Review: Birds of Prey: Dead of Winter trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, May 26, 2008

I knew, of course, that Gail Simone's run on Birds of Prey was coming to an end, but somehow I missed that it was this particular trade, Birds of Prey: Dead of Winter, was her last. As such, I reached the final pages and their swan song tone with not a little bit of regret.

It's rare, I think, that a second writer does as good, if not better, of a job on a title that the initial writer created--witness the always-lagging Nightwing after Chuck Dixon left, versus Birds of Prey--and that alone is testament to the strength of Simone's writing. That Birds of Prey has been funny, suspenseful, and complex throughout Simone's run has just been icing on the cake.

The wrap-up of Dead of Winter offers a nice coda to Simone's Birds of Prey run, if only a little rushed. One of my favorite scenes from Simone's Birds of Prey is when Huntress confronts Oracle about recruiting Huntress to the Birds in order to "fix" her; in the end, Oracle acknowledges that despite the pitfalls, the Birds of Prey are about helping struggling people, both super-heroic and otherwise.

Oracle also distinguishes herself from both Batman and Spy Smasher, noting her goal as Oracle has never been about control nor TK, though she's often been tempted by both. In this way, the Spy Smasher storyline offers a thematic tie to the end of the series, though one can tell Simone never got a chance to use Spy Smasher to the extent that she wanted; creating this giant rival for Oracle and having Spy Smasher take over the Birds only to be defeated after one mission feels unavoidably anti-climactic. And while I decried the Mary Sue feel of the young Misfit in my review of Birds of Prey: Blood and Circuits, indeed the final scene with Oracle and Misfit worked quite well.

This is all without mentioning how Simone uses her last storyline to resurrect former Justice Leaguer Ice, dead since before Zero Hour hit the stands (no word on how this strikes fans who believe Dan Didio is out to get members of Justice League International). I, for one, am glad to see Ice returned--with reservations, of course.

While Ice's resurrection feels just plain old good-hearted, one wonders where that character--so much a part of the comedy of the Justice League of the 1980s--will fit in nowadays. Will she bring an unnecessary moral voice to Fire's actions in Checkmate? Will she invariably be hurt by an otherwise-reformed Guy Gardner in Green Lantern Corps? As always, I reserve final judgement until I read the stories, but my concern is that lesser writers might use Ice to drag good characters backward, rather than moving everyone forward.

Simone's Secret Six characters appear here as well, and the Six's situational morality (that is, changes based on the situation) fits very well with the Birds' think-on-your-feet mentality; as it is, the two groups team-up by the end. I wondered in my review of Secret Six: Six Degrees of Devastation at Simone's choice to jettison sixth member Mad Hatter from the group; here, she replaces Hatter with Harley Quinn, an ingenious if inexplicable choice--and the funniest moment is the sense you get that Six member Ragdoll will dispose of Quinn in not too long, too. Though Simone's departure from Birds of Prey makes another appearance by the Six unlikely, hopefully Simone may bring the Birds back in her new Secret Six series; Huntress and Catman's mutual attraction definitely bears further attention.

Birds of Prey: Dead of Winter brings an era to a close, and all-in-all Gail Simone closes it well, including the final scene with a bevy of Birds of Prey guest starts (can anyone identify the guy in the cross mask and the woman in white?). Hopefully the next writer can do this series the same justice.

[Contains full covers.]

What to read, what to read? We might step outside the DCU normal for a bit with Fallen Angel (or maybe Helmet of Fate), but check back nonetheless for another review soon!
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