Birds of Prey, v. 4: The Battle Within
Collects: Birds of Prey #76-85 (2005)
Released: October 2006 (DC)
Format: 240 pages / color / $17.99 / ISBN: 9781401210960
What is this?: The Birds go after violent femme vigilantes, and then everyone tries to stop the Singapore-to-Gotham drug pipeline.
The culprits: Writer Gail Simone
I have been meaning to write about Birds of Prey, v. 4: The Battle Within for a couple of months now, but something always gets in the way: a Snowpocalypse, a Human Target, something. And now, here I am, getting to write about it, and I can’t quite remember what I was going to say in the first place.
I remember being slightly disappointed by Battle when I first read it. Looking over it now, I can’t quite see why. Battle is a heck of a value: ten issues for $17.99. (I tend to say this with the DC books I review but rarely the Marvel books.) It really feels like you’re getting two books in one with this one — and I mean that literally: #76-80 makes up one book, and #81-5 is a completely different storyline. Although it gives the reader more for the dollar, it does take away from a dramatic departure at the end of the first storyline. (On the other hand, that character stays in the book, if not always with the team, so the departure isn’t that big of a cliffhanger.)
The plot seems a little thin in places. The first half of the book follows the Birds as they hunt down female vigilantes; as Oracle later notes, they get a win, a draw, and a loss, and I don’t know that that speaks all that well of the team. Although there are some chances to work some obvious parallels in those five issues, I feel those opportunities were missed. The second half involves stopping a Singaporean drug supplier and an attempt to infiltrate the Gotham mob. The stateside story works fine, but the Singapore side seems too steeped in “honor” stereotypes for me to get into. And I still don’t buy Oracle’s cyberinterface or its complications, which are resolved way too easily here.
Writer Gail Simone keeps the team humming along. The dialogue is excellent, especially when Simone stays away from the sappy moments. Zinda (Lady Blackhawk), who was introduced last volume, shows why she’s part of the team; Simone never forgets that Zinda is both from a different time and very good at what she does, and she manages to get those characteristics across to readers without banging them over the head with it. (I think Zinda is my favorite Bird now.) Simone keeps track of her loose ends and keeps the reader feeling like it’s the characters, not the team or the book’s gimmick, that matters. Simone also uses the DC Universe to her advantage, bringing in characters that advance the storyline without letting those characters overwhelm her story.
The good news: this is the end of Ed Benes’s run on the title. If you’ve read my previous reviews of Birds of Prey, you might remember my complaints about his cheesecake art. Nothing changes about that here: he’s a good artist who lets his predilection for certain parts of pretty ladies show through too much.
His job is taken over by Joe Bennett, who draws five of the remaining eight issues in Battle. He draws action scenes pretty well, which is good, because he gets to draw a lot of them in Battle. I never warmed to his style, however; his women lack well-defined noses, have slack, open mouths, and generally don’t have much expression on their faces. They look a little like blow-up dolls, to be frank. I really like the art from Joe Prado, who draws a slightly scratchy #76, featuring the Birds vs. a Goth teenage Wicca with real power, and Tom Derenick, who draws #77-8 in a style more than slightly reminiscent of Sal Buscema, whom I never get tired of.
I suppose that feeling of disappointment I remember comes from being slightly underwhelmed by the story. Simone’s characters and dialogue once again meet my high expectations, but I miss the feeling of a deeper plot. Huntress’s storyline is a move in the right direction, and it might be even better in the next volume, but it isn’t quite there yet. I suppose I also didn’t care for the heaviest artistic workloads being given to my least favorite of the four pencilers.
Although, if I had paid for Battle rather than checking it out of the library, I suppose getting so much story for so little might have mitigated those feelings.
Rating: (2.5 of 5)