Friday, January 15, 2010

Birds of Prey: Issue #100 - #127 [Jan 07 - Apr 09]

I decided to sum up years nine through eleven in one review. So what’s my motivation behind this decision, you ask? The short answer is practicality. The storytelling model in the series is under new management [Gail Simone departures are writer and Tony Bedard is the designated writer] and has undergone a few changes for the better. Simone used main arcs as stepping stones for the series to ascend higher up, while Bedard has taken the model one step further and fashioned an almost centralized plot. This sort-of-centralized plot is quite hard to dissect in three reviews, so I am sticking to just one review.

The cat has been dragged out of the bag; Gail Simone has stepped down from “Birds of Prey”, but she wasn’t thrilled either back in 2007. Past is in the past, but we can still marvel the way she left the series; with an atomic bang. Canary is gone, she might marry the Green Arrow and this leaves a vacant slot in the team, which has a long list of names, waiting to fill it: Big Barda, Hawkgirl, Infinity, Manhunter & Judomaster. There are many unpredictable variables attached with the newest assets, which translates to thousands of ways a mission can go downhill. Oracle faces a woman from her past. Katarina aka the Spy Smasher is hard core with needed clearance to do just about anything. She comes, sees and conquers Oracle’s Op without blinking, sending the team to Russia, where they face the Secret Six, notorious bad guys and mercenaries.

What I loved about Simone’s final work with “Birds of Prey” is Oracle’s emancipation [not so sure whether it’s the best fitting word, but has to do] from Katarina’s presence. There is a nice back story developed and Katarina has been showed to play hard and gain enough leverage to highjack Barbara’s operation. But when the gloves are off, the reader is treated to a Barbara Gordon, who is not ready to fight for what is rightfully hers; she is more than willing to cause a world of pain. I never experienced a sweeter victory in this format and my hat is off to Gail for the jolly good show. It was a stunning and electrifying departure.

Tony Bedard could’ve either fucked up the magic that made “Birds of Prey” so darn addictive or do the series justice and add a new flavor. Thank the gods, he does the latter alternative and the team reaches a new Renaissance. Bedard is confident and well read as far Simone’s work is concerned, bringing bits and pieces from previous arc to push the character boldly ahead. Prime examples include the Oracle/Calculator face-off, which is prompted by a salvaged part of hardware from the first [sadly, blown to bits] Clock Tower in Gotham. The information on it can reveal, who the urban legend Oracle is, which sets off Calculator.

Bedard reintroduces Tabby, a psychotic mob child from Simone’s previous work with maniac tendencies, which causes the death of thousands of people in Metropolis. Losing this battle is the catalyst for the series ending, forcing the team to change base and relocate in California to face their biggest enemy yet, the Silicone Syndicate. The reader can expect everything and anything as far as action is considered and that is putting it mildly. The Joker makes an entry, Gizmo comes back from the dead, influential companies are revealed to sponsor the Syndicate and the Calculator is stirring up the cauldron, which literally combusts. People die, others are hurt, third get their revenge and there are usually some, who backstabs in industrial quantities.

Conspiracy, Machiavellian schemes and all-out battles are all familiar to Bedard, but where he also excels is the secondary character development. His run has spotlighted Zinda Blake, the designated pilot and helping hand in any situation, and expanded her role in the series after Dinah’s departure. In an arc dedicated all to her, the reader is introduced to Zinda’s past that even the time gap couldn’t stop from catching up with her. Her character as happy-go-lucky and at the same time tough with a short fuse is further underlined, even when she has been drugged and should be vulnerable. This kind of resilience is one of a kind and I am glad that Bedard devoted these issues to expand the image the reader has of Zinda Blackhawk and at the same time let her and Helena bond.

Misfit, the youngest operative on the team and the black sheep so to say, undergoes a coming of age period, where she makes mistakes, learns that having superpowers is not all sunshine, kicking ass and serving ‘dark vengeance’. Being directly responsible for the disaster in the Metropolis district, Misfit enters a new stage of her development. Innocence is put aside and one can say that she has moved passed the tragedy point, which either makes her or breaks her as a superhero. In the future, I think, readers can expect a lot from Misfit in upcoming DC titles as a real hero that readers can relate to. Black Alice also is on the characterization band wagon as she tries to reintegrate with the Birds of Prey, although it doesn’t work out at all, but we are also treated to an interesting bit of information, from which the reader learns that Alice and Misfit are blood relatives. Sadly, we do not see, where this leads to as the series ends, but I hope it is picked up later on.

Art-wise, I couldn’t be happier with the artists, who illustrated the last three years of the series run. We are treated to the realistic and highly detailed style of Nicola Scott. After her there is Michael O’Hare and Claude St. Aubin, both of whom do as brilliant job in their distinct way.

Verdict: “Birds of Prey” is without doubt THE most endearing ensemble series I have come across. Period. Whether you look for action, strong characters and well written women, this is the series to come to. I never had more fun with a band of superheroes before and especially an all-ladies team [the first I have come across]. Definitely a must-read.

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