Birds of Prey: Club Kids

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I really love a good, old-fashioned all-girls kick-butt comic.  I was sad to see that Gail Simone didn’t write the issues collected in this trade, but it turns out Tony Bedard did the characters proud, continuing their stories in a believable and fairly awesome light.

There aren’t really any central storylines that tie these issues together, per se.  One could argue the whole “death of the new gods” storyline is the most common thread here, but even that isn’t really alluded to in every issue. Instead, what we have here are solid, albeit slightly self-contained, Birds of Brey arcs.

The first that grabbed my attention was issue # 111 titled “Nerds of Prey”,  in which we see Oracle squaring off against the Calculator.  Both attend an event where they’re hoping to hack into a company’s database to retrieve sensitive information about the identity of Oracle. Calculator is preoccupied with learning who she is, while Oracle, for obvious reasons, wants to destroy that record.  It was fun seeing Oracle out in the field, as we tend to see her plopped behind a computer, doing research and issuing commands.  She even comes face to face with Calculator and his henchman Hellhound, yet neither believes that the woman in front of them might be Oracle herself.

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I enjoyed Calculator’s offhand comment here, because it shows an inherent prejudice that is likely held by many: a strong, physically domineering person couldn’t possibly be the brains behind Oracle; that role would no doubt be filled by someone who has never engaged in a fight in their lives.  I love that Oracle has the combat background, making her dangerous both with a computer and without.  Calculator and Hellhound toss aside the idea that Barbara might be Oracle, and that single misstep costs them their answers.

The comic progresses, referencing events that take place outside of the Birds of Prey comic. They mention Death of the New Gods, primarily the death of Barda, as she was a Bird of Prey.  The team deals with their grief in their own way, but none with as much panache as Lady Blackhawk, who drives cross-country to honor her fallen friend and pin a photo of them up on the wall of a bar, in memory of her service in battle.

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Birds of Prey gave a better send-off to Barda than the comic in which she actually died, and I was happy to see that at least somebody seemed upset by Barda’s passing. While The Death of the New Gods practically glossed over this event, Birds of Prey gives it the time it deserves while still allowing an exciting action story to unfold on the page.

One aspect of the comic I didn’t enjoy was the deeper evolution of the Dark Side Club, along with all of its inhabitants.

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Mistah J assures me that this is merely a stepping stone towards a different explanation in the overall story, but having only read this trade I can safely say I’m not a fan of the “reimagined” new gods right now. It feels like they’ve simply been updated to be more edgy and “hip”, but it just makes me long for the old new gods. (Also, given that the only new gods we’ve seen so far have been the bad guys, and given that each and every one is black, it just feels like this is a step in the wrong direction towards bringing racial diversity into the comics. But, that’s a whole separate discussion for another post).

I thought this was a pretty strong trade overall, with plenty of butt-kicking action to hold my interest.  I really want to track down copies of the previous trades in the series, because an all-girl superhero team is definitely right up my alley, and everything I’ve read of Birds of Prey so far has been really good.  I’m hoping this quality continues as I move along “the shelf”; I need more women superhero badasses in my life. But then, don’t we all?

-Jess

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Birds of Prey: Between Dark & Dawn

It’s really sad when I don’t get to follow a story from the beginning. This is the third trade in Gail Simone’s run on Birds of Prey, so I’m currently missing the storylines that preceeded it.  Given how much fun this trade was to read, I really wish I had gotten to begin at the beginning.  Mistah J has a birthday coming up… would it be wrong to go through his collection and buy all the comics that I want to read that he’s currently missing?  Good girlfriend or bad girlfriend? I’m torn on that one.

Anyway, mercifully this trade opens with the start of a new story, as well as a quick summation of what had gone on in past stories to catch the reader up to speed (an annoying inclusion when you’ve read an entire comic from the start, but a necessary lifeline when you’ve missed out on some issues).  The focus of these issues is on Oracle, Black Canary, and Huntress.  There are appearances by other characters as well, but these three seem to make up the foundation of the comic at this point.  Luckily, those are three extremely well-honed characters on whose shoulders to rest a comic.

The stories collected here are interesting and engaging.  The bulk of the trade focuses on the team trying to figure out who’s behind a cultish group in Oregon that has seemingly kidnapped a large number of children, and who worship meta-humans.  As Huntress is away battling Vixen at the compound, Oracle and Black Canary are back in Gotham, trying to solve the mystery on their end.

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Brainiac is revealed as the…brains behind the operation (couldn’t help myself) and decides that Oracle would be the perfect vessel through which to regain a physcial form.  He enters her body and gains control of her mind but, he seems to have vastly underestimated who he is dealing with.

That is the brilliance of this comic.  The women in these stories are strong-willed, tough individuals, none more-so than Barbara Gordan.  Barbara, a long-time staple in Batman comics, is written so deftly here that she feels like a fully developed character with her own weaknesses and insecurities, while never actually appearing weak.

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Barbara’s knowledge of exactly who she is and what she stands for is unshakable in this comic, and her resolve to do what’s right and remain unflinching in her quest for justice rivals that of the most well-known superheroes in the world.

The heart behind these characters is what drives the stories.  Huntress questions whether she can be accepted by the rest of the group; Black Canary struggles to forgive a man who caused her unimaginable pain; and Oracle must deal with the destruction of her tower, the place she grew to think of as home.  The women come together in a time of crisis, supporting one another and being there for each other in a way not often expressed so overtly among male heroes.

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These women are compassionate and understanding, and openly accept the need for time to process a disastrous event.

That being said, they never appear weak-willed.  Oracle embraces her pain; she doesn’t shy away from it.  However, she deals with it quickly, and soon it’s back to business as usual, with all of the flare and panache we would expect from any other superhero.

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Barbara’s badass, plain and simple. I know it’s nothing new at this point, but I still love that she’s a handicapped woman who is a superhero in her own right.  She may not be flying over rooftops or busting into buildings, but she brings some serious knowledge and skill to the table, and is arguably one of the most invaluable resources the superhero world has.

I really loved reading this comic, and Gail Simone has a real knack for writing kick-ass female characters who are incredibly self-aware without seeming cliche.  She strikes the perfect balance between badass and feminine, because why do those two traits need to be kept separate?  I definitely want to hunt down the other trades in her run, and can only hope there are future Birds of Prey stories awaiting me on “the shelf”.

If not, I know what Mistah J’s getting for his birthday.

-Jess