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Birds Of Prey #51

Posted: Wednesday, January 29, 2003
By: Jason Cornwell



Writer: Gilbert Hernandez
Artist: Casey Jones

Publisher: D.C. Comics

Plot:
The book opens with a rather amusing little scene where we see Dinah is having a fantasy with herself cast in the role of a beautiful princess, while Oliver Queen is the dashing young rogue who has come to sweep her off her feet. We then see reality manages to reassert itself, and we see her true companion is really Java, the ape-man sidekick of the shady business tycoon, Simon Stagg. We also see that Java is looking for the Black Canary's help as Sapphire (Simon's grown daughter & Metamorpho's wife) and her son have been merged into a single form, thanks to the accidental exposure to an energy ray from a malfunctioning machine. Since this new entity looks to possess considerable elemental based power, we see Dinah initially balks at rushing into this fight, but her heroic nature proves too powerful, and by the end she's raring for a good throwdown. Meanwhile, Barbara finds herself being held captive in her own Clocktower by a man who claims to be the original Killer Moth. What's more this man knows Barbara was Batgirl, and since Killer Moth was the first villain that Barbara ever fought, the man is bearing a serious, and presumably long-standing, grudge against her.

Comments:
While the opening fantasy sequence has itself a rather cute punch-line, I can't help but get the feeling that Dinah's plot is simply treading water, as about the only new element that gets added to the mix is a rather familiar back-story for how Sapphire & her son managed to get themselves transformed into an elemental energy being (they were struck by an errant bolt of energy fired by a malfunctioning device). Oh we also have the collection of evil business partners who were looking to screw Simon Stagg out of his valuable inventions, and as such we have ourselves a handy target that can stand around ignoring Dinah's warnings until the energy being shows up spoiling for a fight. I guess my main problem with the Black Canary's section of the issue is that is that it's delivering a cookie cutter plot that lacks any sense of imaginative thought. About the only surprise we do get is that during Java's recollection of how the accident happened, it would appear that Sapphire is remarkably unconcerned about her son's welfare, as the one panel has her completely oblivious to the explosions that are consuming the room where her son was playing, not to mention the warnings that Java is yelling.

On the other hand the plot involving Barbara is certainly interesting in that it would seem that she is being held captive by a man who either believes himself to be the original Killer Moth, or given my lack of knowledge about that character's past Barbara's captor could very well be the original. In any event the book seems to acknowledge the idea that there is another character running around in the DCU calling himself Killer Moth, and the character tormenting Barbara does seem to be quite in the know about Barbara's career as a super-hero. If nothing else the question of how this man was able to make his way past Barbara's security, and his knowledge about Barbara's past as Batgirl makes him more dangerous than the average baddie. He also seems to grow quite agitated by the idea that there is another person out there calling himself Killer Moth, and Barbara does seem to be trying to best to get on this man's bad side, which in turn leaves us with a pretty harrowing cliffhanger moment. Then again Barbara has shown in the past that she fully capable of holding her own in spite of her handicap, and as such I'm not overly concerned about what this villain might do to her.

The art by Casey Jones certainly lends itself to the more simplistic nature of the material, as his art has a nice animated look to it that plays up the extreme reactions that the story calls for. From the idea that Java isn't the brightest bulb in the box, to the growing agitation of the man holding Barbara, the art does a very nice job conveying the various emotional states of its cast. It also delivers some strong big impact moments, like the one-page spread where the Black Canary decides she's going to take an active interest in this problem, or the series of panels where we see Barbara's captor is about to blow his top after she reminds him that there's another man running around in the DCU calling himself Killer Moth. The art also manages to capture the more goofy aspects of the material, such as the transition between fantasy & reality in the opening pages, or the panel later in the book where we see Dinah & Java racing to the scene on Dinah's motorcycle. I also enjoy the pulp fiction feel of this month's cover by Phil Noto, though his version of Java doesn't really convey the character's simian roots. Still, it's a fun looking visual, and it nicely plays up the danger of the elemental entity.

Final Word:
Normally I'm quite a fan of throwaway adventures that devote most of their attention on being lighthearted fun. However, this issue is almost too pedestrian in its approach, and as such the sections of the issue that focus upon Dinah's adventure are positively dull. On the other hand, the sections that focus on Barbara and her guest manage to develop the tension quite nicely, and there is an element of mystery to the man who has taken Barbara hostage, as he claims to be the original Killer Moth, and he also appears to be well aware of the fact that Barbara was the original Batgirl. His ability to circumvent Barbara's impressive security is also worth a mention, as it suggests the man is far more dangerous than the average thug. In the end though my disappointment with the Black Canary material left me a bit cold on this issue, but the impending arrival of Gail Simone has me quite excited.



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