I'm not one to dole out five-star reviews willy-nilly, pell-mell. I tend to reserve the "hi-five" for books I really enjoyed, will doubtlessly read again, most likely purchase in another (additional) format, and strongly recommend to a friend (or review reader). "Birds of Prey" hits all of those notes. Gail Simone comes back to a book she is well-known and highly praised for, and she brings her old pal Ed Benes with her.
Ed Benes is a divisive artist amongst comic fans. Fans either love his work or hate it. Those that hate it cite "gratuitous (insert female anatomical reference of choice here) shots" and a lack of variance among the characters Benes draws. Those that love his art accept that this is comics and, as such, things are frequently exaggerated and unevenly emphasized. Benes tones down the amplified sexuality that his artwork usually carries, and the female characters have never looked better. As for varying his array of characters, there's a fair spate of faces and body types throughout this issue, and Benes makes those characters distinct. Additionally, Benes' storytelling has taken a leap forward with his work here.
Ruffino takes the good and makes it that much better. Her colors in this issue are glossy, but soft-edged. The overall effect is less airbrushed-looking and more of a digital appearance. Ruffino also does a stellar job of lighting the scenes in a manner that enhances the story overall, adding mystery to help build up the last page reveal in a manner that feels cinematic.
Simone is clearly comfortable with her own reunion with old friends here as she drops a "Blues Brothers" reference that is too subtle for Zinda to pick up on, and provides an inner voice for Canary that sounds as though it could parallel Simone's own thoughts as she sat down to script this issue. There's also plenty of action as Black Canary delivers an ass-whooping that is stunning in its precise brutality and the Huntress displays ferociousness that lives up to her name. The non-team team is reunited, with a pair of newcomers waiting in the (ahem) wings. Hawk and Dove don't sign up for duty here, but they are being heavily recruited. In the duo's brief appearance, we learn a little about why Hawk believes he was selected to return from the dead.
I'm not particularly impressed with the use of Dove in this issue. I know that this is an introductory issue of an ensemble comic book, and I have complete faith that Simone will push the character beyond the wallflower Dove is portrayed as in this issue.
This otherwise strong first issue ends with an ass-kicking, coupled with a last-page cliffhanger reveal that offers no explanation, but plenty of speculation.
As a long-time comic book reader, I'm prone to outbursts of fanboy excitement, and this issue delivers more than a few for me, a longtime fan of Hawk (and, I guess, Dove). Fans of the "Birds" most likely are finding moments of their own to squeal about.
"Birds of Prey" has never been the top of my must-read list, but if this series maintains the level of quality put forth in this first issue, "Birds" will be perched on the upper limbs of that list. C'mon, you didn't think I'd let a whole "Birds of Prey" review go by without a pun, did you?