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Birds Of Prey #52

Posted: Wednesday, February 26, 2003
By: Jason Cornwell



Writer: Gilbert Hernandez
Artist: Casey Jones

Publisher: D.C. Comics

Plot:
The book opens with the original Killer Moth (or at least a man who claims he is), discovering Barbara is not the helpless victim he needs her to be as she smashes him in the face, before sealing him inside a security field. We then look in on the Black Canary as she finds herself up against an energy being that she quickly realizes is comprised of all three members of the Stagg family, and as such Java's story about Metamorpho & Simon Stagg being out of the country isn't true. She then jumps to the conclusion that Java really isn't Java, but rather he's Metamorpho who after the confusion of the accident mistakenly adopted the identity of the late Java. After Dinah helps Rex remember who he is we see that she is left to deal with the unscrupulous partners of Simon Stagg, while Rex sets out to find a way to restore the merged members of the Stagg family to their original bodies. Happily a second exposure to the energy beam that caused the transformation acts to reverse the situation, and Rex is reunited with his wife, his son, and his father-in-law Simon Stagg. Meanwhile back with Barbara we see her captive super-villain has decided to kill himself, and Barbara is unable to stop him, as he triggers a reaction that reduces his entire body to a pile of ash.

Comments:
I'll confess that the Black Canary has the added advantage of being one of my all-time favorite female characters for the better part of my comic reading life, so in this book I normally don't have a problem when the focus is centered more around her adventures. I do have to say though, that Barbara's trouble was far more engaging in the previous issues, and that is why the quick resolution it received in this issue was so utterly disappointing. I mean this is a man who somehow managed to make his way past every single security device that Barbara had set up to protect the Clocktower, and yet he's apparently unable to deal with a security field that is used to trap him. What's more the danger that this villain poses is quickly nullified by page four of this issue, and after he's trapped we learn next to nothing about why he came after Barbara beyond the utterly simplistic I was a big, bad villain, who was embarrassed when I got beaten by a hero who was out on their first mission. I mean is it too much to ask that the writing actually take the time to develop a proper motivation for a villain's activities before killing them off? One also wonders why this man waited so long to carry out his revenge upon Barbara, though I guess a stint in prison could explain this.

As for the main adventure involving Black Canary and her battle with the energy elemental that is made up of the merged Stagg family I have to say that having Dinah busy fighting a bunch of generic bad guys while the main action plays out is a very poor way of using the character. I mean the only contributions that Dinah manages to make to the battle is a single kick to start the battle off, before she makes a rather impressive leap of logic, and uncovers a plot twist that is so odd that one has to love the idea that Gilbert Hernandez tries to explain it away as feminine intuition, instead of lazy writing on his part. I mean I've been following Metamorpho since his days as a member of Batman and the Outsiders and this the first time I've ever seen him able to alter his physical appearance to such a degree. Now I'm a fan of Metamorpho, and I'm always happy to see him taking the center stage, but truth be told he doesn't really do all that much in this issue beyond chase the merged entity until it inexplicably decides to explode. Now I will concede that the merged consciousness idea is used to pretty good effect, as the scenes where the three personalities are fighting among themselves was rather cute, but overall this is about the only idea that worked for me.

Casey Jones has a very fun art style that is nicely suited to the lighthearted mood that the writing is trying to convey. However, the simple fact of the matter is that the art isn't being called upon to deliver anything overly imaginative, as basically this issue features Metamorpho & the Black Canary involved in a fight where almost no action occurs. Now the art does some nice work with Metamorpho's arrival scene, and the double-page spread where Barbara attacks her tormentor has a wonderful sense of impact to it. However, these two scenes are about the only sections of the issue where the art is allowed to deliver material that lends itself to the work's ability to deliver visually exciting action, while the rest of the issue is little more that panels where next to nothing is allowed to occur. Oh sure there's the Black Canary's opening attack on the elemental creature, and while the art does show him turning in midair which is a rather glaring mistake, it was nice to see Rex's coiled spring attack has not been forgotten. However, while the art manages to convey a genuine sense of excitement, neither of these scenes really add to the story, and as such they are just pretty looking filler material. We do get another impressive cover from Phil Noto though.

Final Word:
A rather mundane adventure that feels like it's not trying all that hard to deliver anything all that innovative, nor does it look to have done its research when it comes to its surprise twists. I mean to the best of my knowledge while Metamorpho is able to change the chemical composition of his body his ability to shape-shift is rudimentary at best, and as such the scene where Java is revealed to be Metamorpho struck me as rather unlikely. The big finish also struck me as lazy as we see a second exposure to the energy beam acts to reverse the situation, and the writing never even bothers to explain how they knew this second exposure would work, or even how this second exposure was set up. There's also a disappointing secondary plot, where Barbara manages to deal with her tormentor with a single attack, and the villain proves to be quite cooperative after he's capture, as he decides the best course of action is to kill himself, even though the previous material didn't offer up any clue that the man was suicidal.



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