Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Back in Action: ACTION COMICS WEEKLY #616

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 eighth appearance in ACW was in issue #616, which marks the end of her first story in the series.  The issue sports a typically awesome cover by Alex Toth, depicting Janos Prohaska, the pilot adventurer known as Blackhawk who thrilled me in last week's issue.  I'm a pretty big fan of Toth, and he drew a fun little two-part Black Canary story from Adventure Comics #418 and #419 that I plan to review after New Year's.

Black Canary

"Bitter Fruit" Part 8: written by Sharon Wright, penciled by Randy Duburke, inked by Pablo Marcos, lettered by Steve Haynie, colored by Gene D'Angelo, and edited by Mike Gold.  One more time, Dinah's story is the last strip featured in the comic, after the letters column.

Dinah Lance breeches the surface of water she just jumped into while the lawyer Barry Neiman calls her crazy from the safety of the pier.  Dinah swims in front of Doug Vallines' seaplane and grapples onto one of the landing skids with her belt.  As the plane takes off, she hauls herself up and into the plane, only to come face-to-face with the working end of Doug's pistol.

At a private island retreat, INS scumbag William MacDonald tries to convince CEO scumbag Vincent Scales that there is too much attention on their illicit dealings and they should lay low after transferring some of their cancer-causing agricultural products to Central America.  They finally make the whole convoluted plot clear: Scales' company was poisoning their illegal migrant workers, so he had MacDonald deny the workers citizenship so they couldn't bring suit against Scales.  Pretty simple when stated that way but it's taken us eight chapters to make that known.

Aboard the seaplane, Dinah convinces Doug that his plan to rush Scales out of revenge is foolhardy and she'd be better suited to get the information they need to punish Hector Librado's enemies.  The plane lands on the shore, passing over the cowboy Gary DeMott's tiny little fishing dingy.  Dinah gets out and enters the compound, but Gary finds Doug in the plane and takes him prisoner.

Dinah sneaks into Scales' office and finds a tape recorder.  She also flips through some medical charts and discovers that Scales is dying of cancer caused by the same chemicals he tested and developed and unleashed on people like Hector and Doug.  Dinah and Scales have a stare down and she rescues Doug by nailing Gary in the face with a lamp (hilarious!).  Then she leaves with Doug.

In the epilogue, we discover that MacDonald no longer works at INS, but is that because he was fired for doing a crappy job or did he transfer out to handle Scales' business?  Dinah attends the funeral for Hector Librado.  She still has the tape recorder from Scales' office, but what's on the tape?

End of "Bitter Fruit".  Black Canary will return in issue #624.

Well, the conclusion does a lot of what the finale of a mystery is supposed to do.  The hero faces the villain and leaves at a relative stalemate, except Dinah does have some leverage.  The separate, seemingly unconnected plots are tied together and made known, even if the whole story isn't really resolved.

Sharon Wright scripted this story, but I feel a lot--a whole lot--of editor Mike Gold's fingerprints on it.  This is classic noir fiction.  This is DC's version of Chinatown.  In this chapter, Doug Valliens asks Dinah if she is some kind of private investigator, to which she replies "sort of", but that's exactly what she is here.  She's no superhero; she's not even a vigilante, because she's not avenging any crimes or bringing any criminals to justice.  She's met with a mystery in the beginning and she plays it to its inevitable, ambiguous conclusion.  "Black Canary" isn't an identity in this comic, it's just Dinah Lance's disguise when she goes out looking for information.

And I'm okay with it.  This is a different type of story, a genuine mystery novella, that we don't see a lot of from either of the big publishers these days.  I would love a regular Black Canary or Birds of Prey book done in this style, but not this format.  The problems of this story are compounded by its short-short chapter delivery.  The complex plot and minimalist art style works when taken in as a whole, but so much not separately.  I got frustrated reading this story peace meal, but now that it's over, I find more value in Wright's script and Duburke's art, though I still don't think the inks or colors supported the pencils as well as they needed to.

The Rest

Peter David and Richard Howell continue Hal Jordan's adventure as Green Lantern.  At the start of the chapter, Hal is trapped inside a safe lined with yellow paint at a science convention that has just been robbed by two goofy super villains.  Since un-labotomizing himself a couple issues ago, Hal has regained the ability to, um, fear.  So suffocating in a yellow coffin triggers all sorts of anxiety in him, but he manages to chip away at the pain and uses his ring to drill a whole in the wall.  Then he breaks free by creating a green Hulk, basically, which is great because Peter David was also writing that character across the street.

In The Blackhawk by Martin Pasko and Rick Burchett, we meet some more of Janos' partners.  Co-pilot, Andre Blanc-Dumont, and navigator, Carlo Sirianni, have joined Jan and Natalie Reed at the aircraft hangar to learn the details of the mission.  Meanwhile, their flight engineer, Lt. Weng is fighting his way out of a frat house after raising some cash in a game of dice.  The mysterious man who arrived at the end of last chapter is Leslie Richardson and has hired the Blackhawks to fly him to a remote part of Southeast Asia to learn what happened to his wife, a possibly-dead pilot who was more likely taken prisoner by... someone.  Fun story.

The story of Wild Dog by Max Collins and Terry Beaty takes more of a modernist deconstructionist take on the vigilante story.  The news is reporting on Wild Dog's return to take on criminals.  The boy, Daniel Crown, who witnessed Wild Dog in action last issue has become a local celebrity because of his eyewitness account.  Kids in a comic store debate the merits of Wild Dog's superhero status and costume.  They also talk about creating a Wild Dog comic of their own and seek Daniel's help as a technical advisor.  Seriously?  I would've thought this issue was written two years ago, not twenty-five!

Superman's two-page strip by Roger Stern and Curt Swan continues to entertain me.  Last time it looked as though Superman had accidentally killed a man in a scuffle.  This issue lets Supes off the hook, as he uses his X-ray vision to find a miniature transceiver inside the dead assassin's brain.  The killer's employers used the device to kill him when it looked like he'd be captured, and then they send another signal through the device that causes a small explosion, but Superman saves the doctors and nurses in the area.

Boy, I wish that out could've been used in Man of Steel somehow... somehow...

This chapter of Nightwing by Marv Wolfman and Chuck Patton is full of action!  Roy Harper has finally tracked down Cheshire's hideout, but her elderly man-servant Wen Cheng catches Roy and beats the ever-loving crap out of him.  Seriously, it's embarrassing for him.  Meanwhile, Nightwing's contact at Scotland Yard is complaining about all the locals Roy beat up in order to find Cheshire.  He reproves Dick for this kind of behavior and Dick can only plead that not all Americans are assholes (which is a lie--we totally are).  Nightwing follows Roy's trail, interrogating the same hoods that Roy had.  Before he gets a lead, though, Cheshire appears, having poisoned the hood Nightwing was talking to.  Nightwing and Cheshire engage in a brutal fight and the chapter ends with Cheshire about to slash Dick across the face.  Good stuff!

That's it for Back in Action until after the holidays.  I don't have issue #617 so a lot of these stories will proceed unknown to me.  In January, I'll come back with my review of Dinah's next adventure in issue #624, which sports one of my favorite comic covers!

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