Friday, July 4, 2014

Pretty Bird: GREEN LANTERN #194 and DETECTIVE COMICS #555-558

Last week I covered the debut of Black Canary's then-new costume in Detective Comics #554.  For two straight issues, Dinah had taken point on the Green Arrow backup strip.  Now with a brand new look and a more focused identity, Black Canary seemed poised to launch into the upper strata of DC's heroes and heroines.

But then she disappeared from the backup stories in 'Tec for four months.  At the same time, DC was overhauling their entire continuity with the universe reshaping event Crisis on Infinite Earths.  I know Black Canary appeared in a handful of issues of Crisis, but for the life of me I can't remember what she did there.  I've only read Crisis one time and I didn't like it, and I don't feel inclined to wade into it again for the purposes of finding Black Canary in one panel of issue #6 or something.

However, I can painlessly recap her appearance in one of the Crisis tie-in issue of Green Lantern, wherein Dinah and Green Arrow witness the Harbinger take the new Green Lantern John Stewart off to his fateful rendezvous with the Monitor.

Green Lantern #194: "5" is written by Steve Englehart with art by Joe Staton.  The issue begins in Star City where Green Arrow and Black Canary are attempting to evacuate civilians as a building begins to crumble around them.

At the last second, John Stewart, the new Green Lantern of Space Sector 2814, flies by and creates an energy projection of a load bearing support to keep the debris off of Green Arrow and the civilian.  John and his fellow Green Lantern Corps member Katma Tui have just returned from space to find the Earth in the throws of violent environmental disaster.

Ollie tells the Green Lanterns that he doesn't know what's causing the freaky weather phenomena, and Dinah mentions the report that Firestorm mysteriously vanished earlier.  At that moment, the stunning and enigmatic Harbinger arrives.  Harbinger reveals that she is responsible for Firestorm's disappearance, and now she has come to claim Green Lantern as well.

John tells Harbinger he has no intention of going with her, and she warns him that if he doesn't his world is in jeopardy.  John throws an energy vice around Harbinger and tells her he doesn't like being threatened.  Him or his world.  Harbinger, though, effortlessly breaks free of his green construct.  Katma Tui uses her power to reinforce John's will, but neither of them appear strong enough to contain the strange woman.

With Black Canary and Green Arrow down, Katma takes a shot at Harbinger with her ring, but John stops her and ends the scuffle.  John says he scanned Harbinger and he believes she has only come to collect him for a purpose other than attack.  He trusts her and begs Katma Tui to trust him by letting him go alone despite his inexperience.

Just before Harbinger takes him away, she asks him to don the mask he wore originally because that's how the Monitor observed him (and that's how George Perez drew him, I think).

Elsewhere in the story, Hal Jordan is doing stuff that doesn't matter for our purposes.  John Stewart joins Firestorm, Superman of Earth-2, Blue Beetle, Cyborg, and the others aboard the Monitor's ship.  Katma Tui returns to Oa to report the events to the Guardians of the Universe.  After hearing her story, the distressed-sounding Guardians send her bath to Earth to await further orders.

Back on Earth, Katma is visibly shaken by the Guardians' apparent fear.  She tries to warn the Green Lantern of neighboring Sector 2813, but finds nothing there: no Green Lantern, no sector.

While John does Crisis-related stuff, Katma Tui goes to meet with former ring-slinger Hal Jordan.  Hal then finds Guy Gardner just as Guy is granted a Green Lantern ring by one of the Guardians.  Dinah and Ollie, meanwhile, stand together in the cold rain where their story will be picked up in issues of Crisis on Infinite Earths which I already said I'm not going to cover at this time.

For the few pages that Black Canary is in this issue, I like what Englehart and Staton give us.  The obvious point is her tactical judo move that takes Harbinger to the ground.  That the move ultimately proves ineffective is because of how immensely powerful Harbinger is, not because Dinah isn't a badass fighter.

We also get a beat where John Stewart refers to Katma as his girl, and Dinah mentally corrects him with the word "woman".  This seems like a very pro-feminist concern that Dinah wouldn't necessarily believe but that liberal Ollie would have pushed on her.  The Black Canary that we've seen up to this point in continuity hasn't been as vocal in politics or in Ollie's ideals, and she seems too grounded for this thought to even occur to her in the middle of a dire situation like the one they find themselves in. I'm glad she only thought it, because if she said it out loud at that moment when the world is going to hell, everyone would have turned to her and said, "Shut up."

But the other bit of characterization that I really like is when John Stewart calls Green Arrow and Black Canary his best friends in the superhero world.  I've recently read John's early years as a Green Lantern for the first time and I mostly enjoy the stories, but I really like John Stewart as a character.  Most of my exposure to him comes from Justice League and other DC Animated Universe projects, and to me he always seemed incredibly flat and boring in those cartoons.  These comics proved otherwise.

Ollie, Dinah, and Hal Jordan were the famous Hard Travelin' Heroes, but sans Hal I like that Black Canary maintains a connection to the Green Lantern mythos through John Stewart.  And within a few years, she'll have a team connection to the new Lantern Guy Gardner.

4th of July Bonus!!!

Before I return to Black Canary and Green Arrow's adventures in Detective Comics, what has the Archer been up to while his Pretty Bird was away?

Detective Comics #555 includes a solo Green Arrow strip called "The Case of the Runaway Shoebox" written by Elliot Maggin with art by Dicks Dillin and Giordano.  Oliver Queen gets pick pocketed and the ensuing adventure leads to the foiling of a much grander criminal operation.  Black Canary is never seen, but Ollie does refer to Dinah in the very last panel.

This story is pure filler, unconnected to anything from Green Arrow's story in the past couple of issues.  I don't know if "The Case of the Runaway Shoebox" was a reprint, but I'm quite sure it wasn't conceived for this issue as Dick Dillin sadly died five years before this comic hit the shelves.

Detective Comics #556 and #557, however, do pick up where writer Joey Cavalieri and artist Jerome Moore left off.  Not with Black Canary, but with the other woman who was trying to get Green Arrow's attention: Onyx.  The two-part story called "Zen and the Art of Dying" begins with Oliver Queen returning home after he and Dinah wrapped up the Bonfire case in #554.  Onyx, a young whip-weilding woman last seen in #552, waits for Ollie in his home.

When he confronts her, she tells him she was sent to bring him back to the monastery where he trained in martial arts.  Onyx tells the story of Lars, a cruel thuggish student of the Exalted Master who trained her and Oliver.  Lars has been trying to take control of the monastery and its library of powerful teachings.  Only the Master has kept Lars in check, but now the Master is poisoned and Lars is on the brink of taking that power for himself.  Ollie remembers Lars from his days in the monastery; he and Lars did not get along and the bully swore there would be a reckoning some day.

Green Arrow and Onyx arrive at the monastery only to find Lars has taken over and ambushes the two of them with dozens of his men.  Green Arrow draws his bow and manages to disarm most of Lars' followers and capture some with a net-arrow.  Onyx doesn't do so well as she is quickly captured by Lars and taken to the bell tower.

Lars tells Onyx that he wants to open the Exalted Master's ancient and powerful Book of Ages, but he needs something called the Wisdom Key.  The Master, it turns out, hid the key on Onyx's headband, but Lars finds it and sneaks away to the library.

Green Arrow rescues Onyx from the bell tower and they follow Lars to the library.  They're too late to stop him from opening the box with the sacred tome, but they needn't fear.  The book was cursed and when Lars tries to read it, it crumples to dusty vapor that kills him.  Eeek!

Detective Comics #558 features another disconnected Green Arrow backup tale called "Believe Everything I Hear" written by Dean Traven and drawn by Black Canary's series artist Trevor Von Eeden.  Green Arrow saves one of his criminal informants from murder, but misinterprets the wounded man's tip about an illegal shipment coming in that day.

This is another filler issue, though I have less idea of when or why it was originally produced.  It's still a fun story.  All of them are good stories; I really, really enjoyed the two-parter by Cavalieri and Moore.  Revisiting Green Arrow's formative years that don't involve being stranded on an island is a nice glimpse behind the scenes.  And Onyx was a great character that got a little bit of attention in Batman and Detective Comics, but could have been a much more mainstream hero or foil.

Black Canary eventually returned to the pages of Detective Comics with issue #559, where she and Green Arrow teamed-up with Batman and Catwoman in a story I've already reviewed--check it out!  After that, she co-starred with Ollie in the backup strips for the next eight issues.  Dinah brought her all-new costume to the criminal underworld and a direction of the character that was, ironically, closer in line with her very first appearance in Flash Comics #86.

Come back next Friday for the next chapter of Green Arrow and Black Canary in Detective Comics #560...

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