Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Birds of Prey #11 Reviewed

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

Birds of Prey #11

After the 'Death of Oracle' this latest issue, entitled 'Which Reason Knows Not Of', opens in the Chinese district of Gotham City as Huntress - Helena Bertinelli - charges through a busy street market in pursuit of a jewel thief: just an everyday event in Gotham we're reminded!

AS the thief prepares to speed away on a motorcycle Huntress shouts out her final warning ... before drawing her crossbow, letting fire and puncturing a tyre, sending the rider head first over the front wheel and towards to road. To Huntress's surprise, and a little admiration, the thief manages to land on his feet and take off down the street - Huntress does enjoy a chase doesn't she!

Moments later she's tracked her prey down but he's half-way up a fire escape - again, not a problem as another crossbow bolt pierces the man's right foot, certainly slowing him down and giving Huntress chance to catch up.

It seems the individual is part of gang of four guys who have stolen priceless Egyptian antiquities from an exhibition, shot a guard, and took a hostage - and shooting an innocent person and taking hostages crosses the line as far as Huntress is concerned.

Engaging the thief and planting her knee firmly into his stomach Huntress's comms link crackles into life - it's Oracle, or at least Barbara Gordon - advising that the circumstances are about to get worse: the hostage, Mimi Ardrian, the assistant curator at the exhibition bravely volunteered to be taken ... but she suffers from extremely bad health and without her medication - which was left behind - she's in grave danger.

Perhaps distracted - uncharacteristically - by Oracle's news Huntress finds herself in a very precarious situation: with the thief pointing a gun at her as he shakes uncontrollably.

"Careful, Helena".

Before she has time to consider her next move Huntress is surprised to discover that there's a third person atop the building's roof with them - Thomas Blake, also known as Catman.

Lifting the man up off the ground by his jacket Catman demands to know if he has any idea who he's pointing his gun at. Clearly terrified, the mysterious thief/gunman can only apologise - but it's not to Catman's satisfaction as he threatens the throw his opponent off the roof to the street below.

With events unfolding in front of her Huntress remembers a time when she once fell for Catman ... and if circumstances had been very, very different, they may be together now. Gathering her thoughts she points out that the man is needed for information and that throwing him off the building just isn't an option.

Catman doesn't, or won't, listen and makes for the ledge ... and with no other option open to her Huntress once again draws her crossbow and warns him to step back.

Knowing what's good for him he obeys - of course - but not before tossing his captive across the roof into Huntress's arms with a warning of his own: the "lady" wants some answers ... and "watch your damn mouth". Helena can't quite believe what she's seeing and hearing from Blake.

Back at base, a recently-woken Barbara offers to send back-up - and Huntress is in two minds whether she needs it, after all, Catman is trying to help.

At least, she thinks he is.

Now very cooperative the thug explains, with a little help, that while he doesn't know who's making all the decisions he does know that the man who shot the guard is his former Blackgate cell-mate Rickie Lowlife. Realising that they've got all the information they are going to get Catman 'thanks' their informant before turning his focus back to Huntress.

What do I mean by 'focus'? Have you seen this issues cover?

A slap in the face later and both Huntress and Catman are confused - she didn't ask to be swept up in his arms and kissed like that ... and she certainly didn't ask him to stop.

After hearing that he's in town on "business" Huntress enlists Catman's help in tracking down the missing hostage Mimi Ardrian as Oracle updates her about Rickie Lowlife's criminal background.

As our unlikely crime-fighting partners set off to Lowlife's home address our focus switches back to Kord Tower where Barbara is joined at her control by Black Canary - Dinah Lance. Bringing her friend up to date on what's going on across the city - explaining how following a period in Africa Catman turned himself from a "rotund loser" to "Brad Pitt's hotter brother", and alluding to his earlier romance with Huntress - Babs suggests that Dinah keeps her distance from her at the moment: she's not been feeling well and wouldn't want to pass her germs on.

Minutes later, and while pausing for a moment outside of Lowlife's apartment, Catman wonders aloud who Huntress has been communicating with. Doing her best to appear calm Huntress explains that her information is coming directly from her partner - The Canary. Explaining that he's heard about Oracle's death - and Two-face's subsequent celebrations - Catman suggests that he's ready to enter the apartment as Huntress reminds him to be careful - after all, their target is a known "gun nut".

Bursting through a window Lowlife jumps back as his companion, a pregnant woman, sets about attacking Catman - who swiftly deals with her attention in his own, inimitable, way. Distracted by Catman's actions Huntress takes her eyes off Lowlife for just a moment - as the "gun nut" indiscriminately opens fire, hitting Catman and narrowly missing both Huntress and the pregnant woman.

Letting off a bolt from her crossbow Huntress looks on as Catman pins the now injured Lowlife to the apartment wall and demands information about the robbery. Seemingly with tears in his eyes Lowlife explains, as we know, that he served time with one of the gang; another, the man giving orders, is from out of town while the last remaining member of the group is his cousin Markie: and Markie likes to fight so he'll be glad of a visit from Catman and Huntress - besides it was his idea to take a hostage.

Realising that they've got all the information they are going to get Huntress silences Lowlife in *her* own inimitable way before switching her focus onto treating Catman's wound. While wrapping a bandage Huntress asks about her patient's past: he's sorted his life out it seems; it was an accident when he killed his mother ... it was anything but an accident when he killed his father.

Sensing that she's in the company of a kindred spirit Huntress explains that in life some people are very good - "Captain Marvel, Superman" - and some very bad - "The Joker, Luthor" - and in between there's people like them. As she hands him the cross from around her neck and takes off she urges him to get out of that middle ground and to "pick a side".

Later on, thanks to Catman's hunting skills, the pair find themselves outside what appears to be a disused industrial building. After a brief interlude for flirting - and questions about whether Catman really cares about the safety of the kidnapped curator - they kick down a door and rush into the building only to discover Markie stood over the hostage holding a large sword.

As Catman immediately identifies the female hostage, Huntress sets after her captor and knocks him off his feet. With Markie taken care off Catman revives the young woman and frees her from her bonds - and as she comes around and catches sight of her rescuer she starts screaming once again, pleading not to be hurt further.

Realising that all is not as it at first seemed Huntress assures Ms Ardrian that she'll be okay - but no thanks to Catman. Piecing clue after clue Huntress reveals that it's become clear to her that he - Catman, Thomas Blake - was involved in the robbery and kidnapping and while she knows that it's impossible to prove he'd better get far away from her or she won't be held responsible for her actions.

With nothing left to lose Catman finally shows Huntress some honesty, some decency, by telling the truth: he's had a son by a "very bad woman" and his son has been kidnapped but he thinks - just thinks - that he's alive.

Close to tears, and sinking to his knees, Catman pleads for Huntress's help. Gathering Ms Ardrian into her arms and turning towards the door Huntress tells him that he'll need to help himself ... and reminds him to stay away from her.

As the issue closes Thomas Blake is in conversation with a hidden figure - 'his plan was all wrong, too elaborate, time to move on. Besides, she's just a woman and there are plenty more like her out there'.

As his companion's identity is revealed Blake declares that there aren't ... "No, there really aren't".

Let me start out by saying that, in my opinion, this issue features one of the most strikingly beautiful covers, courtesy of the supremely talented Stanley 'Artgerm' Lau, I have seen on any comic for a while - Mr Lau has simultaneously captured a tender, personal moment between Huntress and Catman while tempering that moment with a sense of disregard and distrust - as the pair embrace their weapons are drawn and ready for use: fantastic. With clean lines and featuring tremendous depth the cover is wonderfully coloured: this needs to be published as a poster!

After the potentially game-changing events of the Death of Oracle story-arc it was nice to pick up and read what could be very much considered a one-shot - it's a practice that's working very well on the Batgirl title at the moment as well isn't it? With little or no knowledge of the histories of either Huntress or Catman, or the Birds of Prey themselves for that matter, I'd suggest any reader could pick up this book and thoroughly enjoy it.

I found Gail Simone's story to be well paced, action-packed and yet, at the same time, thought provoking. Catman himself behaved like a man out of control - by his own admission he'd lost his soul - and despite not having a lot of history with the character I did find myself wondering what had driven him to this point in his life. As the issue closed I'd been teased enough by references to his young son that I'd be interested to see that particular story thread expanded upon in future issues.

Furthermore, I found myself wondering just how Catman had got himself mixed up with this gang of 'lowlife' street thugs in the first place - again, I'd enjoy learning a little more about that particular story sometime.

As with my comments about the cover I enjoyed Simone's take on the relationship between Huntress and Catman - the attraction was clearly still there ... and yet at times it was clear that they perhaps didn't even like each another very much.

I enjoyed the obvious visual-ties with the most recent issue of Batgirl - featuring Barbara and Black Canary at Kord Tower studying Rickie Lowlife's case file - and I'm really interested to see where Simone's story is heading with references to Barbara's health - again, as featured in Batgirl: something tells me these references aren't incidental!

As I've said in my review of an earlier issue I've been enjoying learning more about Helena Bertinelli through the pages of Birds of Prey and once again I appreciated the focus on Huntress in this issue.

The interior artwork is some of the finest I've seen since the series relaunch - Pere Perez left an impression on me with his work on Batgirl and he's continued with that onto Birds of Prey. He's got a fantastic ability to capture and portray emotion in his characters - witness the never-far-away sense of rage that seems to surround Catman throughout the book.

What's more, Catman has always struck me as something of a visually uninspiring character - his costume appears quite plain and not particularly eye-catching - and yet Perez does a fine job of making him appear quite an imposing figure without every overlooking his sense of desperation and vulnerability.

With panels that consistently feature fantastic detail without ever, to my eyes, appearing cluttered or confusing and coupled with his imaginative page composition and layout Mr Perez has been a good fit with the Birds of Prey title and I'll be glad to see his work continue.

As always, much credit for the look and feel of the book must go to colourist Nei Ruffino - his work here is simply stunning. Throughout the issue I felt a sense of warmth from the central characters and at the same time a chill from the circumstances they found themselves in and I suspect that's in no small part down to Ruffino's contribution.

In summary, this was an absolutely fantastic read and I'd go as far as to say this issue is quite possibly my favourite of the first eleven in this series: top marks.

Birds of Prey #11
Script by Gail Simone, art by Pere Perez, colours by Nei Ruffino, letters by Carlos M. Mangual, cover by Stanley 'Artgerm' Lau
Published by DC Comics, June 2011