Monday, January 21, 2013

The Team Assembles Under Gail Simone’s Pen With Birds Of Prey: Of Like Minds!

The Good: Great “voice” for the characters, Interesting characters, Generally good artwork
The Bad: Utterly mediocre plot
The Basics: Kicking off her run on Birds Of Prey, Gail Simone starts with a banal hostage situation that tests Oracle, Black Canary, and the Huntress in Birds Of Prey: Of Like Minds.

It does not surprise me to learn that Gail Simone, in many ways, put Birds Of Prey on the map, at least in the comic book form. Simone, who first came to my attention when I read Wonder Woman: The Circle (reviewed here!), is a decent writer who has a wonderful voice for writing witty dialogue. Her books tend to have snappy one-liners, quick banter and generally interesting characters who seem to either defy or comment upon many of the established conventions of super hero comic books. So, being a fan of Simone’s work on Wonder Woman and Birds Of Prey, it was something of a delight for me to go back to the beginning of her tenure on Birds Of Prey to see how she made her female superhero team famous. The book she started with was Birds Of Prey: Of Like Minds.

Birds Of Prey: Of Like Minds is an utterly unremarkable trade paperback anthology that is only saved from a pure “average” rating by the level of dialogue in it. Sure, it is hard to go wrong with a team of women who look like they just stepped off a model shoot running around in tight outfits that leave little to the imagination (or rolling around with a pretty sexy brain and great hair!), but Gail Simone makes sure that the team is more than just an assembly of token women. From her first lines in the pages of Birds Of Prey: Of Like Minds, the Birds Of Prey – Oracle’s superhero team – are cool.

On assignment from the Oracle, Black Canary puts the fear of meta-humans back into one Andrew Fisher, a corrupt businessman who is about to drain his employee’s pension funds and go on the run. It appears Black Canary is too good at her job as evidence quickly comes to Oracle’s attention that he is going to kill himself. Black Canary is dispatched to save his life, but quickly finds herself in a trap laid by Savant and his thug, Creote. Her legs broken, Dinah Lance is tied to a bed and tormented for the identity of the Oracle. Unwilling to let her field agent be so tortured, Barbara Gordon calls in the Huntress to recover Black Canary.

Following the incident with Savant and Creote, the Oracle is forced to rely upon the Huntress again as Black Canary is out of commission with her broken legs. As Dinah recovers from her injuries and begins to learn more of the technical skills needed to keep her alive in the fights to come, the Huntress impersonates Black Canary to meet with a corrupt Senator who wants files he believes that the Oracle took from Savant.

Birds Of Prey: Of Like Minds established the essential Birds Of Prey team for the bulk of Simone’s tenure on the book: Oracle, Black Canary and the Huntress. It also takes the time to develop the villainous Savant, a blackmailer who recurs several times and who becomes important for the character arc of Dinah Lance. Oracle is characterized by excessive compassion and a leadership flaw that makes her exceptionally vulnerable. In Birds Of Prey: Of Like Minds, the Oracle is characterized as exceptionally intelligent, but also dangerously attached to her field operatives. She becomes vulnerable based on the idea that she is unwilling to let one of her team die, even for the sake of protecting her secrets and the mission.

Interestingly, Birds Of Prey: Of Like Minds also creates a moral code for Dinah Lance that will take years and books to be seriously challenged. Simone takes the time to have Lance draw her line in the sand: she will not kill. What The Huntress’s limits are in this regard are less clear – Simone writes her as a smartass ass-kicker who wields a crossbow and it seems hard to believe that with such a weapon one is always aiming just to incapacitate. Moreover, when one uses a motorcycle as a weapon, they clearly are not overly concerned with the lives of the people in the car they are using the motorcycle against. Birds Of Prey: Of Like Minds is a good establishing book that works on that front quite well.

Similarly, Birds Of Prey: Of Like Minds also takes the time to reasonably establish the adversaries for this title. By the end of the book, Savant’s essential weakness – an inability to distinguish the passage of time in a meaningful way – is not only exposed, but effectively exploited by the Oracle. As well, Creote’s quiet love for his partner is established and observed by both Black Canary and the Huntress. Gail Simone starts her tenure by painting a pretty colorful canvas and knowing where it goes, Birds Of Prey: Of Like Minds is a worthwhile starting point and necessary to understanding the full depth of the stories that follow.

The artwork in Birds Of Prey: Of Like Minds is generally good. The colors are vibrant and the sense of movement Is good in the panels and between the panels. The only real gripe I have on the artwork front is that it is occasionally inconsistent. For example, when Dinah and Barbara are gushing over food they are eating, when Black Canary falls down, she takes on the sudden appearance of being an animated character. Something about her eyes and the proportions make her look more like a characters from Archie Comics as opposed to Birds Of Prey.

Even so, Birds Of Prey: Of Like Minds is a fast read with good establishment of interesting characters who talk like smart geeks do. It is the essential starting place for those who want to start what might well be the Golden Age of Birds Of Prey.

For other Birds Of Prey books, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Black Canary/Oracle/The Huntress: Birds Of Prey
Between Dark And Dawn
Perfect Pitch
Blood And Circuits
Dead Of Winter
Metropolis Or Dust
Club Kids
Platinum Flats
End Run


For other book reviews, be sure to check out my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the book reviews I have written!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |

No comments:

Post a Comment