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Birds of Prey #50

Posted: Monday, December 23, 2002
By: Jason Cornwell



Writer: Gilbert Hernandez
Artist: Casey Jones

Publisher: DC

Plot:
The book opens with a group of armed security officers gathering outside a lab, where we see a powerful energy-based figure looks to have escaped. As this group is driven back by the creature, the book looks in on the Black Canary who is involved in a heated battle with a group who were robbing a museum. As Dinah makes short work of these thieves, we see Barbara is distracted by the reports of labs all across the country falling victim to attacks, as Barbara is starting to notice a pattern. As Dinah prepares to head on a long overdue vacation, we see her trip to the hair salon is cut short when a woman rushes in and claims that there's a crazed monkey-man running around, and the creature seems to be targeting blond women only. As Dinah heads out to attract this creature's attention, her requests for more information go unanswered, as we see the Clocktower has been breached, and Barbara is taken down by one of the villains that Dinah fought earlier in the issue. Meanwhile Dinah is able to use her canary cry to shock the monkey-man back into his right mind, and we discover he's Java, the simian assistant of Simon Stagg, and that his confused actions resulted from an accident in which Sapphire (Metamorpho's wife) was transformed into something inhuman.

Comments:
It appears that this issue is intended to be a jumping on point for new readers, as one can't help but notice when the story suddenly stops and we get a couple pages devoted to the backstories of Barbara & Dinah. Now I'm not against this practice normally, as while I already know this information, I recognize the idea that every issue is likely to be someone's first, and with the Birds of Prey television series, I imagine the book might see some new readers. However it's a shame that this information session didn't extend beyond the book's two leads, as while I'm familiar with Simon Stagg, Java & Sapphire thanks to a Justice League Europe adventure in the early 1990s, I imagine there are several readers who are completely lost, as Barbara is taken out before she can deliver the information readers would need to follow this scenario. As it stand the story ends up with a story that is outright bizarre, and I suspect highly confusing. Still, I guess Gilbert Hernandez could be playing his cards close to the vest in a bid to play up the offbeat nature of this story, and he might fill in the gaps in the following chapters. In the end though, this issue comes across looking a bit messy, as there are a couple story elements that are just dumped upon the reader without any explanations.

There's also a somewhat scattered, disorganized feel to this material, as the book abruptly jumps from scene to scene, and we have story elements that simply arrive in the story because Gilbert Hernandez has decided it's time for them to be there. Now this may be a style choice on his part, as I do get the sense that he's trying to deliver a madcap, almost screwball comedy type atmosphere. However, given this book was a fairly intelligent action & espionage title before Chuck Dixon's departure, I have to say that I'm not exactly impressed by what appears to be the active dumbing down of this book. I mean this issue has moments where I found myself actively wondering what I'm suppose to find so appealing about this material, and given Barbara & Dinah are two of my favorite female characters in the entire DCU, this tells me there is something wrong with this writing. Now I enjoy lighthearted titles, and if this is the new direction that this book is heading in than I'm fully prepared to enjoy it as such. However, right now the comedy is almost trying too much to elicit its laughs, as Gilbert Hernandez offers up a scenarios that seem to exist solely because they are wacky & crazy in nature.

Casey Jones is a name I haven't seen in a while, as I remember I was very impressed with his work on the early issues of Quicksilver, before he dropped completely off the map. In any event, wherever he's been keeping himself, it certainly hasn't hurt his skills as an artist, as his work has a nice sharp look to it that is a wonderful fit for this book's rather animated story. The coloring work by Hi-Fi Design also deserves some credit as the art has a nice cheerful quality to it that is largely due to the bold colors that are used. The art is very strong when it comes to its ability to detail the story in a clear, easy to follow manner, as the battle have a nice sense of movement to them, and when Dinah is racing through the streets on her motorbike, trying to lose her simian pursuer, the art does a nice job of detailing her capture. The panel where Dinah unleashes her canary cry was also an impressive bit of art, with the ripple effect being particularly effective. The design of the creature who I suspect will be the villain of this story is also worth a mention, as one can tell this creature is seething with energy, and that they are going to be a very dangerous threat. I loved the cover to this issue as well, even if it doesn't really detail the story inside.

Final Word:
Not a bad issue, but not a particularly impressive one either. On one hand the book does have an almost tongue-in-cheek quality to it, and as such ideas like a monkey attacker who is fixated on blondes make for a rather amusing idea. On the other hand there's also a sense that this book has become a little too silly for its own good, and if this book is trying to be a humor book, then it needs to come up with truly funny moments on a more consistent basis, as there's only one scene in this issue that made me smile. Now the action is pretty solid, and I am interested in the corner of the DCU that this adventure seems to have decided to play in, so I'm looking forward to the following issues with my fingers crossed for a guest-appearance by Metamorpho. There's also a fairly solid cliffhanger moment, as we see the Clocktower's security system was breached by a mystery figure, and as a result Barbara finds herself playing host to an unwelcome guest. Still, I can't say that this issue left me overly impressed.



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