Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

24 September 2010

Birds of Prey, v. 5: Perfect Pitch

Collects: Birds of Prey #86-90, 92-5 (2005-6)

Released: February 2007 (DC)

Format: 224 pages / color / $17.99 / ISBN: 9781401211912

What is this?: The Birds of Prey set up shop in Superman’s hometown, but the roster of the all-female team keeps shifting.

The culprits: Writer Gail Simone and penciler Paulo Siqueira (with others)

Birds of Prey, v. 5: Perfect Pitch is a big step up over the previous volumes. And not just because it’s the first volume to feature no art by Ed Benes.

No, in this volume, writer Gail Simone has two stories to tell, and she doesn’t let fill-in issues or a line-wide “one year later” mandate get in the way. Perfect Pitch is filled with fun, action-filled stories without skimping on characterization, witty banter, or victories for each character.

Birds of Prey: Perfect Pitch coverThere are two main storylines in Perfect Pitch. In the first, which lasts from #87-90, Oracle and the Birds of Prey follow through with Huntress’s plan to infiltrate and neuter the Gotham mobs while Calculator tries to discover Oracle’s identity. In the second, lasting from #92-5, the Birds of Prey — now counting Lady Shiva as a member — tries to keep Matthew Thorne, the Crime Doctor, and his daughter safe as he tries to defect to the side of angels.

The first arc sets up the Calculator as a nemesis for Oracle. This is fitting; they fulfill the same roles, although Oracle gives information and computer hacking to the heroes (primarily Bat-Family) and Calculator, for a fee, to the villains. I appreciate Simone keeping the heroes occupied with a previous plot involving the Gotham mobs while Calculator is making his move; it gives Calculator some credit, being able to put his pieces in place without the heroes knowing what’s coming. Of course, his pieces aren’t as good as Oracle’s, but that’s to be expected. Oracle’s new, sunnier disposition and Black Canary’s banter with Green Arrow are a pleasure, and Oracle letting her father know about her work is a good decision for the character.

Two big guest stars loom over this arc: Batman and Deathstroke. Batman is used well, glowering disapprovingly at Oracle and Huntress and generally acting like a holier-than-thou jackhole. Which is fine, as Batman, even at his most heroic, can sometimes come off that way. On the other hand, Deathstroke seems weakened by disinterest, delaying and talking when he could have had his opponents at his mercy. He never really seems interested in fighting, as if fighting or the opponents are not worth his time. His entire appearance, after a menacing opening sniper shot he doesn’t ending up taking, consists of him telling his adversaries to give up, with occasional punches used as punctuation.

The second arc makes good use of DC’s post Infinite Crisis “one year later” gimmick to have Black Canary and assassin Lady Shiva switch places — Lady Shiva becomes a member of the Birds of Prey, while Canary undergoes the training that made Sandra Wu-San into the deadliest assassin in the world. Shiva as the “Jade Canary” is amusing and vicious. She refuses to take the mental illness of the Ventriloquist seriously and has an unreasonable antipathy toward dolls; she attacks villains without pity or regard for their long-term well-being — or their competence level, really.

Black Canary’s training is less successful as a sequence; it is necessarily truncated, as it’s shown in occurring in the same time span as the rush to save the Crime Doctor. In the end, there are only three sequences in the training regimen, so it is difficult to show much development or how hard the long-term conditioning would be. The final sequence, with Canary battling a warlord’s entire army, is intellectually an impressive feat, but it’s hard to judge how much her training aided her victory.

The plan to help the Crime Doctor defect in return for his library of villain’s medical files works as a vehicle for Shiva’s tenure with the Birds, although since his information is so important, I’m not sure why the organized villains don’t send more muscle to stop him. Granted, Prometheus is impressive, so it’s easy to argue the villains would consider him more than enough to take care of things. The story has a powerful ending, full of compromise and sacrifice; the exchange of students between Canary and Shiva illustrates evil can’t be averted, just diverted.

(One thing I couldn’t figure out: Why did it take a couple of issues before Simone identified who Gypsy was? She appears, the Birds accept her without identifying her, and then her name is given two issues later. It just seems a basic piece of information to reveal. A simple “You’ll be working with Gypsy” or “Hi, Gypsy!” or “Gypsy?” would have sufficed. It wasn’t a secret reveal, since there was no fanfare over the revelation. Is there something about Gypsy and secrecy I don’t understand?)

Usually, I would complain about a missing issue in the middle of a trade paperback, but the issue in question, #91, was a fill-in issue written by Jim Alexander and penciled by Brad Walker. I have nothing against these two creators — or for them, either — but a fill-in in the middle of Simone’s 50 or so issue run just before a big editorial gimmick is probably going to be as missable as an issue can be. So DC probably made the right choice here to omit #91.

I call shotgunAs I mentioned, this is the first Birds of Prey without Benes, and I couldn’t be happier. Paulo Siquiero provides the bulk of the pencils; his work is good, more than slightly reminiscent of Terry Dodson in line and style. Appropriate, considering Dodson provides the cover for the volume. On the other hand, someone should really get him a picture of what a shotgun is, as the gun he draws as the punchline of the joke on the right is more of a machine gun. Joe Bennett, who has worked on previous volumes, does part of two issues and turns in decent work, and although it’s a little too much like Benes’s work for me, it does avoid most of Benes’s cheesecake tendencies. Among the other artists, Bruce Timm provides the art for one of two stories in #86, an amusing tale well suited for his art.

This is, I think, my favorite volume of Simone’s Birds of Prey. It’s got unexpected twists, snappy dialogue, and plenty of action, and even though it might not appeal to those who aren’t into Birds of Prey (at least until they read the first four volumes of Simone’s run), it’s worth catching up for. (And yes, I know I’m quite a bit behind.)

Rating: DC logo DC logo DC logo DC logo (4 of 5)

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