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

30 December 2010

Birds of Prey, v. 7: Dead of Winter

Collects: Birds of Prey #104-8 (2007)

Released: February 2008 (DC)

Format: 128 pages / color / $17.99 / ISBN: 9781401216412

What is this?: Gail Simone wraps up her run on the title with one final mission and a battle for the team’s leadership.

The culprits: Writer Gail Simone and penciler Nicola Scott

For reasons I can’t quite recall, it’s taken me almost two years to get to the end of writer Gail Simone’s four-year run on Birds of Prey. But with Birds of Prey, v. 7: Dead of Winter, Simone reaches the end, and I catch up with her there.

You would think that in modern comics, which both hallows and cannot sustain long runs, that there would be a great deal of attention paid to the ending of a long string of consecutive issues by a writer — throwing everything the book has on the page or trying to make this an “end of an era” sort of book, with a knowing wink (“Here we go again!”) thrown at the reader or at least a heart-felt “Thanks!” from the writer. But there’s none of that, just a simple “The End!” to mark the passing of Simone’s 53 issues. I appreciate that, and either DC does as well or they mandated it; after all, they’re trying to convince readers that the writers who follow, Tony Bedard and Sean McKeever, supply either the same or higher quality stories, and signaling that something big has passed is never the way to do that. On the other hand, the non-comics part of #108 could have been filled with all sorts of weepy goodbyes and eulogies, for all I know.

Birds of Prey: Dead of Winter coverBut I wouldn’t have begrudged Simone the chance to go out with a big bang; it is a comics tradition, after all. It used to be said of Spider-Man in the Bronze Age that you could tell when a writer was leaving the title because he’d wheel out his Green Goblin story. But the only green I see in this story is on the costumes of Spy Smasher and Knockout.

In Dead of Winter, Simone gives the team its biggest shakeup of her tenure, sending a squad out on another mission as team founder Oracle’s authority is being usurped by Spy Smasher, the revival of a Golden Age hero’s identity. Spy Smasher gained control of the Birds by revealing she knew Oracle’s real identity and threatening Oracle’s father’s reputation and career. She’s the only person to crack Oracle’s ID after so many have tried, so this should be a giant showdown, one that unspools in every issue of the book and in the background of every scene — or, if not in every scene, then at least a few of them. This should be epic, a huge stone carved with letters that say, “I made these minor characters into something that actually matters.”

But it’s not.

It’s another mission, albeit one with a little tension. The mission itself isn’t even morally dubious, even though we’re told Spy Smasher is a bad egg: Spy Smasher leads the team on a rescue of a hero who has been missing for years.

The conflict between Spy Smasher and Oracle is resolved by half of a fight between the two, followed by a little intimidation by all the living Birds of Prey. It’s just 12 pages, four of them taken up by two double-page spreads that involve people standing around and looking at Spy Smasher (or the reader, depending on your point of view). It doesn’t even address the power over Oracle’s dad that allowed Spy Smasher to take over the Birds in the first place. It’s a letdown, to say the least.

And that’s a shame, because it diverts attention from a very good Simone story. The plot itself is relatively simple, but Dead of Winter matches Simone’s previous work on Birds for character moments, quick wit, and plot twists. Matching the Birds against the other team Simone has had success with — the Secret Six — gives Simone a chance to write villains who are as witty as the protagonists. She seems to have a lot of fun with Big Barda as well, from her casual disregard of oozing bullet wounds to her joyful decision to start a fight. Zinda, Lady Blackhawk, gets her moment to show that she knows a thing or two about what you do with “tightass tinpots.” Even Spy Smasher is appropriately ambiguous while getting a decent share of the good lines.

Continuing from where she started in #100, Nicola Scott provides the art for this volume. Scott’s work shows how things have improved since the beginning of Simone’s run; Scott’s characters are attractive people, but unlike those in the work of, say, Ed Benes, they don’t look like they’re being posed for a series of cheesecake pinups. She doesn’t overplay the comedy, matching the understated humor in the dialogue. As I mentioned in Birds of Prey, v. 6: Blood and Circuits, I do dig her clean pencils, and she’s excellent at drawing fight scenes. Sometimes her faces are a little too similar; without costumes, for instance, it would be difficult to tell who is who in the fight between Scandal Savage and Hawkgirl. Still, she is probably the best of the artists Simone has worked with.

Dead of Winter delivers the consistently high quality that readers have come to expect from Simone and her Birds of Prey, and I’m glad I’ve read the entire run. However, it doesn’t transcend that level of quality — it isn’t greater than what came before, and it doesn’t seem like it fully capitalizes on the title’s past. Perhaps I shouldn’t expect it; it isn’t an obligation, but I still mark the book down a little for it. Still, instead of giving the book a big sendoff, Simone gives readers just another volume.

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

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