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Birds of Prey #57
writer: Gail Simone
artists: Ed Benes and Alex Lei

Okay. Either I've lost track of a supporting character in the bat-mythos, or Simone wants me to think I have. Whichever the case, though it's clear from the first page that he has some sort of history with Batman, the man called Savant has begun shaping up to be a different kind of crazy than we usually get.

He's not really full of one-liners and quips as he kills, though he seems willing to toss off a bon mot here and there. Instead, his perception of reality changes from moment to moment, and rather than being funny, he's completely unpredictable to the reader.

Seeing Black Canary tied up, fishnets in tatters, heightens the tension. Once before such bondage proved a major turning point for the character. Then, writer/artist Mike Grell abused Dinah mightily, and for quite a few pages it looked like Simone was going to echo that. But of course, this book is about the empowerment of women, not the ravaging of them; though Savant may have unhealthy things in store for Dinah, he may not have the focus to actually do them.

And what Dinah has now that she didn't have then is one hell of a best friend: Oracle.

Not that the Black Canary is willing to play pretty bird anymore, either. She's older and wiser than she was in Grell's The Longbow Hunters, and though she may have a weak spot for Oliver Queen, nobody else can really push her around. Simone writes the character as a woman who knows exactly what her strengths and weaknesses are, and how to turn them to her advantage. Even when it doesn't work, she doesn't panic.

Also given more depth than usual is this issue's cover girl, The Huntress. Often relegated to standby status, too much the loose cannon, Helena proves herself multi-faceted here. She hates criminals. She's willing to love everyone else. And though she has a tough exterior, the simple touch of a baby's hand brings out a tender side. As Oracle says to her, "it's extremely frustrating trying to get a read on you."

If you feel the same thing, then good. Simone is writing real people, complex and sometimes confusing to themselves and each other. Even if The Huntress' costume still nods to the fanboys (come on, how practical is it really for that bare midriff when fighting crime?), it's impossible to dismiss this book as "chicks in spandex."

It's hard to say if Simone has really hit her stride yet, as this is only the second issue in her run. But it promises great things, and should be worth sticking around to read for a long time.


Outsiders #2
writer: Judd Winick
artists: Tom Raney and Scott Hanna

One thing you have to say for this book so far, and that's that it has a lot of attitude. From the cover which tells us to "bite (it)" to the general young urban pose contained within, the book drips with the sense that it doesn't care if you read it or not. (Oh, heck, I'm starting to sound like Grant Morrison.)

If you do read it, however, you're rewarded with one of Winick's strengths. It's pretty much wall to wall action as this new superteam takes on Grodd and his gorilla army, with characterization springing coming to light through the plotting. Unfortunately, Winick didn't really give himself much of a chance to do that with the first issue, but this definitely shows improvement. There's barely a moment to start wondering about Metamorpho's return, which can only be a good thing.

Instead, we see a team that's barely a team trying to gel when they don't even know each other. There's some tension between Thunder and Grace, and Winick has made the case for me that Grace is pretty abrasive. Cripes, she called Metamorpho "Mary."

Highlights of the issue include a spectacular opening with a gorilla suicide bomber. It's a tremendously effective moment that does and doesn't echo real-life fears - because, after all, it's a comic book monkey. The presence of President Luthor also manages to dance neatly with his antipathy towards superheroes; if he must encounter a Green Lantern, he hopes it's "the pretty one." (No, not Kyle.)

This greatest of villains in the DCU is also shown with a pragmatic calm. To give away Winick's ComicCon promise of a surprise master villain would be unfair; suffice to say that it comes as no surprise to Lex. And as written by Winick, that's perfectly in character.

Raney and Hanna are doing a bang-up job with this book. Every character has a consistently unique look, and the action scenes are easy to follow. They've also got a pretty different approach to the element man that is really starting to grow on me. Though the circumstances of his return are pretty murky, I'm just glad that Metamorpho is back and being put to good use.

(I owe Winick an apology on that complaint - as my upcoming interview with Kyle Baker will hopefully make clear. But I still stand by hating Graduation Day.)


Teen Titans #1
writer: Geoff Johns
artists: Mike McKone and Marlo Alquiza

This private little corner of the DC Universe has obviously struck a nerve with fans. Sold out before it was even on the stands (okay, somewhat of a marketing ploy), gone back to press less than a week after its release, Teen Titans #1 has us buzzing.

Only coincidentally designed to capitalize on the Cartoon Network show, the final product still shows some incredibly shrewd decisions on the part of DC. First off, hiring Geoff Johns to breathe new life into a team concept that is more beloved in theory than in purchase. Then teaming him with the pencils of Mike McKone, an artist who proved his chops on Marvel's quirky favorite Exiles. Add in the assured inks of Marlo Alquiza, and you should have a recipe for success.

After reading it, it's a happy coincidence to report that it does look like it's on the right track.

The fresh start calls for a reacquainting with the status quo of each member, something which Winick failed to do in the first issue of Outsiders. All of the Titans have a dark cloud hanging over them because of the "death" of Donna Troy (kaffbulls***kaff), but for most of them, trying to live a normal life just doesn't cut it.

In his little vignettes of these attempts, Johns also shines lights on some of the particular difficulties the characters have. Cassie Sandsmark has been ostracized at her school not so much because of her power but because she's been labeled a pagan for knowing the Greek Pantheon. Almost ridiculous, but you do have to wonder how a Judeo-Christian society really would handle proof of other gods existing.

Over in Keystone City, Bart struggles with normal schooling. Sure, he can read at super-speed and retain everything, but what good is that to a kid with no attention span? And Johns plants a potentially darker seed to Bart's personality, reminding us that for Impulse, everything is a video game. He simply cannot grasp why everyone is upset over Donna Troy's death.

Oh, heck, kids, Bart's the only one who's right, just for the wrong reason.

In the end, this first issue bodes well for the focus on friendship. The teens have trouble reaching out to each other, past cool facades, and their mentors are right: they really do need guidance, but from people who have been through the same thing. Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman really don't know what it's like to try to be a normal kid. Maybe that suspiciously familiar student at Smallville High can help Superboy.

Johns has provided a logical reason for the group to exist. He's already poking around in untapped corners of their character. And the artwork is just great.

So at the risk of giving in to the hype - what's not to like?


Derek McCaw


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