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

12 November 2010

Birds of Prey, v. 6: Blood and Circuits

Collects: Birds of Prey #96-103 (2006-7)

Released: August 2007 (DC)

Format: 208 pages / color / $17.99 / ISBN: 9781401213718

What is this?:

The culprits: Writer Gail Simone (with a small assist from Tony Bedard) and pencilers Paulo Siqueira, James Raiz, and Nicola Scott

Despite writer Gail Simone’s tricks and plots, it was hard for me to avoid feeling that the Birds of Prey lacked a great deal of stunning plot developments. Things evolve, change, slightly mutate, but the status quo the book began with issue #56 hadn’t changed through five volumes of trade paperbacks. But building on the momentum from v. 5, Perfect Pitch, Birds of Prey, v. 6: Blood and Circuits changes that impression, and for the better.

Birds of Prey: Blood and Circuits coverIt’s an expansion on the team’s concept: one member leaves, so Oracle calls in the services of other female heroes with the idea of eventually choosing one or more to become one of the Birds of Prey. After the new setup is introduced in #100 — odd to have the launching point for a new development in the middle of the book, but I suppose that’s the way the issues fall — the action doesn’t stop. Issues #100-103 are a high point on this series; issue by issue, Simone raises the stakes. It starts as a routine getting-to-know-you mission to a multi-front battle that spirals out of the heroes’ control to a war for the identity of the team and its founder. Throughout, Simone never relinquishes her strengths in characterization or dialogue — even bit player Judomaster gets a memorable moment of dialogue. Those four issues, by themselves, are more than enough reason to read this book, especially since they make a great jumping on place.

The first four issues — well, three and a half — are dedicated to tying up loose ends, or at least further developing past adversaries. In #96-7, the team tries to talk some sense into Black Alice, a teenager who can steal the magical abilities of other characters, just as the Secret Society makes a pitch to her. Simone introduced Black Alice in v. 4: The Battle Within as largely a one-off villain without any indication that she is important to the DC Universe at large. Here, though, we’re told she is immensely powerful, and Felix Faust tells the reader this every time he’s on the page. This is a technique that will grate on some readers — Faust’s “We’re attempting to bring a supernova to heel” could come off as Simone giving Black Alice some cheap heat — but Simone mostly gets away with it. Yes, Black Alice is powerful, but she’s also a teenager who is confused about what she wants, mitigating her power. It’s a setup that’s been seen before, and Simone’s heroes and villains, especially Faust and Talia al-Ghul, make it a pleasant reuse of the idea.

In #98-9, Huntress and Black Canary have to deal with Yasemin, a Turkish gunrunner the team put behind bars in v. 5. Obviously, she’s out for revenge, which doesn’t go so well for her. Other than humiliating some mob thugs, she’s a mainly distraction while the team figures out who the redhead impersonating Batgirl is. Although the new Batgirl, who quickly gets renamed Misfit, is charmingly wacky, she doesn’t really fit into the stories in which she’s inserted, and her power levels seem a bit too high, especially when she reveals she knows all the secret IDs of the Birds.

My only real complaint about the writing is part of #100, in which Tony Bedard and Simone recap Black Canary’s career and life. It’s … serviceable, but it’s an odd choice for a sendoff for the character. It’s an introduction to the character, and as an introduction, it feels clunky — Black Canary narrates her life to her new ward, Sin, and tries to justify her decision to leave the team. The story feels like something put into #100 to make it larger for an anniversary issue; like most stories meant to pad out annuals and double-sized issues, it’s missable and largely inconsequential without being offensive.

(I’m also not real fond of the volume’s title. Neither the literal interpretation nor the pun makes much sense for the stories within, and I can’t help but wonder if something about the story got lost somewhere — perhaps between the page and my brain.)

The art is provided by three different pencilers this time around. They’re all pretty good, and their styles are distinct yet similar enough to avoid style clash. Paolo Siqueira draws #96-7 and the backup in #100, James Raiz contributes #98-9, and Nicola Scott draws the rest. I prefer Scott’s work; it has a slightly smoother line, and I prefer Scott’s handling of action scenes. In fact, she’s part of what makes #100-3 so much fun. But Siqueira and Raiz are also good fits for the title, and none of them indulge in excessive cheesecake. Siqueira also seems to enjoy working with Black Alice, who gives him the chance to draw a character with many different looks, and the Secret Society.

I’ve been reading Birds of Prey because of its consistent quality; even when the art or the plots weren’t to my liking, Simone’s characters and dialogue kept me coming back. For the first time, I really feel excited about this title and really can’t wait for the next (and Simone’s last) volume, Birds of Prey, v. 7: Dead of Winter.

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

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