Saturday, June 15, 2013

Birds of Prey: Manhunt #2 (Oct 1996)

Previously on Birds of Prey: Manhunt

Black Canary has a burning hatred for a master criminal named Archer Braun--not because he's a master criminal, but because the well-toned adonis toyed with her physically and emotionally and didn't tell her about being a master criminal.  With her new partner, Oracle, Mistress of the Information Super-Highway watching her back and whispering in her ear, Dinah launches an attack against Braun in the heavily-defended parking garage of his hotel.

Dinah and Oracle aren't the only women looking to settle the score with Braun, though.  The Huntress is gunning for Braun because he seduced her and didn't call the next day (which is a worthy offense for a costumed superhero's time, I think), and Catwoman--herself a firm-bodied master criminal--wants Braun taken down for reasons yet to be told.  All of that brings us to…

Birds of Prey: Manhunt #2: "Girl Crazy" is written by Chuck Dixon and pencilled by Matt Haley, with inks by Wade Von Grawbadger and John Lowe.  It's cover-dated October 1996.

Catwoman quickly explains her connection Archer Braun; she helped him pull of a bank job, but when she came to collect her share of the take, he skipped out.  Dinah attacks Catwoman's reason for taking Braun down just to get her money back, while Catwoman scoffs at her and Huntress for reacting like a couple of jilted lovers.  She argues that regardless of motive, they all want the same thing and so should work together.

Oracle urges Dinah not to work with Catwoman, but the timely arrival of Gotham City Police cruisers brings an abrupt end to the discussion.  Catwoman is a criminal and needs to run, and Huntress' status is hardly any better.  Not seeing another viable option, Dinah agrees to join them in their pursuit of Braun.

Dinah feels uncomfortable with Catwoman's cavalier attitude toward, well, everything.  And Oracle's voice--ringing in her ears, via the comms devices in her earings, like the Internet's own Jiminy Cricket--compounds Dinah's dilemma about working with this pair of purple-clad, raven-haired beauties.  At last Dinah ignores her "cyber-conscience" and removes her earrings, slipping them into Catwoman's hands to silence Oracle's growing objections.

The ladies chase Braun's cherry red sports car to Gotham Airport.  As soon as Black Canary ditches her metaphorical conscience, common sense goes out the window, too.  Not unlike Dinah, herself.

It's nice of Catwoman to show some concern for Black Canary as the other is clinging to the roof of a car, trying to wrangle control of the steering wheel.  Before Catwoman and Huntress can help, however, their own ride is blown off the tarmac by Braun's bazooka-wielding henchmen.  Luckily, the vigilantes are thrown from the explosion, while at the same time, Dinah is flung from Braun's car and knocked unconscious.

Braun and his goons carry Dinah aboard his aircraft, along with presumably the stolen money or jewels or weapons or whatever it was he was stealing.  Huntress and Catwoman can only watch the villain escape with their sort-of partner.  Even the sudden--very sudden--arrival of the Batmobile seems to late to save Black Canary.

Catwoman and Huntress exfiltrate the airfield and break into a hotel suite to reassess the situation.  Huntress' goal has switched from punishing Braun to rescuing Canary.  Catwoman, however, still just wants her her money back.  Different ends, same means: get Braun.  And Catwoman thinks she knows how to find him through a criminal fence named Solomon Cadiz.

The two sneak onto Cadiz' estate and split up after Catwoman leaves Huntress with some beef jerky to bribe or thwart the guard dogs.

Meanwhile, Oracle is tracking Braun's aircraft when she loses its location.  Even Batman and Robin--who appears to be doing his homework in the car--are no help in catching Braun and rescuing Oracle's "field operative".

Catwoman confronts a bed-ridden Cadiz, demanding Braun's whereabouts, only to be ambushed by Cadiz' nurse/bodyguard.  Outside, Huntress is cornered by attack dogs and armed guards.  And when things seem most desperate for Oracle, she hears from Dinah.

The only problem is, without the communicator earrings Dinah can't hear back.  The issue ends with Black Canary captured, mostly-incommunicado, and at the mercy of a master criminal with a great ass who is not Catwoman.

The second issue of Manhunt treats its reader to the same levels of action and intrigue and sexiness as the first issue.  But the superficial plot and lack of depth are also front and center in this chapter.  This is "popcorn movie" entertainment, a lot of glitz and glamor with no heart.  The dialogue is smart (at times) and funny (at times) and genuine enough to ensure that Dixon has a solid grasp of the characters.  After the first page, which is horrible, Haley's art looks great.  He infuses the right amounts of style and emotion to make every scene feel tight and necessary, even when they aren't.

Catwoman is undeniably the star of this issue, and if you look back at the descriptors used for this issue, the same words could be applied to her.  In many ways, she hijacks the story as joyously as she lures the heroines in the chase for Braun.  Oracle, the series' voice of reason, is shut out--dumped for Catwoman and Huntress.  As such, Oracle doesn't get to do much this issue but worry futilely.

The closest this story comes to a deep, emotional conflict is Dinah's decision to ditch the computer geek and go along with the cool, mean girls.  And in after-school special manner, she recklessly throws herself into danger and gets captured, becoming a plot device for much of the rest of the miniseries.

Speaking of plot devices, we don't really learn much more about our villain, Archer Braun, other than it wasn't an art mistake last issue--he really is wearing that atrocious uniform.  C'mon, he's an international criminal thief, not an X-Men villain from the Marc Silvestri-era.  Put him in simple civilian clothes.  Nothing about him feels interesting or original (yet), and his personal connections to Dinah and Huntress are all-but forgotten this time.  He's not the villain; he's the MacGuffin.

A few other notes of interest

At this point in the series, Oracle's real identity is still a mystery to Dinah.  From the context of their one scene in this issue, it's not clear if Batman even knows she's Barbara Gordon yet, and I can't remember when he learns that.

Catwoman calls Black Canary "Pretty Bird", and Black Canary… doesn't like it.  It sounds like an offhand remark from Catwoman, but it strikes the right nerve.  That nickname, of course, is what Green Arrow used to call her.  The name would stir mixed emotions in Dinah as Green Arrow was killed a year earlier in Green Arrow #101 (written by Chuck Dixon), coupled with the rather turbulent nature of their relationship in the years preceding his death.  This brief exchange and the volatility Haley brings to the scene is the highlight of the issue.

Come back next weekend for a review of Part 3!

1 comment:

  1. Thought this was great - this mini serves as an ideal sequel to the first BoP, and as I mentioned previously, this has the feel of those Charlies Angels movies in style.
    No, Dinah dosent yet know Babs is Oracle - that treat is saved for the second year of the ongoing comic, and their 'formal' relationship here is still being developed; Dianh removing her earrings is also a good precursor to the next BoP special, where a disagreement over what to do on a mission causes BC and Oracle to temporarily go their separate ways. I can well understand Dinah's mistakes in this series; she dosent know who Oracle is yet and so cant completely trust her, and Huntress and Catwoman have intruded into her mission into the bargain. Their beef jerky moment reminds me of how Huntress teamed up with Catwoman during Jim Balent's run on her comic, as she was often portrayed there as an anti-hero with a heart of gold who had her own agenda; she is totally in character here.