Review: Birds of Prey: Blood and Circuits trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Birds of Prey remains a top DC comic and a fantastic read, though I didn't favor Birds of Prey: Blood and Circuits as much as I did the previous trade, Perfect Pitch. The issue with trade collections, as we've discussed before, is that there tends to be "down" trades, less event-filled, in between the eventful "up" trades. Now, don't get me wrong -- between one member leaving the team, a whole slew of new heroes joining, a potential new Batgirl and a villain from Oracle's past, a lot happens in this trade, but overall Blood and Circuits didn't feel quite as focused to me as Perfect Pitch.

Black Canary leaves Birds of Prey in this trade, following her adoption of the child-assassin Sin, and her manner of exit did disappoint me a bit. Certainly the Black Canary character has outgrown Birds of Prey, mainly through writer Gail Simone's dedicated work building her up, and she's more than ready to take her rightful place with the Justice League. Canary's reason for leaving the Birds, however, is in order to be a better mother to Sin; not that there's anything wrong with that, but we all know DC's not going to let a character like Black Canary just retire, and as such the inevitable "retire only to be called back to action" plot feels a little tired. I expected, and personally would have preferred, Canary to leave the Birds to go directly to the Justice League, and I'm interested to see if Canary's time with the Birds is mentioned in the first Justice League trade.

Simone introduces two new characters here, and I found I liked each more in theory than in fact. That is, I like what both the young Misfit and the villainous Spy Smasher are supposed to represent, but I don't necessarily enjoy the characters themselves. Misfit is a stop-at-nothing, leaps-before-she-looks kid that's perhaps more like Oracle than Oracle would like to admit, while Spy Smasher demonstrates Oracle's intelligence without her conscience, and these conflicts will be fascinating as they play out, but the difficulty is that each character feels obviously created just for Birds of Prey. Spy Smasher is supposedly a long-time opponent of Oracle's, but this is hard to believe since we're just now encountering her; additionally, both Spy Smasher and Misfit have each discovered Oracle's supposedly impenitrable double identity. That so many characters have entered Oracle's inner circle lately stretches the story's credibility to me, though I do remain curious to see where these stories go.

With Canary's departure, Birds of Prey opens up as something of a Charlie's Angels-type book, with a rotating cast of operatives completing Oracle's missions. I'm in favor of this, and it was a thrill to see Manhunter and Big Barda in action (even if Huntress seems a little out of place in less urban settings) but my hope is that it doesn't reflect a move in Birds of Prey away from character toward more plot-based stories. There are a bunch of different villains in Blood and Circuits -- Black Alice, the gangster Yasemin, and the mobster and his daughter in the end -- and it made me miss more focused Birds of Prey days when the team went up against just Savant or Lady Shiva for the trade. I know the Secret Six are right around the corner, and I'm hopeful their fight with the Birds will make the stories feel tighter overall.

[Contains full covers, profile entries.]

I did appreciate Oracle's tribute to Blue Beetle at the beginning of this trade; this, combined with Oracle and Black Canary's reminiscing about early, Chuck Dixon-era Birds of Prey adventures, gives the title a sense of scope and history that's rewarding to long-time fans. More realistic, not-too-cheesecakey art, makes Birds of Prey a joy to read. Despite my hesitations about this trade, I'm very much looking forward to the next.

Thanks for reading!
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