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

23 September 2009

Birds of Prey, v. 3: Between Dark & Dawn

Collects: Birds of Prey #69-75 (2004)

Released: February 2006 (DC)

Format: 176 pages / color / $14.99 / ISBN: 9781401209407

What is this?: Huntress infiltrates a cult while Oracle battles the enemy within; then, the Birds clear up loose ends before leaving Gotham.

The culprits: Writer Gail Simone and pencilers Ed Benes, Ron Adrian, Jim Fern, Eduardo Barretto, and Eric Battle

Gail Simone Week begins with Birds of Prey, v. 3: Between Dark & Dawn, the third volume (even if DC is loathe to admit it) of the Gail Simone-written run on the title.

I’ve reviewed the first and second volumes of the series, but this is the first one that has disappointed me. The main plot, which takes place in issues #69-73, has Huntress investigating a cult that revolves around superheroes and Oracle dealing with what appears to be a cybervirus. (There’s also an amusing sideplot about Oracle giving Savant a job to prove himself worthy, but that one pays off in #74.)

Birds of Prey: Between Dark and Dawn coverNeither of the plots worked. Despite having fun dialogue and the characters readers have come to enjoy, this was too by-the-numbers. First, showing a character interfacing between “cyberspace” and the real world is always a dicey proposition, and even though the explanation for Oracle’s infection makes sense, it still doesn’t feel right. It starts out interesting — Oracle seeing patterns in an unplugged screen is suitably creepy — but the more it becomes concrete, the less interesting it is, the less possible madness is for an explanation and the more it becomes a standard fight that Oracle shouldn’t win. She does win, of course, through the most hackneyed way possible: beating the logical machine with emotion.

I have only one word for the hybrid of Oracle and the infection: no. Silver skin with thick electrical cables for dreadlocks does not work as a look.

I also have my troubles with Huntress and the cult. Simone has fun with Huntress, making her sharp witted and sharp tongued. But I’m not quite sure Simone pulls off the idea of a cult leader with mind control (unoriginal) and faith in superheroes. That the mind control works only on those with faith doesn’t help; instead, it only muddies matters, throwing another element into a story that might have needed something different to help it along but didn’t need what feels like tacked-on mutterings about belief.

The final two issues are excellent and raise the book out of the doldrums. Issue #74 has a few different elements, but most of them are amusing, and even though it’s an overall mishmash, it is wrapping up some dangling plots. Issue #75 blows up Oracle’s base with no warning of plot development — it’s a fait accompli when the issue begins, so I don’t feel bad about spoiling it — but it takes off from there, with the Birds of Prey running one last mission before leaving Gotham. The issue also introduces Lady Blackhawk to the Birds with a bittersweet story of a timelost character — it’s not a new idea, but on the other hand, her gender and feelings of discrimination make her a unique fit for Birds.

If you’ve read my reviews of the other Simone Birds, you know my feelings about Ed Benes’s art: overemphasis on cheesecake, but other than that, a good artist. I particularly like his work on the Lady Blackhawk story (if that’s who it was; DC doesn’t provide credits on individual issues). On the other hand, dreadlock cyberOracle was his fault, and he makes Black Canary wear a flyaway frilled blouse to the hospital; it’s aggressively ugly. Some artist also thinks bait for fishing looks like hotdogs, but I believe that’s Ron Adrian who drew #69. Adrian does an admirable job of fitting in with Benes’s work. Adrian and Eric Battle pencil #73, and Jim Fern contributes #74; I imagine Eduardo Barretto does #75, but I have no proof. None of these artists really stand out, except for Adrian.

Although this is below average for Simone, I think this is just a bump in the Birds of Prey road. I’ll keep reading along — and I’m excited, because in only two more volumes, there will be a new artist.

Rating: DC logo DC logo Half DC symbol (2.5 of 5)

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