Every Wednesday, I review an issue of Action Comics Weekly featuring a backup story starring Black Canary among others. Each installment of Back in Action will look at Dinah's story and touch on my favorite or least favorite moments from the rest of the strips in these issues.
Black Canary's fifth appearance in ACW was issue #613. The cover by Michael Kaluta showcases the newest addition to the anthology, Nightwing. The Nightwing stories in this series were recently collected in the trade paperback, Nightwing: Old Friends, New Enemies. It was this collection that first drew my attention to these back-issues which included the Black Canary stories. I'm sure it's too much to hope that Dinah's stories from ACW would ever be collected, but given her increased exposure in recent episodes of the television series Arrow and the video game tie-in comic Injustice: Gods Among Us, maybe someday soon she'll have a high enough profile to warrant some more trade paperbacks.
"Bitter Fruit" Part 5: written by Sharon Wright, pencilled by Randy Duburke, inked by Pablo Marcos, lettered by Steve Haynie, colored by Gene D'Angelo, and edited by Mike Gold. Other than her inaugural appearance in this series, Black Canary's feature has consistently come at the end of the issue, after the letters column.
The fifth part of "Bitter Fruit" opens with Dinah meeting Rita and Luis at the hospital on a rainy Seattle morning after their father, Hector Librado, was attacked. He didn't die, we discover, as his attacker was discovered in mid-kill by the patient in the next bed. Rita recalls a man who tried to get into Hector's room after visiting hours the day before. It's Dinah's only lead.
Outside, we see the man Rita was talking about, the mysterious man with a goatee who has been following her around. Was he the one who tried to Hector? His dialogue sounds vaguely ominous, but if he was anything more than just a misdirect, why wouldn't they have shown the assailant's face last issue? He's on the phone talking to "Doug". Is it the cowboy Doug Vallines that Black Canary met the day before, or the Hollywood Doug Vallines we saw at the end of part 4?
Dinah takes Rita and Luis to a cafe where the walls are alternating shades of red, yellow, orange, and pink. Luis says Doug Vallines was a crop-duster pilot back when Hector worked in the orchard. Luis then goes on to explain how his father enlisted the service of a records forger to help establish a legal employment record so he could become a naturalized citizen of the United States. The goons who beat up Luis in part 1 were looking for Hector and wanted to know the name of his forger.
We then find the head of the Scales corporation in a greenhouse with the cowboy who is obviously not Doug Vallines. In fact, Scales calls the cowboy Gary and demands an update on the cryptic, overly confusing crap that's been going on in this story.
In the Seattle branch of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, a woman named Ellen Waverly stumbles onto the fourth or fifth subplot of this series. She calls William MacDonald from the I.N.S. office in Lincoln, Nebraska, to let him know that Hector Librado is not a convicted felon from Mexico and his citizenship papers ought to be processed. Since MacDonald is corrupt and working to deny visas to certain people for unknown reasons, he tries to throw her off the case. She stubbornly holds to her principals of righteous justice. So MacDonald makes a phone call that sounds like he's ordering her killed.
Meanwhile, Dinah goes to see Hank Beecham, the forger, only to find him getting his ass kicked by the goons who previously attacked her in part 3 and Rita and Luis back in part 1.
"Bitter Fruit" Part 5 sort of answers some of the questions I've had since the beginning, but there are still a lot of characters whose identities are vague and motivations are indecipherable. Is this story about immigration or about using and abusing undocumented migrant workers? Who is spying on who and for what reason? And who tried to kill Hector when he's already in the hospital?
I maintain my position that Sharon Wright's script does not work for this shortened eight-page format, and even more, that her story would have worked better as a long form graphic novel or even a prose novel. Randy Duburke's art is suitable for the lack of action, but not for the subtlety and nuance in the characters. Duburke as well as the inker and colorist make every character look roughly identical and non-specific, which only adds layers to the confusion of this overly-layered story.
Once again, Green Lantern by Peter David and Tod Smith kick off the issue with the continuing story of Hal Jordan questioning the nature of his fearlessness. The psychic villain Mind Games attacks Hal by thrusting him into a mental war zone full of mental projections of all of Hal's villains and supporting players. The first page is a great splash image of Sinestro, Hector Hammond, the Shark, Black Hand, Carol Ferris in Star Sapphire garb, Arisia, and half a dozen Green Lanterns including Tomar-Re, Kilowog, and Salaak.
Hal is confronted by emotional triggers such as guilt, jealous rage, passion, and fear, the last of which proves ineffectual. As a reader and fan of Geoff Johns' run on Green Lantern, it's kind of fun to see these precursors to the emotional spectrum given a sense of danger. Hal defeats Mind Games and turns him over to the police. Then he questions the ring about the source of his fearlessness and the ring pulls him inside it.
This issue sees the first chapter of Nightwing's story, "The Cheshire Contract" by Marv Wolfman and Chuck Patton. The story opens with Nightwing taking out some smugglers on the wharf. When his over enthusiasm puts him in danger, Dick Grayson is saved by his old Teen Titans pal Roy Harper, Speedy. Roy has come to Dick at the behest of the Central Bureau of Investigation and the two team up to pursue Roy's baby mama, the deadly, sexy assassin known as Cheshire. They arrive in London to save Cheshire's target, but it seems her loyalty to the father of her child is nonexistent and she turns her sniper rifle on Roy and Dick.
During the story, Wolfman lays out for the reader Dick Grayson's reason for severing his partnership to Batman. No longer Robin, no longer able to sport the classic green trunks, Nightwing must balance his fun, free-wheeling attitude with the maturity and responsibility of a solo hero. I forgot how much I enjoyed this era for Nightwing. And how much I liked this original costume. As silly as some aspects of this costume look, it is so much better and more fitting of his character than the forgettable black and blue or current black and red costumes.
In The Phantom Stranger chapter written by Paul Kupperberg and drawn by Tom Grindberg, the titular character involves himself with an investigation into two mysterious deaths. The victims were reading a novel when they were mysterious attacked and drained of their life force by something inside the book. The Stranger is greeted in his sanctum by the novel's writer, Daniel Gleason, who reveals the substance of the novel is based on a Mayan chant to their god of death, Ah Puch. The writer is possessed by Ah Puch, who looks particularly nasty, and then attacks the Stranger, stealing his life force.
The two-page Superman strip by Roger Stern and Curt Swan furthers the tale of the mysterious Bob Galt, who believes Superman is a deity. There's an inscrutable corporation that's out to destroy the Man of Steel. The one weak link in their plans is a man in a hospital, so they send someone to kill him. Meanwhile, Superman targets the same man as his best shot at solving the mystery of Mister Galt.
In the third part of Catwoman's story, "The Tin Roof Club" by Mindy Newell and Barry Kitson, Catwoman has gone to the New Jersey home of her friend Holly. Catwoman stole a brooch and hid it with Holly; she has come to collect it, but Holly reveals that she already opened the gift and showed it to her husband. Catwoman knows they're in danger. She tries to get Holly out of the house, but there is an explosion and Holly is mortally wounded. She dies in Catwoman's arms. Selina goes to get drunk in her club when she's visited by her police detective friend, George, who warns her to get out of town before the heat from the cops and the gangs comes down on her for the stolen brooch. Catwoman pays a late night visit to Holly's widower, who is consoling his grief in bed with another woman. Catwoman figures out that he caused the explosion that killed Holly so he could cover the fact that he kept the brooch. Catwoman gets it back, but he throws her off the balcony of his hotel.
Next week, I'll look at Action Comics Weekly #614, which furthers the continuing sagas of Black Canary, Superman, Green Lantern, Nightwing, Catwoman, and the Phantom Stranger.