Monday, January 4, 2010

Birds of Prey: Issue #15 to #24 [March 00 - Dec 00]

As with year one, year two of Birds of Prey had its ups and downs, but in general fared better than the initial starter. This is partially because the characters have been established, setting has been prepared and now all that is left is to delve deeper into the concept, the characters and write some weird masked adventures. Dixon definitely delivered on that account.

Issues #15 to #24 center more or less on Oracle as a character. All the secondary plot lines are focusing on Barbara both as the brain behind her operation and as a normal woman, which translates to leading a love life mainly. While I am on the topic of love life, I think that this is where Dixon didn’t succeed much in his characterization. At one point in the series we have an issue, where two past lovers, Jason Bard [P.I introduced in the first year] and Dick Grayson [Nightwing], and her current boyfriend Ted Kord [former Blue Beetle] come simultaneously to see her. Although there was an innocent comedic touch to stretching the probability theory to such a degree, I didn’t enjoy it that much, especially how easily Ted Kord guessed Barbara is Oracle. Not when years in issues later, Oracle’s identity becomes the biggest motive for the most valuable information in the world.

I do however give high props for his take on human ingenuity as shown in the first major arc that ran from March to May and involved the Joker. The greatest thing about big publishers, old as the art form series and a myriad of characters is that the reader can get neat, but also possibly weird surprises on how these characters resurface. In this case we have the Joker as an ambassador for a Middle Eastern politically warring with the USA country and the Joker has decided to nuke New York in order to make a point. In this case Oracle teams up with the Pentagon to disable the missiles, after placing the Joker at ground zero to make him talk.

The piece of resistance in this, however, is the Roland Desmond aka supervillain Blockbuster arc, who placed a contract on Nightwing’s life and planned to destroy Oracle by tracking her signal down and then hiring trained assassins after her. Although the cat and mouse game was most enjoyable I had a problem with the series jumping, because the hunt for Oracle spanned over two series total [Birds of Prey and Nightwing]. That is the danger with super hero series, especially, when they have solo series, but writers decide to team them up. Nevertheless the evasive maneuvers Dixon conjured impressed me. At one instance Barbara had to fight hand to hand and after that swim after abandoning her hideout at a submarine. I call that thrilling. There is also the skillful transition from partners to friends with Barbara and Dinah, when both finally do meet face to face.

It’s a rollercoaster ride from then on as the meeting lasts for a few minutes, when they are discovered by Desmond. From then on we have a role-switch with Black Canary posing as Oracle, while she is on a mission to retrieve a new heart for Blockbuster from Gorilla City. The team gathered for this mission consists of Black Canary as Oracle, Lady Vic [assassin], Deathstroke [assassin] and a traitor from Gorilla City, who is most naturally a talking gorilla. Unstable environment is an understatement in this case and the result is a high action packed survival game, where alliances and rules spin and change. Dinah manages to shine at her impulsive strategy at survival with the Oracle’s help and it was exactly this dynamic, diversified and almost epic adventure with gun and fist fights and obstacles all around that I began to warm up to the series immensely.

Art-wise, the situation is still a bit complicated, because I am a big Michael Turner fan and his art has corrupted my imagination in the best way possible, so whenever an art style seems more outdated or does not emulate Turner, my brain does not compute. In comparison to Land the new regular Butch Guice does a better job. His work seems to be in transition from the typical oldie 90’s comic lines and the new millennium style that can be seen now everywhere. I think that the coloring techniques also play a vital role with how the lines and inks will look like and in this case the colorist seems more old school in his approach, but then again I am talking about year 2000, which was far away in time and it would be rather pointless to talk about something that has been the norm back then.

Verdict: Definitely better. There is overall growth in the writer’s approach to the series with new and even more dangerous scenarios of big proportions come up the Birds of Prey’s way. I am not a fan, when arcs hop from series to series, but such is the risk I guess. If I had no clue what was happening next, I would be mighty curious about where the writer will take the team.

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