Birds of Prey: Of Like Minds and Sensei and Student

Monday, July 19, 2010


Birds of Prey: Of Like Minds, Birds of Prey: Sensei and Student
Gail Simone, Ed Benes, et. al.  2003-2004, 2004

For the past couple weeks, more than anything else, I've been reading comic books. All kinds of comic books: back issues, new issues, specials, one-shots, and graphic novels.  These two graphic novels collect the beginning of Gail Simone's initial run with Birds of Prey (she recently returned to the relaunched book, but I'm not sold on the new run quite yet.)  Birds of Prey, of course, gets special love just for being an all-female superhero team (most of the time), but also I really like each of the main characters.

(Character FYI for non-comic readers:

Oracle: Barbara Gordon, formerly Batgirl.  Now paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair, she maintains her connections with the superhero community and her vast computer network to become an information broker and coordinates the team.

Black Canary: Dinah Lance, daughter of the original Black Canary, she is a master of martial arts and has a voice-based sonic superpower.

Huntress:
Helena Bertenelli, sole surviving member of a Gotham crime family, grew up to become a ruthless fighter and formidable vigilante. )


I hadn't gotten to these books before, which is ridiculous considering how good this series is. 

One of my only complaints was I felt that the characters spent a bit too much time just getting themselves and each other out of trouble, just reacting instead of acting. I hope that further into the run the personal drama will be balanced with more outwardly focused missions.  I mean, what do you think this is, Marvel?

I liked that the characters were allowed to be lighthearted and affectionate with each other.  They were even occasionally allowed to be stereotypically female, which I actually appreciate.  I like the feeling that we've come far enough that Simone didn't think the only way to establish them as strong heroes was to keep them unremittingly serious.  The end of the second book contains a coda that is almost sickeningly cute, but I loved it.

Some of the art annoyed me, mostly with way-too-thin waists and an odd habit of not drawing pupils on characters seen in profile.  Only twice did I really wince at a clothing choice, and one of those is a cover illustration.  The other was a truly ludicrous casual top worn by Dinah in the second book, and she comments that a passerby "thought [she] was Power Girl".

I enjoyed how embedded it is in the DCU, with brief cameos by character after character.  This may present a problem for readers not familiar with the larger DCU, but being intertwined with the superhero world is part of what gives meaning to the team.  Oracle has contacts everywhere, that is basically her power.  Besides which, if they aren't being contrasted with Batman, compared with the Justice League, then what makes this group different is less clear.

There is a fantastic five pages of Wonder Woman in the second book.  Those just made me happy through and through, not just because it showed Diana being utterly and unmistakeably Wonder Woman in t-shirt and jeans (and tiara). 

By the second issue, it was clear to me that Simone understands what could make BoP special.  Superheroines are different than superheroes.  Their problems are different, their advantages and disadvantages are different.  Without ever whanging you over the head with it, there is a sense of sisterhood to the series, even when the characters are fighting each other.  There is a quiet recognition of the fact that sometimes women and children need women to help them, that there is a need for superheroines.

4 Stars - Really Good Books


Purchase Of Like Minds, Sensei and Student at Amazon.com

1 comment:

Zak said...

I'd really like to reread these books. Regardless, I'm a very big fan.

You're right that a lot of the quality comes in recognizing that superheroines can be portrayed as women (or even as girly) without getting condescending about it. It's a tight line to walk and it succeeds pretty well, despite some over top cheescake art.

Moreso though this book is probably my favorite super hero martial artist book ever. It's surprisingly rare that straight martial arts action is this fun in comic form without just seeming like another variant of super powers (like Cassandra Cain), and by the end of this run I'm completely a fan of DC's Kung Fu community.

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