Sunday, June 30, 2013

LongBox Loot: Black Canary from '93 and The Ray from '94

Just got back from vacation, and during my travels, I was fortunate enough to pilfer the Black Canary collections of two different local comic stores.  I got the four-issue "New Wings" mini from 1991/92 by Sarah Byam, Trevor Von Eeden and Dick Giordano.  I posted a pick of that collection last week.

I also snagged most of the ongoing series that followed.  Dinah's only regular series lasted a mere twelve issues, and I was able to pick up all but #9 and #10, which I should track down next week.

Almost as exciting as the Black Canary series, I managed to grab most of her appearances in The Ray from 1994.

The only Ray comic I've ever read was the Zero Hour tie-in.  I enjoyed that issue and I thought the character looked cool--I'm also a fan of Christopher Priest's writing, as if I needed more incentive--so I'm really looking forward to cracking this series open when I get the chance.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Birds of Prey: Manhunt #4 (Dec 1996)

Review: Birds of Prey: Manhunt #1.

What Happened Before…
  • Black Canary was captured by master criminal Archer Braun and taken to his base of operations in Kazakstan.
  • Canary's partner, Oracle, enlists the help of Huntress and Catwoman, both of whom were looking for Braun for their own reasons.
  • Braun's base is a haven for terrorists, criminals, and assassins, including possibly the deadliest woman alive: Lady Shiva!

Birds of Prey: Manhunt #4 - "Ladies' Choice" was written by Chuck Dixon, but the art team changes yet again for this final issue.  This time, series penciller Matt Haley draws over Sal Buscema's layouts and Wade Von Grawbadger, the inker for issue #1, is back.  I don't know why Buscema was brought in but his inclusion isn't that noticeable.  This still looks and feels like Matt Haley's book.

We open with Dinah and Archer Braun being held at gunpoint by a group of mercenaries and thugs.  Apparently, Braun doesn't run the show at Katchik 9-9 as much as last issue suggested; the real power here seems to be a big man named Serge.  Serge is angry with Braun for failing to deliver a large score of American money in exchange for a percentage of Serge's Afghan heroin operation.

I don't know where any of this is coming from.  Serge here has never been mentioned before this scene.  We know that Braun did pull off a large robbery score, because that's what sent Black Canary and Huntress and Catwoman all after him in the first place.  We've never heard any clues about a bigger plan Braun might have.  Chuck Dixon's failure to establish Braun as a fully realized villain in the first three issues is put on display in this final chapter.  This opening scene sounds like it was written for a different series as what precious little we know of the villain seems completely flipped around.  What's more confounding is none of this is going to matter, because Serge, his plans, and everything he and Braun discuss in the first few pages is dropped and never again referred to later in the chapter.

The only part of the issue that is relevant is Lady Shiva.  She vetoes Serge's kill order, claiming she wants Black Canary alive.  To test her.  Braun intervenes, so Lady Shiva strikes, but her attack is easily deflected.  Braun's defense is beyond impressive--it's astonishing.  Oracle, who has been eavesdropping on Dinah's captivity, suspects that Braun may have a metahuman ability they didn't know about and does some digging online.

On the road leading to Katchik 9-9, Huntress and Catwoman's car breaks down.  Years ago, the city was exposed to a man-made virus that devours plastics, making the place uninhabitable to all but the most desperate and infamous of supercriminals (a "wretched hive of scum and villainy" basically).  The virus eats the ladies' engine, forcing them to proceed with their rescue on foot.

Back in the city, Dinah is taken to her holding cell in what passes for the local jail.  She rebuffs his advances, so he hits her, displaying an ability to predict not only her moves but her thoughts and words, as well.

Huntress and Catwoman have arrived and begin making their way across the rooftops.  Oracle gives them as much direction as she can based on the sounds she's overheard from Dinah's transmitter.  She also fills them in on the missing part of Braun's history, that he was subjected to KGB experiments and granted precognitive abilities which make him an expert combatant.

Huntress and Catwoman make it to Dinah's cell, but by then, Dinah has already freed herself and fled the jail.  The ladies aren't left alone, though, as Braun and Lady Shiva arrive at that moment.  As match ups go, our ladies are severely outmatched.

Catwoman has zero chance against Lady Shiva, and they both know it, but Selina Kyle may be the universe's ultimate opportunist.  She takes the fight outside where distance and environment may give her some leverage.

Huntress is left to fight Braun in the holding cell, which is now burning thanks to Catwoman's whip toppling over a kerosine lamp.  This is the fight Huntress--and we readers--have been waiting for, as once, long ago, Braun broke Helena's heart by being a lying douche bag.  It would be cathartic to get her revenge by pummeling him into unconsciousness.  The problem is, Braun's psychic ability makes him the superior fighter.

In the streets outside the jail, Lady Shiva stands ready to kill Catwoman when Black Canary returns.

Back in the blazing Bastille, Huntress is getting her ass handed to her by Braun.  Oracle tells Huntress that she cannot beat him because his precognition allows him to anticipate her attacks before she moves.  To overcome this, Huntress clears her mind and instinctively responds to Oracle's attack commands--in a sense, Oracle fights Braun using Huntress as a physical surrogate, negating his powers.

Okay, this does look like Sal Buscema.

As Huntress defeats Braun, the fire burns away enough of the building that it collapses.  Oracle orders her to save Braun, telling him that no matter what he has done, she cannot simply leave him to die.  But that's what happens.  Could Huntress have saved him?  The art makes it a little ambiguous, but it seems like she doesn't make the best effort to pull him out of the fire.

Huntress is a different type of vigilante thanOracle.  She doesn't have the same philosophy of crime fighting that Batman's family has, and that difference will continue to divide them for years to come.

As the jail burns, Dinah and Catwoman fight Lady Shiva to a standstill.  Even though it looked like there were dozens, if not hundreds, of mercenaries and killers in Katchik 9-9, they are nowhere to be found when things get hot.  Seriously, where is Serge?  Where is everybody?

Huntress reunites with Catwoman and Dinah, who recommends they make use of the destruction to escape without prolonging the fight with Lady Shiva.

The three women mount horses and ride off.  Dinah is finally verbally reunited with Oracle, who asks if this entire adventure was worth the pain and expense.  Dinah doesn't even have to think about it.

As a concluding chapter, this issue does a decent job of drawing the characters back together and bringing the action.  It's not perfect.  The threat of Lady Shiva is never fully realized, in part because she was introduced too late into the story, and in part because her status is quickly undercut by Braun's metahuman defense technique.  The obligatory conflict established in issue #1 is Huntress and Braun, and their fight is a satisfying climax.  Huntress relying on Oracle to command her end of the fight like a marionette in the hands of a puppeteer is exciting and smart.  It reminds me of the Star Wars novel The Last Command, where a blinded Mara Jade is mentally guided by Leia Organa-Solo during a lightsaber duel.

Overall, Birds of Prey: Manhunt was a superficial adventure story.  The plot was laughably thin from the onset--Dinah and Huntress are both gunning for a man who romantically toyed with them and sort of casually happened to be a criminal.  Archer Braun seems to get more dangerous with each chapter, but the mounting threats never feel organic, never feel like layers of his character are being pulled away.  Instead, it feels like Dixon is just throwing stuff at him, making it up on the fly as the situation calls for it.

What works in the series is the women, who all look good, talk tough, and act authentic, insofar as they stay true to their character established in previous stories.  But I don't believe anything was really achieved by this story.  I don't know that this event has built upon the Black Canary, Oracle, Huntress and Catwoman we've known before.  Despite getting top billing, Dinah and Oracle are limited for good chunks of time.  Dinah's a hostage for an issue and a half, and Oracle talks to nobody for about as long.  Huntress and Catwoman take most of the spotlight and the series feels crowded.  I think either one of them could have been cut from the story and it would have felt tighter, more personal, and more significant.

If this title is about Black Canary and Oracle, I'm not sure they're in any different place emotionally or personally than they were at the end of the Birds of Prey one-shot that brought them together.  But… as I said, though the story may not be deep or meaningful, it's a fun ride and any fan of Dinah or the Birds of Prey should give it a read!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Out of Context #20: "Make it Quick"

From Identity Crisis #1, art by Rags Morales.
Every Thursday, Flowers & Fishnets provide a panel that--when taken out of context from the rest of the page--may be funny, suggestive, or just dumb.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

DON'T Buy TALON #9 This Week!

This month's issue of Talon boasted a "guest starring" appearance of the Birds of Prey on its cover.  Well, sometimes advertisements lie and you can't judge a book by its cover, because no such thing happens in the book.

The Birds' resident Talon, Strix, is in the first page of Talon #9.  Batgirl is in the first panel, being kicked off a roof by the Talon Calvin Rose, which is kind of referencing events from BOP #21, but not really because that didn't happen like that.  Black Canary only appears on this issue's cover, not in the book.  None of them have any dialogue.  None of them are mentioned by name.  In fact, the characters are never mentioned directly or obliquely.  This is a regular issue of Talon--I'm assuming--with Batgirl and Black Canary put on the cover in a shameless effort to attract readers.  I wish it hadn't worked on me, but it did.

From Justice League of America #5, art by Brett Booth.
Where Black Canary does appear, however, is in Justice League of America #5.  It's a tiny cameo; in fact, it's only a picture of her, but Dinah is mentioned by Amanda Waller as a possible replacement member for the Justice League of America.

I would love to see Black Canary become a regular member of one of the Justice League teams.  She could use the exposure that a high profile, high-selling title would provide, and she damn well deserves it!  But if Geoff Johns didn't add her to the League during its post-Throne of Atlantis recruiting drive (see Justice League #18), I don't see her upgrading teams anytime soon.

If Dinah did join one of these teams, though, I think she'd be a better fit for the New 52 Justice League of America.  She already has a connection to Amanda Waller from her time with Team 7.  Steve Trevor's unit feels more tactical and militaristic than the larger-than-life icons that comprise the satellite-based League.  For better or worse, Dinah fits into the former category in this continuity.  She would also be an interesting matchup for Batman--better than Catwoman or Green Arrow, I think.  And it might give her a chance to meet Green Arrow, which I don't think has happened yet in the New 52.


Anyway, I just wanted to plug Dinah's cameo appearance in this week's JLofA and warn potential buyers to not waste money on Talon if they're expecting an actual crossover with Birds of Prey.

Black Canary & Zatanna Get Starro'd

Recently, while doing a Google Images search for Starro, I came across this lovely piece of fan art by Kelly Everaert.

Thanks to The Happy Sorceress' tumblr page for hosting the image!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

BIRDS OF PREY #2 (New 52)

Previously in Birds of Prey

Dinah Lance, the costumed adventurer known as Black Canary, is wanted for a murder she may or may not have committed, but that won't stop her from putting together a team of crime-fighting super heroines.  Backed by her partner, Ev Crawford--alias Starling--Black Canary saves the life of Gotham Gazette reporter Charlie Keen from a team of hit men wearing suits that make them vaguely opaque-ish.  Black Canary and Starling escort Charlie safely to Gotham International Airport where he suffers a fatal case of exploding.

And now…

Bids of Prey #2: "Trouble in Mind" is written by Duane Swierczynski with art by Jesus Saiz.  This time the colors are provided by Allen Passalaqua.  They're much more muted colors, less of the subtle, multi-layered affect that Nei Ruffino gave to the candlelight in the church or the highlights of skin tone and hair color in issue #1.  The color along with Saiz's heavier looking inks make this issue look darker than the last.

This may be shocking to someone who has never read a comic before, but the action depicted on the cover does not appear in the actual comic.  I mean, I guess Katana does strike, but not against Black Canary and Starling.  But we'll get to that later.

"We're Going to Have to Get Used to Each Other's Quirks"

This issue opens in Japan, where Tatsu Yamashiro, better known as Katana, has made short work of a handful of Yakuza assassins sent to kill her.  Surveying the carnage of the room, Tatsu converses with her sword as though it were a person--an intimate acquaintance from her use of "my love"--but perhaps more important than that is she responds to the sword as though she can hear it talking to her.

Back at Gotham International Airport, the fiery blast that started with Charlie Keen throws Dinah and Ev across the terminal.  They wake amidst the chaos and confusion, unable to comprehend how, in the absence of an explosive device, Charlie could simply blow up.  Homeland Security arrives at the scene; the ladies have to get away, but Dinah refuses to leave without gathering some evidence of what might have killed Charlie.  Ev creates a distraction for the uniform guards, which is, apparently, a specialty of hers.

Dinah collects a busted cell phone and a piece of bloody tissue that had, just a few hours ago, been a reporter trying to expose her.  Ev, meanwhile, steals the keys to the security guards' cart and speeds away at a brisk seven miles per hour.  Ev picks up Dinah and they smash through the airport window as though it were a church wall.

Unseen by either woman, is one of the mysterious hit men from last issue, who refers to Charlie as the "carrier" and the explosion as a "test".  Then the man vanishes with his invisibility suit.

Three days later, Ev meets Charlie's widow at the funeral.  The paper's position was that Charlie was depressed and killed himself; the widow doesn't buy it.  Later, Dinah and Ev, dressed in Black Canary and Starling garb, skulk about a dark warehouse in a seedy part of town.  This is one of Starling's many safe houses, apparently, and the two argue the pros and cons of a permanent base of operations.  They also discuss the mode of Charlie's death.  The forensics report found three curious trace elements in his system, two of them explosives; the third is being tested.

Here they meet Katana, who Black Canary invited to join their "thing" (Starling's word).  Katana says she was not interested at first, but changed her mind at the behest of her husband.  The problem is Katana's husband is dead.  This, understandably, troubles Starling, but not nearly as much as it would if she knew what Black Canary knows--that Katana believes her husband's soul embodies her sword.

Dinah meets one of Ev's countless contacts in every kind of professional field.  This one, Dr. Trevor Cahill, is a neurochemical researcher… who happens to be attractive and single.  Dinah mentally scolds Ev for trying to play match-maker and refrains from flirting.  Cahill reveals that one of the elements in Charlie's body was an experimental drug that… Know what? I'mma let him tell it.

Cahill says four of the five labs that carry this experimental drug have had break-ins of late.  He gives Dinah the address of the fifth lab, because what's suspicious about that?

Back in costume, Black Canary, Starling and Katana check out the "lab", which looks a lot like another warehouse.  While looking around for… I don't know what they're hoping to find because I really don't understand the mystery of this book.  Anyway, Black Canary spots one of the invisible bad guys, and I cannot stress how horribly ineffective this technology is within the universe they've created.

Not-invisible soldiers descend on the ladies.  Black Canary fights them with her superior martial arts skills.  Katana slices through their ranks with her husband/sword, the Soultaker.  And Starling just shoots 'em.  When things get heavy, Black Canary brings out her super power.

Starling takes one of their attackers alive for interrogation, but as they leave, the lab becomes overrun by grass, trees, and other flora.  And at the heart of this new vegetation is the beautiful-but-deadly eco-terrorist, Poison Ivy.

Starling prepares to fight the Batman rogue, but Black Canary stops her.  Dinah invited Ivy--she's part of their "thing."

The Characters

This issue introduces us to the other two members of Black Canary's team, but Poison Ivy's appearance is little more than a cameo.  Katana, on the other hand, gets plenty of page space, from the prelude to her first in-story meeting with Dinah and Starling.  I can't say if Tatsu is different from the pre-New 52 Katana because I think I've only read, like, three comics featuring Katana where she was anything more than a background character.  She is essentially a blank slate in this series.

So was she good?  Yeah, I like Katana in this issue.  I love how she speaks to her husband through the sword, and how off-putting that is to other people.  It's endearing, and also provides some opportunities for humor.

I also like her look, which makes her one of the precious few whose New 52 redesigns I like better than her old costume.  It's simple, elegant and striking as her Soultaker.  It also reminds me of the character Fuji from classic pre-Warren Ellis Stormwatch.

We get a few more details of Starling this issue.  Dinah calls her a "master strategist" who can "drive, shoot and talk her way out of practically anything."  She also admits to being on multiple government watch lists, and says she likes smashing stuff.  At some point, she also received some CIA interrogation training.

Does any of this make her more likable than last issue?  No.  It reinforces my fear that she's a Mary-Sue created by Swierczynski to recapture the best (or at least the loudest) qualities of Oracle, Huntress and Misfit from pre-New 52 Birds of Prey.

What about Dinah?  Despite her narrating the story, we don't get much more insight into her character.  I'm glad that she doesn't go gaga over Dr. Cahill.  I like that she tries to think strategically, but I think the flaws in the story's internal logic and mystery don't help her look any smarter than the others.

When Dinah and Starling are arguing about establishing a permanent base, Dinah says, "I bet Batman has a base."  This line hurt to read.  In this continuity, Dinah doesn't know Batman.  She's not a heavy hitter, not a significant player in the hero community--if she's even considered a hero, which isn't clear.


I liked this issue more than the first one, mostly because of the inclusion of Katana.  I never had any use for her before this, but after this issue, I want to see more of her.  Less of Starling, though.

Where the series is lacking, though, is in purpose and mission.  Black Canary's crew--we'll call them the Birds from now on--Starling calls them a "thing", which suggests something amorphous between team and partnership.  Anyway, the Birds are investigating this mystery surrounding Charlie Keen's murder, but Dinah was recruiting women before she knew about Keen.  What is her goal?  Are the Birds meant to be a street-level vigilante version of the Justice League?  Are they private investigators?  And why is Dinah still wanted for murder?

There are some pros to Birds of Prey #2, but there are still too many questions.  The mystery they're chasing seems paper thin, to the point of non-existent, at times.  Jesus Saiz's art, though, continues to please me.

Grade: B-

Monday, June 24, 2013

Out This Week: TALON #9

DC continues to try and shore up sales for Birds of Prey by tying it to the Batman universe through peripheral Batman characters like Batgirl, Poison Ivy, Mister Freeze and the Court of Owls.  Seemingly everyone but Batman.  And now BOP is crossing over with Talon.

Cover by Sepulveda


In the aftermath of his encounter with Strix and the Birds of Prey (continuing from this month's BIRDS OF PREY #21), Calvin is sent on his deadliest mission yet: Retrieve one man from the deadliest island on Earth, Santa Prisca, the home of Bane!

Written by James Tynion IV
Art and cover by Miguel A. Sepulveda
On sale June 26
32 Pages
U.S. Price: 2.99

From the solicit, the Birds might only appear in two pages of this issue of Talon.  However, I'm looking forward to it more than any issue of the New 52 Birds of Prey, if only because I like Tynion's writing more than that of Swierczynski or Marx.

UPDATE:  I just read the issue and… I was wrong.  The Birds of Prey appear in less than two pages.  Black Canary only appears on the cover.  Batgirl appears in one panel falling off a building.  None of them have any dialogue, nor are any of them referred to specifically or even obliquely in the script.

I'm pissed off that I paid for this $#@%!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Birds of Prey: Manhunt #3 (Nov 1996)

What Happened Before…

  • Black Canary and Huntress are separately but simultaneously looking for a criminal named Archer Braun.  They tracked him to his hotel in Gotham City.
  • Braun fled, but the timely intervention of Catwoman helped the ladies track their quarry to an airfield.
  • Black Canary was captured by Braun and taken away on his plane.
  • Huntress and Catwoman go to the estate of a criminal fence named Cadiz to find out where Braun was going, but they're each cornered by Cadiz' bodyguards…

Birds of Prey: Manhunt #3 - "The Man That Got Away" was written by Chuck Dixon, drawn by Matt Haley, and inked by Cam Smith, the series' third inker in as many issues.  At the start of the issue, Black Canary is being taken to an undisclosed location by her captor, Archer Braun.  Oracle is able to listen in on their conversation, but it's only a one-way transmission; Dinah can't hear Oracle because she took off her earring transceivers, and Oracle has no way of knowing if Dinah is even aware she's still broadcasting.

In Cadiz' mansion, Catwoman is fighting the old man's nurse bodyguard, while Huntress eludes the armed security forces by sicking their own attack dogs on them.  Catwoman fights off the nurse and gets the location of Braun's secret rendezvous from Cadiz.  Then she bails out Huntress, in the process revealing that she's still a thief and can only be trusted so far.

With assistance from Batman and Robin, Oracle is tracking Braun's plane when it conspicuously drops off radar for half a minute.  Braun has used a decoy plane to take his place mid-flight and carry on with the original flight plan while he sneaks off for parts unknown.  Batman asks if Oracle can handle this on her own.  She says yes, and Batman…backs off, trusting her to complete the job and save her field operative without him.  Both Oracle and Robin are impressed by this show of faith.

In Huntress' Lamborghini, Catwoman reveals what she learned from Cadiz--that Braun is running to a hideout somewhere in the former Soviet Union.  Huntress points out that the region isn't exactly small, but before she drops too many hints about her academic day job, the women are alerted to an annoying set of beeps coming from somewhere in the car.  Catwoman digs out Black Canary's earrings, given to her in the moments before her capture, and hears Oracle's voice trying to make contact.

Half a world away, Braun's plane lands in Kazakstan, where he is greeted by this guy:

No, Braun and Dinah are greeted by a team of mercenaries on horseback.  Braun tells her the horses are necessary for their final destination, a hidden city called Katchik 9-9.

Braun explains to Dinah that the city was the site of numerous genetic weapons tests the Soviets used during the Cold War.  One of the weapons was a virus that devours plastics and synthetic fibers; it got loose in the city, stripping the physical infrastructure.  Katchik 9-9 was abruptly abandoned, making it an ideal base for terrorists, mobsters on the lamb, and supercriminals.

Oracle calls Catwoman and Huntress to tell them where Black Canary is being held, leading to some "catty" remarks by both Catwoman and Oracle.  Catwoman is resolute about chasing Braun to the ends of the Earth, not for Dinah, but to get her money.  Huntress wants to rescue Dinah and take Braun down for generally being a womanizing scumbag.  Catwoman makes their travel arrangements while Huntress calls the school where she works to get a few days off.

Back in Katchik, Braun shows Dinah the local entertainment--a pit fight between a large bruiser of a man and mysterious hooded woman.  The fight ends quickly as the woman delivers a dreaded strike called the Leopard Blow.  Dinah recognizes the style and knows only one warrior who uses it.

This series didn't have enough formidable women headlining yet, so Dixon added Lady Shiva!

The third issue of Manhunt is a slight step up from the earlier installments, I think.  The focus of the heroes is now "rescue Dinah" instead of "make that man pay for cheating on us".  It makes Braun a more worthwhile adversary and gives the plot some actual legs to stand on.  Black Canary's role is severely diminished for this chapter, but Oracle takes a much more active role, which is a nice consolation.

The new setting of Katchik 9-9 is terrific and full of possibility.  (Will it be fulfilled?  Find out next week… but probably not.)  And the introduction of Lady Shiva in the final page filled me with all kinds of joy, knowing how her character will develop over the years, and how her relationship with Black Canary specifically will change both their lives much later in the ongoing series.

My favorite part of the issue, though, is when Dinah is feeding intel to Oracle about the layout and local flavor of Katchik, having no clue if it's being picked up or not.

"I miss you," she whispers, so softly Barbara almost doesn't catch it.

They're just coworkers at this point in their history: field operator and tech support.  Dinah doesn't even know who she's talking to, but it's one of--if not the--most important relationship she has right now.  And this is only the beginning…

Saturday, June 22, 2013

LongBox Loot: Black Canary Mini from 1991

For those of you who graciously check Flowers & Fishnets for its reviews of classic Birds of Prey issues (karl), rest assured I'm working on the write-up for Manhunt #3 and hope to post it tomorrow.  In the meantime, I have to share my most recent Black Canary purchase.

While visiting my parents, I had occasion to stop in the LCS of my old hometown.  After fighting with the owner about Man of Steel and saying some truly shameful things about his family, for which I apologize, I decided to peruse the back-issue boxes for Black Canary stories.  As luck would have it, they had the whole four-issue "New Wings" miniseries from late '91/early '92.

Black Canary: New Wings was written by Sarah Byam, with pencils by Trevor Von Eeden and inks by the immortal Dick Giordano!  I've heard lots of good things about this series--can't wait to read it!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Out of Context #19: "Get Comfortable"

From Justice Society of America (1991) #2, art by Grant Miehm.

Every Thursday, Flowers & Fishnets provide a panel that--when taken out of context from the rest of the page--may be funny, suggestive, or just dumb.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

BIRDS OF PREY #1 (New 52)

In September, 2011, DC Comics relaunched their entire line of books with new first issues, a lot of bold new directions, and in some cases, entirely new continuities.  The New 52, as it was called, because of the fifty-two ongoing series, was met with initially soaring sales and a War World worth of concern from both critics and fans.  Some of the books did predictably well (Batman, Justice League), some did surprisingly great (Aquaman, Swamp Thing), and others failed miserably (Hawk & Dove, Static Shock).  Still others fell somewhere in the mediocre middle; that, I believe, is where Birds of Prey fits in.

Every Tuesday, I will review an issue of the New 52 version of BOP until I catch up with the current issue, or the book gets cancelled, or I die.  Honestly, I think any of these options is as likely as the other.  My goal is to review these issues as if they're fresh, like I haven't read them before and I don't know where the series is going.  I'll try not to forecast happenings in issue #14 when I review issue #4, but we'll see how long that lasts.

I am also going to do my best to not hold this series up against previous incarnations of BOP for comparison, except where characterization is concerned.  I don't want to scrutinize the stories of Duane Swierczynski or Christy Marx for not being enough like Gail Simone or Chuck Dixon.  I want to judge them objectively.  I will undoubtedly fail at this.

Here we go!

"Let Us Prey", the first issue of the third volume of Birds of Prey is written by Duane Swierczynski and drawn by Jesus Saiz.  Swierczysnki had written some comics for Marvel that I never read, and before that, I believe, he was know mostly as a crime and non-fiction writer.  This is/was my first exposure to his writing.  Saiz, on the other hand, I adore.  He worked on The Brave and the Bold with writer J. Michael Straczynski (what is with Jesus Saiz and these Polish-sounding writers?), as well as the superhero espionage thriller, Checkmate, with Greg Rucka.  I recommend checking both of those out!  The cover depicts new versions of Black Canary, Katana, Poison Ivy, and newbie Starling.

"Some Covert Ops Team Run by a Bunch of Supercriminal Hotties"

The story begins with a banner letting us know we're in Gotham City now, which is a little weird, I think, because usually those time indicators come after a time shift, not in the first scene.  I assume that some part of this issue will take place in flashback.  Anyway, we open in a church where a reporter named Charlie Keen is talking on the phone to an informant--a "tipster" he later calls him.  Charlie is frustrated that the story he's been chasing for two weeks--apparently on this tipster's behalf--isn't going anywhere and Charlie is ready to drop it.

Well, that doesn't please Charlie's informant at all, because somebody's got the reporter in the crosshairs of a sniper rifle.  From their conversation it sounds like the informant wants Charlie to run a story exposing a covert team of female supercriminals, but in the two weeks Charlie has spent investigating this tip, he hasn't found any facts.

Then the facts drive through the wall of the church in a 1940s Rolls-Royce-style car!  (I don't know from car models, so if anyone can identify the actual type used for reference in this issue, feel free to share in the comments section below.)  Emerging from the car, which doesn't seem to have suffered any damage despite crashing through the stone wall of a freaking church, is a woman in skin-tight black.  And it's not Black Canary.

This new character, who we'll learn is named Starling, looks like a cashier at Hot Topic.  Black pants, black corset, black driving gloves, dragon tattoos, ponytail and bangs, and a Luger pistol--Hey, maybe the first page told us this story takes place now because otherwise a reader would see Starling's car, corset and sidearm and assume this story was set decades ago.

The sniper who was about execute Charlie turns his attention to Starling, but he's quickly felled by the appearance of Black Canary, who begins to narrate and provide much needed exposition.  Unlucky for the ladies, of course, the shooter wasn't alone, and a brawl erupts in the church.  Black Canary takes down her foes with judicious use of her formidable fighting skills and her meta-human "Canary Cry", while Starling just shoots them and pulls Charlie into the car.

 It's worth mentioning here that the team of bad guys--I don't know what else to call them because the story has not yet explained who they are or what they want--all seem to be wearing full-body costumes that make them blend into their background.  Invisibility suits, in other words.  But nobody seems to have a hard time spotting them, which really calls into question the effectiveness of the technology and the reasons for why a villain (or writer) would use it.

During the fracas, we flashback two weeks.  Charlie Keen followed a dressed-down Black Canary to a hotel where she meets with Barbara Gordon.  Barbara, who moonlights as Batgirl in Batgirl, identifies Canary as Dinah Lance, so we know they're on a personal basis, but from the rest of their conversation, best friends these two are definitely not.  Barbara says Dinah is wanted for murder, and doesn't sound all that sympathetic about it.  Dinah wants Barbara for the team she's putting together with Starling, but Barbara declines, instead recommending Katana.

Back in the present, Starling causes even more damage to the church as she attempts to escape with Charlie in the backseat.  At this point, Charlie narrates for a page to give us some background on Starling, calling her a "natural born hellraiser" with a mysteriously empty past.

Black Canary jumps on top of Starling's car, but before they can drive off to safety, one of the not-so-invisible bad guys hits her on the back of the neck--she says it felt like he bit her--and then he kisses her on the mouth, saying he just killed her.  Interesting stratagem; I wonder if anyone has ever tried to kill Batman with a kiss.  Maybe Poison Ivy, who, by the way, hasn't appeared yet in this issue.  Starling drives through the church door and she and Black Canary escape with a bewildered Charlie.

Charlie clarifies for the readers that Dinah is not merely wanted for murder, but "wanted for murdering a man with a punch."  Then Dinah and Starling explain that his mysterious tipster was using Charlie to lure them into an ambush, and they turned the tables back on the bad guys, even though it doesn't seem like they learned anything about the bad guys from that whole skirmish.  

Starling makes flight arrangements to get Charlie out of Gotham for a while.  As he's getting ready to board his plane, Black Canary gets a harsh tingle in her brain.  She's so distracted that she doesn't notice Charlie get a text, then Charlie bleeding from every hole in his head, and then Charlie exploding in the middle of the terminal.

The Characters

I've already posted my dislike for Black Canary's New 52 costume so I won't delve into that again.  But it must be said that Dinah's classic leather jacket and fishnet leggings would complement Starling's goth chic look perfectly.  Instead, we get… what we get.

As a Black Canary fan and blogger, I'm happy that Dinah is the star of this series.  However, this is not the Dinah I've known and loved for years.  This Dinah is wanted for a murder that she might not have committed, but while she's working to clear her name, it certainly doesn't seem like a high priority for her as she builds a team of misfit heroines.  Before the New 52, Black Canary was firmly entrenched in the Justice League, even chairing the team not so long ago.  Now there is no mention of the League and no indication that she has ever been associated with them, or that they could help her clear her name of the murder charge.  Before the New 52, Black Canary was a former lover and wife of Green Arrow.  Now there is no evidence in either series that the two have ever met.  Before the New 52, Black Canary shared a friendship with Barbara Gordon the likes of which most people will never know.  Now it feels like they were never very good friends, or maybe there is some deep betrayal in their past.

The other star of this issue is newcomer Starling, and based solely on this issue, I'm not a fan of her.  Everything about her screams "tries too hard" that she reads almost like a Mary-Sue fan fiction creation.  A natural hellraiser, Charlie calls her, she's a hard drinking party girl who curses and snarks and screams like a cowgirl when she crashes through church walls, but she also has a mysterious past with the government or some spy agency.  She calls Charlie "playah" and says things like, "Who does a bitch have to cut to get some service in here?"

But probably her biggest offense is her use of guns.  I thought we moved beyond this type of "hero" a decade ago, but since the New 52 is so referential and derivative of the '90s, I guess not.  I know I said I wouldn't compare this series to prior versions of Birds of Prey, but this aspect of Starling's character instantly took me out of the book.  In the old universe, Barbara Gordon would never abide a hero who used firearms, and neither would Black Canary, out of love for Barbara.  While the ladies are fighting their not-invisible enemies in the church, Black Canary kicks, punches and "cries" at them.  Starling, though, just shoots them.  And I have to assume that those guys died.  Having just seen Man of Steel in theaters this past weekend, wherein the protagonist they refer to as "Superman"--SPOILER ALERT-- kills the bad guy, I'm really disappointed, verging on disgusted with this type of conflict resolution in superhero stories.  Maybe I'm just old.

Anyway, I don't care for Starling.

Barbara Gordon is barely in the issue, and her brief, abrupt scene with Dinah just makes me sad.  She clearly wants nothing to do with Black Canary or her team, but she's willing to recommend Katana for membership.  Katana is viewed in a photo only and nothing is really said about her.  Poison Ivy never appears in the story.


At one point, Charlie asks Black Canary and Starling, "Who are you guys? Really?"

Dinah doesn't answer the question.  Neither does Swierczynski.  This first issue raises a lot of questions and provides no real answers that I can think of.  This is clearly a different Black Canary in a different place with a different history than pre-New 52, but we're never told anything about her past other than this murder charge that might or might not be a big deal for her.  How did she learn to fight?  How did she acquire her meta-human ability?  Why does she want to be a hero at all?  We also don't know anything about the "bad guys" or why they're targeting Black Canary.

If this issue was written for new readers, it fails to establish the heroes or villains that readers need to understand.  I'm guessing Swierczynski is creating a mystery around these characters, but that's meeting him more than halfway because the questions raised are too basic to be enticing.

There's one other line that made me cringe.  When Dinah pitches her team to Barbara, she says "Two people aren't a team."  It was all I could do not to shout bull$#@% at the comic.  Here again, I cannot separate the greatness of the previous BOP series from this title.  Dinah and Barbara started off a two-woman team, Batman and Robin are a two-man team, and if you argued that those are not teams per se, but partnerships, I would say, yeah, that's what Bird of Prey was!  At it's heart, regardless of how many agents worked for Oracle, they weren't a team.  They were partners.  And friends.

I don't know what they are in the New 52.  Or why they are.

What saves this issue from dismal failure is Saiz' art.  I could watch him draw Black Canary for the rest of either of their careers, but oh how that makes me wish he were drawing her in a more classic getup.

Grade: C+

Monday, June 17, 2013

Out This Week: BIRDS OF PREY #21

DC continues to try and shore up sales for Birds of Prey by tying it to the Batman universe through peripheral Batman characters like Batgirl, Poison Ivy, Mister Freeze and the Court of Owls.  Seemingly everyone but Batman.  And now BoP is crossing over with Talon.

Cover by Molenaar


The Birds are forced to work with Calvin Rose in order to protect one of their own in this confrontation that continues in this month's TALON #9!

Written by Christy Marx
Art and cover by Romano Molenaar and Vicente Cifuentes
On sale June 19
32 Pages
U.S. Price: 2.99

Newsarama has a preview for the issue at their site.  Click here to check it out!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Birds of Prey: Manhunt #2 (Oct 1996)

Previously on Birds of Prey: Manhunt

Black Canary has a burning hatred for a master criminal named Archer Braun--not because he's a master criminal, but because the well-toned adonis toyed with her physically and emotionally and didn't tell her about being a master criminal.  With her new partner, Oracle, Mistress of the Information Super-Highway watching her back and whispering in her ear, Dinah launches an attack against Braun in the heavily-defended parking garage of his hotel.

Dinah and Oracle aren't the only women looking to settle the score with Braun, though.  The Huntress is gunning for Braun because he seduced her and didn't call the next day (which is a worthy offense for a costumed superhero's time, I think), and Catwoman--herself a firm-bodied master criminal--wants Braun taken down for reasons yet to be told.  All of that brings us to…

Birds of Prey: Manhunt #2: "Girl Crazy" is written by Chuck Dixon and pencilled by Matt Haley, with inks by Wade Von Grawbadger and John Lowe.  It's cover-dated October 1996.

Catwoman quickly explains her connection Archer Braun; she helped him pull of a bank job, but when she came to collect her share of the take, he skipped out.  Dinah attacks Catwoman's reason for taking Braun down just to get her money back, while Catwoman scoffs at her and Huntress for reacting like a couple of jilted lovers.  She argues that regardless of motive, they all want the same thing and so should work together.

Oracle urges Dinah not to work with Catwoman, but the timely arrival of Gotham City Police cruisers brings an abrupt end to the discussion.  Catwoman is a criminal and needs to run, and Huntress' status is hardly any better.  Not seeing another viable option, Dinah agrees to join them in their pursuit of Braun.

Dinah feels uncomfortable with Catwoman's cavalier attitude toward, well, everything.  And Oracle's voice--ringing in her ears, via the comms devices in her earings, like the Internet's own Jiminy Cricket--compounds Dinah's dilemma about working with this pair of purple-clad, raven-haired beauties.  At last Dinah ignores her "cyber-conscience" and removes her earrings, slipping them into Catwoman's hands to silence Oracle's growing objections.

The ladies chase Braun's cherry red sports car to Gotham Airport.  As soon as Black Canary ditches her metaphorical conscience, common sense goes out the window, too.  Not unlike Dinah, herself.

It's nice of Catwoman to show some concern for Black Canary as the other is clinging to the roof of a car, trying to wrangle control of the steering wheel.  Before Catwoman and Huntress can help, however, their own ride is blown off the tarmac by Braun's bazooka-wielding henchmen.  Luckily, the vigilantes are thrown from the explosion, while at the same time, Dinah is flung from Braun's car and knocked unconscious.

Braun and his goons carry Dinah aboard his aircraft, along with presumably the stolen money or jewels or weapons or whatever it was he was stealing.  Huntress and Catwoman can only watch the villain escape with their sort-of partner.  Even the sudden--very sudden--arrival of the Batmobile seems to late to save Black Canary.

Catwoman and Huntress exfiltrate the airfield and break into a hotel suite to reassess the situation.  Huntress' goal has switched from punishing Braun to rescuing Canary.  Catwoman, however, still just wants her her money back.  Different ends, same means: get Braun.  And Catwoman thinks she knows how to find him through a criminal fence named Solomon Cadiz.

The two sneak onto Cadiz' estate and split up after Catwoman leaves Huntress with some beef jerky to bribe or thwart the guard dogs.

Meanwhile, Oracle is tracking Braun's aircraft when she loses its location.  Even Batman and Robin--who appears to be doing his homework in the car--are no help in catching Braun and rescuing Oracle's "field operative".

Catwoman confronts a bed-ridden Cadiz, demanding Braun's whereabouts, only to be ambushed by Cadiz' nurse/bodyguard.  Outside, Huntress is cornered by attack dogs and armed guards.  And when things seem most desperate for Oracle, she hears from Dinah.

The only problem is, without the communicator earrings Dinah can't hear back.  The issue ends with Black Canary captured, mostly-incommunicado, and at the mercy of a master criminal with a great ass who is not Catwoman.

The second issue of Manhunt treats its reader to the same levels of action and intrigue and sexiness as the first issue.  But the superficial plot and lack of depth are also front and center in this chapter.  This is "popcorn movie" entertainment, a lot of glitz and glamor with no heart.  The dialogue is smart (at times) and funny (at times) and genuine enough to ensure that Dixon has a solid grasp of the characters.  After the first page, which is horrible, Haley's art looks great.  He infuses the right amounts of style and emotion to make every scene feel tight and necessary, even when they aren't.

Catwoman is undeniably the star of this issue, and if you look back at the descriptors used for this issue, the same words could be applied to her.  In many ways, she hijacks the story as joyously as she lures the heroines in the chase for Braun.  Oracle, the series' voice of reason, is shut out--dumped for Catwoman and Huntress.  As such, Oracle doesn't get to do much this issue but worry futilely.

The closest this story comes to a deep, emotional conflict is Dinah's decision to ditch the computer geek and go along with the cool, mean girls.  And in after-school special manner, she recklessly throws herself into danger and gets captured, becoming a plot device for much of the rest of the miniseries.

Speaking of plot devices, we don't really learn much more about our villain, Archer Braun, other than it wasn't an art mistake last issue--he really is wearing that atrocious uniform.  C'mon, he's an international criminal thief, not an X-Men villain from the Marc Silvestri-era.  Put him in simple civilian clothes.  Nothing about him feels interesting or original (yet), and his personal connections to Dinah and Huntress are all-but forgotten this time.  He's not the villain; he's the MacGuffin.

A few other notes of interest

At this point in the series, Oracle's real identity is still a mystery to Dinah.  From the context of their one scene in this issue, it's not clear if Batman even knows she's Barbara Gordon yet, and I can't remember when he learns that.

Catwoman calls Black Canary "Pretty Bird", and Black Canary… doesn't like it.  It sounds like an offhand remark from Catwoman, but it strikes the right nerve.  That nickname, of course, is what Green Arrow used to call her.  The name would stir mixed emotions in Dinah as Green Arrow was killed a year earlier in Green Arrow #101 (written by Chuck Dixon), coupled with the rather turbulent nature of their relationship in the years preceding his death.  This brief exchange and the volatility Haley brings to the scene is the highlight of the issue.

Come back next weekend for a review of Part 3!