Over in the pages of Batman, the titular hero's origins have been rewritten for the New 52. One of the major moments of Batman's "Zero Year" is a city-wide blackout caused by The Riddler. In November 2013, a number of DC comics tied into this event to show where characters like Clark Kent, Barry Allen, and Dinah Drake among others were six years ago. What kind of characters were they during "Zero Year" and how did the events of that time shape the kind of heroes they would become?
Birds of Prey #25: "Sunrise" is a Zero Year tie-in set six years before the current events of the ongoing series, and extended to 28 pages at $3.99 instead of the usual 20 pages for $2.99. The issue is written by Christy Marx, with art breakdowns by Scott McDaniel, pencils by Romano Molenaar and Daniel Sampere and Travis Moore, inks by Jonathan Glapion and Vicente Cifuentes, and colors by Chris Sotomayor. Jorge Molina drew the cover... and what a horrible cover it is. The idea is nice, showing a younger Dinah defending herself from a gang in what looks like a street-cycling prototype of her Black Canary costume. But the colors drown out any sense of pop or dynamism about her costume. Everything sort of washes and blends together. And, my lord, what is wrong with her face?!! That could be the ugliest depiction of a beautiful woman I've ever seen in comics! Why didn't the editor laugh at this and pass it back demanding a redo?
...Okay, moving on...
Six years ago, Dinah Drake is teaching a martial arts class at her dojo in Gotham City. There is an alter on the wall to a Sensei Desmond Lamar, who we'll meet later in the story. Dinah's instruction is interrupted by a street gang running a protection racket.
Dinah quickly disarms and beats down the five thugs, showing her students exactly what they could accomplish if they heed her wisdom. She sends the gang running, declaring that neither she nor her dojo will cower to criminals.
After class, she cleans the dojo, which is also her home, and later visits the grave of Sensei Desmond. She is restless, at a crossroads in her life. The dojo is failing as a business and she doesn't know what to do with her life.
We jump back even further into Dinah's past, to the moment when she first met Sensei Desmond. Dinah had runaway from her foster home and scrounged food out of Sensei's dumpster when he found her and took her into his home.
He gives her a place to stay and a worldview that isn't full of anger and hatred toward other people. Over time, she starts to pickup on the fighting lessons he teachers his students until she is old enough to be trained.
Sensei Desmond dies of brain cancer a few years later. By that time, he was as much a father to Dinah as a teacher, and his death is devastating to her.
On the subway coming back from the cemetery, all the power goes out. Dinah takes charge and helps get the commuters off the train and back to the street safely.
Hey, it's that woman again! The old black lady, Miz Etie, who shared a table with Dinah back in issue #18, and then met Condor outside the bank in issue #22. Who is this 99 year-old woman (although, I guess she'd be 93 in this issue), and why does everyone call her "Mother"? And why is she so concerned with Dinah after all these years?
Elsewhere, the military is monitoring the blackout. John Lynch, who will create Team 7 a year after these events, is told by a commander with what look like cybernetic parts on his head that the blackout was caused by an electromagnetic pulse set off by a terrorist. The commander says someone named Ye tried to warn them of the EMP, and sends Lynch to Gotham to retrieve Ye.
Hang on, if it was an EMP how come the flashlights were working in the tunnels? Wouldn't those be killed, too?
It's a blackout caused by an EMP--where's all the light coming from? Dinah's running around the streets, saving Vietnamese grocers and stopping looters complaining about the lack of power or traffic. But everything looks fine. The lights are on! I don't think Chris Sotomayor knew what he was coloring when he got these pages. This shouldn't be more than a cosmetic mistake but it really bugs be because I have long complained about the editing on this series--without ever naming the editor(s).
Dinah finds someone in a nearby alley. It's Ye, and he's been fatally wounded. He passes the tracker with intel valuable intel for the military that was hardened against the EMP. He tells her to find Lynch, but of course he dies before telling her who Lynch is or why she should do that.
Then the ninjas show up. They killed Ye and they want the tracker. They chase Dinah who employs her mastery of the various martial arts forms that Sensei Desmond taught her to defend herself, even taking a number of ninjas out so that the leader demands more forces be unleashed on her.
Back in the alley, Lynch's team finds the dead Ye and one of the living ninjas, who kills himself rather than answer their questions. Lynch starts tracking Dinah.
The ninjas chase her into a blind alley. The leader gives her the chance to give up the package and walk away. She calls his bluff and starts dropping his minions.
Eventually, their numbers overwhelm her. Just before she is killed, Lynch arrives and the commandos kill all the ninjas except for the leader, who escapes.
How did she know he's Lynch? He's just the first face she sees that isn't covered by a mask so she assumes he's the one random person a dead guy asked her to find? God, why is she always so trusting of everybody?!!
Lynch drives Dinah back to her home while filling her in on some of the details, including the involvement of EMP-causing device called a Marx generator.
Wait, what--what, no, no... what the--WHAT?!! Seriously, Christy Marx you're going to name a device in the comic after yourself? REALLY?!! MY GOD THAT IS SO ARROGANT AND STUPID AND--
Oh. I just looked it up. Marx generators are a real thing.
Never mind then.
Lynch pulls up in front of Dinah's dojo which is burning to the ground. She's lost her home, her place of business, her only tie to the man she loved like a father. She's utterly vulnerable, and that makes her an appealing target for Lynch.
Of course, Lynch isn't picking her up for a date; he offers her a job as a special ops agent, which will eventually lead to her inclusion on Team 7.
Dinah is the only member of Birds of Prey featured in this issue and we really learn a lot about her. Why it took twenty-five issues to get to this point, I don't know, but whatever.
Dinah was an orphan, abandoned by her mother and never knew her father. She ran away from an unsupportive foster home and was living on the streets eating garbage for a while. The timeline isn't specific, but based on the art, I would guess she was between the ages of nine and twelve when she first meets Sensei Desmond. She's clearly a few years older when he starts training her in the styles of Jeet Kune Do, Wing Chun, Jiu-Jitsu, wrestling, boxing and Karate. We also see him tutoring her in what appears to be book-style homework. I don't know if she enrolled in school or had any formal education or if that was all Sensei.
Some years pass by the time he dies, and I'm guessing she's about 19 or 20 when this story takes place. That would make her 25 or 26 in the current continuity. That corrects an earlier problem I had with her continuity. I thought to become the kind of high-tier special forces operative she was in Team 7 would require many years of training, which by my calculations would have put her in her mid-30s in the present. What Marx has done with this issue is establish her extensive physical training over years in her childhood, so that even with only a year of military training under Lynch, he would choose her for his select team.
There are problems with this story. The art is mostly fine; the three different pencilers don't get in each others way, but the colors during the blackout really, really take me out of the story. There's also the superficiality of the ninjas as antagonists in the third act. There's nothing special about them and Lynch even blows off the answer so we don't really care.
Then there's the cameo by Etie, or "Mother". It's kind of a nice nod to Marx's current story, but it's also a bit distracting because nothing comes of it later--unless she's the one who burned down the dojo!
Maybe the biggest problem, though, is how conveniently things come together in the end. I know Marx was bogged down by the crappy continuity she inherited, but the union of Dinah and Lynch at the end is too fast, too simple, too contrived.
On the other hand, there is a lot to like about this issue. I feel like I finally know who Dinah Drake is in the New 52. She is not the Dinah Drake, or the Dinah Laurel Lance of pre-Flashpoint DC; she's someone else. She's an orphan without family connections who was adopted by a loving sensei that taught her various fighting forms. Then she was "adopted" by a harsh military man who taught her how to fight and kill for the government. Then she fell in love with and married a man who helped her control her meta-human power.
Actually, that last one doesn't mesh. She only used her power once before Kurt Lance supposedly died! That whole bit of her history was screwed up by the end of Team 7.
This was definitely one of the best issues of the series, but considering I have never given a chapter from this series an A, that isn't saying much. And I still won't. This isn't the best, but it's pretty good.