Tuesday, May 22, 2012

In Birds Of Prey: Platinum Flats, Barbara Gordon Comes Into Her Own While Her Team Is Mercilessly Hunted!

The Good: Very cool character conflict, Good artwork, Decent plot, Awesome plot development
The Bad: Unfortunately predictable in some ways, Unclear aspect of Gizmo, Artwork for the Calculator and Curator.
The Basics: So far, the best Birds Of Prey book I have read, Birds Of Prey: Platinum Flats finds the team directly confronting a criminal syndicate . . . including the Joker.

Right off the bat, (pun intended) it is worth noting that even though reading it initially disturbed me, I was very glad that I had read Batman: The Killing Joke (reviewed here!) before reading Birds Of Prey: Platinum Flats. The reason for this is very simple. In The Killing Joke, the much-alluded to shooting of Barbara Gordon occurs. Barbara’s life takes an abrupt turn and as a result, she goes from being Batgirl to the Oracle, paralyzed as she is by the Joker’s bullet. That event is referenced in the character notes at the beginning of virtually every Birds Of Prey book, but the full magnitude of what happens after the shooting is not. Why is this so important to Birds Of Prey: Platinum Flats? It’s quite simple: Birds Of Prey: Platinum Flats, in addition to having a pretty kick-ass conspiracy plotline, features a confrontation between Barbara Gordon and the Joker. If I had not read The Killing Joke, the full magnitude of the heroic quality of the Oracle in Birds Of Prey: Platinum Flats would have been lost on me.

Birds Of Prey: Platinum Flats is easily the best Birds Of Prey book I have yet read and even though there are references I did not quite get (involving peripheral characters like Black Canary), the book was the first since Black Canary left the team that the new assortment of heroines actually worked for me. Birds Of Prey: Platinum Flats continues a storyline begun well before this book and it has the Oracle’s team sniffing out a criminal syndicate unique to this team in a new DC Universe location. And it all works. Even the parts with Charlie (Misfit) work pretty well.

Barbara Gordon (the Oracle) and her team – Zinda (Lady Blackhawk), Helena (The Huntress), and Charlie (Misfit) - move to Platinum Flats, a California city dominated by tech start-up companies. Apparently an idyllic place, Gordon has sunk her considerable financial resources into the move on the word of the Calculator. The Calculator, desperate to save his own life, has contacted the Oracle and revealed the presence of the Syndicate, a criminal enterprise making billions off of the tech companies as an organized mob working so far behind the scenes that no one else in the superhero community has even heard of it. In Platinum Flats, Charlie enrolls in school and Helena becomes a teacher at the same school. Contracting for the Oracle, Manhunter runs in with Black Canary, while Gordon’s other new operative, the mysterious Infinity infiltrates one of the tech companies. In the back laboratory of the tech company, Infinity encounters Gizmo, who is not as dead as he appears.

Following that encounter, the Joker arrives in town and joins the Syndicate. While the other members of the Syndicate are wary of the Joker’s influence, they go along with his first psychotic plan to draw out the Oracle. After a gunfight with the Syndicate, Lady Blackhawk inadvertently brings a tracking device back to the new headquarters. While her team flees, the Joker visits Barbara and does not recognize her. Following her frightful encounter with the malevolent man who crippled her, Gordon puts her faith in the Calculator to entrap the members of the Syndicate. When the Calculator draws off the rest of the team, the Joker and Barbara square off again!

While it might seem like Birds Of Prey: Platinum Flats is a repetitive trade paperback anthology, writer Tony Bedard actually makes it work. The story is essentially two parallel repeated scenes. In both, the heroines of Birds Of Prey square off with the Syndicate’s goons or the Syndicate itself while Barbara Gordon encounters the Joker. While the lead-in to these two conflicts helps to establish a more rounded sense of the mission, the focus in the book is surprisingly tight (outside the conflict between Manhunter and Black Canary).

Outside the overlap with a Black Canary story not made entirely clear, Birds Of Prey: Platinum Flats suffers from only one real major issue. In Birds Of Prey: Platinum Flats, Gordon puts her trust in the Calculator and that is a terrible idea. How someone who is otherwise so smart, tough and resourceful ever lets the Calculator near a computer after bringing him into protective custody is an unfortunate oversight. Birds Of Prey: Platinum Flats has two smaller issues, which do not seriously detract from enjoying the book. The first is that Gizmo appears to have been killed by Sivana, which is pretty cool (I actually have read a book or two where Sivana is an integral villain, so I always like hearing about some of the villains in context), yet he is reanimated when Infinity does her mental scan trick. The issue is that Gizmo has clearly been shot in the face and was dead, so what his actual status is is very unclear in the book; is he a reanimated corpse, a cyborg with rotting organic components, a magically reanimated creature? Who knows?! While the artwork in Birds Of Prey: Platinum Flats is some of the best of the series, the artists make the Calculator and the Curator look virtually identical (in this book, the only differentiation between them is the Calculator has stubble). That is problematic and reeks of a lack of imagination on the part of the artists.

That is possibly the only example of a lack of imagination on the parts of the artists. Birds Of Prey: Platinum Flats has otherwise amazing art. From the usual drawings of the fabulous-looking heroines of Birds Of Prey - including a strangely flirty panel of Black Alice – to the disgusting visage of the Joker, the artists get so much right in Birds Of Prey: Platinum Flats that it looks like DC actually invested in the franchise for a change! And Birds Of Prey: Platinum Flats has a story worthy of great artwork.

In addition to the wonderful character moment when Barbara Gordon must confront the Joker without any backup, Birds Of Prey: Platinum Flats features a bevy of intriguing new villains. While the Calculator is predictably duplicitous and has been around for a little while, Birds Of Prey: Platinum Flats is fleshed out with new villains who are very creepy. From the mob that follows a metahuman who has the ability to erase memories and replace them with nightmares – a trick he pulled on Manhunter prior to this volume – to the creepy cyberstalkers of the Syndicate, Birds Of Prey: Platinum Flats starts assembling a rogues gallery for just this team to come up against.

And the villains are not at all PG in Birds Of Prey: Platinum Flats. There is the Matchmaker, a pedophile who helps connect sexual predators with children on the Internet. There is Kilg%re, a creature created by the Internet who has the ability to transform all mechanical objects it encounters. The Curator is barely seen, but he is a man who has an obsession with collectibles remaining in absolutely mint condition and he abducts victims to his perfectly preserved subterranean neighborhood. Then there is Gizmo, a cyborg genius who is armed to the teeth and able to levitate, despite being (apparently) dead.

While half of Birds Of Prey: Platinum Flats is pretty straightforward combat involving model-thin women toting cool weapons to take out the members of the Syndicate, it is in no way vacuous entertainment. Instead, Birds Of Prey: Platinum Flats features real character development. Charlie is beginning to learn to use her powers, a surprise even for Oracle when she teleports Huntresses motorcycle (in “Club Kids,” her power was revealed to have disastrous consequences when she teleported with other people, so there appears to be some real growth for the character here). As Charlie slowly becomes more of a team player, she still has her sullen moments, but they hardly seem as bratty as before. So, when Charlie sees Black Alice at school, it does not come across as nearly as whiny and annoying as such scenes previously did.

What really rocks in Birds Of Prey: Platinum Flats is the character development for the Oracle. Barbara does not whither or cower. In fact, when she takes a moment of pleasure in actually landing a blow against the Joker, she becomes concerned about what that means, but she does not back down at all. That is a very cool character trait. Moreover, what she is able to do against the Joker is very impressive and her resolve at the end of Birds Of Prey: Platinum Flats is equally cool.

In Birds Of Prey: Platinum Flats, Barbara Gordon’s team becomes the hot, badass chicks worth reading. Finally living up to its potential, Birds Of Prey: Platinum Flats is a worthwhile read.

For other Birds Of Prey books, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Between Dark And Dawn
Perfect Pitch
Dead Of Winter
Metropolis Or Dust
Club Kids


For other graphic novel reviews, please visit my organized listing of them by visiting my Graphic Novel Review Index Page!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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