Saturday, January 9, 2010

Birds of Prey: Issues #62 to #75 [Feb 04 - Dec 04]

Year six and we are past the half of the 127 issues total. Gail Simone has established herself as the ruling deity in this universe and weaves one dangerous arc after another in perfect escalation and with no power subtracted whatsoever. The affinity to danger and unorthodox team-ups only leads to a spicier reading flavor and the art has been stellar. It’s fan boy heaven all the way for me.

The Huntress has been integrated as core member so the scope of the missions can broaden due to the increased manpower and Simone definitely explores the possibilities to push these ladies to the limits. For starters we have a central arc for each of the trio, starting with Oracle, who is in jeopardy once again, when Savant teams up with the Senator Pullman [mentioned in the last review] in order to flush her out and learn the super-hacker’s true identity. Barbara is interrogated along with other technically gifted women from Gotham, who fit Oracle’s profile and has to make an escape. Not the easiest thing in the world, when you need a wheelchair to get by, but we are treated an encore deserving performance that is both plausible and exciting.

Next stop we have the Black Canary, who travels to Japan to meet her martial arts sensei, who is on deathbed, but a peaceful saying of goodbyes leads to manhunt as Dinah teams up with the top assassin in the DC universe, Lady Shiva, to track down her sensei’s murderer. The prime suspect is Chesire [an oldie for this series], who has upgraded her reputation to Poison Princess. With such a formidable foe, who denies the crime and blames Senator Pullman for a frame, cane the Birds of Prey be sure that they are on the right track? There is backstabbing, intrigues about Chesire’s past are revealed and most naturally people do die.

The third arc is all about Huntress on her first solo mission as the lead and not second violin, which is a task Oracle has given her with strategic purpose. It concerns a certain sect that is behind the suicides of teens dressed as dead teen superheroes. The compound is led by a man with the power to mind control the children and serves the biggest DC villain ever, Brainiac. Huntress has to fight against Vixen [DC heroine with the power to channel animals] and then against a whole team of metahuman super heroes, who have gone MIA at one point. At the same the battle escalates to a new level as Barbara has to withstand against Brainiac himself in a virtual battle and not get possessed.

As you can see there is much plot involved and intricate plot with layers upon layers, which have to be mentioned in order for me to make you understand, where I am coming from with this adoration for the series. For starters, strategic warfare has been elevated to a dangerous warfare and the chess moves villains make against the heroes and vice verse held my breath. It was the mind games, blocks and traps that built the atmosphere and there is plenty of that, while the hand-to-hand combat and super power abuse is what pumps the adrenaline.

Then there are the behind-the-scenes stolen glimmers, which add color, dimension, moral complexity and dimensions to the adventures. Super heroes are people after all, they are not their powers and they cannot be saving the world 24-7. They crack, they break rules, they take the unfavorable odds and work with them, even if that means crossing lines and be in that undefined grey area. Simone does that to these women [and occasionally men]. She sets out to see whether second chances are worth giving as seen with Savant and Creole’s enrollment in the roster, when Oracle was in Pullman’s hands. The exploration of Savant is an interesting one as he is one of the generally conflicted people, who are messed up enough to be chaotic in his doing, unpredictable to a point.

With Savant on the team can Black Canary, now that she is more powerful than him after her numerous training sessions, hold off her anger and accept him and the chance given to him by Oracle? Can Huntress hold off her violence and show mercy, even when undeserved, but which is important as a cardinal rule for being a hero and not just a masked vigilante? Can Oracle really bring all three together as a team? These are just the core questions that are only partially answered and are left off for further issues.

But these can’t be explored, unless the setting is changed and the girls are taken off from their comfort zone. Gail is pretty radical in her decision to relocate the operation after making Oracle blow her Clock Tower and computers to save herself and Batman, when she’s attacked and the solution to the housing problem comes in the shape of a technologically pimped plane called Aerie One with one heck of a pilot and a new member aka Zinda Blake aka Lady Blackhawk, time traveling military pilot from WWII.

In one word: awesome.

Art-wise the situation has been more than beneficial. The comic gods have been generous with Ed Benes, Cliff Richards, Joe Bennett, Ron Adrian and Jim Fern. There have been more art teams per arcs, which is always exciting to witness and one way or another these guys did it for me from an aesthetic point of view, which is immensely hard to do. I am a fickle person after all and quite pretentious, capricious and specific in my art preferences. To be honest it can be debated whether or not Fern matched my tastes or not, but compared to other pencillers that have worked on the series, his work is way better.

Verdict: You are losing valuable time. Start reading. Now.

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