Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Birds of Prey #1 (Jan 1999)

Previously in
By the time DC launched a Birds of Prey ongoing series, the partnership of Black Canary and Oracle had been going (relatively) strong for over two years.  Series creator Chuck Dixon turned them into a jet-setting international espionage team--well, mostly.  Oracle stayed fixed in her secret headquarters, her true identity as Barbara Gordon, former Batgirl and daughter of Gotham Police Commissioner James Gordon, a mystery.  Even Dinah didn't know who was dispatching her around the globe to take down arms dealers, drug kingpins, master assassins, and lousy boyfriends.  But in spite of their differences, Black Canary and Oracle made the partnership work.  One the brains, one the body.

Birds of Prey #1: "Long Time Gone" is written by Chuck Dixon and drawn by Greg Land, with inks by Drew Geraci and colors by Gloria Vasquez.  Greg Land previously drew the Birds of Prey: Batgirl special, making him the first return artist on a Birds of Prey comic.  This is from the era when he actually drew characters instead of tracing porn stars and his own stock art.

The issue opens wit a close up of Dinah Lance screaming, "No, take it away! It's too horrible!"  What is she referring to, some gory crime-scene photos?  Green Arrow's head in a box?  A platter of poisonous scorpions?

No.  It's a laptop.

Oracle tries to convince Dinah that using a computer will help them communicate more effectively--What a novel idea?  Dinah stubbornly clings to her electronic ignorance and throws her underwear over the monitor, blocking the camera.

Elsewhere, a couple named Brendan and Daria are on the run trying to escape from a dense jungle and find safety in a nearby village.  But they've been tracked through the jungle by Hellhound, a foe of Catwoman who specializes in training attack dogs.

Brendan and Daria run for their lives, which don't amount to much.  Hellhound's dogs catch them in the clearing and appear to savagely rip the people to shreds.

Back in Black Canary's apartment, she removes the underwear obscuring the real-time camera and flashes a tribal (possibly Asian) bat mask in front of the screen.  Oracle shrieks for a moment before regaining her composure.  She starts to tell Dinah about the latest mission which will take Black Canary to Rheelasia, a nation devastated by a nuclear meltdown in the original Birds of Prey Special.

We cut to Rheelasia where a handsome sleaze-ball named Reed Montel meets with a gangster named Jackie Pamerjanian, better known as "Jackie Pajamas".  Jackie Pajamas has billions of dollars in drug money, and in a place like Rheelasia, he can buy and sell anything to or from anyone.  What Reed is interested in buying or selling, we don't yet know.

Then we find Black Canary undercover--though less covered than usual--on a cruise ship off the coast of Rheelasia, getting more mission details from Oracle.

Oracle tells Black Canary to be weary of Jackie Pajamas; he's dangerous and he's not the sort to simply fall for a gorgeous blonde flaunting her body in a bathing suit.  They plan for Black Canary to reconnoiter Jackie's hideout that night with a camera mounted to her costume so Oracle can look for any relevant information.

After ending her conversation with Dinah, Barbara rolls her wheelchair throughout her hideout, chatting online with another cyberspace tech aficionado.  She has a whole other codename besides Oracle--Rollingthunder, in this case.  Barbara keeps her cyber-chat somewhat flirtatious, but avoids any commitment to meet with whoever's on the other side of the chat.

Meanwhile, at the Pentagon, the Major in charge of the 1998 equivalent of Internet and Electronics Security meets with his lieutenant about someone hacking into their system and using memory from the U.S. government.  It's not stated explicitly, but it sure sounds like they're talking about Oracle.

That night, Black Canary swims to the shore, scales the cliff, and sneaks onto Jackie Pajamas' villa.  She creeps around, stealthily disabling Jackie's security force before slipping inside.

Black Canary enters the kitchen and Oracle notices there are two seemingly identical refrigerator doors side-by-side.  She switches to infrared on the Canary-mounted camera and notices that one of the doors isn't giving off any heat or power.  The door leads down into a hidden basement chamber that Canary observes looks like it hasn't had any use or visitors in quite some time.

Oracle hacks through another door and Black Canary enters to discover a room full of expensive suits, expensive cameras, expensive watches... and jars of body parts, such as fingers, noses, ears, and eyes.

Black Canary starts to exfiltrate the villa, but as she's leaving, Jackie Pajamas' helicopter touches down on the helipad.  Canary waits to see who Jackie is with.  Oracle recognizes Reed Montel, but that's not the name she calls him.

For a first issue, I was surprised at the lack of action in this comic.  We see Black Canary take down a security guard or two, but they're small, quiet panels.  The real action of the chapter is Hellhound sicking his dogs on the runaway couple, but even then the event is so horrific and violent that we don't see it.

To compensate for the lack of gunfire and ass-kicking, Dixon gives us some nice character beats.  Barbara has a world to herself of online acquaintances who talk and flirt.  She might also be stealing bandwidth from the Department of Defense, which is an interesting ethical decision for a police commissioner's daughter.  That Dixon devoted a whole scene with these two out-of-their-depth military officers talking about it suggests he has some plans for this down the road.  I hope so, because it's a big deal for Barbara.

Dinah, on the other hand, is still portrayed as Barbara's opposite.  Where the mousy Oracle gets hot for software and technology but avoids face-to-face interactions, Black Canary flaunts her sexuality in this issue, even being willing to use it as a tactic to get close to her target.  She also comes off as frighteningly ignorant and, well, frightened of computers.  I guess fifteen years ago this characteristic might have come across as quaint and amusing, but today it makes her look stupid.

The most surprising highlight of the the comic, though, might be the inclusion of Hellhound.  I sort of /kind of remember him from Catwoman, but despite his ridiculous costume, I've always liked him.  And Black Canary has precious few villains that could be considered her rogues.  She needs all the colorful foes she can get.

Come back next Tuesday for a review of Birds of Prey #2.


  1. Good review.
    I recall Hellhound too, from his first app in the Catwoman Annual and two issues of her comic - he came to quite the . er. cutting end[!]. Bit of a buly.
    I liked this opening issue, and yes the character pieces were the stand-out. We didn't need much action, not even for an opening issue, just the pieces falling in place. The two Pentagon suits talking about the hacker/Oracle and the unknown person Babs was talking to online were obviously one and the same but at the time I had no idea the were.
    I liked the ref to the very first BoP special, and from here on in we would be get closer and closer to having Babs and Dinah meet face to face, which I recall was the ongoing theme amongst readers who were eager to see this happen.