Sunday, June 12, 2011

Birds of Prey #13 or, How DC is convincing me to stop buying their monthly books

Birds of Prey #13
Gail Simone (w); Diego Olmos (a); DC

I've bitched and bitched and bitched about the inconsistent art in this series. And when Jesus Saiz, who did the art on the last issue, was announced as the new regular artist, everyone was ecstatic, but I couldn't help but be skeptical about it. I felt like a jerk at the time for raining on everyone's parade, but I just had to ask: "How many issues before we get an unsolicited fill-in artist?" Turns out the answer was: one. One single lousy  issue of 20 pages and the new "regular" artist is already off the book. Couldn't even make it to the end of a two-issue story arc.

Since this is Gail Simone's last issue on the book (the last two issues before the DCU implodes in September will be by a fill-in creative team) we can pretty much consider this the conclusion of this volume. So let's take a look back at the issues that have come out over the past year or so. For each issue, I'm going to list the solicited art team, followed by the actual art team that ended up working on the book.

1. Ed Benes // same
2. Ed Benes, Adriana Melo, Mariah Benes // same
3. Ed Benes // Ed Benes, Adriana Melo, Mariah Benes
4. Ed Benes, Adriana Melo, Mariah Benes // Ed Benes, Adriana Benes, J.P. Mayer
5. Alvin Lee // Alvin Lee, Adriana melo, Jack Purcell, J.P. Mayer
6. Alvin Lee // Alvin Lee, Adriana melo, Jack Purcell, J.P. Mayer
7. Ardian Syaf, Vincente Cifuentes // same
8. Ardian Syaf, Vincente Cifuentes // Guillem March
9. Ardian Syaf, Vincente Cifuentes // Inaki Miranda
10. Inaki Miranda // same
11. Pere Perez // same
12. Jesus Saiz // same
13. Jesus Saiz // Diego Olmos

That's a total of 10 different art teams in only 13 issues. Seven out of 13 issues shipped with a creative team that was different from the solicited one. And five issues included multiple pencillers, meaning different art styles within a single issue.

This is a downright shameful track record. And for me, this completely destroyed any enjoyment I might have gotten out of Gail Simone's remarkable efforts to tell a fucking story.

What happened?! I know that Ed Benes had some health problems around the time that this series started and that's what prevented him from staying on the book. But that doesn't explain what followed. Obviously we can't blame anyone specifically for this because we don't know what happened and probably never will. But in my eyes, this is totally unacceptable.

When I see that Ardian Syaf and Vincente Cifuentes are the announced art team on Batgirl in September, I don't know how anybody can look at those solicits and take them seriously for one minute. Does anybody really believe that these artists are going to stay on the book long enough to complete the first story arc? You'd have to be incredibly naive to think so.

When I picked up this last issue, #13, of which this rant is supposed to be a review, I didn't notice the names on the cover, so when I sat down to read I immediately realized something was off with the art. When I got to the credit page and saw the name, I got so angry I almost threw the comic right in the garbage can. I had to wait another day before I was calm enough to finish reading it.

And what did I think of it? It's fucking mediocre is what I thought. Weak sauce. This is a terrible conclusion to a 13-issue run that couldn't have gone worse if it had been intentionally sabotaged by the editors. Gail Simone does her best and her writing is as sharp as always, but this is ultimately unsatisfying. I couldn't care less about the villain in this two-issue arc. As a middle of the series filler arc, this would have been great. Nice to see The Question guest starring and interacting with Huntress. It's fun. There's a good chance Simone was building to something bigger with this and intended to revisit this plot and tie up loose ends at a later date. But we'll never get that.

As a conclusion? Doesn't work for me. And the schizophrenic art changes between (and sometimes within) issues that have plagued this series have been so distracting that I kind of dropped out of it emotionally at least six issues ago.

These characters deserved a better conclusion. Gail Simone deserved better. And so did her readers.


H├ęctor July 11, 2011 at 8:27 PM  

I have to agree with you about the state of artists in this industry today. I remember, and maybe I am just an old fart, but I remember reading The Flash back in the Day and seeing the same basic style every month, sometimes for years (Carmine Infantino, anyone?) Or the years that George Perez was on New Teen Titans and then Wonder Woman as both writer and artist?

What is going on today that so many artists just can't seem to stick with anything. And let's face it, with some exceptions, many of the writers do the same thing. Is it some kind of bullshit ADD thing? The hipster artists can't sit still long enough to finish ann issue?

But then I look at Invincible, and damn if that isn't a good looking book which has, for some time now, maintained a very good record of keeping the same artist on board, with the occasional break. And Walking Dead, for heaven's sake, how many issues of that has the current artist done, like 75?

Seriously, I understand that comic book artists often have other projects to work on, but if you are going to take the responsibility of a book on, take that responsibility seriously.

Yan Basque July 11, 2011 at 10:58 PM  

There are some artists who are notoriously slow. But not all of this is their fault.

I think we have to cut artists some slack. The art style and level of detail that goes into comics has changed a lot in recent years, and since I'm not an artist myself, I have no idea how much time is reasonable to expect artists to complete that work. But that's why I think editors should have a method in place that allows artists to get a head start on the books, with properly scheduled fill-ins in between major arcs.

I have no problem with occasional fill-ins as long as (a) the quality doesn't go down significantly and (b) they are properly solicited. What I object to is surprise, unannounced fill-ins, or multiple artists in a single issue.

For this kind of snafu, I'm inclined to blame DC editors more than the artists. A lot of it is just poor planning. Ed Benes had health problems, so that wasn't his fault. Those first four issues, DC just hired fill-in artist to help him finish the issues. Alvin Lee, I think, was probably always meant to be a fill-in artist as well, but even he needed help finishing his issues. The Ardian Syaf was solicited for three issues, but at exactly the same time, his workload for Brightest Day increased so they pulled him off of this. Every one else after that was meant as a temporary fill-in, up until Jesus Saiz, who was announced as the new regular artist. But then DC decided to relaunch their entire line, so they pulled him off after only one issue to get a head start on the September books.

In other words, other than Ed Benes' health problems, all the changes are the result of poor planning or editorial interference or conflicting assignments within the same company.

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