Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Back in Action: ACTION COMICS WEEKLY #624

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 second story arc in ACW kicked off with issue #624, which features one of my all-time favorite Black Canary images as its cover.  I mean look at that thing... Alan Freaking Davis!  Look at the Canary.  Amidst all that chaos and action--the bodies thrown every which way, the trash cascading off the walls--she looks graceful, elegant.  Alan Davis hasn't drawn Dinah much in her classic costume; he rendered her in her spy outfit in the early years of JSA, but in her leather and fishnets, I think it's just this cover and the out-of-continuity tales, JLA: The Nail and Another Nail.  But she looks so damn good that Davis is always circling the top of my list of favorite Black Canary artists.

Black Canary

"Knock 'Em Dead" Part 1: written by Sharon Wright, pencilled by Randy Duburke, inked by Pablo Marcos, lettered by Steve Haynie, and colored by Gene D'Angelo.  The last Canary story was edited by Mike Gold, who also edited her appearances in Green Arrow.  This story, though, is edited by Robert Greenberger.  The only structural difference is that the Canary's first story arc in ACW came in eight-page installments; this one is broken up in seven-page chapters.

We open with someone cutting letters out of a newspaper or magazine, a trick commonly associated with composing ransom notes or death threats so people can't identify handwriting.  There is a picture on a desk of a woman and a young child (daughter).  The thing about Duburke's art in these stories, though, is that I'm assuming it's a woman in the picture, but the gender is a touch ambiguous.

Cut to Sherwood Florist, the flower shoppe owned by Dinah Lance, who is inconveniently absent at the moment.  Sherwood is providing foliage as set dressing for a local theatrical production of Peter Pan that is benefiting the Seattle AIDS Association.  The director or producer of the show has come to thank Dinah and invite her to see a dress rehearsal.

Also come to see Dinah is Rita, the young woman who crashed through Dinah's window in Green Arrow #1 and then set Dinah on the mystery surrounding her father's death in "Bitter Fruit", the last previous Canary story in ACW.  Rita has a work visa from INS and is looking for a legitimate job.  This is a nice bit of continuity that doesn't confuse or muddle the plot.

Dinah is out in the city meeting a potential client from New York.  The man she's meeting is named Walt and they talk like old friends, or old acquaintances; they're familiar anyway.  Through their conversation we learn that Sherwood Florist is decorating window displays for department stores in Seattle.  A man named Ken Glazier does the lighting while Dinah does the floral arrangements.  Dinah and Walt plan to meet with Ken the next day for lunch.

Elsewhere in the city, we witness a rather strange encounter.  A woman in a car pulls up alongside another woman and asks for directions.  The driver almost looks like the woman from the desk picture on Page 1, but with different colored hair.  As the woman on the street walks away, we hear the driver's thoughts.  She knows the other woman but wasn't recognized by her.  And that's good.  Hmm... What could that be about?

On page five we see--oh, hey, it's Black Canary!  Dinah's actually dressed as Black Canary, fishnets and all!  We hardly ever got that in the last story from Wright and Duburke.  Maybe some angry fan letters brought about this change...  Dinah has gone to some old castle-looking house to work out.  She seems familiar with the place.  I'm not sure if this house is an established location from Green Arrow or what.

As the sun goes down over Seattle, a woman gets herself ready in an apartment.  She seems to be fixing her hair (or applying a wig?) and she has a syringe on the desk.  She talks about shooting heroin like it's an old habit.  She also refers to herself as Deborah... or she's talking to Deborah.  Whoever she is, she's planning something serious.

Back in the old house, Black Canary swings about the rafters, training her body, maintaining her fighting and athletic skills.  The house betrays her when the old wood cracks and she falls through the floor into the darkness below.

[Click the images below to enlarge.]

This first chapter of "Knock 'Em Dead" continues one or two of the problems I had with the last story arc, mostly related to Duburke's art.  A lot of his characters have the same general appearance, which can be confusing when you have a whole lot of new characters that look and sound the same, and might not be identified by name or context.  On the other hand, from the little bit of narration we got in pages four and six, it seems like ambiguous identities might be a central part of the story.  And Duburke's art isn't bad by any means.  In fact, the two pages with Dinah dressed as Black Canary are gorgeous.  The panel construction and the endlessness of her blonde wig in the last page remind me of Jae Lee art.  Except this predates Jae Lee's work, I guess, so it's a bit more like Bill Sienkiewicz.

One note I'm pretty excited about with this story is its relative clarity.  The title "Knock 'Em Dead" refers, I assume, to the theater.  There's a stage play referenced, and characters appear in disguise in this first chapter.  Ambiguity and voyeurism are two of my favorite themes in literature and art, so this type of story seems like it's right up my alley.

Probably the best part of this first chapter is that Dinah seems to be at the center of the story.  We have just a taste of a mystery to come, but there's enough pages either with Dinah or hearing characters talk about her that there's no confusing whose story this is.  That was a critical issue with "Bitter Fruit"; it was "A Dinah Lance Mystery" not a Black Canary story, and really, Dinah wasn't much more than a spectator.  I looks like that's changed this time.

I wonder if that's Sharon Wright's doing, the infusion of the new editor.  Either way, it's a positive change.

The Rest

As per usual, Green Lantern gets the lead feature in a story written by James Owsley and drawn by M.D. Bright.  That's James Owsley who would eventually change his name to Christopher Priest.  He wrote one issue of Black Canary's solo title in 1993 as Owsley, and wrote her again a year later in the pages of The Ray after he changed his name.

It's interesting that in this Green Lantern story, Hal Jordan is confronted by an alien being named simply Priest.  He puts Hal in a position that taxes his willpower and the limits of his faith in himself and God.

In the second chapter of a Shazam! story by Roy and Dann Thomas and Rick Stasi, young Billy Batson arrives at a summer camp called Aryan Acres...which is exactly what it sounds like.  There's a whole lot of hate speech against blacks and Jews in this little story, which appropriately enough sees the creation of a new Captain Nazi by chapter's end.

The ever-continuing soap opera that is Secret Six picks up with a man named Tony in a hotel room with a woman named Shelley.  They're kissing, but he breaks it off suddenly.  They have a gun; they might be on the run.  Later on, Tony tells her about his life and keeps telling her they can't make love.  Sometime later, Tony visits the grave of his lover and says goodbye.  In the dramatic reveal at the end--his lover was another man.

Roger Stern and Curt Swan continue their Superman saga.  Clark Kent is still protecting Bob Galt, the leader of a cult that worships Superman like a god.  Clark and Bob board a small, private jet, but someone from the mysterious organization hunting Galt sees their plane take off.

Deadman's tale involves ghosts, zombies, voodoo, plantation owners, twins with magical powers, a formal Southern gala with gentlemen in uniforms, a wise old black woman, and some racism.  All the ingredients for classic American horror, but the story by Mike Baron is pretty lackluster.

Man, religion, racism, AIDS, homosexuality, anti-semitism... Talk about a pretty heavy comic!

Next week, I'll look at Action Comics Weekly #625, which continues the ongoing stories of Black Canary, Superman, Green Lantern, Captain Marvel, Deadman and the Secret Six.

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