The girls are back in town!
Forget the New 52; I'm talking about the original, the classic Birds of Prey! Black Canary and Oracle, kicking ass with style, sexiness, and intelligence, three things sorely lacking in the current volume.
Black Canary partnered with the mysterious information broker, Oracle, in the Birds of Prey one-shot special in the summer of 1996. Later that year, they worked with Huntress and Catwoman in the four-part miniseries, Birds of Prey: Manhunt. Either DC needed more evidence that the series could sustain itself as an ongoing or Chuck Dixon's work schedule didn't allow for another ongoing at that particular time, but DC went and green lit four more Birds of Prey specials to be published over the next two years to grow the fan base.
Birds of Prey: Revolution came out circa June, 1997, one year after the original one-shot launched the title. Like the previous entries, Revolution is written by Chuck Dixon and sports a stunning cover by Gary Frank, who drew the first special and provided covers for Manhunt. The interior art, however is by by Stefano Raffaele with inks by Bob McLeod. The comic clocked in at 38 story pages for a cover price of $2.95, a whole four cents cheaper than the cheapest 20-page DC comic on shelves today.
The story opens with a trio of dangerous-looking men ganging up on a brunette woman backstage in an otherwise empty theater. The woman shouts she thought this was an audition and the men taunt her while one reaches for a spray can of some sort of knockout drug.
This wannabe singer is no ingenue, though. She delivers a crushing punch to one of her attackers and throws her brunette wig at the other. That's right, it's a wig, for this would-be kidnapping victim is none other than the Black Canary!
Canary shows the men the newspaper ad they took out looking for attractive men and women for a musical revue, knowing full well that the "audition" was just a front for their kidnapping and slavery racket.
Dinah finds the gang's other victims bound in the trailer of a semi truck parked behind the theater. "Those creeps have their 'talent' stacked like cordwood and ready to ship," she tells Oracle over the radio-tranceiver built into her costume. The head of the kidnapping gang gave up the name of the cargo ship they were delivering their slaves to; the ship was bound for the island of Santa Prisca.
Oracle advises Black Canary to slip onboard the cargo ship and track this slave ring to its source. But Dinah has another idea that doesn't include spending a week skulking around a dirty cargo ship at sea. Given that they know the ship's destination, Dinah utilizes her expense account from Oracle to charter a first class ticket on a commercial flight to Santa Prisca. In the relative luxury of the plane, Dinah drinks some champagne and watches an informational video about the island.
The dictator of Santa Prisca declared himself Master of the World? I thought only the North Koreans did that.
Anyway, Oracle tells Dinah that El Jefe, whose real name is Juan Paolo Sebastian, was an army general who took control of the island with the help of a secret benefactor. Since then, Santa Prisca has been a closed, heavily militarized state.
On the island, a Mr. Galiant meets with the corrupt Minister of Agriculture about a planned takeover of the island. Galiant represents an unnamed organization that wants a particular crop grown on Santa Prisca. (Narcotics? Venom?) But the Minister wants nothing to do with Galiant or his people, a dismissal that proves costly.
At the airport, Dinah Lance is stopped by a customs agent looking to check her luggage. On a tip from Oracle, Dinah tells the agent he needs only check one of her bags, which includes cartons of cigarettes and bottles of whiskey. Satisfied with the bribe, customs lets Dinah pass through without more trouble.
Dinah notes that she's the only passenger stopped by customs; all the other visitors who Dinah identifies as terrorists and mercenaries are treated like royalty. She's approached by a young boy named Tico who offers her a taxi ride to her hotel. Although Oracle protests and this Tico is far, far too young to have a drivers license, Dinah accepts his offer.
At the hotel, Dinah makes fun of Tico but accepts his business card with his pager number. A pair of thuggish-looking gentlemen in Hawaiian shirts have followed her from the airport.
Inside the hotel, the concierge gives her some grief about her lack of reservation until Mr. Galiant intervenes on her behalf.
Later that night, when Dinah has left to investigate the human trafficking connection that is the reason for her visit, the two men who followed her break into her hotel room. Their surprise in not finding Dinah in her room is dwarfed by the shock that Galiant is there. He guns them down quietly.
Dinah, now equipped in her Black Canary costume, sneaks across the island through the jungle until she's overlooking the docks at Puerto Buitre where the cargo ship has docked. Oracle warns her to stay on guard as she makes her way closer to the ship. Black Canary chides her overcautiousness, thinking the slavers won't be on high alert in their own territory.
That's when she's surrounded by a paramilitary unit wearing masks and carrying machine guns. She engages the nearest soldier until she's tackled by Galiant.
Black Canary uses Galiant's gun to drive off his forces, then she throws it away and slips under the cover of the dense jungle foliage.
Oracle tells Black Canary that the island is too volatile with conflicting armies and agendas. She orders Canary to abort the mission and get out of there immediately. She warns her that Galiant is a shadowy operator with a global reputation for trouble.
Black Canary hears all of it and ignores it. She won't quit on her mission when the ship might be full of slaves. Oracle continues to protest until Dinah takes off her radio earpiece and puts it away. She sneaks aboard the ship, takes out the small security force, and discovers the slave pens in the lower decks.
Luckily for Black Canary and the prisoners, she held onto Tico's card and phone number. The boy arrives at the docked ship with a truck, but in order to drive them all to safety, Black Canary needs to buy them some time by fighting off El Jefe's forces.
Oracle can't get to Santa Prisca to save Black Canary, but there's one person already there who might be able to save her. She reaches out and calls Galiant, threatening to ruin his operations unless he rescues Dinah.
At that moment, Dinah is strapped to an operating table about to be tortured by El Jefe and a creepy, sadistic doctor lady. El Jefe doesn't want or care about any information Black Canary she might have. This isn't an interrogation; he just wants her to suffer for rescuing the slaves and blowing the lid off his human trafficking operation.
Just before the doctor shoves bone shears up Dinah's nostrils, Galiant and his troops kick in the door and kill the doctor. El Jefe slips out under the gunfire and runs from the invading force.
Galiant explains that the valuable crop on Santa Prisca is cola nuts. He works for the Zesti Cola Corporation, which lost billions of dollars when El Jefe nationalized the island's agribusiness. When the World Court failed, Zesti brought in Galiant to dethrone El Jefe. He rescued Black Canary in exchange for Oracle's help in finding El Jefe.
As armies clash in the Royal Palace, Black Canary chases El Jefe, who is trying to escape in a helicopter. Dinah gets back on the radio with Oracle, who demands a serious conversation about priorities and protocol after Dinah defied her earlier.
Black Canary tackles El Jefe out of the chopper and into the ocean. She saves him from drowning and they're both picked up by Galiant. Dinah doesn't show much gratitude to Galiant; she's still not thrilled about her complicity in the Zesti Corporation's coup.
Holy crap have I missed good Birds of Prey! I swore I would never talk about Duane Swierczynski again, but seriously, f*** that guy! Birds of Prey is not a difficult concept, and the reason I know that is because Chuck Dixon isn't the most brilliant or nuanced writer. Dixon does a few things very well, and BoP plays to his strengths.
The plots should be James Bond-ian globetrotting mysteries, heavy on the espionage and sexy ladies. The characters are business friends with individual trust issues but working on believing in each other: a reckless field agent constantly testing the patience of her handler. The New 52 Birds... I don't even know or care anymore what they were trying to be. They suck and can all die.
But let's get back to Revolution. As much as I enjoyed Huntress and Catwoman in the Manhunt miniseries, I am really glad that Dixon went back to basics with this story. Canary and Oracle are still in the early stages of their partnership. No need to bring in more characters until these two have each other figured out.
Oracle's frustration in Dinah is natural. She can't count on an agent who will defy her directives and go rogue whenever she feels compelled. There may also still be some jaded resentment on Oracle's part that she can no longer go adventuring as Barbara Gordon or Batgirl. And however mad she might be in Dinah, she still refused to let her twist in the wind. She made a deal with the devil to ensure Dinah's rescue.
Dixon writes Black Canary a little more cavalier than I think her experience in the Justice League merits. She's not a rookie. She doesn't need a learning curve, but Dixon's portrayal of Black Canary is much more prone to heading into battle face-first. Actually, he writes her like a female Oliver Queen. Is this her years spent with Green Arrow rubbing off on her, or is this just the kind of character Dixon needed to service the plot and the odd-couple relationship with Oracle.
The art by Stefano Raffaele is pretty solid. No complaints, but it's not as strong as Gary Frank's or Matt Haley's in previous Birds stories. There's a few places where the human anatomy looks a little wonky and a few places where the setting is lost in lack of detail, but overall it's enjoyable and easy to follow.
One of my favorite bits in the story is right in the beginning when Black Canary is undercover at the theater. Dinah dyed her hair blonde in the first BoP special. Now she's wearing a dark-haired wig as a disguise. It's a cute little reversal of the classic Black Canary costume, wear the blonde wig covered Dinah's dark hair.
Next Tuesday, I'll review Birds of Prey: Wolves, which at this point I have not yet read, but I know it reveals an important part of Dinah Lance's past. See you then!