Why Birds of Prey?

September 8th, 2010 by | Tags: , ,

I know there’s some Birds of Prey readers out there who also read this site. (At least, one, maybe, does Esther read this stuff or just her own posts? I bet I could zing her good and she would never notice…) Anyway, BoP fans! Honest question here, because it’s been picking at my brain.

Why do you read it?

BoP is in this weird space for me. Gail Simone isn’t really to my taste, but I can see why people like her. But Ed Benes, whoo boy. Simone said he “does lovely, subtle acting, and tremendous facial expressions and body language. I think he brings a very fiery European influence that is a wonderful remedy to some of the tired vaguely manga and video game-esque influences we’ve seen lately.” And man, let me tell you, I can’t think of a single thing in that sentence that I don’t want to pull apart, throw into a Glad bag, and drown in a river. He sucks, is what I’m saying, and I think he’s filling too many pages with drawings of women vulving like their life depends on it rather than doing things like having faces that emote and bodies that act. (No shots.)

One thing I noticed when poking around on blogs and reviews that praise BoP is that they only ever seem to praise Simone, and highly, at that. It’s her book, and with good reason, and Benes tends to get, at most, a line or two about a kick to the face or a guts pose. It comes across, and this is obviously a generalization, that fans of BoP enjoy Simone’s half of the book and tolerate Benes’s half. The art gets short shrift in a way that it doesn’t for other cape comics.

Is that weird? Am I seeing patterns where there aren’t any? I know that I have a (perfectly rational) dislike of the Benes studio’s work (ask me about it sometime), and others like have a perfectly rational like of their work (maybe). I liked it a lot more back when he was a cartoonier Jim Lee, the Wildstorm and early BoP days.

For the fans, are you reading it for Simone? Is it because there’s slim pickings for ladycomics with superheroes? Are you 100% into the comic, writing and art, and I’m just a jerk? For the non-fans, why aren’t you reading it?

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37 comments to “Why Birds of Prey?”

  1. As a non-fan of BoP, I really got into Secret Six, Simone’s other current book with DC and was interested when they announced BoP would be coming back. But once I saw Benes’s preview pages, it killed it for me. No matter how good the writing was, it couldn’t overcome terrible art from the get-go. Worse were the incredible variant covers from Cliff Chiang, who is an artist that would make that book soar on a monthly basis. If he was on art, I’d buy it in every format DC cared to put it out in.

  2. Enjoy Simone and tolerate Benes covers it nicely.

  3. I enjoyed the first run, but Benes has only gotten progressively worse since than and I can’t even stomach a single page he’s drawn. Thankfully he’s being replaced by Alvan Lee for a fill-in arc and then Jamal Igle permanently (According to rumors anyway).

  4. I like these characters and I like what Simone does with them. I don’t think “slim pickings for ladycomics” covers it, exactly, because I really like the stories, but yes, “this is a title with longevity that centers around female characters with longevity” is definitely part of what makes the title a touchstone for female fans as well.

    Benes’s art is not a favorite of mine. But then I don’t think ‘tolerating’ the art when you like the story is as unusual as David finds it. I can think of at least one (Eisner-winning) title at a different company that gets a similar reaction from fans. Plus, BoP is a book that had a solid fanbase in a previous incarnation, under Simone, so I’m not surprised its existing fans would pick it up even with reservations about the art.

  5. I read BOP mostly because I like the Huntress character a lot, and you don’t see her getting much respect anywhere else. It’s a book that perpetually ALMOST connects for me — it never quite reaches beyond “pretty good” into “substantial,” but I keep going back to it. Inertia, I guess.

    I can see why people are bugged by Benes’ work, but I simply don’t care. If it were Claremont writing the book, that’d be different. But pairing his work with Simone’s writing renders the “exploitation” part of the art, if it’s there, inert. The motive feels different.

  6. I’m definitely in the love Simone and tolerate Benes camp. I don’t mind his art style itself, but I’m not a fan of how everyone has to be sexysexy all the time. I appreciate a good ass shot now and then just as much as the next person 😛 but I don’t think they need to happen every other page. I also wish everyone didn’t have collogen lips. Bleh.

  7. Um, I’m going to be pedantic here: “vulving?” WTF?

  8. @eris404: I couldn’t think of a word for how gross Benes’s poses are so I just made one up.

  9. Love Gail, tolerate Ed. Had not heard that Jamal Igle is potentially on Birds–that’s great news if true.

  10. I’m a Simone fan and simply tolerate Benes’ work. I figure the way artists are rotated these days, it won’t be long before he’s launching a different title for DC. DC seems to be following the model that Marvel is using of putting a hot artist on a title for the first few issues of a launch and then quietly shifting to someone else (especially for lower tier titles). Marvel seems to be doing that a bit less these days.

    That said, I’m very underwhelmed by the title so far. It is dangerously close to the dropping edge. After 3 issues (4 is sitting in my To-Read pile), not really much has happened. It’s been one big fight scene. As meaty as Secret Six is, and as much as I enjoyed Simone’s run on the title the first time, I was hoping for more.

  11. Like a rookie I hit comment before I should have, here’s more responses:

    @Tamar: What’s interesting about Benes’s style is that its component parts aren’t terrible. The lips bug me in his work, but the ones in Adam Warren’s actually look appropriate. Maybe it’s because there’s a range of lips, I dunno. The 24/7 Sexytime style looks better when Frank Cho or Cameron Stewart does it and it’s super cartoony. Even the exaggerated proportions or poses don’t work for Benes like they do for Eduardo Risso or Milo Manara (who is a porn artist, and who I probably shouldn’t include when talking about mainstream comics). But Benes’s whole creeps me out.

    @Caroline: I’m having a harder time reconciling poor art and good story, and so are several people I know. I know some X-Men die-hards who don’t read Uncanny because of Greg Land, and Invincible Iron Man is running about 50/50, too. I find the disconnect between writing and art in various books (anything Stephen Segovia or Simone Bianchi draws, for example) increasingly harder to tolerate, if only because so many people get it right out of the gate.

    @Debaser: Igle’s a huge improvement, and a good choice, too.

  12. For me it always Benes was the price you paid for BoP. But I don’t think you can connect Benes that closely with the book. He was key to the first 20 or so issues for volume 1, but that volume also had other artists including Nicola Scott. And even in this volume, the only issue he did solo was #1. I don’t think Benes is quite as bad as you say. His action sequences can be good and his layouts, especially in volume 1, enhanced the book. But the boobs and ass shots are hard to take. I am looking forward to Igle joining the book.

    But the question of whether BoP is popular because of the “slim pickings for ladycomics with superheroes?” is a little insulting, David. The book under Simone is good, period. No book is going to survive for over 100 issues and be selling out over and over again because it fills a niche.

  13. He’s quite good at the busting-down-doors, elbow to the throat stuff, though. I mean, yes, bosoms, but also yes, kapow.

    And I’ll just mention SO CLOSE in this context for the first time in about six years. I like that film. I used be in love with a girl that looked like one of the leads. I think I’ll watch it now!

    I’m a few universal reboots behind on BoP – I think the last trade I read was the one with Spy-Smasher on the rooftop. I did not like that character. Which was the point, so yay!

    I guess…I guess I like the characters and their interaction. The friction. The fractiousness. It’s not smooth. It’s not all mutual appreciation and daps. The stuff I don’t like *on the part of the writer* …I guess the characters can be over-powered, over-competent, and that can be a bit tiresome. Artistically, I don’t like the costumes – not the sexiness, but the designs, with Huntress being the worst offender. And I find myself missing the Cassandra Cain Batgirl costume every time I see that godawful padded purple monstrosity.

    I mean, it’s not the cheesecake I have a problem with, but the cookie-cutter. If there were more differences in body type, and not just the heads (which, you know, he’s not bad)… I do roll my eyes at it, but the other stuff makes up for it. And as regards the devotees to the post-Jim Lee superhero aesthetic (not one I particularly like), one could definitely do worse.

    God, that doesn’t even answer the question. Okay. I picked up the first Simone trade on the back of her rep, and have stayed with it because of the story and characters. The art is not an impediment to my enjoyment, although it varies in quality aaall over the show. There.


  14. David, I don’t think anybody believes that Iron Man or X-Men will go away if they don’t buy it. Female-headlined books have a shakier track record. I think you’re suggesting that this is leading to people giving Benes a pass for lousy art that does a bad job of portraying women. That doesn’t really reflect my experience or people I know (who I think treat BoP & Iron Man about equally in this regard), but I’m sure it happens.

  15. (Which isn’t to say I think Larocca’s art is as bad with women as Benes’s is, it’s just bad.)

  16. For the slim pickings thing–it was maybe a little more glib than it should have been (casualty of writing on lunch, I figure), but I know that I, and people I know/read/correspond with, often do tolerate things we don’t like in order to get more of what we do. I know that I kept up with Reggie Hudlin on Black Panther longer than I should have because I enjoyed having a black writer on one of Marvel’s foremost black characters much longer than I enjoyed actually reading his stories. I read McDuffie on JLA, with Benes, for much, much, much longer than I should have. There are slim pickings for black comics because there are so few, so I found myself supporting ones I maybe shouldn’t have. I even thought long and hard about picking up Teen Titans when Felicia Henderson came on, despite Titans being a murderfest.

    So that’s what I’m saying–“Are you putting up with something you don’t like in order to get more of what you do?” I’m having trouble thinking of another Big Two book with a majority-female main cast/focus… there’s She-Roes, and X-23 and She-Hulk(s?) are coming from Marvel soon, but even Black Widow ended up being Black Widow And Dudes What She Is Friends With. It’s a (genuine!) question, not an accusation of poor taste.

    @Caroline: I bought the Iron Man HC with the first 19 issues with glee, because I liked what I saw of the singles, and I read it and mostly enjoyed it. I made it about two issues into the post-Dark Reign stuff, the new beginning with the new suit? Before Larocca drove me off. I saw a preview of the latest issue and Rhodey 1) looks like Cuba Gooding Jr and 2) has a crooked face, like it’s been turned 15 degrees left or right. Not his head–just his face. So, I’m definitely with you, there.

    edit: And of course, by “She-Roes” I meant “Her-oes.” For my next trick, making up a new name for the Quality Quartet, the Judicial League of America, and the Revengers. Oh, and I left Batgirl off my list because I apparently don’t read Esther’s posts, which is some kind of instant karmic backlash for my joke up top about her not reading the site.

  17. That’s pretty what I’d expect Gail Simone to say. She’s a professional – she’s worked with Rob Liefeld and John Bryne before, and had nothing but praise for either of them.

  18. I’m not reading the book because it hasn’t given me a reason to start reading it yet. Even more so since I’m usually a Marvel guy. I read some indy titles here and there, but Batgirl is the only DC title I’m reading right now.

    Considering the amount it’s possible to spend on comics each week, I’m rather particular about picking up new series, especially ongoings. I like to keep my pick list small if I can help it. Budgeting and all, you know. Usually, if I’m going to start reading a new ongoing series, it needs to give me an excuse to pick it up and entertain the possibility of buying it long term.

    I don’t read BoP because it hasn’t given me that stand out excuse yet.

  19. Aside: Mouse’d over the Chattahoochee link and thought nothing of it. Didn’t open it. 5 minutes later did non-sequitor facepalm as the reference clicked. Felt stupid as I’d just watched the Soledad O’Brien interview in the last week.

  20. @Ben: Wow, that’s definitely not at all what I was referring to. I googled it up and found this, which is terrible, and not the kind of thing I’d joke about.

    Though the original reference, from Goodie MOb’s Gutta Butta, isn’t much better, beyond not being a specific reference, I guess. At least this one is about criminal behavior?

    Now don’t get mad, nigga, get Glad
    Goodie got them brand new trash bags, dad
    And they know where to dump that ass
    In the Chat-tahoochee river with the rest of the kids
    That did business outside la familians

    My bad on that one, cripes. Not really any way to defend that one, huh? “When rap references go too far…”

  21. Zing me and I wouldn’t ever know, huh? Not in a Birds of Prey post, mon frere.

    I’m of the love Simone, tolerate Benes camp. Reading this, I tried to nail down what I dislike most about sexyface art. The answer is ‘so many things,’ but I think Benes what bothers me about Benes is that all pretty women (and men) look exactly the same. There are parts in which I don’t know whether Zinda or Dinah is talking. The face, body, and pose are exactly alike. Sadly, most artists fall into this trap. Even Darwyn Cooke, who is a great and creative artist, tends to draw pretty women looking exactly alike.

  22. I used to buy it because I liked Huntress, Black Canary, and the occasional Ted Kord guest spots. I picked up the first issue of the recent relaunch because I like the idea of Hawk and Dove being on the team, but ultimately couldn’t get past the art, so I decided against buying it monthly.

    The strange thing is, Benes’ art hasn’t always put me off so badly in the past. I think his original BoP is fine, and there was a Thundercats comic he did that actually looked pretty good. Something about the really weird, soft, airbrush-y coloring his work had on BoP just didn’t do it for me.

  23. “I know some X-Men die-hards who don’t read Uncanny because of Greg Land”

    That would be me. Benes is also the reason I won’t touch BoP. And yeah, I steer clear of anything with the name Bianchi on it.

  24. Yes, David, I think that’s about right from my perspective. And I didn’t mean to suggest it wasn’t a genuine question, just that I wasn’t 100 percent sure that was what you were getting at.

  25. As someone who has only been with the series since the relaunch, I dig the characters but am already teetering on the edge of letting it go. I’ll second what has been said about ‘all pretty women looking the same’ as that is a peeve of mine (I once spent an entire convention at a table across from J. Scott Campbell). I’m not one to be run off by bad art, having been a fan of Matt Fraction’s for a while, but when it doesn’t quite fit the writer (as is the case here) it really bothers me. In between Canary’s emotional bits and Barbara’s man faces of thinking, there are a relentless flood of buttshots and the two just don’t synch to me.

    So why am I reading it? Probably a good question, to which Simone is at least part of the answer. True, there aren’t that many solid books about female characters, but I think it’s just as much a question of character dynamics. As DC female characters go, there aren’t that many without a male analogue. Also, as far as DC female characters go, there aren’t that many who function on a street level. These are the closest characters DC has to realistic women with superpowers. Maybe, it’s because I’m a Marvel kid at heart and like to see that my heroines are real people.

  26. Well, I don’t get why people were all ga-ga over Power Girl as a cheesecake book with mediocre writing. I mean, it had expressive faces; Connor’s really good at that. It also had a whole bunch of scenes where Power Girl strips down for people or jokes about her boobs or has a teenaged sidekick who fights crime in her underwear, and writing that seemed weirdly directed at younger people in the midst of some really intense gore, and was a disappointing effort from a stellar creative team, so I don’t get the love for that either. Is it because Connor is a woman and Benes is a man?

  27. @P.B.: Is it because Connor is a woman and Benes is a man?

    No, that’d be dumb. I liked PG because the story and art worked well together, and the cheesecake was fairly organic, instead of being tossed into exposition scenes. Other artists who are good at that–Eduardo Risso, Khari Evans, Philip Bond, Ryan Sook. They’re all dudes, and they do what Benes does better than he does.

    And it’s not that I don’t get the love. I know why people like BoP: Gail Simone. My question is about Ed Benes and their feelings on his work.

  28. Benes doesn’t really bother me. He’s not my favorite artist, but I don’t mind his art.

    And as far as the “slim pickings for ladycomics with superheroes” I think DC has more than you suggest. There is Birds of Prey, Batgirl, Supergirl, Power Girl and Zatanna. If you are willing to stretch a little I would say JSA All-Stars (I think I’m the only person who reads that) is fairly female focused, being mostly about Star Girl and Power Girl, with a huge cast of other guys and gals to round it out.

    And I do not mean to be contrary every time I post here. I hope this does come off that way.

  29. I picked up the first issue of BoP and I thought Benes was decent. He’s improved quite a bit.

    What I didn’t like was that for a #1 issue, Simone did a terrible job doing anything other than pandering to the existing BoP fanbase. As a new reader, it felt like she didn’t even try to make it friendly for me. As opposed to Thunderbolts #144 (Jeff Parker restarting the team), Punisher #1 (Remender establishing the character in the new status quo), or Action Comics #890 (start of Luthor story with new questions and directions).

    Needless to say, I did not buy #2 despite the story being okay.

  30. why i don’t buy it
    money money money, moneeeeeeeeeeeyyy

  31. I’m not really in the demographic that you’re looking for comments from, as while I like her as a writer, like yourself Simone isn’t quite to my taste, and when Nicola Scott left Secret Six so did I.

    All in all Simone strikes me as a writer with an incredibly strong fanbase who will follow her from project to project no matter what the artist. She’s no different from Grant Morrison in that respect, and he’s had a fair share of artists who don’t match his talent over the years. But in his case, he’s more to my taste as a writer, so I’ll weather artists who are not to my taste for his work.

  32. This topic looks like its been covered pretty since I last checked for new posts, but I’ll still drop my two cents.

    Re: “For the fans, are you reading it for Simone? Is it because there’s slim pickings for ladycomics with superheroes? Are you 100% into the comic, writing and art, and I’m just a jerk? For the non-fans, why aren’t you reading it?”

    Yes. I am mostly cool with Benes’ work but my main draw is Gail. If they’d restarted the series without Benes, I would have been disappointed but still present.

    Nope. Novelty may be part of the appeal, but it’s staying power has more to do with the characterization in Gail’s books.

    Pretty much. Something less than, but close to 100% is about right.

  33. I mostly enjoyed #1 of (Vol. 2) BoP despite the art, and haven’t really been able to get into it since then. I suspect I may like it better later on, when the art steadies out. (If it’s true that Jamal Igle is going to be on the book in a few months, then I’ll be much more content.)

    I am a huge Barbara Gordon fangirl, and that’s always gonna be my primary interest in BoP. I started reading Birds of Prey toward the end of Simone’s run, and really enjoyed it (Nicola Scott being on the art then was wonderful). With BoP, chances are if you like the characters in it, that’s your only book to read. (Babs is in Batgirl, but it’s not really her book in the same way lately.)

    I think for a lot of readers, having Gail Simone writing their favourite female characters means they don’t necessarily have to worry as much as they would if it was someone who didn’t have a good track record of being respectful of, and interested in, those characters. There’s certain level of trust there, and with that, a lot of loyalty and willingness to put up with bad art. I do think that sometimes we see less criticism of her work coming from readers, though. (At least, until the new volume of BoP came out, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t as critical of her work as I have been of others’, and that’s largely because of how much I wanted to enjoy it.)

    And it is still sadly very rare to have a book starring mostly female characters, which makes Benes’ art all the more aggravating. There were a lot of negative reactions to #3, and I had a rant about the art and writing in #4. I do not want to see Penguin’s pervy daydreams about the Birds stripping, least of all pencilled by Ed Benes. Not in my BoP, please.

    I’m at the point where I’m still buying it and feeling kinda crummy about it. =S

  34. Also, something to consider is that even if I have some complaints about Gail’s writing, it is still such a relief to have her at the helm of those characters, and crap like Oracle: The Cure, and stupid jokes about threesomes with Huntress and Lady Blackhawk are unlikely to happen. To get away from that? BoP fans and Gail Simone fans are willing to put up with a lot, I’m pretty sure.

  35. I tolerate Benes, but he’ll be gone soon, right? Jamal’s damned good. I’d love to have Nicola Scott back, or Amy Reeder, or Cliff Chiang. Ah, but the writing: Great characterization, great female relationships that don’t depend on the men in their lives (there aren’t any, or they’re rarely present), and a dynamic that evolves as much as supercomix ever do.

    BOP is comics that make me want to be on a superhero team, and there ain’t many of those left, you know?

  36. […] of – is Batgirl a good book, or a terrific book, or just a book –  dovetails nicely into David Brother’s 4th Letter post about BoP we were talking […]

  37. I skimmed through the comments, so someone may have already brought this up, but isn’t Benes off the art now anyway? Alvin Lee is drawing the issue that comes out today as well as the next one. I don’t know if it’s just a temporary thing or what.