Monday, April 4, 2011

Birds of Prey #10 Reviewed

As always, my review of Birds of Prey includes spoilers - if you don't want to know what happens in this issue then please stop reading now!

"The Gristle and the Ghostly", the concluding part in the four-part "The Death of Oracle" story-arc, opens with a fantastic, immediately recognisable, close-up of Helena Bertinelli - Huntress: needless to say she's angry, challenging Calculator to explain his actions after he orders Oracle's aircraft to be shot from the sky.

For once Calculator is a little lost for words, stammering somewhat as he tries to justify his actions. As his men look on Helena senses her captors vulnerability and looks to exploit the situation in her favour.

"You prattling little bean counter" she screams before lashing out, drawing blood as she catches Calculator across the face, again eliciting a less than assured response.

At that point Helena knows that she has her opponent 'on the ropes' and that his less-than-stoic responses are eroding his standing within his own organisation.

Desperate to recover his authority Calculator snatches a weapon from a nearby HIVE agent and directs it at Helena, Zinda Blake - Lady Blackhawk - and Dawn Grainger - Dove.

At this moment Helena realises that the situation can go one of two ways for the members of the Birds of Prey - and she's determined it's going to go in their favour. With only words as her weapon she taunts Calculator about the enormity of their circumstances: "You think killing Oracle ends her influence?" she spits out before elaborating about the support system that Oracle provides to any number of individuals and organisations - all of whom will now be incredibly ticked off by his actions.

Ordering his men that they must never speak of the evenings events Calculator orders his 'right hand man' Current to kill the women and dispose of their bodies. Feeling that their situation is getting way out of hand Dawn - Dove, Avatar of Peace - tells her two friends that when the firing starts they should run for safety while she shields them.

Helena isn't beaten yet however and she continues her verbal assault on Calculator - daring him that if he wants them dead he ought to be the one to pull the trigger - even turning her back to offer him an easier target. Illustrating just how his men were losing confidence in their leader Current says that he agrees with Huntress and, unable to take any more of this impertinence from the Birds or his own men, Calculator raises his weapon, covers the trigger and ... boom!

True to her word at that very moment Dove dives to protect her friends and takes the full force of the impact. Helena and Zinda don't run though as they are, of course, more concerned about their friends condition that their own safety. Relieved that the blast hadn't killed Dove, Helena realises that enough is enough - "... no more playing ...".

At that very moment Mortis grabs Calculators arm and raises herself to her feet. Still in something of a stupor she warns that the Canary - Black Canary - has escaped her enforced unconscious state and that they ought to run - but it's too late as, unnoticed, Black Canary - Dinah Lance – is stood behind them. Enraged by her own treatment and by that of her friends she knocks Calculator off his feet and to the ground.

Missing a tooth, and with blood splattered across his face, Calculator instructs his men to open fire on Black Canary, who at that very moment tumbles away and lets out a 'Canary cry' - "JLA-style". Moments later she's seized by another of Calculator's thugs - Mammoth - who almost immediately is introduced to Hawk - Hank Hall, Avatar of War - who sends out a verbal warning before striking Canary's captor to the ground.

As Calculator realises that the situation has gotten away from him he enlists Current's help in making his exit - only to find Mortis begging to be taken with them.

With the balance of power shifting towards the Birds of Prey Black Canary lets out another of her cries - breaking Helena's handcuffs. With Lady Blackhawk, Black Canary and Hawk slowly getting the better of the opponents Helena races after the van carrying Calculator and Current, grabbing onto the back doors as the vehicle speeds away.

Hawk, meanwhile, explains to Black Canary how he came to be at the scene - referring to his earlier conversation with Oracle - Barbara Gordon - he explains that he asked – convinced even - Babs to allow him to pilot her helicopter to make the plan to stage her own death appear all the more genuine.

Wondering where the assorted HIVE agents were the pair are surprised - and no doubt a little relieved - to discover them bound together: with a Bat-symbol calling-card on display.

"You know, I kinda missed that guy".

Returning to Helena - and with the rear doors of the van blown open a swift blow from the butt of a rifle to the side of Calculators head knocks him temporarily unconscious before she turns the weapon on Current, forcing him to stop the vehicle.

Confronting a now conscious Calculator Helena reminds him that while he may well have killed Oracle today "she has a thousand ghosts" and as the man who killed Oracle he will no doubt find himself the focus of those ghosts attention.

Next day, at locations worldwide, we observe Booster Gold in Moscow, Manhunter in Gotham City and Blue Beetle in El Paso battling with opponents and calling, via their comms units, for Oracle's assistance - calls that go unanswered. Turning to face her visitors - Batman Dick Grayson, Batman Bruce Wayne, Batgirl Stephanie Brown, Red Robin Tim Drake and Misfit Charlie Radcliffe-Gage - Barbara explains that if she wants the world to believe she is dead she can't, as much as she wants to, intervene.

While understanding her position Tim's main surprise is why Cassandra Cain hasn't been brought on board and made aware of what's happening. Babs explains - as only Babs can - that she feels Cassandra has more than enough on her plate at the moment and, in response to a concern from Stephanie, declares that she has faith that the people that previously relied on her support - including Booster Gold, Manhunter and Blue Beetle who we see on the monitor each coming out on top in their own battles - will manage without her.

Elsewhere, elsewhen - across Gotham City, high up on the roof of a city centre building Huntress and Black Canary are on patrol - and the city is, apparently, unusually quiet.
Before they've had time to consider why that might be they are joined by a third person - Catwoman, Selina Kyle - who explains that the city, or at least the criminal elements, are celebrating Oracle's death ... with Calculator the guest of honour.

Explaining that she'd come out to pay her own respects, and feeling that Oracle had been fair to her, Catwoman asks, somewhat mischiefly, whether Oracle is really dead. Keeping up the pretence Black Canary urges Catwoman to be careful with what she says before being reminded that she - Black Canary - is herself still wanted by the authorities and as such is in no position to make threats.

Turning her back, and preparing to take her leave, Catwoman asks if she may make a "small suggestion" to the two women.

"Become better liars".

There we have it - the concluding part in the Death of Oracle. An enjoyable tale for sure - a tale that, for me, never quite had the drama and suspense that the publisher suggested it would but then again I think that as a comic book reader for a while now I've grown used to seeing beyond the marketing, sound bites and hype and setting my own expectations.

Across these last four issues my expectations were most certainly met.

One of the features of Gail Simone's storytelling that I've particularly enjoyed throughout this series is how the apparent central figure - the narrator if you will - changes from storyline to storyline. We've had a run where the story has been told from Oracle's point of view, then another told from Black Canary's perspective and I've appreciated hearing this most recent story largely from Huntress/Helena's perspective.

I think that in the past I've be guilty of underestimating Huntress - I've tended to categorise her as a 'fight now, don't think about it later' sort of character and I've learnt recently that there's more depth to her than that.

In this issue I loved how she slowly, quietly chipped away at Calculator's standing amongst his own men eventually helping them to cross that "line of respect" that ultimately undermined him. Similarly, I enjoyed how it was Huntress who, not once but twice, reminded Calculator that there would be consequences - negative consequences - for him as Oracle's killer - and by the same token I enjoyed his reactions to those reminders.

Throughout my reviews of this series I've commented a number of times that I've personally struggled a little with the fast and frequent 'scene cuts' - cut from location A to location B for a panel then back to A before returning to B ... - and I've noticed in this and the previous issue the trend has been for less of this: it's very much a personal thing but for me this has been a positive.

The closing pages of the issue, where we witnessed Oracle addressing assorted members of the Bat-family, were really well played out I thought. I enjoyed watching Oracle explain her reasons for backing away from helping Booster Gold, Manhunter and Blue Beetle - although I really wasn't comfortable that Babs would hold back and simply watch silently, via the monitors, while her people were struggling in the field.

The issue of Cassandra Cain - and her non-appearance - was very nicely handled I thought: the comment that being part of the 'inner circle' was as much a burden as a privilege did rather have the feel of 'with great power ...' but I also felt it was true and very well played out.

Whether our friend Noctis would agree is anther matter though!

There were several fantastic quotes: most notably "Pound that nail, Huntress", "Sometimes, you need a Huntress" and I did smile at the "I have a purpose" line from Hank Hall.

Really Hank?

With regards to Inaki Miranda's interior artwork I think I could just copy and paste my comments from issue number 9: in a series that has, in my opinion, suffered from a lack of consistency in its artwork, Miranda's is some of the most enjoyable I've seen.

Something I don't think I mentioned previously is just how much I appreciate the range of emotions that Miranda captures in his subjects faces: from the opening page where we see a raging Helena Bertinelli, anger spilling from her mouth and with her eyes on fire through to the subtle, disappointed look of 'what are we going to do now' from Black Canary as she and Huntress realise that, as well as their plan has gone, it hasn't gone well enough to fool Catwoman.

I don't know what's next from Miranda but I certainly look forward to following his work. With Pere Perez - a favourite from his work on Batgirl - scheduled for issue #11 Inaki Miranda has re-raised the Birds of Prey 'artwork bar' I'd say.

Stanley 'Artgerm' Lau provides yet another fantastic cover that works on a number of levels. With Mortis holding up - possibly even about to don the mask of Oracle - I found it immediately eye-catching and by the same token I've found myself idly admiring the detailed, cleverly contrived background featuring the other members of the Birds of Prey, both Batmen, Robin, Red Robin and Batgirl emerging from the distance.

Will this be the start of a new chapter for Barbara Gordon? I think I could very well be. I'm looking forward to seeing how others fill the 'Oracle void' and finding out what the future has in store for Barbara herself.

An enjoyable read – highly recommended.

Birds of Prey #10
Written by Gail Simone, art by Inaki Miranda, colours by Nei Ruffino, letters by Swands, cover by Stanley 'Artgerm' Lau
Published by DC Comics, May