Or – “How Much Does A Life-Sized Painting Of A Woman COST?”

reviewbubble.jpgbp2.jpgGenerally speaking, real people don’t ever worry about something as nebulous as “diversity.” As I travel through the universe, trying to get to the bank on time, working a 55 hour week, balance parenting with acting like a child, and occasionally let loose my million monkeys to type these here reviews, I seldom worry about whether, statistically speaking, women are sufficiently represented in the boardroom. DC has recently made great strides in populating their titles with more than just squared-jawed, dark-haired men in their early thirties, but I can’t help but point out that this tidal wave was preceded by Birds of Prey mainstays Dinah and Barbara over a decade ago. I can’t think of any other books circa 1996 that have reached the 100 mark… Anybody got one that I missed?

Oh, and, by the way, what’s actually happening IN THE BOOK?

Well, strangely, we start in Tokyo, with Doctor Kimiyo Hoshi (perhaps better known as the non-degenerate Doctor Light). Kimiyo has recieved a mysterious bouquet and a letter from the mysterious “Oracle,” indicating that she (and simultaneously, nearly every other female hero in the DCU, including Skyrocket, Madame Xanadu, and possibly The Fallen Angel) is being offered a position as a Bird of Prey. With Black Canary gone, Barbara “Oracle” Gordon has taken the opportunity to revamp her operations, to expand their mission and clarify their mission statement. With her faithful attache, Lady Blackhawk, Oracle has gone global…

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That’s an awesome image, but it kinda puzzles me. I have to presume those are holographic displays, as actual glass would be incredibly expensive and difficult to use. And when I had full-length pictures of all the women I knew hanging in my house, it was deemed “disturbing,” assuming you believe the fine print in the restraining order. Bygones… In any case, with a display featuring nearly every female superhuman extant (a few of them beyond even MY recall), Barbara is now able to custom-fit a team for any mission. In a way, it reminds me pleasantly of “Codename: Danger,” a short-lived title from Lodestone Comics back in the 80’s, where every issue began with the main character selecting his team from a bank of screens. “Danger” didn’t have a hot blonde in a paramilitary mini-skirt, though, so advantage: BoP. What’s the mission this time? The dispensation of a young lady named Tabby Brennan, illegally held in a Mexican prison on trumped-up drug charges. Kate Spencer (aka Manhunter, a character whose appearance got an audible cheer out of me) arrives to act as her counsel. Unfortunately, the natives are a little restless.

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That woman is HUGE… which is actually a little bit of a hint. Seems that the prison guards aren’t expecting a superhuman, so they’re taken by surprise when the enormous prisoner rips open the bars of Tabby’s cell, seemingly to get at Ms. Spencer. But Katie clocks the guard with her briefcase, and the crazy woman smiles and introduces herself. “I am Barda.” An audible cheer can be heard from the peanut gallery at THAT line, cause we have ourselves a Mr. Kirby creation in the house, ladies and germs. Meanwhile, the tower snipers are relieved a few hours early (of both duty AND consciousness) as The Huntress and a new female Judomaster take over their stations. Barda and Kate are stunned when a super-strong (and super-dumb) guard arrives, and knocks the hottest babe on New Genesis through the prison wall. Kate tells young Tabby to knock her out, and run like hell, which the girl does. Plausible deniability for Manhunter, who is using her real identity, here. As Tabby escapes, the warden radios his snipers to take out the escaping prisoner, but there’s nobody home but Helena the Huntress.

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Wow. Kinda of undermines the whole point of busting her out, doesn’t it? Judomaster, Huntress and Big Barda take off as Oracle detonates an ENTIRE PARKING LOT full of cars as a diversion. Let it not be said that Barbara doesn’t know how to play big. They retrieve Tabby’s seemingly lifeless body from the desert, and Lady Blackhawk’s helicopter does the rest. Best line of the issue? “My brains are all over me! My god, I’m dying!!” Um? Tabby? If you actually had brains hidden in your Paris Hilton-esque dome, you’d realize that a shot to the temple should be doing more than inspire a whining fit. Manhunter’s contribution worked, sticking an explosive squib in the girl’s hair to simulate a shot in the brain, and Huntress played through perfectly. Tabby is reunited with her daddy, who hired Oracle in the first place, but as O. Henry and Rod Serling will tell you, any good drama does the unexpected.

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Nice… Play both sides against the middle, and nobody loses but the mob. As the Birds make their way home successfully, we cut to the Pentagon, where we find that the gub’mint is done turning a blind eye to the legends of Oracle. They’ve brought in the most special of special agents, the one woman who is qualified to take down someone as skilled and brilliant as Oracle… a woman whose very family history is steeped in the legends and lore of counter-intelligence.

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Call her… Spy Smasher. Female versions of established characters (Well, somewhat established… Here’s the scoop on Spy Smasher, one of Fawcett Comics’ less recalled fellers) are de rigeur these days, after all. Can’t wait for the debut of L’il Miss Punisher… This doesn’t bode well for Barbara, but it makes me jump up and down with glee. Finally, we get someone who is a match for Oracle, as well as a whole new angle for the Birds.

The “Charlie’s Angels” aspect of the new setup is intriguing, as well as the use of lesser known DC propertie like Judomaster, Spy Smasher, and Big Barda. New artist Nicola Scott is awesome, with characters that look like real people while keeping the superheroic aspects intact. She also draws a mean fight scene, if Big Barda Vs. Big Stupid Guy is any indication. I also applaud Manhunter’s inclusion in the book. Any higher profile for her is a good thing, as her title is an under-appreciated gem, and I’m liking the additional facetime for Zinda Blake, Lady Blackhawk. There just aren’t enough blonde cowgirl WWII veteran pilots around anymore, and that costume is one of the truly perfect moments of the Silver Age. The first half of the book earns an impressive four star rating.

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But, wait! There’s more! A bonus tale of the Black Canary and her adoptive daughter Sin, dealing with their change of scenery. Dinah has decided that they need a fresh new start, taking only those items of value. Sin decides that she wants the Captain Carrot and Yankee Poodle drinking glasses, and Dinah explains how not EVERYTHING shiny is valuable. She’s obviously never tried to buy superhero glasses on the secondary market. I still can’t find Aquaman, Supergirl, and Starman for less then three hours pay…

Anyway, Sin finds a “World’s Greatest Mom” mug, and decides it must be a valuable trophy, since it IS an award and all. Have to say, I like this kid. Dinah remembers that the mug belonged to her mom, the original Black Canary, and Wayne and Garth slide through with the “DoodleOodleOot! DoodleOodleOot!” Seems when Dinah was only a little Canary, Mama had a tendency to disappear into costume, sometimes for days. She misses young Dinah’s recital, and teenage angst raises it’s head.

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This is where the story starts to go south for me… Sin and Dinah go through the apartment, finding different keepsake items and explaining the story behind them. We see her training with Wildcat, yet another first meeting with Green Arrow (this is five, by my count), and it all feels a little bit forced. It’s pretty to look at, though, including the page where we ruminate about the other core Birds of Prey…

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See what I mean about the Lady Blackhawk suit? Incredibly cool… The non-story trickles out with a not-really-funny one-liner about Green Arrow’s beard, and I realize for the first time it’s not written by main story writer Gail Simone. As a jumping-on point, a little bit of a showcase, it’s not bad. It just seems to meander, and sets up several bits of tension that the story doesn’t have time to resolve. Dinah’s confrontation with her mother is especially hard to take, making the elder Canary seem like yet another neglectful superhero parent.

It serves it’s purpose as a BoP primer, but it’s all kind of “meh.” Tony Bedard isn’t a bad writer, but I sometimes find his characters lacking depth, and I’m enamored enough of Gail’s Black Canary “voice” that his take leaves me a little bit cold. Second feature earns itself two and a half stars, a competent story without much zing.

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When we average the composite score, ignoring the Russian judge, and divide by the square root of Batman’s hat size, Birds of Prey issue #100 earns a never-before-seen 3.25 stars. What? It’s an anniversary, I can break the rules if I want to, thank you very much. Just, let’s nobody tell Stephen, alright?

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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1 Comment

  1. December 13, 2006 at 8:45 am — Reply

    3.25 Stars! Why didn’t anyone tell me!!!! LOL
    Great review. i actually liked the Black Canary/Sin back up story as it shows the mother daughter relationship beginning.

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