Thursday, January 7, 2010

Birds of Prey: Issues #50 to #61 [Feb 03 - Jan 04]

We have reached year five for the Birds of Prey. And guess what? This is the year, when the series comes of age so to say. Gail Simone is the writer-in-charge and it is under her reign that the series become a powerhouse and overall strong line from DC. Artist-wise the activity has slowed down to a more acceptable pace with just two artists changing positions.

Also this is the ideal chance for readers to hop on board without any hindrances to catch the plot without the need to read back issues. After Gail Simone heads the series [Issue #56] an arc serves as a base for further character development and with every mission accomplished the overall story and the trajectory of Oracle’s operation change in a general sense. Ideally the series should have been written by a woman right off the bat, because a team of superheroines can only be cracked psychologically by a woman. Compared to Dixon, Simone expands the series emotional capacity and the interactions between the characters become more genuine, while at the same time the action doesn’t suffer one tiny bit.

However before Gail Simone takes the mantle we have six issues by writer Gilbert Hernandez split in two arcs, one of which did not excite me much, because it mystified science to a point, where it appeared as magic. Black Canary had to deal with Metamorpho [another DC super hero] and his dysfunctional family after a science experiment gone wrong. Thankfully, that was resolved quick and we jump to the secondary plot line, which revolves around Oracle and Danko Twag [the first killer moth]. Hernandez touches upon the importance behind Oracle’s anonymous identity; a theme, which is expanded by Simone.

Under Simone the Birds of Prey add new member to their roster aka the Huntress makes her first appearance as an operative, even if right now she is not on permanent roll. This happens in the best arc so far in the series, which introduces a new antagonistic duo to the mix aka Savant and Creote [master black-mailer and his muscled help]. As the Birds trail a false lead fed to them by Savant, the Black Canary falls in Savant’s trap is captured, maimed and used as a hostage to extract from Barbara Batman’s identity. The Huntress is called in and both manage to survive, even if Dinah has her arm and two legs broken by Savant. The arc was intense, both because the stakes were high and because Gail Simone revisits a crucial piece of information about Dinah’s past, in which she has been held hostage and tortured before.

The arc has a huge impact on the characters and poses important questions. What is Dinah’s emotional wellbeing after reliving an episode that nearly destroyed her in the past? Is Oracle on the right track after keeping Savant’s information data base behind Dinah’s back? Why is a senator targeting the Birds after Savant’s capture and what exactly will Savant’s vengeance be when he tracks down Oracle [because he doesn’t get a long stay at the Arkahm Asylum]?

Some questions are answered. Dinah has taken upon herself to improve her martial arts skills in order to never be in a victim’s position, while Barbara decides to fire her as a measure to keep her safe [but that doesn’t last for long]. However for the rest of the questions one must keep reading on.

Art-wise things have been stable. Casey Jones is the artist, accompanying Gilbert’s writing, but I am left with mixed feelings about the overall impression of the art. In the first arc by Gilbert the lines did not impress me, but when inker John Beatty comes on board for the rest of the six issues, the art improves by a large margin. This is living proof that comic book art is not just the penciller, but it involves inkers, colorists and letterers. Even if an artist appeals to a reader, the other variables in the art department can minimize or maximize that level of appeal.

Along with Simone comes artist Ed Benes, who is possibly the best thing to happen to the series as far as art is considered. He is the whole package that makes me tick as an art fan. His work shows attention to detail, has sharp lines, adds fluidity to motion and explores angles, which is of great importance to fights. Plus, I simply enjoy how he draws the human body and face in the super-hero comic book vein, which I am a total sucker for.

The Verdict: You better start reading from Issue 50 and see for real whether this is not your cup of tea, because the series has reached maturity and along with action, adventure and adrenaline, there is an emotional depth and mad plotting skills involved. This was the point I converted entirely and thought that I had been an idiot to dismiss DC for so long.

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