23 January 2013

Faster than a DC Bullet: Birds of Prey, Part II: Old Friends, New Enemies

Comic trade paperback, 223 pages
Published 2003 (contents: 1997-99)
Borrowed from the library
Read January 2013
Birds of Prey: Old Friends, New Enemies

Writer: Chuck Dixon
Pencillers: Greg Land, Dick Giordano
Inkers: Drew Geraci, Wayne Faucher
Colorist: Gloria Vasquez
Letterer: Albert T. DeGuzman

The second volume of Birds of Prey collects the series' last two one-shots ("Wolves" and "Batgirl"), and then the first six issues of the ongoing series-- so popular had been the one-shots, that DC decided they could sustain an ongoing. Old Friends, New Enemies is perhaps more consistent and settled than Black Canary/Oracle/Huntress, but also less striking and less fun: fewer highs and fewer lows.

The good news is that the stories here don't feel curtailed. In part, that's because Dixon can write every story across multiple issues if it's that complex, but even the one-shots are more curtailed, as though he's finally gotten to grips with the format. The first of those, "Wolves," runs two largely parallel stories: Dinah meets up with her ex-husband(!), while Barbara almost gets mugged, almost gets hit by a car, almost goes on a date, and almost gets mugged. The common theme between the two plots is men, who are "wolves" who devour women. I don't know that we needed to give Dinah a one-year marriage in college except to give this story some extra emotional investment, but her plot is not too great: it basically hits all the beats any TV show does when a cast member's former lover shows up "in trouble." (I think Babylon 5 did this plot every other week its first two seasons.)

The Barbara story is more interesting, though. I am pretty sure that this is the first time we've seen here outside of her headquarters (what is that place with the clock on it, anyway? no one in this book ever says? and does she live there?) in the Birds of Prey series, and she's a little angry-- but then she's having a bad day. She gets to go on a date, which is quite sweet, and gives us a facet of her we've been deprived of in the series thus far. Of course, it all goes south, and then we get to see Dinah fight off a group of robbers while in a wheelchair while in her home. It maybe pushes the bounds of credulity a little, but probably no more so than that Dinah could do all the things she does; anyone who used to be Batgirl has to be the best of the best, after all. I'm curious to see how often Birds of Prey will end up going to the wheelchair-bound-Barbara-in-danger well by the end of the series, but I liked it here; it's a big change from the stories in the first volume. Dick Giordano's art is usually good, but I've seen better from him: there's the occasional bad angle, and both male characters look creepy and plastic-faced.

"Batgirl" features Black Canary teamed up with... Batgirl!? Why does Barbara have longer hair when she's an physically-active crimefighter? How is that safe? Anyway, it's not real, as you might imagine, and the villain looks so ridiculous that you can't even blame her on the '90s; she's just terrible.

We then launch into the ongoing with a three-part story: "Long Time Gone"/"One of Those Days"/"Hounded." Like a lot of the stories in the first volume, this one feature hijinks in a Third-World country. Is that the Birds of Prey's thing? The plot (which confused me) ultimately isn't the point here, though: the extra space and assurance of future stories mean that Dixon starts working in a lot of nice little touches: Dinah's technophobia, Barbara's ex-fiancé, Robin hanging out with Oracle and helping, Barabara's Internet romance. It's things like this that keep me interested and invested; actually, I was surprised how much I liked the ex-fiancé.

(On the other hand, there's constant cutting to a subplot about the Air Force finding someone using their computer-- implied to be Oracle-- and a guy with a big head who I may have been supposed to recognize but no one ever explains who he was. Also someone has been spying on Dinah, and then you find out it was just Batman. Not cool, dude.)

"Return of the Ravens" sees Dinah randomly bump into a group of terrorists called the Ravens, who include Cheshire, who was at some point (not sure if that's before or after this) the mother of Green Arrow's ward Arsenal's child. It's faintly ridiculous-- there's a dinosaur involved-- but in the way that superhero comics can be ridiculous, and I liked the banter between the three villains. It does have the worst map of the United States that I've ever seen, though.

"Batgirl," the "Long Time Gone" trilogy, and "Return of the Ravens" are all drawn by Greg Land and Drew Geraci. This is my first experience reading a Greg Land comic, I think, though I'm well familiar with his work from his Internet infamy. This comparatively early stuff isn't as bad as what he does now, it seems. There are definitely times where the characters looked posed and cheesecakey, but there's worse out there, and it often results in very nice art.

The real shame about Old Friends, New Enemies is not the book itself, but the fact it collects issue #1-6 of the ongoing... and the next collection of Birds of Prey doesn't pick up until issue #56. That's fifty uncollected issues, and I bet something important happens in there. Boo on you, DC. Where's my Birds of Prey Omnibus?


  1. There's maybe two more early BOP issues in the Nightwing: Hunt for Oracle trade (plus an appearance from the guy with a big head, Blockbuster), though indeed a lot of these are unfortunately uncollected.

    Enjoyed the review.

    1. Yeah, I'll get around to those when I work my way through Nightwing, but it seems a shame the early days of this landmark series are so sparsely collected.