Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Birds of Prey #6 (June 1999)

Previously in Birds of Prey...

Deep in Lake Mackachitahoo in Minnesota is a lost soviet satellite leaking neutrinos that play havoc with time and space.  First Black Canary was attacked by a prehistoric amphibious monster, then Cheshire and the Ravens traveled thousands if not millions of years into the past.  Amidst this chaos, the terrorist group known as Kobra has come to the lake to retrieve the satellite and kill Black Canary.  Also, the Pentagon's Counter-Cyberwarfare Division has backtracked the hacker stealing their bandwidth to somewhere in Gotham City.

Birds of Prey #6: "Time's Rainbow" is written by Chuck Dixon with pencils by Greg Land, inks by Drew Geraci, and colors by Gloria Vasquez.  The cover was penciled by Land over a Brian Stelfreeze sketch, who then inked over Land's pencils.  Figure that out!

For the last couple issues, someone has been spying on Oracle through a network of hidden cameras installed in her apartment.  In this issue, we discover the identity of the voyeur is none other than... Batman!  The Dark Knight tells Alfred that he's been surveilling Oracle to ensure that she is mentally sound enough to handle the enormous responsibility on her shoulder.  He can't afford for someone in her delicate position to have any kind of breakdown.

Just as Batman discontinues the surveillance, telling Alfred, he has no doubts about her faculties, Oracle one-ups him by hacking the Batcomputer and revealing that she's known all along that he's been watching her.  She let him do it for his peace of mind, but she's still hella pissed at the audacity.

Meanwhile, in a stretch of prehistoric land that will someday be Lake Mackachitahoo, the Ravens argue about their dire circumstances.  While Vicious and Pistolera bicker about the when and where they are, their leader, Cheshire, tells them she intends to swim back down to the bottom of the lake and find the wrecked satellite.  She figures that their time travel has to do with the neutrinos around the satellite, so by finding the satellite again, they can ride the effect back to their present.

Speaking of the present time, remember how last issue ended with Black Canary freaking out about something we couldn't see so we had no idea how to feel about her situation?  Well that's finally explained as Dinah tells Oracle that a Kobra submarine is in the Lake, along with a squad of Kobra divers rigging the satellite to the sub for towing.

How cute is it that Kobra divers look just like Aquaman?!!

Anyway, Kobra Prime explains to one of his underlings that the satellite, called Solaris II, was a solar orbiter that the Soviets forgot about decades ago, but that Kobra had been monitoring all along.  The satellite passed through and collected some neutrinos in its revolution around the sun, and then Kobra directed it back to Earth, but accidentally lost it in Minnesota.

As the satellite is being hauled up to the submarine, the squad of Kobra divers are brutally attacked by the Ravens who have swum back to the right timeline.  Black Canary doesn't recognize the Ravens and asks Oracle for some intel, but Oracle is distracted.

At that moment, Major Van Lewton orders his special ops team into action.  They bust into the phantom hacker's headquarters... which isn't Oracle's hideout, as a matter of fact.  It turns out, the hacker they've been tracking all along was Blockbuster.

He beats the crap out of the special ops guys and gets on their radio frequency.  He threatens Van Lewton and tells him he can have the men back as long as he never interferes--illegally--with his business again.  Van Lewton is appropriately terrified, and his aide is appropriately satisfied.

Oracle, as it happens, was only distracted by a bird in her apartment.  When she finally gets back to her computer, Dinah has tired of waiting for her.  Black Canary is already engaging the Ravens as Oracle protests and tells her who they are.  Babs has quite a warning regarding Cheshire, as if Black Canary doesn't already know plenty about Roy Harper's baby mama.

However badass Oracle thought Cheshire and the Ravens were, Black Canary takes them out in about thirty seconds.  Oracle tells her she can't let Kobra get their hands on the satellite, but that doesn't look like it's going to be a problem as the plesiosaurus returns and slams into the Kobra sub.

In the aftermath of Kobra Prime's cowardly retreat and the sinking of the submarine, the authorities round up the surviving members of Kobra.  S.T.A.R. Labs technicians show up to deal with the funky satellite.  The lake monster, it seems, is going to be sticking around for a while, so Dinah tells her new friend Gary and his uncle to paint signs and market the crap out of it for tourists.

The Ravens, Black Canary believes, got away clean.  In truth, they did slip away, but they passed through the neutrino time wave again and wound up trapped in an era of early human civilization.  Hey, maybe Vandal Savage can help them!

Here we have another one of Dixon's comics that took about two minutes to read.  The only benefit to that is it didn't take very long to write this recap.  There were certainly some enjoyable moments to this story.  There's a lot of action, first with the Ravens slaughtering the Kobras, and then with Black Canary trouncing the Ravens.  Dixon did a fine job setting up how formidable they should have been with Oracle's running commentary even as Black Canary handles them effortlessly.  It shows how much better she is and how she really ought to be considered one of the best fighters in the DC Universe.

On the other hand, the pacing, particularly with those action beats, goes by way too quickly.  And Land's art isn't memorable enough to capture the eye for extra time, especially in the underwater sequences that all look kind of the same.

The greatest affront, though, is the first scene with Batman spying on Oracle.  I'm not complaining about the content of the scene, but the presentation.  The scene is four pages long and only seven panels.  Four pages, seven panels.  Do the math and it adds up to less than two panels per page on average.  And these aren't exciting, visually dynamic pages.  It's just Batman talking to Alfred and Barbara's face on some cameras.  There isn't even much dialogue.  The scene could have been two pages--or one page--but Dixon and Land stretch it out to four.  That's a criminal use of real estate in a comic that's only twenty-one pages already.

Overall, this was a cute little story arc that should have been two issues instead of three.  The decompression of Dixon's writing is starting to hinder the momentum and enjoyment of the story.  Greg Land's art still looks good most of the time, but cracks are showing.

Come back next Tuesday for a review of Birds of Prey #7.

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