Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Back in Action: ACTION COMICS WEEKLY #609

In May, 1988, Acton Comics, the series that birthed Superman and the whole superhero genre and, well, comics as we know them, changed format.  Beginning with issue #601, Action turned into a weekly anthology book showcasing half a dozen-or-so characters in short, serialized adventures.  The stories were as varied tonally and thematically as the heroes included.  Superman, Green Lantern, and Deadman anchored the series, while Nightwing, Phantom Stranger, Wild Dog, Phantom Lady, and groups like The Blackhawks and The Secret Six made appearances over several issues.

Why this is of concern to my blog is, of course, Black Canary had two different backup stories run through Action Comics Weekly.  The ACW format lasted forty-two issues, of which Dinah appeared in nearly half.

Starting today, every Wednesday is Back in Action!  I'll review Black Canary's story and touch on my favorite or least favorite moments from the rest of the issues she appeared in.

Suck it, Stephen DeStefano!

Black Canary's first appearance in ACW was issue #609, which boasts not only one of my all-time favorite images of Black Canary, but one of the best covers to grace Action Comics!  I doubt Brian Bolland was intending to channel Howard Chaykin with this cover, but I see a lot of the latter's style, particularly in the shape and bounce of Dinah's hair and the glint of deadly playfulness in her eyes and smile.  This reminds me of Chaykin's Black Kiss, which would have been coming out around the same time.

As for the content of the cover: I love it!  I never liked Black Canary's new look from Legends and Justice League International.  The design was fine, albeit extremely dated, but it just wasn't Black Canary.  That she's giddily burning that costume and proudly donning her classic fishnets look makes this one of my favorite covers.

Black Canary

"Bitter Fruit" Part 1: written by Sharon Wright, pencilled by Randy Duburke, inked by Pablo Marcos, lettered by Steve Haynie, and colored by Gene D'Angelo.  Mike Gold edited the feature, and I'll be talking about Gold much more when I eventually review Black Canary's mini- and ongoing series from the early '90s.

The first chapter of "Bitter Fruit" opens with Hector and Miguel, a pair of illegal immigrants from Mexico, working in the orange groves of California.  Though there is an inconstancy in the writing and art that makes it difficult to identify which man is which, their scene is fairly simple.  They came to the U.S. for job opportunities, and even if/when they get deported, they will try to return so they can support their families.  This is the positive, uplifting, and inspiring face of undocumented immigration.

The "ugly" face rears up on page 3, where we meet William B. MacDonald, a senior agent at the Immigration and Naturalization Headquarters in Nebraska.  He's on the phone with someone, and it sounds like his agenda to detain and deport illegals extends a little beyond "duty".  He addresses the rest of his staff and shares a list of convicted felons and dangerously disturbed Asians and Mexicans who need to be captured.  I'm assuming that some, if not most, of the names on his list will be innocent migrant workers and not the dangerous criminal caste MacDonald describes.

Somewhere in a different city, a young man named Luis is chased into an alley by two white men who beat him up.  A young woman witnesses the assault from her window and goes outside to protect her friend Luis with a baseball bat.

In the apartment above Sherwood Florist in Seattle, Dinah Lance burns the costume that had been her Black Canary garb for the last couple years.  Dinah explains her cathartic creation of that costume while still holding onto the classic costume to her boyfriend, Oliver Queen.  "I'm going to rely mainly on more functional dress," she says, "but fishnets and black can have some practical applications."

Dinah has invited a girl named Rita over for dinner, and tells Ollie that she hopes to give Rita a job in the flower shop.  Rita is a recovering drug addict who crashed through the window back in Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters #1, and even though she uses the doorbell this time, her arrival is just as shocking to Dinah; Rita's face is bruised and beaten, and we discover that she is the girl who went to defend Luis from the punks who beat him in the alley.

The story ends with the teaser: Next Week: Educating Rita.

Update: PAGES!!!

Click the images below to enlarge.

That's it for the first chapter of "Bitter Fruit".  We never see Black Canary in costume; we barely get to see much of the costume she's incinerating in the fireplace.  Dinah doesn't appear until page 5 of an eight-page story, so most of this is set-up.

Just from reading this first chapter of Black Canary's story, I can tell this tale will play out very similarly to how Dinah's mini- and ongoing books did in the early '90s, despite having different creative teams.  The commonality between them is editor Mike Gold, who tried to make Black Canary a sister title to the Green Arrow book he also edited.  For good or bad--and I think a lot of it was bad--Dinah was a key supporting character in Mike Grell's Green Arrow.

Picking up on the themes from the O'Neill/Adams run on Green Lantern/Green Arrow, Grell made Oliver Queen a socially conscious hero in a grounded world that tackled current events-style problems, like drug use, human trafficking, rape, post-traumatic stress disorder, things like that.  "Bitter Fruit" feels very much like a one of those stories told from a different perspective.  The topical issue of this story is illegal immigration, and how a privileged white woman will deal with it.  Will the story enrich the characters and entertain the reader without coming across as too heavy handed?  We'll see!

It's hard to gauge much of Wright's, uh, writing based on this small snippet.  Dinah and Ollie's dialogue rings true to their voices established by Grell.  Duburke's art is pretty simple and… I guess "roomy" is the word that comes to mind.  A lot of white space and room in the panels between characters.  Nothing wrong with it; if this were a more action-oriented story, it might fall flat, but as this seems like a much more philosophical and street-level story, it kind of fits.

The Rest

The other five stories in ACW #609 continue stories already started in previous issues.  Having not read those issues, all I can do is comment on what I find in these chapters.

Deadman's chapter was written by Mike Baron and drawn by Dan Jurgens, with Tony DeZuniga inking.  For some reason, Deadman is attending a State Dinner in the body of the C.I.A. Director while looking for Satan.  Yes, Satan.  In this chapter, Deadman and Satan bounce between President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, and then their spouses Nancy Reagan and Raisa Gorbachova.  I have no idea what Satan's goal is in this story, but it's a funny bit of political caricature twenty-five years later.

The Secret Six by Martin Pasko and Dan Spiegle is hard to grasp without reading the previous chapters or prior knowledge of the characters.  My experience with the Secret Six is Gail Simone's book starring Catman and Deadshot, so the only name in this story I recognized was the enigmatic and unseen Mockingbird.  I like Pasko's writing, but this chapter isn't new-reader friendly.

Superman gets a two-page spread by Roger Stern and Curt Swan… or, rather, Clark Kent gets the spread.  Clark talks to a man who was saved by Superman and now believes that the Man of Steel is a messianic god-like being.  It's a really great idea that I'm surprised I haven't seen in a Superman story before.

Wild Dog is a character I barely remember seeing when I first started reading comics.  I knew nothing about him, and had completely forgotten about him until I picked up this issue, which includes the last chapter of his story (for a while).  The thing is, though, I really dug this finale to a story I hadn't been reading.  The look of Wild Dog is perfectly of the time, reminiscent of Casey Jones from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and so many other "anti-heroes" of the era.  Writer Max Collins and artist Terry Beatty, who created the character together, drew me in enough with these eight pages that I look forward to reading Wild Dog's other appearances.

The last story in the issue is a Green Lantern chapter, written by Peter David and drawn by Tod Smith. I figure someone is always complaining that there isn't enough Oprah Winfrey in comics, and Peter David said, We'll see about that!  So, yeah, the Hal Jordan Green Lantern is on Oprah's show trying to justify being sans fear without coming across as a lunatic with zero sense of self-preservation.  It's an interesting question, one that seems to disturb Hal.  The chapter ends with him taking off his ring to fight a madman with a sword, to test, it seems, whether his bravery is the result of the ring's defensive powers or something inside him.

Next week, I'll look at Action Comics Weekly #610, which includes a new tale starring The Phantom Stranger, and, of course, the next part of Black Canary's story!


  1. These issues are really hard to find here in the UK, and I always tried to find them cause of the BC and Catwoman short stories...can I please ask if you would kindly post each page of all the Canary stories so we all can read them for ourselves.

  2. Forgot to add...the second season of Arrow starts tonight on Sky here in England. Cant wait to see Black Canary in it - its a double bill!!!

  3. I would love to, karl, but my scanner isn't working at the moment. When I get it fixed or replaced, I will definitely post the BC pages!

    As for ARROW, I'm still about ten episodes behind in the first season, and haven't seen any of the second yet, but I look forward to it. I hear this season is pretty solid and I really want to check out Black Canary and Bronze Tiger in action!

  4. Hey, karl - ask and ye shall receive pages!

  5. Count Drunkula - thank you! Most appreciated - never got the chance to see these before so its cool to get to read them, thanks.

  6. Action Comics Weekly sucked! It almost ruined DC and reduced Superman to a 2 page joke. Good lesson though....leave Superman and Action Comics alone! ...and so much political correction it made me lose my lunch! John Payet Valandingham