Recently, we used the “Right to Assemble” column to take a look at the Avengers books one year in to their new iteration. It also seems that the time would be right to look in on some other books that are reaching that twelve month mark as well. One of the more storied titles to experience a relaunch last year was Birds of Prey. Beginning in the ‘90s as a string of one-shots and minis before becoming a proper series, Birds got a lengthy run until various shufflings resulted in the title being cancelled as most of the cast lit out for other books (Green Arrow/Black Canary, etc.).
Coming out of Blackest Night, Birds was one of the books that received a Brightest Day trade dress. It kicked off with Gail Simone at the writing helm and Ed Benes on pencils (though the art has undergone a few changes since). (I should probably add a disclaimer that the editor of the book is my good friend Janelle Asselin; however, I was not motivated to write about Birds today by her, but rather by my continued annoyance that the Birds episode of Batman: The Brave and The Bold has yet to run in the States. More on that in “Getting Animated” eventually).
Actually, the first year of the current Birds series marked a special anniversary for Gail Simone. With the first issue , she tied the number of Birds issues written by original Birds writer/co-creator Chuck Dixon, and she passed that on issue two. “Howzat?” some of you may say. And now, the math.
The concept first appeared in Showcase ’96 #3 (which doesn’t count because it’s named “Showcase”) in 1996; the first proper issue of Birds was really the one-shot Black Canary/Oracle: Birds of Prey. Thereafter, Dixon wrote the four-issue Birds of Prey: Manhunt mini and four more one-shots before the title got an ongoing series. Dixon penned the first forty-six issues, bringing his Bird-count to 55 issues.Gail Simone started on the series in 2003 with issue 56 (Terry Moore wrote 47-55). Simone wrote from 55 to 108, a total of 53 issues (the balance of the series before cancellation was written by Sean McKeever and Tony Bedard). Simone also wrote the lead story in 2003’s Birds of Prey: Secret Files and Origins, making that 54 titled BoP issues. When Simone wrote the first issue of the current series, she tied; issue two officially made her the most-Birds-of-Prey-writingest-writer around. Yes, that is terrible, made-up English, and I will not apologize to you for it.
The first several issues of Birds were marked, on the retailer side, by a number of sell-outs. The fact of the matter is this: readers love their Birds. Of course, it’s helped that Simone retains the wit and flair that she’s always brought to the series, as well as bone-crunching action. Central to the appeal of the series to both men and women, in my estimation, is that the ladies fight hard. In much the same way that Bruce Willis is a bloody mess at the end of each “Die Hard”, Black Canary and company often get the tar beat out of them in accomplishing a mission. But they accomplish it. And that’s what’s important.
Another interesting development in the series (and part and parcel to the BD branding) was the addition of Hawk and Dove. Clearly, their names make them obvious candidates for a book that is so-named, but Simone has really made them work in the context of a team that’s been together a while.When you think about it, the Birds have made a decent mark on the pop culture firmament. Even though there were elements of the live-action TV series that were ill-advised, it should be noted that, hey, Birds of Prey had a live-action TV series. In 2002. Smallville was only one year old, the Batman film franchise was still smoking from Schumacherish rubble, and the mess surrounding the Superman film relaunch was its own brand of special. Out of everything at the time, Birds had a concept that was clear, and worked. And honestly, so it is to this day.
Our take: the current incarnation of Birds of Prey remains a successful series built off a strong concept. Dixon made it solid, and Simone has made it her own. While there has been some rotation on art, the vast majority of the talent on the book has done a service to the story and allowed the skilled writers to craft a network of operatives that feels more like a family. A family that isn’t afraid to punch you in the face, but a family nonetheless. One year in, the days of Prey looks pretty bright indeed,