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Birds Of Prey: Sensei & Student
Gail Simone and Ed Benes
DC Comics / Titan graphic novel £10.99

Danger Girl: Odd Jobs
J. Scott Campbell and Andy Hartnell
Wildstorm / Titan graphic collection £9.99

reviews by Jeff Young

The comicbook realm of female superheroes is, perhaps almost by definition, a world full of guilty pleasures. Here, tough but sexy girls with supremely implausible bodies in spayed-on or revealing costumes offer a mix of athleticism and sensuality that's clearly designed for maximum appeal to the hormone-charged fantasies of teenage boys, and both the scripts and artwork might walk the tightrope between ultra-feminism (as the super-powered ladies match up to the macho antics of their male counterparts) and unacceptable sleaze. After 1990s' variants such as the spiky Tank Girl and (in a different but parallel medium) the phenomenally successful Lara Croft, it seems as if a new trend for retro super-heroines has surfaced in recent years. However, the coverings may well prove to be deceptive as the packaged content delivers little that's prurient yet much that's satirical or ironic.

Gail Simone's Birds Of Prey concerns itself with a group of female supporting characters from the milieu of Batman, but unlike the caped crusader, they are more concerned with international and global crises, rather than simple making the streets of Gotham safe from villainy. Barbara Gordon (the police commissioner's adopted daughter) was the original Batgirl until the Joker crippled her. Now, as Oracle, she's an online info-guru and adviser to a whole cadre of heroes. Black Canary was a member of the Justice League of America, and the 'sidekick' of bowman Green Arrow, until their broken relationship ended a long-term partnership. Helena Bertinelli is a mobster's daughter that survived a mafia massacre and became the vigilante Huntress, while both kung fu warrior-woman Lady Shiva and expert poisoner Cheshire are mercenary assassins, and only very reluctant allies of Orcale's crime fighting associates.

As the book's title suggests, this story-arc begins in Hong Kong, where both Black Canary and Lady Shiva are visiting their aged martial arts' instructor on his deathbed. They discover their old sensei has been poisoned, and they suspect Cheshire was responsible. While they investigate further, and confront their teacher's killer, Oracle finds herself in trouble when her computer system is infected with a dissembling virus (which gives out disinformation, and results in embarrassing mistakes for Batman and - the new - Batgirl, who both unwittingly follow Oracle's tips), and the henchmen of a corrupt US senator kidnap her...

With stylish art by Ed Benes, Michael Golden, Joe Bennett, and Cliff Richards (no, another one, of course!), Birds Of Prey serial looks fabulous. Strong colouring add to the impact of dynamic fights and the rapid pace of development in the main storyline ensures that flashbacks and quirky comic asides never let out interest in the characters' moral and ethical conflicts falter. A grim nightmare of a prophetic dream sequence for Black Canary, and the climactic showdown between a scheming Cheshire and the vengeful Shiva, play out with abundant sensational thrills and are resolved most satisfactorily. It's also worth mentioning the epilogue, which features a guest appearance for Wonder Woman in a fitting, but nonetheless amusing, matriarchal role.

In marked contrast to the, occasionally lurid, verisimilitude of Birds Of Prey, we have the droll babes of Danger Girl: Odd Jobs, which serves up campy fun and glamorous action with a couple of spy girls. Owing much to the kitsch appeal of Modesty Blaise (and not forgetting The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.), some of this the material resembles a PG-certificate, comicstrip version (sans nudity) of an Andy Sidaris adventure movie. The blonde and brunette heroines, Sydney Savage and Abbey Chase, are joined by feisty but often inept teenage office-assistant, Valerie, a cute redhead who dreams of becoming a 'Danger Girl' - with numerous guises (an obvious Lara Croft mode, in particular) in Delusions Of Grandeur.

There is also a rather silly TV-episode style intro, Mod Bods, which showcases quaintly retro girlie variations of everything from Adam West-era Batman clichés to The Monkees' farcical sketches, for the quintessential action-girls getting a bimbo-makeover flavour, where bikinis and high heels are de rigueur for apprehending baddies. "Not the onslaught of cheesy one-liners!" exclaims the villain as he's kicked in the head by one of the sassy, yet overly talkative, heroine. Hawaiian Punch (which, uncannily, reads just like an un-filmed Sidaris script!) sees the Abbey and Syd averting a holocaust when nuclear submarines are hijacked, while Viva Las Danger concerns a magical Egyptian jewel and a sinister plot to attain immortality, and features distinctive painterly art by Phil Noto.

Yes, of course, there are visits to casinos and Abbey and Syd get into disguise to join a scantily-clad chorus line, but there's also some wry amusement to be derived from the clowning of hapless 'danger man' Johnny Barracuda, the guy who thinks he's god-gift (singer, dancer, womaniser), when he's really a harmless jerk, and the heroines' dialogue is always entertaining despite all the archly-stereotypical main characters and frequently hackneyed plotting.
Birds of Prey - Sensei and Student

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Danger Girl - Odd Jobs

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