Monday, July 24, 2017

'Batgirl,’ ‘Birds of Prey’ trade paperback reviews

I’ve been on a bit of a coincidental Batgirl/Birds of Prey run lately. I certainly can’t be the only fan who decides to dig into another comic book, TV series or movie because I’m inspired by something I read or watched on the same subject.

So that means you’ll get more Batgirl and Birds of Prey reviews here on Cary’s Comics Craze. That’s fitting as CCC has been on a girl power tear, given my three-part exclusive interview with cosplayer Victoria Ikerd (aka “Wonder Woman Is real”), whose real-life work advocating for children in court is inspiring.

In addition to the two following reviews of BATGIRL and BIRDS OF PREY trade paperbacks (the last of my Batman-related reviews of the DC Comics Rebirth continuity), in the coming days I will post a review of the only season of the enjoyable “Birds of Prey” TV series and the humorous, web-based “Gotham Girls” animated series.

And now that I finally have started watching Season 1 of “Supergirl” — having bought the DVD set months and months ago — CCC will be very DC- and female superhero-centric for a while longer.

But first, as promised…

BATGIRL AND THE BIRDS OF PREY: WHO IS ORACLE?:

Having read the “eh” BATGIRL: BEYOND BURNSIDE trade (reviewed after this) right before reading this BoP, I was skeptical. But I was pleased to say I really enjoyed this story by Julie Benson and Shawna Benson. In short, the first six issues of BATGIRL AND THE BIRDS OF PREY are fun to read and fans of the original BoP series will be glad to know Batgirl, Black Canary and Huntress are working together again.

The most ringing endorsements I can give the Rebirth BoP are: 1) It’s right up there with BATMAN: DETECTIVE COMICS - RISE OF THE BATMEN (which I recently rave about in my review); 2) WHO IS ORACLE? and RISE are by far the most enjoyable DC Rebirth stories in the Batman family series of titles I’ve read; 3) ORACLE reminds me of the best BIRDS OF PREY stories from Gail Simone and maybe most impressive, if you know my hesitancy in investing in new comics, 4) I’d consider buying this trade and RISE OF THE BATMEN if I find them at a super-cheap price at a comic book convention.

If you’ve read DC titles for years, there’s a refreshing stability in the Rebirth version of BIRDS OF PREY. Barbara Gordon’s backstory is unchanged and her costume remains the same from when Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr rebooted BATGIRL after Simone’s highly recommended run.

The only tweaks are Babs (Gordon, that is!) is running the Gordon Clean Energy business and it’s more intentionally clear her days of being Oracle are part of her history. Black Canary is a young woman, as she was in the final months of the New 52, and recently stopped being a rock singer. (Weird, right?) Now, she’s just much snarkier and funnier than I remember.

The Bensons treat this Birds of Prey team-up as a shared past of Batgirl and Black Canary. They had been working together before, but seemingly only as a duo, and it has been a while since that happened. When Babs discovers there’s someone out there using her previous Oracle identity (Canary calls the person “Fauxoacle”), she recruits BC to “get the band back together,” which takes very little convincing since Black Canary is loyal to Batgirl.

Into this situation comes Huntress, the third member of the Birds of Prey in the pre-New 52 days.

Just as it was then, Huntress is Helena Bertinelli and she’s out for revenge against the Gotham City mobsters who killed her family (or as she says, for their “past sins”). Now Huntress is much more bloodthirsty and is a decidedly solo vigilante.

This is the first time she has met Batgirl and Black Canary. The trio realize they essentially are on the same trail. Huntress grudgingly plays nice with Batgirl and Black Canary to handle the entangled mob connection complicated by the new Oracle. (Spoiler alert: It’s really a young, black teenage boy who, in the words of BC, “has an unhealthy obsession with all things Batgirl,” but unknown to the heroes, he has someone forcing him into their ranks, possibly due to blackmail. This could be an intriguing subplot if the Bensons handle it properly.)

The design of Huntress’ new costume is the most conservative one yet. Gone are the days of Bertinelli showing a lot of leg and just as much cleavage. Her thigh-high boots and purple cape also are things of the past, but Huntress still wields her small crossbow. She covers up now in a costume that is purple and white, with only her upper arms and elbows being revealed. The bottom of her tunic flows into long, tux-like tails — a very cool all-around look.

I’m not a fan of Claire Roe and Roge Antonio’s combined art. Maybe it’s the sketchy, loose anime-stye inking. By the time Antonio is working solo in issue 4, the inking is tighter, the colors are brighter and the entire product works — just as this six-issue run (with a preview) does.

Grade: A-

BATGIRL: BEYOND BURNSIDE:

If you enjoyed Team Stewart’s light, Burnside-based BATGIRL reboot you’ll enjoy this. Otherwise, except for Babs being a fierce fighter, these six issues might leave you cold or wanting, as it did me.

Hope Larson’s story is solid. Babs is on a backpacking getaway vacation in Japan, where she reconnects with childhood friend Kai while she is researching Fruit Bat, a legendary Japanese superheroine from the 1930s. This puts Babs into a relationship with Kai that moves too quickly for my taste. The sparks never truly feel legitimate (one kiss did that, Babs, really?!) and I never trusted or completely warmed up to Kai for some reason.

Babe gets into MMA club-fighting briefly and as Batgirl, soon finds herself on the hunt for Japanese assassins dressed as school girls and someone called The Teacher. (Yes, it’s as weird as it sounds.) The scenario, like Babs’ relationship with Kai, never clicks or makes sense. A one-issue story about a return flight home featuring Poison Ivy is just as bland.

Rafael Albuquerque handles the pencils in all six issues. His art reflects an anime influence (I’m not a fan, obviously!) and I prefer my Batgirl drawn much less quirky.

Grade: C+

That does it for CCC reviewing the Batman family of Rebirth trades. Although I may look into reading Bryan Hitch’s JUSTICE LEAGUE, Greg Rucka’s WONDER WOMAN and possibly SUPERGIRL trades.

As I mentioned at the top of these reviews, be on the look-out for more Birds of Prey coverage.

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