Or – “Sometimes You Use Your Brain… Other Times, A Called Shot To The Spleen.”

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There are a few characters in the DC Universe that everyone agrees you shouldn’t anger. Starfire. Batman. The Martian Manhunter. But, in my opinion, the most impressive displays of wrath have come from those whose tempers are less feared, but no less formidable. Recall the moment where Superman awoke and said that single word to Mongul: “Burn.” Or the moment where Buddy Baker found the man who killed his family. I can now add to those fearsome displays the moment where Babs Gordon shook off the influence of Spy Smasher’s intimidation tactics and decided to fight for her friends…

Previously, on Birds of Prey: For eight months now, Katarina Armstrong, the current holder of the title Spy Smasher, has been flaunting her muscle, using her government BP1.jpginfluence and less-than-sparkling demeanor to manipulate the Birds of Prey. Taking over mission control, Spy Smasher sent the BoP into Russia on what seemed at first like a senseless mission, but somehow morphed into a rescue for long-lost JLAer Ice. Her age-old feud with Barbara Gordon had given Spy Smasher a psychological edge, forcing the former Batgirl to bend to her will out of leftover fear. But last issue, when Armstrong callously fired Lady Blackhawk, the quiet heart of the operation, Barbara realized that her fears were affecting her friends, and that it was time for a change. No matter how many government clearances she has, no matter how many missions she’s run, there is nothing in Katarina’s philosophy that can prepare her for the fury of a Batgirl scorned. The issue begins with The Secret Six, still at large in Russia, stumbling their way to their escape vehicle, as Catman opines that they’ve lost their “sex appeal. He finds a hidden note on his belt from Huntress, telling him that when he gets his act together, she might be willing to give him another “dance lesson.” Oracle, too, has a message for the renegades…

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Hee. I love the Secret Six, and I’m sad to see Harley go (though if you’ve been reading Stephen’s Countdown reviews, you knew to whence she has gone.) As Spy Smasher’s plane leaves Russian airspace, she hollers back into the cabin, ordering Manhunter and Huntress to come forward and explain what they’re whispering about. “Front and center! Both of you…” Helena Bertinelli, the current bearer of the mantle of Huntress, may not be the daughter of Batman, but she’s still not going to take any static off the green-suited b!+@# on wheels.

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Katarina gets nothing but cold stares from ‘Hunter and Huntress, and starts again, “Look, if you’re going to work for me–” “We DON’T work for you,” snarls the Huntress, and Spy Smasher actually stops, apparently intimidated by Huntress, and tries a little sugar. “I’m sorry, all right? I’m used to a chain of command. You’ll get used to it, too.” Huntress doesn’t find this tack any more impressive and tells her again that they don’t work for her, but Spy Smasher believes it’s fait accompli, that Oracle has buckled permanently. “No point in conducting a takeover, if the key assets aren’t included.” They return to America, and arrange to get Ice to Checkmate, and her old friend Fire, then return to Barbara’s headquarters. Oracle has gotten Lady Blackhawk a ride home, and is ready to sew up the last thread of this slobberknocker of a mission. “I’m about to face a woman I’ve been scared of since I was seventeen years old. I have a message for her… ‘I’m not afraid anymore, Katarina.’ ” When Spy Smasher walks in, she is surprised to see Manhunter and the Huntress take up the classic “prison guard” positions at her sides… “What’s going on here?” Armstrong asks.

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“I think the correct term is ‘differently abled,’ ” replies Manhunter, and SHOOTS Spy Smasher in the leg with her energy staff. “Fascist loudmouth.” Huntress quickly grabs ‘Smasher’s sidearms, smiling “You WANTED the ruthless agents, right?” Now hobbled, Katarina stumbles to her one good leg and prepares to fight Oracle. Barbara moves before she can even think about attacking, and nails her with a shot to the gut (seen way up above) thinking to herself, “Spy Smasher? Meet BATGIRL.” A quick uppercut knocks SS on her butt, but she quickly returns for an Oracle-predicted frontal assult, knocking Barbara out of her chair, going straight for the face with two quick punches. She pins Gordon down, strangling her, and grunting “Prison, if you live, Barbara.” No longer playing Miss Nice Batgirl, Babs strikes hard at the leg wound, then again, elbowing her in the face for good measure. “Don’t you DARE pass out on me yet!” Oracle is REALLY scary in this sequence, punching repeatedly, regaining the upper hand and striking…

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Finally knocked those silly sunglasses right off her face, too. Spy Smasher is barely able to crawl out the door, thinking that the battle is won (rather cowardly, if you ask me, especially given her snotty remarks about “fighting a cripple”) but when the doors open, she finds that perhaps her victory isn’t as clear-cut as she thought. She wanted operatives? She gets her operatives, but I’ll guaran-damn-tee you that not a single one of them is going to listen to her “Chain of Command” bull$#!+. It’s an awesome FIVE PAGE spread, showing why it’s good to have friends (click for the larger image.)

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You’re looking at the leaders of the Justice Society of America and the Outsiders, the man who taught Batman how to fight, a frickin’ KRYPTONIAN (Earth-2 variety), at least three raging psychos, a man who can synthesize any element and change his shape, a woman who channels the entire power of the animal kingdom, six of the deadliest weapons known to the DCU (in the hands of their expert users,) five former Justice Leaguers, four non-superhumans who can nonetheless kill you with their little fingers, three aliens, two Green Arrows, the most powerful of Darkseid’s Female Fury shock-troopers, the most dangerous assassin in the known universe and a Texan who fought in Dubya-Dubya-bygawd-Two. Suddenly, a six-foot blonde with a matched pair of forty-fives doesn’t seem all that tough, does she? It should also be noted that virtually every single person to go on a mission as one of Barbara’s Birds of Prey is present, with one very NOTABLE exception… but what good is a gathering of old friends without your very best buddy, hmm?

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First time I read that, I though Spy Smasher had peed herself, rather than unconsciously grabbing for her missing pistols. It’s still a good scene, but I think it’d be even funnier MY way. “The guns’re gone, Spy Smasher, just like you.” Black Canary puts an arm around Katarina, conspiratorially, as though they were old friends. “Oracle’s my friend, Ms. Armstrong. I want you to understand exactly what that entails,” purrs Dinah. Spy Smasher weakly starts to bluster about all the things she could do to them, but Canary continues, smooth as silk. “Oh, you could do a lot of things, I’m sure. But you won’t. You’ll forget you ever heard of my good good friend. Or, I swear, even if it should mean life in a federal penitentiary.. I will UNDO you, Ms. Armstrong. Starting with the little bones at your ankles.” Black Canary smiles the sweetest and most threateningly beautiful smile known to man, and shuffles ‘Smasher into the waiting helicopter. “You take care now, hear?” It’s a gorgeous moment, one that completely had me cheering and jealous of how effortless and perfect the scene came off. “I’ve got the best friends ever,” Oracle remarks, as she tells them to send the troops home. When the smoke clears, only Huntress, Black Canary and Lady Blackhawk, the core of the BoP for so many issues, remain, laughing and talking about old times.

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“…but Zinda and I have a little errand we have to run.” When Spy Smasher originally entered, before the nose-breaking free-for-all, she said that she had a gift for Barbara, and a gift it was. A file, thin enough to belong to a teenage girl with no record, no arrests, nothing but a home address. A burned out building in the worst slum in Metropolis, last known residence of the girl Babs knows as Misfit. Suddenly, the teleporting teen appears at her side, sniffling, “I bet you’re mad at me now, huh?” It’s pretty sweet, actually, as Barbara assures her she’s not mad, and asks what happened. “Are you homeless right now?” Misfit pauses, and replies, “A little bit, maybe.”

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Barbara thinks, “I wanted to help people. People who NEEDED help. Starting with ME.” Misfit starts to tear up, thinking that she’s lost the last chance she’ll ever have at a family, and it really gets me, making me tear up a little, too. Oracle asks her name, and gets it, then asks the important question. “You think you can learn to follow my instructions?” “Ummm… probably not?” says the teen adorably, and it’s official: Gail Simone is absolutely awesome. I would pay to read this woman’s work if she was writing ‘Youngblood: Bloodforce of Blood’ with a drunken Rob Liefeld on pencils and inking by a homeless drifter named Manny who kinda smells like bait. “I’m not Spy Smasher,” thinks Barbara. “It’s not about fear. It’s not about control…”

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And that, as they say, is that. The end of an era. Gail Simone’s run on Birds of Prey ends with a lovely moment, with the main character reaffirming herself and her mission, after having been forced to kick the living crap out of a woman who very richly deserved it. Maybe it ain’t Ghandi, but it makes for some good comics. I’m saddened to lose Gail here, but I have to balance it with the realization that maybe Wonder Woman will start to make more sense than it has…

Honestlyl, though, you don’t get much better than this, folks. Interpersonal conflict, a clearly delineated main character, a little bit of the old ultra-violence, even guest appearances by the people who make Barbara Gordon’s life interesting. Having Black Canary return for Chinese food and dancing made me very happy, and I was glad to see that the loss of Lady Blackhawk was only temporary. Zinda is a treasure, and her moments, though few and far between, are worth the wait. There were at least three “Hell, YEAH!” moments for me, and the art by Nicola Scott was just plain ol’ beautiful. As Swan Songs go, you can’t get much better than this, and it’s a fitting ending for Gail’s run on the book that finally became more than just the “all-girl” Bat-title. 5 out of 5 stars, and a big thank you to Gail (and all the other creators over the last however many issues) for a wonderful run of issues… It’s been consistently awesome, finally giving once-maligned characters some well-deserved respect.

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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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10 Comments

  1. really?
    July 21, 2007 at 11:26 am — Reply

    5 stars? That was the sappiest, corniest comic in the last 20 years…

  2. July 21, 2007 at 2:00 pm — Reply

    You say tomato, I say “well-done story with great dialogue, wonderful character work capping off an excellent run.” The Spoilers scale is, like every single other tool of rating and/or critique, inherently subjective in nature.

    I honestly don’t see how the former Batgirl pummeling a woman bloody is either sappy or corny…

  3. Stephen
    July 21, 2007 at 2:11 pm — Reply

    I loved the issue, it certainly was the best way to end a major run and arc. Kudos to Simone 5 Stars for sure.

  4. July 21, 2007 at 4:37 pm — Reply

    All the art looks amazingly cute, spesh that last pic of Zinda…

  5. Hiya
    July 21, 2007 at 6:02 pm — Reply

    That’s a nice spread but for the life of me I can’t recognize these guys: the masked man (at the right of Nightwing), the blonde with a white costume and the redhead (that’s not Grace Choi, nor Cyclone?) next to Judomaster and Misfit?

  6. July 21, 2007 at 10:08 pm — Reply

    I also can’t identify the masked guy (though I wonder if he’s not the Guy Gardner clone?) or the blonde in silver, but the redhead is Rose Forrest, from the recent “Rose and Thorn” limited series.

  7. Hiya
    July 22, 2007 at 5:10 pm — Reply

    There is an interesting thread at comicbloc.com, in the Gail Simone sub-forum. They’re discussing the spread and the supposed sappiness of the issue, amongst other things.

    http://www.comicbloc.com/forums/showthread.php?t=52599

    I couldn’t put a name on Militia (the masked man) and Honey (the blonde). They worked for Oracle in an old issue, when Dixon was on the book. And it seems you’re right about Rose (Rhosyn Forrest). I thought I had never heard of her, but she battled the 1000 in the Booster Gold miniseries errr… 20 years ago. She was creative director at Goldstar, Inc. As of late, she is employed at Dinah Lance’s flower shop. Awesome! :-D

  8. July 23, 2007 at 1:59 am — Reply

    ‘Nuther thing: judging by Ragdoll’s inquiry of the nature of Oracle’s voice, yout hink Harley quit because she didn’t want to get entangled with the Daughter of the Woman who got shot by her boyfriend?

  9. The Enigma
    July 26, 2007 at 11:22 pm — Reply

    Oracle’s identity isn’t public knowledge, is it?

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