Saturday, June 8, 2013

Birds of Prey: Manhunt #1 (Sept 1996)

Black Canary first partnered with the high priestess of cyberspace, Oracle, in Black Canary/Oracle: Birds of Prey.  Spinning out of that one-shot special, comes the Birds of Prey: Manhunt four-issue limited series.  The leading ladies are back, and this time there are twice as many x-chromosomes to kick ass and look good!

Chuck Dixon returns to scribe the tale, but Gary Frank only provides cover art this time.  Matt Haley supplies the interior pencils with inks from Wade Von Grawbadger.  The combination is close enough to Gary Frank's style to not seem jarring or lacking.  Birds of Prey: Manhunt #1: "Where Revenge Delights" premiered in September 1996 and cost $1.95 U.S.

Not wasting time with anything silly like a prologue that establishes atmosphere or threat, the story dives headfirst into action as Black Canary barges into an underground parking garage looking for a man to beat down.  This opening, with Dinah behind the wheel, is a subtle nod to the Birds one-shot, which ended with Dinah driving off in her new ride.  Manhunt doesn't pick up directly after the last story--she's not even driving the same car--but it's a nice, fun continuation.  Alas, Dinah is again wearing the Gary Frank-designed costume that I don't care for, but the art team make her look good wearing it, and that helps.   

Black Canary races through the parking complex of a Gotham City high-rise, hunting for a man named Braun.  Chances are it's not Major League Baseball player and accused performance enhancing drug popper Ryan Braun, but maybe, we'll see where the story goes.  Serving as communications and technology coordinator, Oracle, feeds Black Canary intel on the building's security systems and Braun's armed security forces.  Unbeknownst to either Canary and Oracle, a third female operator--the dark and mysterious Huntress--is sneaking into the tower.  We don't know what either of the women are there for yet, or who Braun is, but his men have machine guns, so it's probably not Ryan Braun, the baseball player.

So Barbara Gordon still hates the Joker for paralyzing her?  I guess I can understand why she'd hold a grudge about that.  From the sound of things, Dinah still doesn't know Oracle's secret identity, but does care for her enough to hate the Joker by proxy.

Black Canary takes on Braun's security forces in the garage, showing off her impressive hand-to-hand combat skills.  But right after, we get a scene showing her lack of familiarity with submachine guns.

It's a great little scene that delivers humor and characterization for both women.  Oracle, naturally, has a strong aversion to firearms, but still knows plenty about them, what with being the daughter of a cop and all (though Dinah's dad was a cop, too, so there goes that explanation).  Barbara also worries that Dinah is going to use the gun to kill Braun's security and warns her that she refuses to work with "that kind of vigilante".  Dinah, of course, had no intention of using lethal force.  Could the same be said, though, for Huntress upstairs in the penthouse?

The blonde in the sports car is Archer Braun, apparently, and he escapes from the parking garage when Dinah decides not to pursue in her bullet-riddled Range Rover.  Then Huntress drops down the elevator shaft and she and Black Canary recognize immediately that they were here for the same man/reason.

Dinah is pretty cavalier about dropping her real name to costumed strangers.  Huntress, on the other hand, is a bit more guarded, although she does reveal in a flashback that she is Helena Bertinelli.  The same flashback also provides us with the much-needed exposition.

Helena met Archer Braun at an opera, which should have been her first clue that something wasn't right about him.  Everything he told her was a lie, including his family, his history, even his name--all crap seemingly tailored to her specific tastes.  The only genuine thing about Helena's perfect beau was a part of his anatomy that we'll return to later.  Anyway, she falls for him, sleeps with him, and waits for him to call the next day.  And waits.  And waits.

Meanwhile, Braun was working a different but no less custom-tailored seduction on Dinah.  Eventually, and more than a little embarrassingly for the characters--and fans--both women discover their lover's criminal nature when they recognize his ass in security camera footage from a crime scene.

Black Canary and Huntress figure they could let the police take Braun, but this is personal.  He slept with them under false presences, dammit, and now they're going to shove their stiletto heels up his oh-so-recognizable rear.

Speaking of memorable asses, this one shows up at the end!

That's right--Black Canary, Oracle, Huntress, and Catwoman are all going after this evil bastard who may have committed some kind of robberies between nailing all of the hottest women in Gotham City.  What will Catwoman add to the mix?  Or, more appropriately for her, what is she planning on taking away?  We'll find out in the next issue, which hopefully I'll review next weekend.

The Verdict

Birds of Prey: Manhunt #1 is a bit of a different beast than the original BoP special, although some of that is to be expected given the different format.  This isn't a self-contained story, but merely the first act of a miniseries.  Still, Dixon may be letting the cables slip a little too much for an opening chapter.  There's plenty of great action to kick off the story, but the exposition comes awkwardly packed on top of itself all in a rush at the end.  The one-shot felt tight, efficient and economical in its storytelling.  This issue feels more like Dixon's making it up as he goes along.

The threat in this issue is its biggest problem.  We really don't know why Archer Braun is worth super heroine/vigilante's time, other than the fact that he slept with her and didn't call her back.  Besides being awkward and embarrassing, that's just kind of… petty.  It doesn't make Black Canary or Huntress seem like strong women.  In fact, Huntress is shown to be easily lured and pining away for her boyfriend, literally waiting for him to call.  This is the master villain of the series?  His Who's Who in the DC Universe entry would list his occupation as: douche bag.  Hopefully, the stakes will be raised quite a bit in issue #2.

All that aside, it's still a very fun read.  Having spent fifty-or-so pages with Dinah and Oracle last time around, it's nice to see Huntress added to the mix, even though we don't get much chemistry from her or Catwoman this time around.  Knowing that Helena will become a fully integrated third of this partnership five years later makes it all the more special to see how the characters respond to each other on first meeting.


  1. Thought this was great. As a bit of mindless fun it worked a treat, the team of Oracle and Dinah joined here by future member Huntress and Catwoman, who frustrates and delights in equal measure, as so she should.
    Dinah and Helena here have a cautionary relationship, and you can see the glimmers of what the Huntress will eventually learn as some form of mercy towards her enemies, something she later utilizes when she teams up with Catwoman in her own comic, which continuity-wise takes place several weeks after this.
    Loved Babs' comment on not to trust Catwoman. In the Balent written/drawn book, Catwoman and Huntress make an almost anti BoP team, so its curious to see that there.
    Black Canary still has her short hairstyle. I don't like it but it manintains continuity and besides she grows it long for the ongoing comic, so that's okay.
    Some things didn't sit right with me; the gels looking at Braun's ass, which if it was men staring at a woman's would be instantly leapt on as sexist and demeaning, and I did think there was a distinct 'women picking on men' vibe being pushed throughout the book.
    The sheer thrill and abandonment of the three heroines however simply carries it thru, and we have a fast-paced, almost BoP take on the Lethal Weapon movies, in style of fast moving vehicles and snappy witty dialogue. As a 'sequel' the superior first BoP it dosent match, its merely switch-your-brain-off-and-enjoy fluff, but it has its own charm; one can even recognise elements of the later Charlies Angels movies in some sequences.
    A harmless filler to satiate us until the regular BoP series begins.

  2. Thanks as always, karl, for the words!

    Again, we're in total agreement. For the most part, this miniseries skips characterization and relationship-building for action and sex appeal, but the action and sex appeal are no less enjoyable.

    That a gratuitous butt shot tips the ladies off to their man's criminal ways is ridiculous, almost cringe-worthy. On the other hand, I can understand if it was an attempt to flip the usual convention of objectifying female characters that you mentioned. If that was the intention, though, I don't think it worked.

    As I've said, this visual version of Black Canary is my least favorite. I still think Dixon was trying to turn her into DC's BLACK WIDOW. At least when Greg Land draws her in the ongoing, her long hair is a bit more reminiscent of classic Dinah.

    I'll review issue #2 next weekend, and plan to push on through the ongoing every week thereafter.