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

03 March 2009

Birds of Prey, v. 1: Of Like Minds

Collects: Birds of Prey #56-61 (2003-4)

Released: February 2004 (DC)

Format: 138 pages / color / $14.99 / ISBN: 9781401201920

What is this?: Oracle and Black Canary battle a rival information broker and decide about what to do with Huntress.

The culprits: Writer Gail Simone and penciler Ed Benes

In Birds of Prey, Vol. 1: Of Like Minds, writer Gail Simone takes over the reins of a mid-list Batman Universe title and makes it into something to talk about, whether or not the person talking had ever read Birds of Prey.

Is Simone experienced enough? Will having a woman write a book featuring women as its leads help the book? Will she start writing it as womyn? Will it hurt sales? Will it help sales? Frankly, these questions are unimportant to me. All I care about are the stories the book tells. I liked the earlier v. 1 of Birds of Prey, but it’s not like I had some sort of attachment to the title or creative team, so I have a relative open mind on where Simone takes the title.

Birds of Prey, v. 1: Of Like Minds coverSo we have Simone, who seems to be living the kind of life story every comics fan would like to experience. Gaining attention with Women in Refrigerators, Simone moved on to a humor column, You’ll All Be Sorry. From there, it was a clear path to full-time comic book writing, fame, money, and respect.

Well, not really. But it makes a shorter story that way, and my attention span isn’t … hey, isn’t Lost on tonight?

Simone makes some changes to Birds right away. She introduces humor into the story, although the good lines are unobtrusive and rarely require sacrificing plot or characterization. She also brings Huntress into Oracle and Black Canary’s group, and she introduces a new villain — Oracle’s opposite number, Savant, who uses his data hacking abilities for blackmail instead of justice. As is common for a new writer on a title, they seem to have a special fondness for their new characters. Savant is fun, in a savage way, although that might just be me — I like humor based on cruelty. Huntress is similar in some ways, her best lines playing off her greater willingness to inflict pain than the other heroes. The characters play well off each other; Simone’s facility with their interactions would be a credit to much more experienced writers.

It’s not all smiles and sunshine, though. I’m not sure what to make of Savant’s mental disability, in which he has a non-linear memory. Savant seems a little overpowered, which happens with new villains. The pacing seems a little off; the main story takes up four issues, making the final issues feel tacked on, stalling for time. That might be an artifact of the trade paperback, but, well, that’s what I’m reading. There’s an off-page breakup that smacks of clearing the decks. The moral dilemmas, involving blackmail information and Oracle’s fear for Black Canary’s well being, seemed contrived to me, a new reader.

Like many (most?) comic book artists, Ed Benes likes drawing pretty females, and he’s pretty good at it, although he is the first artist I can think of with a “long abdomen” fetish. (The legs are more out of proportion, but that’s not uncommon.) For some reason, Benes’s cheesecake irritates me, despite it not being an uncommon flaw. He revels in the cheesecake, and he makes no apology for it, not even when he gives us crotch or butt shots. Benes isn’t the one who gave Huntress that horrible new ludicrous bare-midriff costume — that was Jim Lee in Hush — but I don’t approve of its continuation. There are more than a few moments of physical comedy he seems to overplay as well, and I’m not sure he’s the right artist for Simone’s writing, which seems to require someone with greater delicacy of facial expressions.

I have a feeling Simone is going to improve as the title goes on (all right, I’m partially basing that on what I’ve heard from others). I’m excited to read the next volume, even more excited than I would have been to read the next Chuck Dixon volume of Birds, if there had been another. I’ll be even more excited for v. 4 of the Simone experience, when Benes leaves the title.

Rating: DC logo DC logo DC logo Half DC symbol (3.5 of 5)

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