Birds of Prey #76
"Hero Hunters, Part One: Teenage Wasteland", January 2005, written by Gail Simone, layouts by Joe Prado, finishes by Ed Benes, colored by Hi-Fi, lettered by Phil Balsman, edited by Joan Hilty, cover by Jason Pearson
In this kick-off of a new story arc, we start with a good breakfast AND Lori Zechlin, a young goth girl with some sort of sad family story, a needy relationship with a group of wannabe Wiccans, and a sharp eye for what's going on around her.
Lori has a very familiar-looking subsititute teacher who attempts to bond with her as we discover her mother has died recently. Her grades are slipping, too, so we've assembled a picture of a young girl who is clearly not coping well with the tragedy that has befallen her.
She is subsequently dumped by her Wicca group (shades of Tara in Buffy, the Vampire Slayer), but her boyfriend is supportive and as they go off together, we find out that there is a reason the sub looks familiar -- it's Huntress! Also watching our new girl are Oracle and Black Canary who brings a whole new subtext to the term "boggle."
Lori is having more problems than just the afterschool special set-up implies, because THIS is the DCU and the Birds of Prey don't follow you around just 'cause your mom died and you aren't coping well. She has powers with a capital-P and they are also not being handled at all well.
The plot proceeds and we find out even more behind Lori, aka Black Alice's motivations. The weakness of the issue is the train-wreck of bad stuff that is piled on Lori/Alice, and the fact that she has adapted so easily to the use of her superpowers. This story would have benefited from being multi-part, but it is still a good debut for an interesting character with interesting powers. She's already shown up in other DCU titles (most notably the Infinite Crisis tie-in Day of Vengeance miniseries) so I think she's here to stay.
Canary gets some good moments and Huntress is shown acting calm and in control which is nice. Oracle, however, has some personal trauma to deal with, including an exchange of voicemails with ex-flame Dick Grayson and a hint that her Brainiac problem is still a problem.
Overall a good issue setting up the new team direction of hunting the heroes who are pushing the envelope too far with their acts of "justice."
And the art -- oh, the art is so PRETTY including a couple of really gorgeous shots of Canary in full cry. Also, Black Alice transformed is always shown in tattered versions of the costumes of those whose powers she's borrowed -- a nice visual metaphor for the fact that she has torn the powers from someone else. Not sure how this choice was made, but it's very effective.
Birds of Prey #77
"Hero Hunters, Part Two: Harvest", February 2005, written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Tom Derenick, inked by Bob Petrecca, colored by Hi-Fi, lettered by Jared K. Fletcher, edited by Joan Hilty, cover by Jason Pearson
Part two of "Hero Hunters" begins as part one did, introducing us to the hunted hero, though this time, she doesn't show up for a couple of pages. We see her victims, first. Unlike with Black Alice, there is little of the heroic about this new target. She's a spirit of vengeance, all dressed up like the Scarecrow, and she is scary.
What's fun in this issue is, as usual, the banter but also the first inclusion of Zinda "Lady Blackhawk" Blake on a mission, albeit as a tag-along. Zinda's a pro, though, and does what she can to find out more info to help the team. She can fly a plane, yes, but she's also excellent backup on a mission.
Huntress and Canary have a great rapport as teammates, demonstrating Canary's "secret superpower" (I'm quoting myself, there) of being able to get along with ANYONE and help smooth interactions between difficult people and others who lack her patience and kindness.
In the midst of all this, Oracle continues to act weird and Brainiac'd and Harvest reveals herself as a real threat with supernatural, X-Files-ish overtones, and the issue ends on quite a cliffhanger.
This is a comparatively weak issue, though it has many great moments (Zinda, Canary/Huntress dialogue and interaction), and the guest-art is nice but a little rough. Derenick works hard to stick with Benes's style on all the characters, though, which is much appreciated and helps the continuity.
Birds of Prey #78
"Hero Hunters, Part Three: Moondance", March 2005, written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Tom Derenick, inked by Bob Petrecca, colored by Hi-Fi, lettered by Jared K. Fletcher, edited by Joan Hilty, cover by Ryan Sook
What is the cover blurb smoking? Huntress isn't the PREY in this issue -- Canary is! Sheez. Stupid cover blurb.
In this issue, the stakes go up. Canary is targeted by Harvest for some unknown killin' in her past (is this a reference to events in the original Green Arrow series or something else Gail will eventually reveal to us? Hmmmm...), and the fight is on.
Since they are fighting a supernatural/magical opponent, the rules are all wonky, and Harvest is able to suck the skills and lifeforce from her opponents, copying them and weakening them at the same time. Which makes fighting her Really Hard.
Canary is nearly killed but she and Huntress survive. Meanwhile, the complicit townspeople are discovered by Zinda to be reaping a benefit from these vengeance-killings. The guilty are punished; the innocent are healed.
But guilt and innocence are viewed in a very black and white way in this little town, and the only punishment doled out for guilt is death. Also, Harvest cannot act unless called by someone to wreak vengeance. Which makes EVERYONE in town guilty. So no wonder there are plenty of people for Harvest to kill. You'd think people would up and move pretty quickly if they had sordid pasts. People just don't think straight in these situations, sometimes.
The good: Canary gets to be a super-duper badass; Huntress shows her heart, and we see how much she's already allowed her friendship with Canary to affect her; Zinda proves herself very valuable to the team as a fact-finder
This is another weaker issue. The idea is interesting but far too much is left to the X-Files "weirdly mysterious means never having to really figure it out" school of antagonists. Also, the stinger ending is just irritating. So she goes off elsewhere and our heroines don't follow? They've visited this thing on another continent and just drop it? Oracle has no eyes in Europe? What?!
Derenick's second guest-issue is consistent with his first and overall the work is cleaner. Harvest -- his own creation -- is especially nicely done.
Birds of Prey #79
"Hero Hunters, Part Four: She Rides the Eye of a Hurricane", April 2005, written by Gail Simone, art by Ed Benes, colored by Hi-Fi, lettered by Jared K. Fletcher, edited by Joan Hilty, cover by Ed Benes
AAAaaaaand, we're back. After a few rather weak issues, #79 hits the ground running with an awesome confrontation scene between Black Canary and Batman where she makes sure he remembers they are equals and she will not play his game NOR will she let him play his games with her friends without her calling him on it. This is something that Gail is bringing out in the character that is historically there. Canary is a team-builder, a protector, an includer, all the way back to her Golden Age days.
[diverges from review] Dinah Sr. worked with Harlequin to save the JSA and made sure the heroes knew what Harlequin had done for them. Bronze Age Dinah Jr. welcomed new members to the Justice League and tried to make them feel included. In the Gail-influenced JLA: Year One, Dinah is the one who really puts the JLA together, arranging the press conference that nudges the guys to commit to the project. And, in the final issues of the last run on JLA, Dinah was the one who noticed Dawn's troubles and reached out to help her with no strings or subtext. She is the superhero community's glue, and I hope DC recognizes that. [*ahem* Back to the review, now]
Benes art! Soooooo beautiful. Dinah looks AMAZING and so do Oracle and Huntress and Batman has a nice Jim Lee-ish edge. I want more Canary/Batman interaction. Gail writes it so very well.
And now we get the intro of our heroine(?) on the verge (or over the verge), and this time it is Thorn, the crazy-ass half of Rose-and-
This is a very good issue with Huntress showing definite signs of happiness and satisfaction in her new role. She and Canary have a very involved discussion about where the line is, when and why you'd cross it, and why a line exists in the first place. This conversation looks at vigilantism from an interesting perspective. We're used to the Batman/Superman "This is the line. Don't cross it. End of discussion" approach. Canary doesn't do that and so she and Huntress are able to really talk about it.
Lots of great moments aside from the opening sequence, too. Oracle uses her Brainiac powers to investigate Rose. Huntress gripes that Oracle will think she and Canary are lousy detectives. Zinda's doomed crush on Creote continues, this time with the full-monty! Canary has a nice flashback to her childhood as she compares their quarry's situation to her own [note: Flashback Dinah Sr.'s hair is the wrong color; she, too, was a natural brunette and didn't run around blonde except when in Canary costume; also, she didn't wear the mask but once. This is apparently something that's been retconned... not sure why. The wig was the disguise except for her very first appearance].
Canary, who is, in fact, a good detective, figures out a crucial bit of info while chasing down a fleeing Thorn (Benes draws a mighty fine fight scene, btw), and this penultimate "Hero Hunters" issue ends on a cliffhanger.
Note, the second: All tough women ride motorcycles and the more villainous you are, the less you wear. Just so you know.
Birds of Prey #80
"Hero Hunters, Finale: The Cold Light of Day", May 2005, written by Gail Simone, art by Ed Benes, colored by Hi-Fi, lettered by Jared K. Fletcher, edited by Joan Hilty, cover by Ed Benes
This final issue of "Hero Hunters" has some of the same problems as the rest of the arc -- a rather messy interaction with the target, a bit too much bumbling around by our heroines, and an unsatisfactory conclusion to the case. However, the focus of this issue and, it becomes clear, of the arc is not Thorn's guilt or innocence but the Birds of Prey team itself.
During a warm and comfy debriefing session on Aerie One, Huntress figures out just why Oracle started them on this mission in the first place and it leaves a very bad taste in her mouth.
And it should. Oracle's problem has always been her overconfidence, and when Huntress accuses her of being "Just like Batman," she is not wrong. Oracle -- while not all gruff and dark -- has that same superiority complex that makes Batman so infuriating... especially because both of them usually ARE right.
The biggest problem with this situation isn't what Oracle was trying to do (help Huntress) but how she went about it (by manipulating her). That she'd done the same thing to Canary with great success, and, far less successfully, to Powergirl, doesn't excuse her methods. It isn't right to play with people's lives, even if your intentions are good. The ends do not justify the means, and trust built up by manipulation will not survive the discovery of that manipulation.
So we end this arc with the team in tatters, Huntress tossing her mask and crossbow (aGAIN?), and Canary pretty ticked off at Oracle who, we readers know, is in need of a wake-up call of her own just about now.
Overall arc grade: Story: B-; characterization/growth: A
One lingering thing, though... what the heck is up with Oracle's hair when she gets kicked out of the Brainiac/satellite interface (which I believe is a very early nod to Brother Eye/I) -- did she get zapped? Her hair looks shorter and frizzed out and just plain freaky. I mean, what the HECK is that?
And, on a really-final note, this is the last issue with art by the glorious Ed Benes. Sure, he overdid the sexy stuff from time to time, but he still gave us truly individual, beautiful, emotionally-real, and consistent Birds; excellent, detailed, fully-realized environments for them to move around in; and cinematic, interesting "camera angles." Miss him? Yup. I do.
Birds of Prey #81
"The Battle Within, Part One: Undefended Border", June 2005, written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson, colored by Hi-Fi Design, lettered by Jared K. Fletcher, edited by Joan Hilty, cover by Adriana Melo and Will Conrad
While his style is clean and detailed and very, very nice, there is just something about Joe Bennett's art I never took to. Right up front, I wanted to say that, because I can see that it is good. It just doesn't mesh well with my tastes.
On the other hand, the story is excellent! Focusing on the latest BoP caper -- YES! A CAPER! -- starring Canary and super-duper-extra-special-guest-star Wildcat, we get a nice, I Spy (tv show, not movie) style set-up with lots of acting, banter, and action. Lots happens in a short time but never too fast for the story. This issue is BoP back on with a vengeance, and the previous arc is not forgotten. Fallout is being dealt with, mea's are being culpa'd, humble pie is being eaten.
While the Far Eastern caper ends with a cliffhanger BANG, we discover a second caper in full-swing as Helena Bertinelli plants her flag on mount gangster, flanked by the two toughest minions seen in Gotham for a very long time. All of our missing Agents of Oracle are now working together, and that scene is worth the price of admission all by itself as Savant, Creote, and Helena prove they really know how to make an entrance.
Can't wait for part two.
I LOVE the cover art by Adriana Melo. I want Adriana to come on board as the BoP artist...
Birds of Prey #82
"The Battle Within, Part Two: The Long Count", July 2005, written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson, colored by Hi-Fi Design, lettered by Jared K. Fletcher, edited by Joan Hilty, cover by Adriana Melo and Will Conrad
This issue kicks off with a really lovely flashback sequence (yes, even I think it's lovely. I don't hate on Joe Bennett's art; it isn't my taste, but sometimes it even works for me. This is one of those times) of the Dinahs at a boxing match, watching Uncle Ted clobber the competition. Dinah Jr.'s a bit of a boxing fan.
There is a lovely thread of history running through this arc, touching not only Dinah and her relationship with her "Uncle Ted" but also Helena's roots as a Bertinelli and scion of a powerful Gotham crime family. It adds a great deal to both storylines and packs an emotional wallop, especially in Dinah's tale.
We also get to see the ever-more-confident Dinah who has emerged since Gail originally took over the title. She has grown as a fighter and a hero so much since then and really knows her own power in a way she never did before. She's a strategist, too, and weighs odds carefully and quickly. It's a fabulous rarity to get to watch characters grow and change in comics, and Birds of Prey delivers this to its readers on a pretty regular basis.
Dinah's not the only one growing and changing. Helena is stretching, too, but we aren't sure which way she's going. It is entirely within the realm of possibility that she's decided to "go home" to Gotham and truly reclaim her place as a Bertinelli... and that makes her story all the more compelling. That she's working with a pair who are, if anything, even more in the moral gray area than she is adds more doubt to her motives. And she's enlisted the help of onetime date Josh who seems just happy to be there. Good sign? Time will tell.
The issue includes a brief moment of crossover with Countdown to Infinite Crisis which shows Oracle in a more sympathetic light as Booster Gold tries to track down the missing Blue Beetle, but Oracle isn't well, and she has her hands full with the meltdown of the FarEastern caper.
Canary's in a fight for her life, Ted's messing up her plans and has landed himself in a fight for HIS life, too, Helena's playing a long game with her own life in the balance, and Oracle's dance with Brainiac seems to be coming back on her in spades... all at the same time.
And thus the issue ends. With a "yikes!"
Birds of Prey #83
"The Battle Within, Part Three: A Fighter by His Trade", August 2005, written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson, colored by Hi-Fi Design, lettered by Jared K. Fletcher, edited by Joan Hilty, cover by Adriana Melo and Will Conrad
A full-on Batman-style opening sequence ends with Huntress scaring the PANTS off the bad guy, just like she always wanted to do. And it seems, with this move, that we have our answer: She's still on the side of the angels -- yay!
Meanwhile, Dinah is still playing a close game in Singapore, maintaining precarious cover while staying alive. Ted, with a bit less finesse, manages to do the same, of course. Gotta love those two.
So the deal is struck, but all is not well. Oracle is really, really sick with the Brainiac infection now so dangerous that even Brother Eye decides to let it finish the job of killing her instead of doing the job itself. Yay?
A few more crossover moments nod to the Ted Kord/Blue Beetle situation, and as we watch both teams at work, we're shown the connection between the two. Coincidence? With Oracle involved, probably not, but nicely done in any case.
This is the issue which begins pulling all the threads in for the final weaving, and the crossover bits are nicely done, never taking over or even distracting from the main story.
I haven't mentioned how funny this story has been, have I? Not comedy gold funny but a lot of terrific banter and asides that add a lot to the whole thing. The interplay between Dinah and Ted has been a highlight of the arc, but Huntress and her team are wonderfully funny, too, and Helena is clearly having the time of her life.
Issue ends with Helena having an interesting encounter with an old flame.
Birds of Prey #84
"Knock-Out", September 2005, written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson, colored by Hi-Fi Design, lettered by Jared K. Fletcher, edited by Joan Hilty, cover by Adriana Melo and Will Conrad
Here we go. This is the stuff. Everything's coming together and so very well, too. I even really like some of the panels (the "stubborn and cranky" panel being a particular favorite). And let's just talk about what a good plot this story has. It has a very good, very complicated, very twisty plot that is weaving together in a fun, fun way. Helena seemed to be way over there, Dinah way over here, Oracle way over some third way, but it's all converging into a beautiful mess. Can't wait to see the resolution.
In the meantime, issue highlights include Barbara's confession to Helena, the tear-jerking follow-up scene between Babs and Dinah, Batman's nocturnal, paternal visit to Barbara's hospital bedside, and Huntress truly embracing her scary-as-Batman side.
The capers wrap up in the next issue.
Birds of Prey #85
"A New Morning's Resolution", October 2005, written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Joe Bennett (Dinah's fight) and Eddy Barrows (Oracle's fight), inked by Jack Jadson (Dinah) and Robin Riggs (Oracle), colored by Hi-Fi Design, lettered by Rob Leigh, edited by Joan Hilty, cover by Adriana Melo and Will Conrad
I love Adriana Melo's covers, and this one's a real beauty. The story is, too, and such a big one, two art teams were needed to pull it off. The guest-team which did the honors on the Oracle-centered half of the story did a knock-out job, but let's give a nod to Joe and Jack -- GREAT fight scenes. Really, truly lovely. And Zinda's final, knockout punch was beautiful.
The brief appearances by Jim Gordon are lovely and moving. Got a bit misty-eyed, I must admit. Doc Midnite's voiceover sets a terrific mood, and the feel of the entire JSA-HQ side of the story is rich, dark and fraught.
I wish the setup for the big fight had been shown, because the team is wonderful and it would've been neat to see them interact with each other a bit more, but that's just a comment and not a criticism. It was so good, I wanted more. The fight was excellent, too, and showed what very hard work it was for our heroes and showing just how good even the Huntress -- so often underestimated -- really is when it comes down to it.
This issue ties up a heck of a lot of threads and moments and hints covering a lot of issues in this series, and it ties them up wonderfully, leaving new threads dangling and introducing even more new threads. It opens up the scope of things a bit, too. I love this superhero family aspect one rarely sees in comics currently but which was always a nice feature of the Bronze Age stories.
But the ending of this issue... that last scene. Beautifully drawn, beautifully paced, very well-timed, and that final full-page moment... Wow. Great. Great, great, great.
Birds of Prey #86
"A Wakeful Time", November 2005, written by Gail Simone, Part I pencilled by Adriana Melo and inked by Will Conrad; Part II art by Bruce Timm; Part III pencilled by David Lopez and inked by Fernando Blanco, colored by Hi-Fi Design, lettered by Jared K. Fletcher, edited by Joan Hilty, cover by the divine Adriana Melo and Will Conrad
What a lovely issue. What a LOVELY break from the norm. What a GREAT COVER! Oooo! And we get Adriana Melo interior art! Yay!
Ah, closure. Do any other comics deliver closure the way BoP does? I think not! And, we get parties, too. It's nice to have parties. It's nice to have closure. It's nice to have guest artists and character-focused pieces. And Adriana Melo art. That's nice, too.
The first story sets up the forging of a four-person team, the Birds of Prey, which has been struggling to become just that -- and stumbling very badly along the way -- for an entire year's worth of issues -- and more if you count the original introduction of Huntress into the mix several issues before that.
By the end of the second, Dinah-focused story (which is high comedy and a pure delight from start to finish), we see Oracle's resolve rekindled and her confidence restored.
And by the end of the third, Helena-focused story, we see forgiveness, acceptance, and understanding -- so true to the character's long history but also realistic and moving.
What does this issue have that most comics never even touch on? Closure, characterization, fun. What does this title have? All of the above AND the ability to take its own pulse, to remember its own history and use that to make great stories and great moments and great characters.
I love Adriana Melo's art in the first story. I want her to be the BoP artist. I know I keep saying that, but that's only because it's TRUE.
Birds of Prey #87
"Perfect Pitch, Part One", December 2005, written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Joe Bennett and Eddy Barrows, inked by Jack Jadson and Robin Riggs, colored by Hi-Fi Design, lettered by Jared K. Fletcher, edited by Joan Hilty, cover by Adriana Melo and Will Conrad
This issue crosses over... kind of... with Infinite Crisis -- but who else but Oracle can stand toe-to-toe with the villainous Calculator?
The issue is nicely balanced, though, with the Calculator plot burbling along underneath while the continuation of "Helena Bertinelli: Crime Lord" plot takes center stage. The team is back or, more correctly, the team is at last a team. I love Zinda's interplay with everyone, and I love the addition of Creote as an irregular, but most of all, I love Canary's inner monologue, the evolution of the Huntress, and the equally wonderful evolution of still-brilliant, still-frighteningly competent, but deeply human Oracle. I got all misty-eyed during the check-up with Doc Midnite scene. Just beautiful.
There are some great lines in this issue (aren't there always), including:
Canary to Oracle — "Hey! I'm ignoring your orders in the field... it's just like the old days!"
Canary to Huntress — "I think I strained my sit-upon."
and Huntress to Jerky Mook — "Oh, forgive me. My hand slipped."
The Calculator plot, however, is a dark one and danger looms on the horizon for our team as his agents uncover more and more secrets that bring him ever closer to Oracle, but first, ever closer to the Birds themselves.