Friday, February 21, 2014

Pretty Bird: DETECTIVE COMICS #549

Welcome to the first post in my new weekly segment devoted to Green Arrow and Black Canary team-ups.  Every Friday, I'll review a comic or backup feature showcasing Dinah and her longtime love interest, Oliver Queen.

To kickoff Pretty Bird Fridays, I selected a short story that first appeared in Detective Comics #549, cover dated April 1985.  It's not Ollie and Dinah's first meeting and it's not an historically momentous chapter from Green Lantern/Green Arrow or The Longbow Hunters.  But it was written by arguably the most profound writer in comics and the man who revolutionized the medium at least once.

The seven-page backup story, "Night Olympics" is written by Alan Moore with art by Klaus Janson.    I present it here uncut for my readers, because it's Alan Moore and Klaus Janson!

Naturally there's some fascinating commentary on the nature of superheroes because duh, Alan Moore.  Even in seven pages, the question of superhero's celebrity status is brought up multiple times no less than three times.  But are the heroes celebrities... or urban legends?

Joey, the first criminal we meet, has had so many ill-fated run-ins with superheroes that he has developed a kind of post-traumatic seizure disorder.  After being thwarted by Firestorm and Metamorpho, the mere sight of Green Arrow standing in Joey's way reduces him to a screaming, thrashing wreck.  Ollie exerts more energy keeping the guy from breaking his skull on the pavement than he would shooting an arrow into his hand.  (Also, what's with the cops dissing Metamorpho? Is that just flavorful dialogue, or is Moore taking a swipe at ol' Rex Mason?)

Then there are the two looters who surrender to Black Canary.  Their fear of costumed crime fighters is fueled by hearsay and local lore, by tales of Batgirl allegedly beating up a friend and the ridicule it brought them from the rest of their gang.  They're so unnerved by the idea of a superhero smacking them around that they don't even know who it is they're turning themselves in to.

Lastly we have our rogue archer, Mr. Mohawk, and his weapon-smith.  The old man thinks if Mohawk is going to get in the villain game, he needs a codename, an identity like "Arrow Man".  The garish names and costumes are part of job--literally, he figures.  But this archer seems to shirk that idea, dismissing the grandiosity of the superhero/supervillain motif in favor of deadly simplicity.  And that is what makes him most dangerous in this story.  He kills one man and it looks like he's going to kill Ollie or Dinah by the end of this chapter, and the reason is because he doesn't announce himself with puzzle games and flamboyant attire.

Is that what Alan Moore is saying with the story, that old school heroes and villains are as commonplace and predictable as people on TV?  Is that why he layers the narration with allusions to spectator sporting events, because the superhero life has become a "game" replete with rules and  contestants?  Then surely this Mohawk sporting archer is breaking the rules and upsetting the balance of the heroes' lives.

There's nothing I can say about Klaus Janson's work that hasn't been said a thousand times before by people who really know his stuff.  His Black Canary looks good as always, and this is about six months before he would redesign her costume that would become her Justice League International look.  Even without a true costume, Janson gives our villain a distinctive look with his mohawk and shirt so that the character is well defined visually even if he's not wearing Captain Cold's parka.

This is a great short story.  If you want it for yourself, the digital version is $1.99 on ComiXology.  The lead story starring Batman and Harvey Bullock by Doug Moench and Pat Broderick is pretty crazy, suggesting the Bullock's gruff, bull-in-a-China-shop behavior is a mask hiding the soul of an effete, vaguely British poet.

It ends with Bullock and Batman fighting, like, twenty members of a street gang.  Like I said, crazy.  Come back next Friday for the conclusion to this story of Green Arrow and Black Canary!


  1. Good tale. This reminds me of the old classic Green Lantern/Arrow team-ups which Im currently reading, the urban setting, the slight asides to crime and its effects and even the language such as referring to Black Canary as a 'frail' [which is precisely how shes called in the old GL/GA tales] this story could fit right comfortably in with those.

  2. O'Neill and Adams created a new type of hero that was more social worker than vigilante. It allowed them to tell stories with an agenda and a message, but sacrificed the good ol' swashbuckling action of the superhero story.

    I'll probably start reviewing the GL/GA stories from that collection at the end of March.