Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Back in Action: ACTION COMICS WEEKLY #631


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.

Jim Starlin draws a striking cover depicting The Phantom Stranger and a tag warning us that he'll battle his greatest foes inside the pages.  I don't think I know any of the Stranger's foes, let alone his greatest, so this will be interesting to read.

Black Canary

"Knock 'Em Dead" Part 8: 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 story is printed second out of six features in this issue.

As Black Canary pursues a lead in her search for the killer of Walt Sarno and Rich Malone, a killer that might be but probably isn't a woman named Deborah, she is nearly run down in the street by Ken Glazier.  Utilizing some handy acrobatics, Canary lands safely on top of the car and then pulls Ken out of the driver's seat when he comes to a stop.

When she questions him, Ken reveals some long-suspected but much-needed exposition on the killer's motives.  Yes, Ken cheated on his wife years ago when he came down to Seattle to do lighting for a play, and his mistress was the Deb.  He broke it off with her when the show ended and he returned to Portland, Oregon.  When he found out that Deb was a heroin user and that she had given him AIDS, he used his contacts to ruin her acting and modeling career, effectively turning her into the thieving prostitute she is.  Ken believed that Deb sent him death threats and killed the men he was friends with at that time as revenge for dumping her and sinking her acting career.

Black Canary, however, suspects that Ken and the police have the wrong suspect.  She thinks the killer is Ken's ex-wife, Cat, who is performing in the local community production of Peter Pan under the name Ellen Jamerson.

Meanwhile, Ken's friend Ron Tompkins is approached in a gay bar by a man claiming to be named "Peter Barrie".  Of course, it's Cat dressed in a man's suit and wearing a mustache; the name Peter Barrie is an obvious reference to Peter Pan and his creator, J.M. Barrie.  Ron confesses that he has AIDS, but that doesn't dissuade "Peter" and they go back to Ron's apartment.

Inside, "Peter" fixes Ron a drink laced with chloral hydrate, the same poison she used to kill Walt and Rich.  Too late, Ron realizes he's been tricked.  He thought Deb was the killer so he let his guard down.  When he lashes out at Peter/Cat, she throws him off the balcony.  He falls and lands on the sidewalk just as Black Canary and Ken Glazier arrive.

They search the building, but Cat manages to change clothes and make her escape before they can catch her.  Black Canary knows who they're looking for now and plans to catch Cat at the Peter Pan show the next night.

[Click the images below to enlarge.]

If this wasn't the best chapter of the story so far it's damn close.  The chapter is cleanly divided into two character tracks that finally converge.  Black Canary displays some physical grace and agility as she avoids being run over and even flips on top of the speeding car.  Listening to Ken dish his history and answer Dinah's and our questions is a welcome relief as it puts the mystery in context.

Then we see the killer stalk her prey for the first time with full knowledge of her identity and her motives.  The race to Ron's apartment and arriving just in time to see him die is expertly paced like a great suspense thriller.  Great story construction and execution from Wright's script, and Duburke's art is sweetly stylized in the action beats, such as when Canary leaps onto the car, or when Ron falls to his death.

With three chapters left in this story, the literal and figurative stage is set for the hero and villain to meet as "Knock 'Em Dead" races toward its conclusion.

The Rest

Green Lantern finally, finally stops fighting with Captain Atom in the story by James Owsley and M.D. Bright.  When Atom can't find the alien he's been trying to kill for like a million issues, he returns to the desert where he left Hal Jordan.  Hal's power ring ran out of juice so the Cap has to fly him home.  They apologize to each other while secretly believing each of them was in the right.  Then Green Lantern goes to find his lantern, only to discover it's in a room full of armed robbers.  He takes the ring off so he can surreptitiously charge it in the battery while challenging the gang to fight him.  It's kind of funny, and eventually he charges the ring and captures them all.

Paul Kupperberg and Fred Carillo throw friends and foes from the past at the Phantom Stranger in "Cat and Mouse" part 1.  The Stranger plays chess with Doctor Thirteen hoping to learn more about human nature, while the Doctor tries not to dismiss the Stranger's powers as fakery.  Meanwhile, the Stranger's blind ex-girlfriend, Cassandra Craft, is ambushed by cats and then by a woman named Tala.  Cassandra runs to Phantom Stranger to tell him Tala is still alive, and then the Stranger is attacked by the sorcerer Tamarrak who is also still alive.

In the two-page Superman strip by Roger Stern and Curt Swan, Clark Kent finally manages to slip away from the cultists who worship Superman like a god.  With his super-vision, he sees that two different beams of radiation are coming from space; one beam is empowering the cultists with their psychokinetic power.  The other beam is pointing at an army coming to destroy the cultists.  When Superman flies out to confront them, they call him a demon and open fire on him.

Tom Mandrake moves from penciling to inking in this week's chapter of Nightwing & Speedy written by Cherie Wilkerson with pencils by Vince Giarrano.  After Roy Harper prevents the trains from colliding and saves Button, he reunites with Dick Grayson who we haven't seen since the first chapter in this story.  Together, the Teen Titans and their young Irish kids run from more attacks by the F.O.E. or the Sanas and then there's a riot at a funeral and a suitcase bomb that might have killed one of the kids.

In Blackhawk by Martin Pasko and Rick Burchett, our hero is on course to either fight or sleep with a sexy Nazi woman, which is all kinds of funny to me.  There's also more talk about LSD and some other stuff.

Next week, I'll look at Action Comics Weekly #632, which continues the adventures of Black Canary, Superman, Green Lantern, Phantom Stranger, Nightwing & Speedy, and Blackhawk.

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