Apr 27, 2020
Birds of Prey #56 and #57 “Of Like Minds” part 1 and 2 (of 4)
When I posted a link to my last article in the Comic Book Resources community section, someone had been nice enough to show me this article regarding the creation of Birds of Prey. All this time I had thought Chuck Dixon was the mastermind behind the group, but it turns out it was an editor named Jordan B. Gorfinkel. So two things: 1) props to Chuck Dixon for giving credit where credit is due, and 2) never underestimate the value of a good editor. To paraphrase what Sean Gordon Murphy said on Twitter recently, just being a comic book fan isn’t enough to do the job.
Now Chuck Dixon had a respectable forty-six issue stint on Birds of Prey, followed by writers Terry Moore, then Gilbert Hernandez. But one can reasonably argue the most memorable run on the franchise was Gail Simone’s, starting with issue #56 and running through #108. And the reason for that is she added a new element to the series that took things a step further.
It was a dark and stormy night. Seriously, the comic starts off on a dark and stormy night. Fortunately, Gail Simone is enough of a wordsmith not to stumble into her first issue of this series with that, but instead she and artists Ed Benes and Alex Lei deliver a very film noir intro, with a man in the rain and a mysterious stranger offering him a lift. It turns out the man’s car is busted and his cell phone is out of order, and the person offering him a ride is an attractive woman with legs that won’t quit, so…
The man comments on how much he likes the woman’s fishnets, and she notes privately how most of the straight male population does as well. Hey, I’m guessing there’s more than a few gay guys who love ‘em too. The man’s name is “Fisher” and it seems he got caught in them there nets. The woman knows all about Mister Fisher, from the fact he’s a Harvard grad to being the head of the third largest farming conglomerate in North America, to his high cholesterol. Oh, and about his gun, which she advises he keep tucked away. She puts in a CD and it plays a recording of Fisher talking about regretting some actions and the woman notes she had thought she was putting in a White Stripes CD.
Wow, that reference would sound old, but compared to the cassette tape and VCR used in the special I recapped last week, it makes this comic feel almost contemporary. The man is shocked by the fact the woman knows all about his attempting to flee the country after looting his company of its assets, and freaks him out with pupil-less “Batman” eyes.
She pulls over and the woman interrogates him more, and we see what we kind of suspected already: She’s Black Canary and she’s trying to get Fisher to confess to something, but she flounders in her attempts and he clams up. Canary consults with Oracle, and Barbara says the man’s inherent fear of metahumans and Dinah’s faux contacts should have had him singing like a, well, you know. Never be afraid to pun, Babs. The pair realize they’ve pushed Fisher as far as they can and decide to toss him back with a warning that he has a week to “get righteous”.
Dinah stops for takeout, then drives her car to the super secret hideout where Barbara masterminds the whole Birds of Prey thing. Babs laughs when she sees Dinah accidentally left her contacts in, which is why the guy at the Italian restaurant looked so terrified. Hey, in a world of science gods and immortal aliens, I’d be freaked out too if someone with funky eyes walked in and ordered trancia di tonno con pomodori. As the pair settle down to eat, Barbara says she’s going to keep an eye on Fisher, and Dinah notes how scary her partner is, then wonders if “their right to privacy outweighs our right to know”. And… it’s a valid point, one that was addressed in shows like Person of Interest and movies like The Dark Knight. Frankly, it’s not an easy answer, and maybe it’s even an answer that changes depending on the times we live in. Barbara admits it bothers her, but in this case, she thinks it was worth it, then Dinah changes the subject (probably because Gail Simone realizes twelve more pages full of moralizing might get boring) and notes how much fun scaring people is, and Barbara clumsily notes how much she doesn’t like Huntress.
Honestly it just… sits there. But before we can go further into how/why Babs hates Huntress, the pair positively gush on how awesome the food is! Annnd that’s a whole page of filler that could have been used to have Barbara explain to Dinah why she doesn’t like Huntress. Honestly, Gail is assuming I’m familiar with the pair’s history, and while a writer can get away with things like me knowing who Batman is, presuming I’ve read those Bat-comics where Oracle and Huntress clashed is asking a bit much. I turn the page and… god, they’re talking about more food! Fortunately, Fisher is writing a suicide note on his home computer, so something relevant is happening.
Canary tears off on her motorcycle, bemoaning to Oracle that they screwed the pooch this time; Fisher isn’t a real villain and didn’t deserve the rough treatment. But Oracle notes there was nothing in his profile that would even suggest him going this far. Dinah stops arguing and tells Barbara to find a way to get through to the guy to keep him alive long enough for her to get to him, regretting that she let the man keep his gun. Barbara weighs her options and texts Mister Fisher, begging him not to do it. Fisher responds, “Why not?”
At Fisher’s building, Dinah finds an express elevator and races up, but she starts to lose Oracle’s signal. Meanwhile, Barbara is doing her best to talk Fisher down, but the man is using all caps now and that’s never a good sign, and he says if he sees a cop it’ll all be over, and just as Dinah reaches his apartment door he signs off. Dinah bursts in and…
…I’d use the Admiral Akbar “It’s a trap!” meme here, but I’m afraid there’s a whole generation of readers who wouldn’t get it. Well, two generations now. Damn, do I feel old all of a sudden. Blonde ponytail guy notes how sexy Dinah’s outfit is, and how it’d look sexy even on a goat. Hah, a goat. How silly. Now if we were talking sheep…
…Where was I? Oh, right. Dinah chops down the big guy and the blonde one decides to get involved. He kicks Dinah and she admits to herself that was a good one: In fact, it was Connor Hawke good. And for those who don’t know, that’s the Green Arrow that didn’t register enough to merit a post-New 52 introduction. You can tell they were still trying to make “fetch” happen here by name dropping poor Connor, but fans never really took to him. She then says the dude’s kick is almost “Batman” good. Let’s not give too much credit here, Dinah. She holds her own for a bit but the big guy, Creote, clips her across the skull with a billy club and then…
Back at base, Barbara knows something’s wrong, and she brings up a list of possible contenders for backup: Nightwing, Robin (uh… Tim Drake?), Spoiler, Azrael (deceased. For now…), um…smirking blonde woman (see how important a distinctive costume is?), and Huntress. But before she can make that call, the blonde guy, Savant, sends Oracle a message: he has her partner, and a list of demands will soon follow.
Issue #57 opens up with Savant stitching up his own wound, and in the mirror he sees Batman. Savant is ninety percent sure this is a hallucination, and Creote comes in and confirms it. Or does he? Savant exits the bathroom and heads to the kitchen, all the while Creote complains their “guest” is disobedient, curses like a longshoreman, and is a biter. Savant finds Fisher and the latter nervously wants to know if they’re square and if he can leave. Unfortunately for him, Savant thinks the man’s a bit of a talker, and he won’t be able to keep his mouth shut. Besides, he has a use for him. He has the man join him and Creote upstairs with a tray of food to see how their “guest” is doing.
A woman chained to a bed with broken ankles? Yeah, you see how that would fly in modern comics. I guarantee you some snowflake would start a twitterstorm over that. Wow, Word didn’t even autocorrect “twitterstorm”. I wish I could say I’m shocked, but I’m not.
Savant is all creepy Kathy Bates here as he assures Dinah he was the soul of discretion with her, and the reason she can’t talk is she got punched in the throat, because he knows her vocal chords are a lethal weapon. Wait… Dinah was facing off against two unknown assailants in an obvious trap, and she didn’t just Canary Cry her way out of it? The hell?! I get that maybe she didn’t want to hurt Fisher, but considering she had no backup and couldn’t talk to Oracle, I think the old adage, “Better to ask for forgiveness than permission” would apply. Savant talks like he has severe trouble remembering stuff, and damn can I relate.
Back with Oracle, it looks like she’s been spending all this time staring at the computer monitor. Savant gives her a call, and assures Barbara that Dinah is alive, and he insists she compose a “quatrain” to prove her intelligence. Barbara rises to the challenge:
You had better not try to deceive me,
You quivering cowardly swine.
And if you hurt my partner believe me,
I promise I’ll rip out your spine.
Savant is amused. Back with Dinah, she tries to get a rise out of Creote, and in response he explains that when Savant hurts someone he experiences childlike emotions. But Creote feels nothing. He and Fisher depart, leaving Dinah to ruminate on her situation. Elsewhere in Gotham…
Huntress is using thermal imaging to spy on some people, and one of them has a gun. Her cell phone rings and it’s Oracle, and she explains how she had tracked Huntress’ phone through a credit card purchase. Wait, why isn’t Huntress using a burner phone? Didn’t she ever watch The Wire? What if her phone fell into the wrong hands and someone figured out who Huntress was through it? Or does Huntress even have a secret identity? Dinah sure as hell doesn’t. Okay, moving on.
Huntress explains she’s working on the “Reese” case, and whatever Oracle has for her is going to have to wait. Oracle points out that’s Batman’s case, but Huntress explains Bats doesn’t spend enough time in daylight and missed some clues, which… okay, yeah, that’s a valid point. If you know your enemy only comes out at night, you do your business during the day. Heck, we saw that in The Dark Knight, didn’t we? Points to you, Simone.
But before Huntress can elaborate more, she’s attacked. A huge tatted-up dude wearing a bandana tries to choke Huntress out, but receives a crossbow bolt to the thigh for his troubles, then almost falls off the fire escape to his doom. Fortunately for him, Huntress isn’t a killer. Or at least, she needs him alive for interrogation. Trussing him up, she finds his wallet, and Oracle gives Huntress the 411 on “Matty Prosler”: he’s a career criminal and borderline whack-job who doesn’t take his meds, and it turns out his sis Trina is a matched pair who has a common law husband named Ryan DuBois. That’s enough info for Huntress and she literally swings into action.
One-Eyed Bike Shorts Dude eats a table and Huntress faces off against “Trina”, asking the woman where “she” is. Trina gives it away, glancing towards a dresser. Huntress desperately opens up a drawer to find a baby. Trina insists they found the kid, but Huntress knows she didn’t just “find” the kid sleeping in her own crib in her parents’ locked house. Fortunately, the baby’s alive, much to Huntress and Barbara’s relief. Huntress closes the case by knocking psycho lady unconscious, and then noting disturbingly how good the baby smells. That line would sound so much more off-putting in a different situation. Like the movie Snowpiercer, for example.
Chris Evans, ladies and gentlemen. If there was any doubt in your mind there was life after Captain America, this performance should have killed it.
Huntress departs before the police arrive, who respond by blowing the door off the hinges. Damn, I hope the kid wasn’t hit by any splinters. All the cops find are unconscious perps and the baby holding Huntress’ glove. Outside, Huntress gets the lowdown on what’s going on with Black Canary. Oracle explains the woman has been through a similar trauma before, flashing back to a scene from Mike Grell’s The Longbow Hunters. Huntress is on the case, and she and Oracle prepare to find out where Dinah is being held. Meanwhile, Black Canary tries to seduce Creote, with minimal results. Left alone, she prepares her own escape plan, which entails breaking the bones in her own hand to slip free of her cuffs. After that, it’s just a matter of escaping with three broken limbs. But rather than face the prospect with despair she smiles, seemingly welcoming the challenge.
Issue #56 is alright, but suffers from pacing issues. I like how we see the now solid friendship between Barbara and Dinah, but a couple of the pages could have been better used to explain why Babs and Huntress don’t like one another. I also appreciated how Simone and Benes used the Longbow Hunter flashback to aid readers in seeing a glimpse into Dinah’s past, and you didn’t have to read the whole story to understand something traumatic happened. However, a few flashback panels could have gone a long way to flesh out the Huntress/Oracle dynamic. Issue #57 flows much better, and I feel there’s a marked improvement on the art as well, as if Benes and Lei were hitting their stride.
Next week: Parts three and four of this landmark story. See you then!