25 February 2013

Faster than a DC Bullet: Birds of Prey, Part VII: The Battle Within

Comic trade paperback, 237 pages
Published 2006 (contents: 2005)
Borrowed from the library
Read February 2013
Birds of Prey: The Battle Within

Writer: Gail Simone
Pencillers: Joe Bennett, Ed Benes, Tom Derenick, Joe Prado, Eddy Barrows
Inkers: Jack Jadson, Ed Benes, Bob Petrecca, Robin Riggs
Letterers: Jared K. Fletcher, Phil Balsman

The fourth collection of Gail Simone's Birds of Prey run is where her take really clicked with me-- perhaps because this collects twelve issues, a full year of her run, rather than the usual 6 or so, allowing one to really dig into her interweaving plots. This is odd, as I found the first few stories pretty disposable: the Birds, in their new mobile home Aerie One, travel to Dayton, Kansas, and Metropolis to rein in overeager vigilantes. I'm not sure why Barbara decided this was their new purpose in life, but there you go.

We get a few done-in-one (or -two) stories that are strong in character for the regulars, which is nice, but little else. It's nice to see Helena actually doing educational stuff, and there's one of my favorite moments in the whole series thus far when she crossbows a guy in hospital and shrugs it off. Zinda turns out to be a fantastic addition to the Birds, rarely at the center of the plots, but always fun in how she changes the dynamic. On the other hand, Kansas is portrayed in an utterly condescending way, and Tom Derenick and Bob Petrecca's art is so off that when a mystical creature ages Dinah twenty years in the middle of combat, you can't even tell.

The plot in the book's second half, as the Birds of Prey being to disintegrate and also take on some gangs internationally, was much more consistent. Helena leaves the group to do things in a way that combines her original one with Barbara's, and in doing so, we get our best understanding of her character in the series so far: someone violent and brash, but dedicated to doing good in whatever way works best. Helena trying to infiltrate the Gotham underworld (and tussling with Dick "Nightwing" Grayson, who is doing the same) is one of the series' most interesting undertakings. Meanwhile, Barbara must undergo surgery and Dinah has to organize the defense of Gotham City with just hand-on-hand combat. The interweaving of plot and character has never been sharper in the title, and I have never liked all three characters more.

Unfortunately, the story is let down by the series's weakest art thus far: Joe Bennett and Jack Jadson's women all have plastic faces incapable of displaying emotions other than wide-mouthed; Ed Benes might be cheesecakey, but at least his characters have facial expressions. Worse is the creepy way he draws all Asians. Ugh. One wonders why DC was never able to supply Gail Simone with an artist who could match her writing talent. At least Huntress's costume has lost the belly window.

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