Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Back in Action: ACTION COMICS #628


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.

Blackhawk's return is heralded by his cover appearance on ACW #628 drawn by George Pratt.  I love the idea of this cover: the hero grasping for a hold while outside his plane as another fighter spits hot metal at his wings.  But the image conjured in my mind as I type those words looks a lot better than Pratt's cover.  The lack of any background even empty sky makes this job feel rushed and halfhearted.  There is nothing threatening about the bullet lines unloaded by the enemy craft.  And I'm getting zero sense of concern from Blackhawk himself.  He's looking right at us like he could be wondering what's on television or how to refinance his home after three mortgages.  Again, I really like the idea behind this cover, but the execution itself...?  Ehhhhh...

Black Canary

"Knock 'Em Dead" 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 Robert Greenberger.  Black Canary's is suddenly moving forward in the issue's order.  Last issue, her chapter was the third of five features in ACW.  This time, she's second of six.  I'm not sure why she received this bump in order, but as her story is picking up the pace, it's nice to see it more prominently featured.

Chapter 5 picks up with the Black Canary getting booked by the Seattle Police Department on suspicion of either prostitution or involvement in the Barfly Killing that took the life of Dinah Lance's friend, Walt Sarno.

The Canary leaves a message for Lieutenant Cameron, who comes to spring her.  She wants her fingerprints and mugshots destroyed, and then Canary and Cameron share what they've learned from the Sarno investigation.  Cameron reveals that Sarno died from a heart attack resulting from his poisoned drink (so maybe it was accident?) and that the killer is a natural blonde who smokes unfiltered Luckies.  Black Canary gives Cameron a suspect: a prostitute named Deborah who scores heroin from a guy named Rich.  Rich runs a music store; Canary gives the lieutenant a list of music shops in the city.

Elsewhere in the city, Ken Glazier receives another anonymous death threat.  Else-elsewhere, the mysterious woman who was following Deborah and Walt Sarno and laughed about the news of his death is fixing her hair in the mirror.  In her room is a leaflet for the stage production of Peter Pan.  Dinah Lance's flower shop, Sherwood Florist, is supplying the set dressing for that show, and Ken Glazier was a lighting specialist who used to do theatrical productions.  Connection?

Deborah goes to see her dealer at his store, It's Instrumental.  Rich has her wait while he's in an interview.  The woman he's interviewing happens to be the mystery woman, who tells him she knows his sound/music work from local theater productions more than band gigs.

After she leaves, Rich talks to Deborah in his office.  He warns her that the police are looking for her, and gives her the address where she can pick up her drugs.  After Deborah leaves, Rich drinks his coffee.  Too late, he realizes it's poisoned--by Deborah, or the mystery woman?!

Later, Dinah goes to the local theater to deliver the floral dressing for the show.  But as she enters backstage, a wild figure lunges out of the shadows to attack her.

[Click the images below to enlarge.]

I wish I had a name to give the mystery woman, but at this point in the story she hasn't been named.  Her part, however, is becoming more clear.  She was left alone in the office with Rich's coffee, so she could have poisoned him while Deborah really couldn't have.  She was at the bar watching Deborah with Walt Sarno before Sarno's death.  Could she have followed them upstairs and killed him after Deborah left?  Is she targeting these men specifically, or is she trying to frame Deborah, or both?  Who is her real target and what does Ken Glazier have to do with it?  The one connection between them seems to be a past or present association with the theater.

And speaking of the theater, how 'bout that cliffhanger?  Is Dinah Lance being targeted because her shop is doing flowers for Peter Pan?  That seems thin, but what else could bring her in the killer's crosshairs?  Unless there's something else going on.  It is the theater after all, a place and theme for disguises and illusions.

This chapter went by really fast, but it's the best so far.  Black Canary and Lieutenant Cameron share notes and suspects.  One of those suspects is killed by a mysterious player with as-yet-unknown motivations.  And then there seems to be an attack on our leading lady.  Great action and intrigue!  And Randy Duburke's art really pops in a few places.  Canary's mugshots don't look too flattering, but then what mugshots ever do?  The panels where Rich realizes he's been poisoned are awesome and crazy with lines and energy!  And the final panel in the chapter--man!  Lots more Sienkiewicz homages, but they look good.

The Rest

The lead-off feature starring Green Lantern by James Owsley and M.D. Bright takes a step back this week as the pace of Hal Jordan's adventure comes to an engine flooding stall.  Bright's artwork is solid all-around, but I'm fairly sure Owsley was just filling out the script with so much fluff for some scheduling reason.  Hal and Captain Atom spend eight pages bickering about the alien's peaceful or violent intentions and whether it should be killed or not.  Even when they're seeking help from the military or the media or rescuing people from collapsing buildings, they just keep dishing out the same basic talking points.  They aren't even compelling ideas; they just sound like a couple of kids.

Chapter 3 of the Nightwing and Speedy story is absent of Nightwing but full of action and intrigue.  Plotted by Marv Wolfman and scripted by Cherie Wilkerson with art by Tom Mandrake, Roy Harper is taking his infant daughter, Lian, on a train to Northern Ireland when someone from the Friends of the Empire tries to kill him.  Roy manages catch him, but the assassin chooses death before he'll offer any more information.  Once safely at the train station, Lian is snatched and Roy must change into his Speedy costume and take out the kidnappers.  One of the kidnappers is run over by a car and the child is rescued by a mysterious cigar-chomping man who has the feel of a cop.  Lots of levels to this conspiracy.

Superman's two-page strip by Roger Stern and Curt Swan continues Clark Kent's dangerous predicament with Bob Galt, leader of a cult that worships Superman like a god.  Clark and Galt race through the desert as a pair of killers on sky-bikes chase them, trying to blast their jeep.  Clark can't turn into Superman to save them without revealing himself.  Meanwhile, Bob Galt is praying to Superman for help.  Clark realizes that Galt can use his psychic powers to confuse the pursuers.  Galt creates an image of Metropolis, which freaks out the bad guys, forcing them to jump off their sky bikes.  Clark stops the jeep so he can go back and question the two.

I've had a lot of difficulty following the Secret Six chapters in ACW since I never seem to read the first issues that establish what the hell is going on.  In this chapter, at least, by Martin Pasko and Frank Springer, I at least learn that the current members are all reunited and complete their mission to destroy a building and a VTOL project.  They discover that August Durant, who they thought was Mockingbird, is actually dead.  The masked Mockingbird they've been taking orders from is an old white man who is Rafael's father...  I don't know who Rafael is, though.

The thrilling adventures of Blackhawk and his compatriots picks up again, written by Martin Pasko with art by Rick Burchett.  Natalie Reed and her pal, Mairzey, at the airfield discuss how the Red Scare has taken over every part of America, not just Washington, D.C., but businesses across the land.  As Blackhawk and his pals return from their last mission, Weng discovers that Marcia was wounded.  They get her to the hospital, but it's too late for her.  Meanwhile, some German scientists are doing something nefarious, but they're surprised by the army and possibly blown up.  Not sure about this...

The coolest part of the issue, though, is probably the house ad for Sandman on the very last page.

Next week, I'll look at Action Comics Weekly #629, which draws the Secret Six closer to conclusion and furthers the adventures of Black Canary, Superman, Green Lantern, Nightwing and Blackhawk.

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