Friday, October 29, 2010

Review: Birds of Prey #5

(This review was originally posted on September 20, at Population GO.)

BIRDS OF PREY #5 "Aftershock"
Written by Gail Simone; art by Alvin Lee, Adriana Melo, Jack Purcell and J.P. Mayer.

In a recent post at 4thletter!, David Brothers asked, “Why do people read Birds of Prey?” It’s a fair question. Since the book re-launched last spring, I’ve been reading it with a mixture of trepidation and frustration. 

For those not familiar with this title, the Birds of Prey team consists of core members Oracle, Huntress, Black Canary and Lady Blackhawk, now joined by the recently resurrected (in Brightest Day) Hawk and his partner, Dove. Immediately after regrouping as a team in the first issue, the Birds have been hit by a non-stop barrage of inter-related problems: a PR nightmare when Black Canary was publicly accused of murder, blackmail from former villains-turned-allies Savant and Creote, attacks from the Gotham police who now consider them outlaws, sneaky manipulation from the Penguin, and a deadly new villain known as White Canary. All these threats reached a climax at the end of the last arc. This issue picks up right where the last one left off, with some of the team members heading to Bangkok to deal with some unfinished business between the Black and White canaries. 

Gail Simone’s writing is sharp – she has a good handle on the characters and a great ear for dialogue. A lot of the plot threads in this story have been picked up from her run on the first volume of the title, and for those of us not familiar with all the back stories, the payoff sometimes feel a little slim, but it’s nothing a few quick Google searches can’t fix. 

The main source of frustration with this book has been the art. Opinions vary on whether Ed Benes is a talented artist or not. I’m inclined to side with those who defend his technical abilities. I think he’s quite capable of drawing a good-looking comic, but unfortunately he has the annoying habit of constantly drawing women in ridiculous poses that serve no purpose other than to emphasize their asses and crotches.

Don’t get me wrong – I understand that comics are all about good-looking people with idealized bodies in sexy outfits. I think sex appeal is part of why most people read comics, whether they are willing to admit it or not. But there’s a fine line between sex appeal and bad taste, and too often, unfortunately, Birds of Prey crosses that line.

Even apart from the excessive cheesecake, the art has suffered on this book since the re-launch. Due to some health problems, Ed Benes has been unable to complete any of the issues except the first one, which has led to some less-than-stellar art from fill-in artists rushing to complete the books. In a word, the art has been spotty at best, and this seems to be the consensus even among fans of the title; in the comments to David Brothers’ post mentioned earlier, most people agreed with his suggestion that fans enjoy Gail Simone’s script, while merely tolerating the art.

With issue #5, Ed Benes has been taken off the title completely and replaced by penciller Alvin Lee. Now I’m not familiar with this guy’s previous work, but I was disappointed to find that (a) he wasn’t able to complete the art on his first issue (Adriana Melo, who helped finish Benes issues, fills in here as well), and (b) the quality of the art has actually decreased significantly with this latest issue (most of the faces look worse than what you would expect from an average amateur fan artist on Deviant Art), and (c) the camel toes, low-angle crotch shots and asses pointing at the camera are as present as ever. Now I really have to question whether Ed Benes really was to blame for all that cheesecake. Are the new artists just continuing in the same tradition for the sake of consistency? Is this an editorial mandate? Or is Gail Simone including specific instructions for these kinds of shots in her scripts? Who knows? 

It’s a bit of a shame, because it gives the impression that DC doesn’t care about the art in this book. Maybe Gail Simone is a big enough name that doesn’t need a grade-A artist attached to sell the book. And in terms of the story, this really is good. I’m excited about where these various characters are headed, especially Creote and Savant, who it seems will now be working more closely with Oracle at the Birds’ headquarters. (Speaking of which, HQ has conveniently moved out of the Bat cave in anticipation for Bruce Wayne’s eminent return.) The first arc was a bit chaotic, but things are starting to fall into place. 

If the art improves over the next few issues, this title has the potential to become one of DC’s strongest. I have enough faith in Gail Simone to keep reading, knowing that on a story level it will probably pay off. For that reason, I recommend the book, in spite of the inconsistent art.


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