By: Gail Simone (writer), Jesus Saiz (artist), Nei Ruffino (colorist)

The Story: The Birds tackle their latest mission, Charlie’s Angels style.

The Review: Ever since this title relaunched, it’s been hassled by the distractions of Brightest Day, and though good stories have come out of it, none have really captured the magic from Simone’s original run on Birds.  But now that the crossover material’s out of the way, Simone has the freedom to tell the stories she wants, the way she wants.

Almost no one in the comics biz writes the scene macabre as convincingly as Simone, and for good reason: most dance around making their characters “dark,” but Simone will take darkness by the throat and shove it in your face.  The opener offer no direct info about who the characters are, but some choice words (“What.  Do you see?”  “A woman’s entrails still steaming, fresh from an evisceration.”) tells you volumes about who you’re dealing with.

As graphic as they can be, Simone’s characters also never fall into caricature territory.  Beneath whatever depravity they possess, there’s humanity as well.  Lethal as the twin women undeniably seem, they’re also vulnerable.  Their attempts to appear “normal” for what they hope will be a “normal” job has an almost endearing sincerity, and even when one of them admits she sees in the Rorschach test a woman’s skull she’s stomped on, there are tears in her eyes.

And these are just happenstance characters, obviously supporting cast to a much bigger, even more sickening personality.  The buildup to this reveal paces perfectly, growing so intense, you feel the dread long before his/her appearance in the final panel, preceded by Mr. Tripe’s—terrific name, by the way—reverence in describing this twisted savior (“I saw her chew through a man’s rib cage while he begged and called her God!”).

Simone of course has a great handle on her pet heroes: each voice brims with personality—and I don’t mean they just banter wittily and say lively things, which passes for personality in a lot of fiction nowadays.  Example: when Black Canary asks, “Don’t you normally just hack or smack or crack it or whatever the hell it is…” you get her technological incompetence without having it told to you.  Simone uses character to give the words life, not the other way around.

The ladies get superb treatment in this issue, but male Bird Hank Hall has some surprisingly good moments.  He seemed a forced addition to the cast at first, but Simone uses him to great effect as a fresh point of view for his female colleagues (it’s not Zinda’s dumb and helpless act that’s winning, he says, “Did you see her skirt?”).  He’s a man’s man learning to adapt to a woman’s world—even when forced into a sustained conversation about teddy bears.  We will follow his career with great interest.

The revolving door of artists plaguing this title should stop with Jesus Saiz, one of DC’s most talented “straight” artists.  He’s not very stylish, but he brings such depth to his paneling choices, facial expressions, and detail that even the talky panels get a cinematic tension.  Ruffino’s lighting in this issue also does a lot to bring out the espionage-thriller vibe the script goes for.

Conclusion: Between this and the outtasight issue of Secret Six last week, Simone’s in fine form this month, as it finally feels she has got her mojo back on the title that made her name in DC.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Love Saiz’s cover, with the characters in the business outfits and their masks on as well—great summation of the tone this series is taking.

– I think “fancy” will soon become a byword for all of Lady Blackhawk’s romantic disappointments.