Sunday, November 30, 2003

Birds of Prey - #61 - A Review

Written by: Gail Simone
Penciled by: Ed Benes
Inked by: Alex Lei
Colored by: Hi-Fi
Lettered by: Jared K. Fletcher
Editor: Lysa Hawkins
Publisher: DC Comics

The last time I reviewed Birds of Prey after the new team of Simone, Benes and Lei took over, I said “it is a bit early to say that this team can equal the book during its’ “salad days” when Dixon and Land were handling the writing and art. But based on what I’ve see here, I think Simone, Benes and Lai could surpass the golden boys by the end of this first arc.”

The first arc is over. The old team is surpassed. The Monarch is dead! Long Live The Monarch!

This is, in my estimation, the best book being published by anyone right now. It is, at the very least, the best book I am reading on a regular basis. (There! Are you “truth and accuracy” in the media people happy now?!?!)

The Writing

In the wake of the attack that has temporarily sidelined Black Canary, Oracle has “fired” her best friend, not wanting to risk losing her best friend in the battle against crime. Canary is rather justifiably upset by what she sees as a very hypocritical move by the wheelchair-bound Oracle
The two take a break to cool off the conversation and Canary is thrust into the wheelchair of command when Huntress needs help escaping from a car full of hired goons.

Simone is probably best known for her work as a humorist. Indeed, her “You’ll All Be Sorry” columns for Comic Book Resources are some of the finest bits of parody ever done in the genre. She’s also renowned for being able to write a damn good action scene. Her work on Agent X showed that she had an ability to balance both and indeed combine the elements of humor and action together.

Simone surpasses all her previous works, as this issue introduces more serious drama than any of her previous works or any past issue of Birds of Prey. Moreover, Simone is able to build on past stories and what is happening in other titles in a way that makes the story all the more involving. For example, her take on Nightwing reads better in three panels than the last five issues of Outsiders or indeed Nightwing’s own title.
Simone also has the characters down-pat. Black Canary, in particular, is getting some of the best treatment ever after years of mischaracterization or being regulated to a den-mother role. Consider her reaction in this issue to her firing. Rather than whine or complain, she decides “Okay. So Oracle thinks I need to be better? I’ll become better.” She immediately proceeds to call up other heroes and make appointments for some pointers.

This is the essence of Dinah Lance’s character and a trait that she and Barbara Gordon have in common. They are survivors. They do not give up. Heck, they both got into the heroism business partly to spite an authority figure who told them to quit.

And I don’t know if it was intentional or not but there is a scene here that contains echoes of “The Longbow Hunters” where Canary trains with Batgirl and is told that she does not have the eyes of a killer.

The Art

Benes and Lai were the perfect team to take over this book in the wake of their own firing from Supergirl. Lai in particular is a master of knowing when to shadow and when to leave the lines a bit lighter. The shadows move seamlessly across scenes ranging from the dark bowels of Arkham Asylum to the sunny balcony atop Oracle’s watchtower.

As for Benes, he draws what are easily the most realistic beautiful women in all of comicdom. The proportions are realistic; no overly huge chests on master acrobats or oversized Anime eyes. The tendency towards cheesecake I noted in the past issues (which I don’t think can be helped given the new Jim Lee designed Huntress Houchie-Momma costume) has all-but disappeared. And unlike some artists, he draws an attractive Oracle.

Now this is a small point, but I have noticed many past artists tended to “dress” Barbara Gordon like a librarian or make her look small and dumpy or hide her face behind a huge pair of glasses that dominated her face. Benes realizes that just because she has to use a wheelchair to get around does not mean that the former Batgirl is any less attractive physically. And he also manages to give different shapes to his character’s faces, so you could tell them apart even without the blond/brunette/redhead triumvirate formed by the team.

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