Review by Ian Keogh
The events of Between Dark and Dawn changed the operating procedure of the Birds of Prey, resulting in a formal commitment to a regular organisation. A state of the art aircraft piloted by Lady Blackhawk widens their horizons to respond rapidly across the USA rather than confining their activities to Gotham. The opening destination is Dayton, Ohio, where a conflicted young girl in mourning is tapping into some very powerful energies.
An original intention to apprehend vigilantes who kill develops, by the halfway point, into a very surprising resolution. Gail Simone takes care to spotlight each of the primary cast, to provide them with a viable characteristic, then turns this on its head brilliantly. What had been slightly more than run of the mill, not quite up to Simone’s previous arcs, is fractured by a revelation and changes the book again, leading to a brilliant purge of embarrassment on Oracle’s part in the following story.
The addition of Lady Blackhawk to the cast ties the knot on the revised operational systems, but for someone who’s supposed to originate from the 1950s, and especially when drawn by Ed Benes, she hardly brings a 1950s outlook with her. There is a naivety, but otherwise it’s characterisation of convenience, and a wrong turn. A more reticent Lady Blackhawk at odds with the modern era contrasting the existing cast would be a more interesting character.
Benes is a frustrating artist. He has vast talent, can work in a number of styles, yet he can’t resist a gratuitous bum shot in any of them, and wait until you see his ludicrously muscled Batman. Despite this, when he’s not around the art is generally lacking. Tom Derenick keeps his women more within the bounds of reality, yet his page designs are nowhere near as interesting, and the same applies when Joe Prado is supplying layouts for Benes. His objectification of women is taken to extremes when Thorn is featured, admittedly a character with the briefest of costumes designed to accelerate the pulses of teenage boys in the 1970s, yet now drawn as a lap dancer. Of course, at the time of original release (2005) the object was to sell a comic about women to an overwhelmingly male audience, so as far as DC was concerned, it was job done.
There is another artist, Joe Bennett, last seen in Sensei and Student, and greatly improved. The anatomy’s still a little distorted, but the facial expressions and layouts are far better. Of course, his previous work may have been to a short deadline. Full credit as well for changing Huntress into a more practical and dignified costume.
It’s Bennett who handles the title story, in which Wildcat accompanies Black Canary to Singapore posing as drug buyers, while Huntress has a separate mission. It’s excellent. Simone’s script provides plenty of surprising moments, in particular making good use of a character we’ve all forgotten hiding in plain sight, and toying with the concepts of respect and honour as interpreted in the Far East. The dialogue is sassy and snappy, and it builds to a final unwinable battle of one kind counterpointed by another.
On its own ‘The Battle Within’ is the best Birds of Prey by Simone to date, and it’s not that the earlier material in the book was poor, just a little below established standards. If you’re curious about why Simone’s run on the title was so highly regarded, this is the book to pick up. Next is Perfect Pitch.