Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Back in Action: ACTION COMICS WEEKLY #626

Previously...

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 continues in ACW with issue #626, which sports an understated but, I think, really awesome cover by Paul Chadwick.  At a glance it seems like the kind of look-to-the-sky shot I'd associate with a Superman cover.  On the other hand, I'm glad it's not.  Part of me misses how those Golden and Silver Age heroes all stood for the same thing: good.  What should it matter which larger-than-life hero you see flying over your head as long as he or she is there to save the day?

Black Canary

"Knock 'Em Dead" Part 3: 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.

This chapter opens with housekeeping service at Walt Sarno's hotel discovering his dead body.  Walt was a business associate of Dinah Laurel Lance, in Seattle to coordinate a window display Dinah's flower shop was constructing for Macy's and other big name department stores.  Dinah and her designer, Bob, arrive at Walt's hotel to find it swarmed with police and reporters.

The press wonder if Walt's murder was the first fatality from a crime spree called the Barfly Robbers, where women proposition men and then drug and steal from them.  Lieutenant James Cameron, a familiar and mostly friendly face to Green Arrow and Black Canary, won't confirm that theory to the media, but does privately express confidence in it to Dinah.

Also on the scene is Ken Glazier, another colleague scheduled to meet with Walt.  Glazier is the lighting operator for their proposed window displays.  He seems noticeably--conspicuously--agitated by Walt's murder and takes off.  Dinah looks suspicious.

The next day, the mystery woman who spied on Walt and his redheaded companion, skates through the park listening to the radio reporting on the case.  When the media brings the cause of death back to the Barfly Robbers epidemic, the mystery girl begins laughing gleefully.

That night in Dinah's apartment above Sherwood Florist, she reads a newspaper headline that Vincent Scales has died.  Scales, if you recall, was the evil CEO behind the events in Dinah's previous story arc, "Bitter Fruit", from ACW #609-#616.  That story ended a little ambiguously and unsatisfactorily, so getting some closure that the bad guy died of cancer at age 57 is a nice little consolation.

And then for some reason, Dinah remembers she needs to call the woman who is producing a community theater producing of Peter Pan.  Sherwood Florist is providing floral decorations as set pieces for the show, but Dinah decides she can't call the woman right now.  She's to rattled by Walt's death and hits the streets to investigate--Black Canary style!

[Click the images below to enlarge.]





Now we're getting somewhere.  We have a body and thus, a mystery.  And unlike with "Bitter Fruit", this case is personal to Dinah.  We have multiple suspects: there's the redheaded woman who went up to Walt's room--possibly one of these Barfly Robbers.  Then we have the shorthaired mystery woman who was following the redhead, or was she following Walt?  And finally, what of Ken Glazier, who received a death threat last issue and left the police cordon around Walt's hotel in a state of distress?  Three important story threads that aren't too hard to follow or separate who's who.

Once again, I have to commend the creative team and editor on this strip.  Last story, I thought they got Black Canary all wrong.  This time, they're hitting the right notes.  The story is simple but layered and important to Dinah.  We only see her as Black Canary for one page, but what a page!  Randy Duburke continues to channel Bill Sienkiewicz whenever Dinah puts the wig and black leather on.  That's the key; he changes visual styles when she's in crime fighter mode.  It's a great visual affect that gives each page with Black Canary an added punch and makes me want to read more!

The Rest

Jim Owsley and M.D. Bright continue the story of Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern, in a story co-plotted by the two of them.  On his way back to Earth, Hal comes across an alien ship made of wood popping out of a wormhole near the moon.  Investigating, he mistakes it for a shrine and brings it to the Great Redwood Forest of Northern California so the ship can repair itself with plentiful wood.  Once Hal takes off, however, the ship's sentient energy-based life form takes the shape of Green Lantern and goes off in search of resources.  Somewhat accurately intuiting a television as a source of information, the alien visitor mistakes a violent action movie for typical behavioral customs of earthlings.  It responds by killing a whole lot of people.  You can read the visitor's interpretation of human entertainment as ironic for the sake of dark comedy, or more of a commentary on our society's obsession with violence.  It's funny either way, I think.  Bright's pencils are stronger in this chapter than I've seen yet.

You know who doesn't like following orders? Captain Nazi!  Go figure, huh.  In the fourth chapter of Shazam written by Roy and Dann Thomas with art by Rick Staci and Rick Magyar, the neo-fascist powerhouse antagonizes his own leader that security opens fire, igniting chemicals and explosives which blows up the whole Sons of Valhalla headquarters and their leadership.  Captain Nazi survives, though, and heads out looking for the boys who are going to dump cyanide into San Francisco's water supply.  He discovers Billy Batson, tied up and gagged and about to die in a fire.  Captain Nazi takes Billy's gag off, inadvertently freeing him to utter the magic words that unleash Captain Marvel.  The mightiest mortal throws a mountain on top of Captain Nazi and then stops the Hitler Youth from poisoning San Fran.  But while the Sons of Valhalla may be destroyed, Captain Nazi gets loose.

Secret Six by Martin Pasko and Frank Springer is frustrating again.  This story does not lend itself to short, crowded chapters.  I completely forget what happens from week to week, making me virtually lost when I start each new issue.  Plus, by its nature as a spy adventure, the characters change allegiance, change appearance, dress in costumes; it's very difficult to keep straight and spoils my enjoyment.  There was a cool escape scene with a guy who has prosthetic legs, but I didn't know who he was or who he was running from.  Maybe reading the whole story in one sitting as a trade would help, but as a weekly, sorry, I don't know if I can keep reading along.

Likewise, I was starting to loose interest in the two-page Superman strip by Roger Stern and Curt Swan, but this installment brought me back.  The sinister corporation that wants to kill Bob Galt, the founder of a religious sect that worships Superman like a god has found out Galt is traveling with Clark Kent.  Fearing that the TV reporter will bring more attention and sympathy to Galt's group, the bad guys send a couple of armed airships to kill Clark and Galt as they drive across the desert in a jeep.  The last panel shows Clark pushing Galt's head down as he swerves out of the way of gunfire.  Very cool action setup that requires Clark Kent to play the man of action in order to keep his secret identity safe.  Can't wait till next week's continuation.

The best part of Mike Baron's Deadman story is still the art by Kelly Jones.  He does an awesome Deadman, but the last chapter in this arc is as underwhelming as the others.  The magic ghost twins aren't so much duped into giving up their host bodies as talked out of it and then beaten up.  It's a little weak and I never understood their real power--of course, I missed the first half of the story.  Oh well...

Next week, I'll look at Action Comics Weekly #627, which cuts down the usual six features to five.  Nightwing returns in place of Shazam and Deadman, while Black Canary, Superman, Green Lantern and the Secret Six continue their stories.

2 comments: