Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Back in Action: ACTION COMICS WEEKLY #611

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.

Black Canary's third appearance in ACW was issue #611.  The terrific cover by Alex Nino shows Superman in action, chasing a pair of getaway cars, while the hoods open fire on the Man of Steel.  I must say I love the idea of this cover and I love the composition of the cars and the gunmen, but I feel like Superman is too far away.  There's a lot of blue sky and blank space to account for the title and tag, but there's still enough room that Superman should be twice as big as he appears in this image.

Black Canary

"Bitter Fruit" Part 3: written by Sharon Wright, pencilled by Randy Duburke, inked by Pablo Marcos, lettered by Steve Haynie, colored by Gene D'Angelo, and edited by Mike Gold.  Once again, the Black Canary feature is the last story in the issue.

The third part of "Bitter Fruit" opens with an immigrant family driving through the desert at night.  The children in the back of the car are abruptly startled as lights flood the windows of their car and the voice of the Immigration and Naturalization Service demands their surrender.

We cut to the kids, now grown, visiting their father in the hospital.  The kids from the first page grew up to be Rita and her brother, Luis.  They're at the hospital visiting their father, who at some point we'll piece together is Hector Librado from the first page of Part 1.  The nurse tells Rita and Luis that visiting hours are over and shows them out.  Once Hector's kids leave, he is almost visited by the mysterious man with the beard who was following them last issue.  The nurse refuses to let him in and he leaves somewhat ominously.

Meanwhile, Dinah Lance in the blonde and black leather guise of the Black Canary goes to a bar looking for the thugs who beat up Luis in Part 1.  Rather than question every lowlife in the place, she simply takes a seat at the bar and lets them find her.  When they approach her, she pulls a gun from one of them and forces them to slip out into the back alley.  Their exit is observed by a man dressed vaguely like a cowboy.

As Black Canary tries to get information about who the thugs work for, the cowboy comes up behind her with a gun of his own.  The thugs escape while Cowboy and Canary try to glom information from each other.  Cowboy says his name is Doug Vallines; Dinah introduces herself as "Bonnie Cardinal".  As they shake hands, someone or something hits Canary upside the head, knocking her unconscious.  (This panel is pretty vaguely drawn and the dialogue won't make it any easier to understand in this issue or the next.)

In the last page, someone--we can't see who--enters Hector Librado's hospital room and attempts to kill him, either by strangulation or smothering.

Click on the images below to enlarge.

"Bitter Fruit" Part 3 is better than the last chapter inasmuch as I kind of know what's going on this time around.  Dinah's part of the story is pretty straightforward.  Given the limited page space for the story, I like Sharon Wright's decision to let Black Canary find her prey by drawing them in with her looks.  Sex appeal is a weapon that Black Canary should always be ready to use for her benefit.

That someone came up behind her unnoticed not once but twice in four panels, however, isn't the most flattering moment in her career.  It reminds me of her original appearances in Flash Comics by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino, when Dinah Drake would be knocked unconscious every issue.

Where this story really stumbles, though, is with the supporting characters.  Everyone but Dinah and Rita is so thinly drawn by the script as to be interchangeable, and Randy Duburke's art doesn't help because so many of them look identical and the colors don't distinguish between caucasian characters and Latinos.  It's hard to follow the story when everyone looks the same and speaks cryptically.

The other problem is I still don't know what this story is about.  It begins with an image of the Librado family (I think) being stopped by the INS while trying to enter America years ago, but I'm no longer sure this story is about illegal immigration.  There seems to be some mystery surrounding Hector Librado, but he's a non-character.  There are so many unknown background characters flitting around with their own agendas, spying on other characters, that it's impossible to find out what's going on.  As a mystery, there is nothing for us to try to solve; we can only let this play out before us.

The Rest

Green Lantern gets the lead feature once again this week.  The story, written by Peter David and drawn by Tod Smith, continues to explore what it means for Hal Jordan to be "fearless".  Picking up from last week's cliffhanger, Arisia is attacked by the room service bellhop, who is on of many people around the city to be brainwashed.  Though she fights frantically and ultimately defeats her crazed attacker, Hal is a lot more preoccupied by the fact that he was never afraid for her safety, not even for an instant.  The chapter ends with the still unknown villain beaming a mind-control ray from his secret hideout that happens to strike Hal, turning him crazy.  David's script is typical for him; light-hearted dialogue over heavy themes.  This is a far cry from the Geoff Johns Hal we've had for the last ten years; I can kind of understand why so many people don't like Hal based on this representation.

In Deadman's chapter by Mike Baron, Dan Jurgens, and Tony DiZuniga, we learn that the Devil looks like D.B. Cooper and always has.  Or maybe Cooper looks like the Devil.  Or Cooper was the Devil.  Either way, Satan banishes the minor demon Yakin back to Hell, and terrifies an old man into having a stroke.  Then a space ship arrives with a big Native American.   This was... confusing.  The story concludes next week.

Once again, Marty Pasko and Dan Spiegle's Secret Six feels like an engrossing soap opera whose plot is just barely out of reach.  This issue clarifies a few questions while raising more.  I get that the team is infiltrating a hog factory to discover whether the food product coming out has been tainted, I'm just not sure why these characters care.  Are their motives righteous or selfish?

The two-page Superman strip by Roger Stern and Curt Swan finds Clark Kent and Perry White still in Perry's office at The Daily Planet, except to them the office has been transformed to a California community where everyone worships Superman like a god.  The mysterious Galt, who is projecting the images and sounds for Clark and Perry, shows them how his community came under attack from stormtroopers while the Followers of Superman began developing their own powers.

Finally, Catwoman kicks off a new feature in this issue.  Written by Mindy Newell and drawn by Barry Kitson, the story finds Selina Kyle operating a nightclub called The Tin Roof Club.  Catwoman has stolen an ancient Egyptian brooch and means to hide the evidence with her former street friend, Holly.  The cops and the mob anticipate her moves, though, and the issue ends with her being ambushed by mob goons and possibly shot by her own bartender.  It's an interesting story as Selina seems to be working different angles, but her plans seem really obvious, which is a deviation from the more guarded Selina I'm used to reading.  And I love Kitson's work, but he doesn't capture the pure sensuality of Selina/Catwoman in these pages.

Next week, I'll look at Action Comics Weekly #612, which concludes the current Deadman story, as well as continuing the sagas of Black Canary, Superman, Green Lantern, Catwoman, and the Secret Six.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

BIRDS OF PREY #14 (New 52)

With the ladies heading to Japan to find Katana's stolen sword, this series seems to have come around.  I mean, the writing still sucks.  Really, really sucks.  Swierczynski is awful!  But the story, at least, is more interesting than anything we had in the first year of publication.

Birds of Prey #14: "Three Hours of the Condor" was written by Duane Swierczynski, penciled by Romano Molenaar, inked by Vicente Cifuentes, colored by Chris Sotomayor.  Trevor McCarthy did the cover.

Last issue, the mysterious Dagger Clan stole Katana's sword, the Soultaker, and transported it back to Japan in an effort to bring her back, as well.  Along the way, the sword was captured again by the equally mysterious Condor, a man with a flying suit.

Issue #14 opens with Condor attacking another group of Dagger Clan ninjas carrying a package, only this time, the transport is a lure to catch Condor, and the ninjas are really the series' leading ladies.    On the roof of a Yokohama high rise, Black Canary's team demand the sword from Condor.  He responds by fighting and showing off an unexplained unexpected unexpected and unexplained telekinetic superpower.  

Condor forces Canary to kick Katana in the face, shattering her mask.  Then he forces the ground under Batgirl's feet to collapse, knocking her off the roof of the building.  Then he deflects the bullets Starling unloads on him, before hitting her, knocking her off the roof of the building.

You read that right, and I want to make sure you got it because it's important for what comes next.  Condor knocked two of Dinah's teammates--who cannot fly--of the edge of the building.

Then Black Canary manages to land a kick that--you guessed it--knocks Condor off the side of the building.  (Seriously, how small is this roof?)  What does Dinah do then?

Yeah, she leaps off the building to save the enemy who is wearing a flying suit with wings.  She didn't leap off the roof to save either of her friends, and we never see what happens when they fall, so for the moment we're left assuming they died while Team Captain Canary risks her own life to save the man who likely killed them.

Maybe this was an art mistake, not showing us what happened to Starling and Batgirl, but I'm leaning more toward Swierczynski's shitty, shitty writing being the culprit.  He's clearly more interested in sophomoric deaf jokes than maintaining continuity with his cast.

We briefly cut away to a scene with the Dagger Clan leader addressing an underling who questions his judgement.  They refer to Katana as the disgraced one, and remind us that somewhere in the city is a "device" that is going to go off in a matter of hours.  We don't know what it is or what it's capable of because shut up, that's why.

Six hours until the mystery event, Condor brings the ladies to a factory in an industrial part of down.  Note that Starling and Batgirl and present and not dead, though we're never told how that happened.  Condor gives Katana her husband/sword back, then we get more deaf jokes.

Also note how Swierczynski uses a period between every word to stress the slow, deliberate, patronizingly annoying way Dinah speaks to Condor.  That gets the point across, and it could almost be funny.  Almost.  If Swierczynski was a better writer.

Say her line out loud, or even just in your head.

"Do.  You.  Really.  Want.  Us.  To.  Kick.  Your.  Ass.  Again?"

Did that seem like it took... an awfully long time to get the point across?  That's because it's too wordy.  That type of joke only works if the sentence is half as long as it is here, but again, shitty writing.

Anyway, Katana says she wants to destroy the Dagger Clan.  Condor says that's crazy because they're too big and too powerful.  Then the Dagger Clan says hi, we're here now, let's fight.

Dinah and Condor have a kind of strategic mind meld, because they're so in-tune with each other after she saved him at the expense of her friends.  She uses her sonic scream and he uses his telekinesis to level half the enemy, while everyone else scrambles.

Then something as equally inexplicable as Canary letting her friends fall of the roof while she jumps after Condor happens.  Dinah grabs Condor, tells him to open his wings, and then she screams so the force blows them through a window and out of the factory.

Suss that out.  Dinah leaves the battle with Condor.  Not with Batgirl, or Starling, or Katana.  She doesn't exfiltrate with her team--that she is supposedly the leader of--she grabs the new guy--new guy--and bugs out leaving everyone else to exit on their own.  There is no coordinated escape; it's just chaos.  Batgirl crashes through a window on her own.  Starling calls Amanda Waller for some reason, and Katana seems to be captured.  Who the $#%@ are these characters and why don't they work together?  Why isn't the writer and/or editor of this book pouring concrete into potholes instead of working in professional comics?

The issue ends with Dinah and Condor getting to safety.  Dinah is more concerned about some strange new feeling inside than with the safety of her so-called friends.

Then Condor knocks her unconscious with a TK blast, despite thinking she's pretty, and walks away.

The Characters

I think if you took Batgirl out of every issue of this series, the stories would not be affected in the least.  The only noteworthy thing she does in this issue is say a line that Swierczynski must have thought was funny while he stole it from Die Hard.

Katana does nothing in this issue except whine about her sword and get captured again.  I thought this story arc was going to be about her, but this issue was more about Dinah connecting with Condor in a way that only a nine-year-old girl would understand.

Condor was piquing my interest, but the telekinesis power seems a little too much.

As for Black Canary, either Swierczynski hates her and wants her fans to be ashamed of her, or he doesn't understand how people interact with each other.


Everything that might have been enjoyable about this issue is ruined because the characters are abominable.

In the past I have thought that maybe Swierczynski's real talent has been eclipsed by wretched editing, but I can't stand by that excuse forever.  The writing is atrocious and I will never buy another book written by this author.

Grade:  F

Monday, October 28, 2013

Black Canary on ARROW: S2 E1-3

I had a lot of problems with the first couple episodes of the CW Network's Arrow.  I wasn't sure I'd be able to sit through the whole first season.  But after episode four or five, something just clicked.  I don't know if the show "found itself" or if I just stopped minding the deviations from comic book continuity--maybe both--but I really started digging the series.  All of the supporting cast started to shine (except for Tommy Merlyn), but never at the expense of Oliver.

So I got really excited when I finally finished the first season, knowing that my pretty bird, Black Canary, would finally get a real appearance in the second season premier.

Season 2, Episode 1: "City of Heroes"

This image brings me back to elementary school.
Black Canary shows up toward the very end.  Thea Queen's boyfriend, Roy Harper, is patrolling the Glades, looking to play hero and probably die young.  After saving a potential rape victim, he is outnumbered by the assailants, when all of a sudden, a blonde woman in black leather comes to his rescue.  The Canary uses a bo staff that separates into two batons.  She wails on the would-be rapists and runs away without a word to Roy.

It was already confirmed that this Canary isn't Dinah "Laurel" Lance (played by Katie Cassidy) or her mother (played by Alex Kingston).  This Canary is played by Caity Lotz, and aside from being a different woman, she is clearly better trained than Laurel.

So who is the mystery woman?  Someone brand new?  Or someone we've met before...?  The only other mention we've ever heard "a canary" was a pet bird given to Laurel's sister, Sara, when she was a kid.  That episode, notably, was written by Geoff Johns.

Season 2, Episode 3: "Broken Dolls"

When Oliver is lured into an ambush by Laurel, the Canary comes to his rescue.  Using a sophisticated sonic device, she incapacitates an entire S.W.A.T. team and leads the Arrow to freedom.  Then she disappears.

The Arrow recruits Roy Harper to find this "blond in black leather".  Roy tracks down a woman named Cindy--who goes by "Sin"--and followers her to a clock tower above a church.  The Canary knocks out Roy and questions him, thinking he has been sent by a cryptic "them" to bring her back.  She lets him go when she realizes he's not working for who she's running from.

Later, the Canary shows up to help Arrow stop the Dollmaker.  She's nearly killed when a lucky break drops a bunch of steel pipes on her head (d'oh!), but she turns out fine.  Ollie wants to take the man alive, but Canary kills him before vanishing again.

When Canary returns to her hideout, a man is waiting for her--a man dressed similarly to the Black Archer from season 1.  This isn't Malcolm Merlyn, however, just an assassin dispatched by none other than Ra's al Ghul to bring Canary back.  She says she's never going back and gives the assassin the chance to leave.  When he pulls a knife, she takes it and kills him.

So... Black Canary was trained by the League of Assassins and is on the run from Ra's al Ghul...?

I freaking love that!

Is it too early for them to get married and her to stab him
through the eye during sex like in the comics?

The preview for this week's episode shows the Canary revealing her identity to Oliver, and it looks like it blows his mind.  Who could it be?


Okay, enough sources have already revealed that Canary is Sara Lance.  That might explain how she happens to be around whenever Oliver or Laurel are in trouble.  How Sara survived drowning and what happened to her over the last five/six years is a mystery we'll have to watch unfold.

The Costume

I have zero complaints and actually a lot of affection for this costume.  I miss the fishnet stockings, but the stitching in her leather pants at least gives an impression of that cross pattern--a very nice touch.  As for the rest: I really like the mask, and... well, let's not mince words, I appreciate the cleavage.

I'm not crazy about the bo as her weapon, but it's not bad.  And I love her "Canary Cry" being a sonic weapon used to escape the police trap.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

TEAM 7 #2

Team 7 was sent on a mission to a floating super-maximum security prison called--I'm not kidding--The Float.  The prison's communications went down, so the team didn't know what to expect when they arrived.  What they found was a whole prison full of zombified people apparently possessed by Eclipso.

Team 7 #2 is written by Justin Jordan.  Once again, Ron Frenz provides art breakdowns, but this time the pencils are done by Julius Gopez.  Scott Hanna is the only inker this time, though, so that's a plus.  Having so much artistic change in just the first three issues is rarely a good sign for a series, often suggesting a book that wasn't given enough time to gestate before hitting the shelves, and usually precluding an early cancellation.

Sounds right.

It's nice that Dinah Drake gets a spotlight on the cover.  I was more even more impressed to discover that Dinah narrates this issue in the form of her mission journal, taking over from last issue's narrator John Lynch.  Unfortunately, her narration is limited to telling us information about character relationships and explaining plot points already covered by dialogue and action.  Really, her narrative captions could have been taken out of this issue and it wouldn't have made a difference.

This issue picks up with a horde of Eclipso-ed zombie prisoners attacking Team 7, who effortlessly and emotionally mow them down with automatic weapons fire.  We also see the continuation of last issue's problem with the title.  This issue, I guess, is Team 7 #2: "The Black Diamond Probability: Mission 1.2: Lockdown".

Okay, I think "Black Diamond Probability" is the name of the first story arc... and so is "Mission 1".  Like instead of calling it a book or a chapter or a part, they're calling it a mission.  That makes a kind of sense.  But then I think the Mission 1 (or Mission 1.2 in this case) ought to be placed above "The Black Diamond Probability" part.  I shouldn't have to think so hard about the issue's title, which means somebody somewhere associated with the production of this comic is dumb.

Anyway, the Team makes repeated mention of the fact that they don't have enough ammunition to take down all of the zombified prisoners, which seems like horrible planning to me if you're assaulting a prison full of supercriminals.  Bad on you, Dean Higgins.

The team fights their way to the comm center where Dinah discovers video records of a scientist named Alex Montez experimenting on the terrorist that Amanda Waller captured back in issue #0.  Said terrorist is injected with some kind of formula that's supposed to make him docile and cooperative but instead turns him into an Eclipso monster.  That process somehow spreads to the rest of the prison, though there isn't footage of that process and we're never told how, so I'm thinking Justin Jordan forgot or couldn't think of a reason why that would happen.

Then, inexplicably, in the middle of the issue, there is this whole plot point about the main Eclipso-zombie terrorist guy being from the nation of Gamorra, which is on the United States' Bad Nations that Harbor Bad People and Do Bad Things List.  Well, the Float has been redirected to take Eclipso to Gamorra, where presumably the bad guys will get more powerful.  Dinah's narration doesn't make any sense in this section and I'm pretty sure there is a typo or missing words.

In truth, it doesn't really matter, because by the end of the issue we learn that The Float wasn't going to Gamorra, but another obscure location, so about two pages of dialogue in this issue are utterly pointless.

Before that, however, we have some action and destruction.

If you followed those pages, you'll note that the terrorist Eclipso guy was defeated by a special light.  But that's not the end of Eclipso in this book... I guess...?  He'll be back next issue... I guess...?

The Characters

  • Dinah Drake "narrates" this issue, but all we learn about her is that she knows Kurt Lance.
  • Kurt Lance, likewise, knows Dinah.
  • Slade Wilson knows Alex Fairchild.
  • Alex Fairchild knows Slade Wilson.  Fairchild is a smart-ass.  Also, if any member of Team 7 was going to be gay, according to Dinah, it's Fairchild.
  • Cole Cash is still on the team.
  • James Bronson enjoys his "heavy suit" even though he doesn't know how every part of it works.  That seems very irresponsible for a top tier military unit.
  • Amanda Waller is still skinny.
  • Dean Higgins is white.  Issue #0 really made it look like he was black.
  • John Lynch and Summer Ramos do not appear in this issue, though it sounds like Ramos is still alive.

The plot of this issue is overly-complicated.  Nothing comes of the Gamorra connection; it feels more like Jordan wanted to show that he'd read Warren Ellis' Stormwatch, but too much time was spent dwelling on it to not do anything with it.

As with last issue, the attempts at humor are borrowed from movies and not that funny.  Almost every character is a sardonic wise-ass, which means nobody actually stands out or seems unique.  It's not easy giving equal characterization to a cast as large as this one every issue, but here we get none.

Also, something really bothers me.  The comic begins with a reference to the classic movie moment from The Warriors.

Changing the word "warriors" to "heroes" is clever.  Or it would be if it made sense, but it doesn't.  Throughout the issue, the Eclipso-ed zombie prisoners call Team 7 heroes.

But they're only heroes to us the reader, not within the comic.  They're a black ops military unit full of assassins.  This feels like Justin Jordan allowed the outside reality of the comic to impose on the story he was telling.  That's not meta.  That's bad storytelling.

Grade: D

Thursday, October 24, 2013

CBR Interview with Christy Marx

Next month, a handful of DC titles join Batman's "Zero Year" to tell stories of the heroes before they were heroes.  These stories, I think, predate even the #0 issues that came out in September, 2012, and include the 25th issues of Action Comics, The Flash, Green Lantern Corps... and Birds of Prey.

Yesterday, Comic Book Resources posted an interview with Birds writer, Christy Marx, about her "Zero Year" story, which follows the adventure of a young Dinah Drake.  You can check out the full interview right here, but I've posted a few snippets and my thoughts after the image.

CBR News: While the Birds are obviously connected to Gotham, what was it about "Zero Year" that interested you enough to write a tie-in?
Christy Marx: It was presented to me by my editor as an opportunity to do something cool and different for that issue.  It's always beneficial to tie into a larger event, not only for the individual book, but for the overall richness of the larger world of the DC books.  It was especially alluring to have 28 pages to play with.  I wish I could have 28 pages for every issue.

This is exactly the answer I expected, and the answer I dreaded.  I have said for a long time that Birds of Prey feels like a book dictated by an editor with the "talent" filling in the dialogue.  That Marx says her editor "presented" the tie-in to her tells me it was never her choice.

As readers, we've already seen a little of Dinah's back story in Team 7.  That in mind, how is this younger Dinah in "Zero Year" different from the Team 7 version, or different from the person she is in the "Birds of Prey" present?
This story covers her early years and reveals more of what was driving her at the time. It covers the gap between who she was then and how her connection to Team 7 came about.  It lays the groundwork for the person she is in the present and will help us understand why she reacts as she does to the changes she's going through.

The Team 7 series took place roughly five years before the present Birds of Prey.  And Batman's "Zero Year" is taking place six years before present, I understand.  I'm not sure if Dinah's "Zero Year" tale takes place at the same time as Batman's or not.  Considering how much emphasis was put on her experience in Team 7, I would think that one year is not a lot of time to position her that way, but I could be wrong.  If anything, I figure this is the story where she meets and falls for Kurt Lance.

Do you have any interest in bringing back old team members, like Poison Ivy or Starling?
I don't have an interest in bringing Ivy back. She is, pardon the pun, a toxic character.  I definitely want to have a rematch with Starling and have some plans for that.

Yay!  Using Starling as a villain--I'm cool with that.  Not bringing Ivy back into the team--I'm really cool with that!

Check out the rest of the interview over at CBR.  Birds of Prey #25 comes out November 20th.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Back in Action: ACTION COMICS WEEKLY #610


My review of "Bitter Fruit" Part 1 has been updated to include scans of pages.

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.

Black Canary's second appearance in ACW was issue #610.  The cover, showcasing the Deadman feature of the comic, was done by David Lloyd, the artist behind Alan Moore's V for Vendetta!  Boston Brand's face is ghoulishly exaggerated as he attempts to walk the tightrope between Heaven and Hell.

Black Canary

"Bitter Fruit" Part 2: written by Sharon Wright, pencilled by Randy Duburke, inked by Pablo Marcos, lettered by Steve Haynie, colored by Gene D'Angelo, and edited by Mike Gold.  Last issue, Black Canary got the first feature in the book.  This time, she is last.

The second part of "Bitter Fruit" opens with a phone conversation between an mysterious man named Doug and another man in Seattle.  They talk cryptically about "Scales" and "doing a job" and finding "Librado".  The man in Seattle looks like William MacDonald, the INS agent shown last week, except this guy has a goatee, and MacDonald was in Nebraska last time.

With page 2, we pickup where we left off last week.  Dinah opens the door to find Rita, bruised and battered.  Dinah had invited Rita over to her apartment above Sherwood Florist with the intention of offering her a job in the store.  But Rita refuses to discuss how she got the bruises and storms off when pressed on the matter.

Then, after thinking about it and maybe feeling desperate, Rita returns and lays out the situation for Dinah.  Last issue, we saw Rita run out into the alley with a baseball bat when someone she knew was getting beaten up.  That victim was her brother, Luis, and the assailants were a couple of "shakedown grunts".  Rita explains how her father's health problems have forced her to sell drugs in the past, and now Luis borrowed money from some unsavory characters.  Rita knows her father and brother are keeping secrets from her, which prevents her from helping them.

Dinah says, "I have a friend who has some… interesting… connections."  Translation: Black Canary is going to get to the bottom of this situation.

As Rita leaves Dinah's place, she gets in a van driven by somebody--it's unclear who, maybe Luis?--while the bearded man from page 1 watches her from around the corner.

Pages 6 and 7 show Dinah outfitting up as Black Canary, while a shot of the cityscape focuses on a building with scales on the side.  There's some even more cryptic dialogue about business mergers and concerns that aren't attributed to any speaker.  Very vague.  Annoyingly so.

The last page shows to men hunting egrets or some kind of bird with a pistol.  One of the men is named John and works for the Department of Fish and Game.  The chapter ends with a panel of a dead bird.  Again, very vague.

Click the images below to enlarge.

Okay, I have no idea what the hell is going on!  I thought from last issue that this story was going to be about immigration and racism but that is nowhere to be found in this chapter.  In fact, the beating of Luis doesn't seem to be based on bigotry or racism at all; it's just street-style debt-collecting.  There are lots of people we don't know talking about things we don't understand.

I'm worried that for a short story spread out over short installments, this plot might be too big and unwieldy.  That was a problem I had with Black Canary's miniseries that came out a few years later, and the first arc of her ongoing series in the '90s.  All of these stories were edited by Mike Gold, and I wonder if this direction was his push.

The highlight of the issue is seeing Dinah suit up as Black Canary as played by Heather Locklear, but everything else is too ambiguous to be entertaining.

Speaking of Dinah's costume, it's better than the Justice League International look she incinerated last week, but it's still missing the fishnets.  I hope to see it in action next week.

The Rest

Green Lantern gets the lead feature this time around.  His story, written by Peter David and drawn by Tod Smith, continues the question posed by a woman on Oprah of all things: Is a man without fear a man insane?  Hal Jordan tests his fearlessness by confronting a sword-wielding maniac without his power ring.  After defeating the man and discussing the strangeness of the case with the local Chicago PD, Hal goes to the hotel room and screws his elvish alien girlfriend, Arisia.  But when Hal goes to the bathroom, Arisia is attacked by the room service bellhop brandishing a knife.  Given Peter David's involvement, the script is pretty good.  The sex-with-Arisia aspect is awkward if you take into account she's an alien and only, like, fourteen years old, but other than that it's decent.

The Phantom Stranger gets a nice done-in-one story written by Paul Kupperberg and drawn by Kyle Baker.  A computer geek named Kenny Bush Miller who is constantly tormented by, well, by the whole world is possessed by a demon.  The Phantom Stranger has to confront a monstrous mashup of magic, man and machine in what 1988 perceived as cyberspace.  Baker's art is really, really good in this story, but suffers from some unspectacular coloring.

Deadman's story by Mike Baron, with art by Dan Jurgens and Tony DiZuniga, continues this absurdly comical premise that Satan has escaped confinement in a jar and possessed First Lady Nancy Reagan, while Deadman has taken possession of Russian Premier Mikhail Gorbochev's wife, Raisa.  After probably sparking a World War by firing at the First Lady with a sci-fi ray gun, Deadman leaves the State Dinner in the body of a buxom woman named Major Kasaba.  At her apartment, they find that the "Satan" Deadman thought he was chasing was just a minor demon named Yakin.  The real devil is inhabiting the body of famed skyjacker D.B. Cooper.  Yeah!

Continuing from last week's Superman two-pager by Roger Stern and Curt Swan, Clark Kent is trying to get information from Bob Galt, a man who worships Superman like a deity.  For reasons unknown, men have tried to kill Galt.  When Clark takes Galt to The Daily Planet building to confide in Perry White, Galt reveals an uncanny power, to cast his thoughts and memories like three-dimensional projections.  Despite it's brevity, this is a really enjoyable feature.  With Curt Swan drawing Stern's story, it would have to work pretty hard to not be great!

Secret Six by Marty Pasko and Dan Spiegle reads like a great daytime soap opera.  I don't know who these characters are, I don't know what their angle is, what they hope to achieve, if I should even be rooting for them to survive… but it's fascinating to see play out.  There are a couple of dramatic twists in this chapter, which would be more dramatic, I assume, if I knew the stakes involved.  I don't, but it's still an enjoyable read.

Next week, I'll look at Action Comics Weekly #611, which begins a new feature starring Catwoman, as well as the continuing sagas of Black Canary, Superman, Green Lantern, Deadman, and the Secret Six.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

BIRDS OF PREY #13 (New 52)

The first year of Birds of Prey in the New 52 era was mostly horrible.  The characters and situation never developed beyond the basic team-of-female-heroes premise.  Why was this team formed?  What is their mission?  What is their home base?  Why should any of them trust each other given their sordid backgrounds?  What binds them together?  What do they do when they're not being manipulated, poisoned, and turned into walking bio-chemical weapons of mass destruction?  None of these questions were answered.  In issue #0, which came out after issue #12, we finally saw the first meeting of Black Canary, Batgirl, and Starling, but their encounter was antagonistic and hostile, and ultimately not very memorable.

Will the Birds' sophomore year turn things around?  Let's see!

Birds of Prey #13: "Swear by My Eyes" was written by Duane Swierczynski, with art by the new team of Romano Molenaar and Vicente Cifuentes.  Trevor McCarthy provided the cover.

The issue begins with some tattooed guy carrying a package down a flight of stairs to a heavy-looking door in the ground.  Captions tell us we're in Yokohama, Japan, 1,000 feet below sea level.  The man drops the package through the door into a black pit.  Then we're told: 24 hours until detonation.  This clock will countdown throughout the issue.

Cut to Gotham City where Katana is going on a "food run" while the rest of the team recovers from the toxin that Poison Ivy infected them with during the previous story arc.  I know that Ivy used the rest of the Birds to do some horrible things, and some of them are wanted anyway, but I can't figure out why Katana would need to be in full costume, running across rooftops to get food.  Is she going to walk into a convenience store or the drive-thru at Taco Bell dressed in her samurai armor and mask?

We'll never know, because she is ambushed by members of The Hand The Foot Clan Red Ninjas some bad guy ninjas that we'll eventually learn are called The Dagger Clan.  Still reeling from Ivy's poison, Katana is in no condition to fight them off.  The Dagger Clan assassins stop short of killing her and take possession of her sword, the Soultaker, the vessel of Tatsu's dead husband.  Taking the sword, they boast, will hurt her worse than death.

Katana returns to the Birds' hideout where everyone else is still taking the antidote that Batman created for them.  The location of this place is unknown, but there are a lot of plants around and what might be the glass windows of a greenhouse in the corner of Panel 2.  Was this the same base they used while working with Poison Ivy?  We hardly ever saw them during "down time" so it's unclear.  But if so, why would they return to a base known to one of their enemies.  Even if Ivy was put back in Arkham Asylum, they would have to consider every safehouse that Ivy knew about to no longer be safe for them.  Surely, people with Dinah and Starling's paramilitary backgrounds would know that.  Or, were we supposed to think Poison Ivy was dead at the end of issue #12?

Tatsu tells the others that her husband-sword was stolen by her enemies and asks their help in getting it back.  Dinah says, sure, when we get around to it.  Starling and Batgirl back up her contention that they're not healthy enough to chase some ninja assassins to Japan, even though it's like, super important to one of their friends.  Katana decides to go alone.

In Yokohama, the Dagger Clan members transporting the Soultaker are observed and then ambushed by a mysterious man called Condor who wears a flying suit.

Condor defeats the ninjas and takes the sword.

Tatsu arrives at the airport in Japan where she meets with representatives of the Dagger Clan.  She has come alone because her friends totally suck.  The Daggers capture her and tie her up in their hideout, all while the countdown from the beginning ticks away the hours.


When Katana comes back to the Birds' hideout after her attack, the countdown says 22 hours until detonation.  When she arrives at Haneda Airport, the countdown says 16 hours until detonation.  Only six hours have passed, even though a flight from the East Coast of the United States to Yokohama takes more than 13 hours!  Hell, she probably couldn't even book a flight that left for six hours.  In all likelihood, by the time she landed in Japan, whatever this thing that is supposed to detonate would have gone off under her feet.  1,000 feet below her feet, but whatever.

If this was a one-time mistake, I could forgive it, but these sorts of gaffs are littered throughout this series, and they convince me that either Swierczynski is an idiot or his editor is, or they both are.

Anyway, Tatsu wakes up in captivity, where the menacing leader of the Dagger Clan makes some cryptic remarks that suggest a personal or professional connection between the Clan and Katana.

He also claims the Clan stole the sword to lure her to Japan because kidnapping her and trafficking her illegally across boarders is really inconvenient.  Are you $#@%ing me?!!  People are kidnapped and smuggled from country to country all the time!  You're a gang of knife-throwing ninjas and you can't transport a woman to Japan, even though you got all your knives and costumes through a metal detector?  What the hell is wrong with you guys?

As the ninjas move in for the kill, the leader mentions that in less than fourteen hours, her homeland will be poisoned forever.  Was the package containing a biochemical weapon?  We haven't had many of those in this series?  Just nine, I think, hardly any at all…

Then the cavalry arrives.

Yes, Starling says, "Konichiwa, bitches!"  It's the only funny or memorable thing she ever says.  Too bad Swierczynski stole it from a Dave Chappelle skit.  Screw you, Duane, for thinking we wouldn't catch that!

Starling and Batgirl fight the ninjas while Black Canary rescues Katana.  She explains that Starling planted a tracer on her and they followed that.  Wait, why didn't they just go with her in the first place? Why did they have to lie about coming with her?  She was in Japan for just two hours before they arrived--when did they decide to come after her?  Again, how long does Swierczynski think a plane ride from the U.S. to Japan takes?

Black Canary uses her sonic scream to take out the head Dagger… except it doesn't take him out.  Then she has an odd thought, that her "Canary Cry" has awakened something in her blood she didn't think possible.  I don't know what the hell she's talking about yet.

Outnumbered and out-knived, they take one Dagger ninja captive and exfiltrate to a random safehouse in Japan where Dinah allows Starling to torture information out of their hostage.

The ninja eventually gives up what we knew ten pages ago.

The issue ends with Starling telling the others that Condor stole the Soultaker, and a creepy image of the ninja smiling, like this all worked out according to a plan of some kind.  Not sure what that's about. Twelve hours have elapsed--somehow--in the countdown for whatever is going to detonate.

The Characters

Dear Lord, it is nice to not have Poison Ivy tagging along anymore!  Don't get me wrong, I like her as a Batman villain, but it was getting impossible to justify her membership on this "team" every month knowing who she was and what she would do the minute she got the chance.  I wouldn't go so far as to say this team has chemistry yet, but they look and sound infinitely more natural without Ivy.

I really like that Katana is getting a story built around her past.  I don't think Swierczynski understands what characterization is or how it works, but giving the lead to Katana at least makes her more compelling and shows off some of her other traits.

Black Canary and Starling's decision-making is incomprehensible in this story, and Batgirl is here for window-dressing only.


Behold!  There are new characters worth noting!  There are villains I more-or-less understand!  Success!

Condor is a mystery, but from this little glimpse, at least, he seems to be a mystery worth solving.  Is he the New 52 version of someone we know, maybe Black Condor from the Freedom Fighters?  We'll have to see.  I don't really like his costume… but what else is New (52)?

And the Dagger Clan!  Thank God, a villain I can point to and clearly identify as the bad guy!  The first six or seven issues of Birds of Prey were spent dealing with a villain that couldn't be seen or understood and didn't even end in any coherent fashion.  It was painful, and even now I don't even remember most of the details.  But I get evil ninjas!  Simple.  Perfect.


I would probably enjoy this series more if I didn't have to review it.  When I finished re-reading this issue, I thought, hey, not bad, probably the best issue of the series so far.  But the more I delved into it, the more flaws I found and I just get frustrated.

Well, it still is probably the best issue since the first one.  There are dumb mistakes and dumb characters, but enough new stuff that didn't piss me off to make me forgive the other, dumber things.  And, while Molenaar and Cifuentes aren't the greatest art team, they're the best fit for this series that we've had so far.

Grade: B

Sunday, October 20, 2013

TEAM 7 #1

The first issue of DC's Team 7--which wasn't issue #1, but rather issue #0--was all about introducing us to the eclectic cast of mercenaries and soldiers that would comprise Team 7.  Set five years before the current events of DC's comics, the mission of Team 7 is to locate, contain, and control the growing number of metahumans popping up in the world.

Team 7 #1: "Black Diamond Probability: Mission One: Black Ops" is written by Justin Jordan, with art by Jesus Merino over Ron Frenz's breakdowns.  Four different inkers contribute to the book: Merino, Marlo Alquiza, Drew Garaci, and Jose Marzan, Jr.  Doug Mahnke provided the cover. 

I’m a guy who “earned” a D+ in Art in high school, so the validity of my criticism of any artist are certainly debatable.  On the other hand, I think if you make your living as a professional artist, it ought to stand up to a degree of scrutiny from anyone.

Jesus Merino’s name on the solicits and cover for this issue left me fairly satisfied.  He’s never ranked among my favorites, but I’ve seen his work and never had a problem with it.  The full creative team listed on the title page, however, gave me pause; Merino is listed as penciler... over Ron Frenz’ breakdowns.  I’ve seen Frenz’ work and it never impressed me.  Frenz’ layouts are boring and his depiction of faces, especially female faces, leaves a lot to be desired.  A lot of panels and pages are bereft of background or detail.  A lot of the images in this issue give no context to where the action takes place or what kind of rooms they characters are in.  Also, the graffiti in the prison isn't even real graffiti; it's just squiggles and lines to look like writing.

What’s more, there are four inkers credited on this book.  When I think of an issue that has pencils over another artists breakdowns/layouts, and four different inkers, I think of an issue that is severely behind schedule, crunching a hard deadline, when the artist is overworked and tired, usually after an uninterrupted run on a longer book.  I don’t think of a debut issue.  True, issue #0 came out last month, so this is technically the second issue of the series, but even still, it should not have taken five artists, not counting the colorist, to bring it to fruition (Merino was one of the inkers; he doesn’t get counted twice).  And if that many artists worked on the issue, it ought to have looked a lot better than this!

Also, the title seems to be: Black Diamond Probability: Mission One: Black Ops.  

Wouldn't that suggest the first story arc is called "Black Diamond Probability? and that Mission One is synonymous with Chapter One and that "Black Ops" is the title for the first issue/chapter?  But this mission isn't over by the end of the issue, so wouldn't Mission One be the name of the first story arc?  Also, "Black Ops" is a stupid name for an issue!  And the Black Diamond part makes sense in connection to Eclipso at the end, but is that something that's going to run through the first arc, or the entire series?  Is this part of a crossover that wasn't advertised?  And if so, how does that work if this issue takes place earlier in the timeline?

I'm already filled with doubt and dread about this story, and I haven't gotten to the story yet.  So…

The issue opens with a very wordy opening page narrated by the never-really-seen John Lynch, who tells us this team should not work because of how volatile each team member is, even though he hand-picked each member.

Team 7 has to infiltrate a floating supermax prison called--seriously--the Float.  The pilot, Summer Ramos, comes under fire from the prison's automatic defenses and has to make a dangerous maneuver to dump the team out on the prison's roof before flying off to either repair her ship or die (it's never made clear).

Dinah Drake sticks her landing, but her boyfriend, Kurt Lance, whose speciality is specifically vague, falls off the roof and has to be rescued by teammate James Bronson, whose specialty is deliberately ambiguous.

After that, the team stands around arguing with each other, displaying the emotional intelligence of a group of kindergarteners playing musical chairs.  Then Cole Cash blows a whole in the wall so they can further the story mission.

While searching the prison, they find a lot of blood but no bodies, until Dinah and Kurt find a survivor.

The survivor appears to be possessed by something resembling the crescent moon-faced villain Eclipso from the classic DC universe.  She attacks the team, Bronson fights her off, and then…

The issue ends with a horde of Eclipso-possessed prisoners and guards (I assume) coming after the team like a zombie outbreak.

The Characters

Last issue, I went over who the characters were before the New 52 and what I thought of them now.  So this is just what we learn about each of them, if anything, from this issue.

  • John Lynch - In this issue his presence is limited to narrative captions.  He also sounds kind of reckless and irresponsible, considering he personally selected this team which he has severe doubts about, and he's putting them through seven test missions before they're official.
  • Slade Wilson (aka Deathstroke) - Oy...  I’ve never been a fan of this character.  Even when I was a fan of those “extreme ‘90s” era characters, I never found the appeal of this one.  At first, all I knew about him was that he was this super intelligent, super incredible assassin who was, for some reason, best known as a foil for the Teen Titans (fair fight).  The more I learned about him, the less I cared.  The only cool thing I’ve ever seen or heard of Deathstroke doing was when he pwned the Justice League in Identity Crisis, and in that scene, weren’t we really all thinking that should have been Batman’s strategy for taking down the League?  Slade doesn't do anything notable in this issue other than look menacing.
  • Cole Cash (aka Grifter) - Jim Lee took Gambit, gave him Deadpool’s mask and a pair of handguns, and that was WildC.A.T.s, pretty much.  None of the other characters ever really mattered; the visual iconography of Grifter superseded any story or characterization that might have informed the character.  Naturally, he was one of the Wildstorm Universe characters to be incorporated into DC’s New 52.  In this issue, he's the wildcard who doesn't like standing around bickering like an idiot when he could be blowing something up.
  • Alex Fairchild - The third and final carryover from the original team, Alex Fairchild’s inclusion makes me scratch my head.  In the original series, the character was mostly known for being the father of Gen13 star Caitlin Fairchild, and then nothing else.  His fate after the team’s disbanding was uncertain for years, and for this reason he was one of my favorites.  Now, however, that hardly seems as special.  Caitlin Fairchild appeared in Superboy, but she’s hardly the formidable or sensual presence she was twenty years ago.  Is her father really more relevant a character than Deathblow, Backlash or Jackson Dane?  In this series, Alex Fairchild seems to be a cynical mercenary with no sense of loyalty or honor.
  • Dean Higgins - Dean is one of the brand new characters debuting in this series, and probably the first one to die. He's bald, and described by Lynch as neutral and level-headed.  That's about all we get from him.  Again, I think he's going to die.  And I won't miss him.
  • James Bronson - Another brand new character, Bronson is a big guy with a black and blue costume that covers his whole body.  That's more stylistic, though; it's not like he's badly scarred underneath.  He's described as young and eager.  I hope he dies.
  • Summer Ramos - The hotshot pilot who leads Team 7 into a swarm of flak from the Float's automated defenses and drops them off.  Her ship is badly damaged and she's never seen or mentioned again, so hopefully she died.
  • Kurt Lance - A brand new character for the series, who might be an updated version of Larry Lance from the classic DCU.  In the present day-set Birds of Prey series, Black Canary's name is listed as Dinah Lance, implying this Kurt Lance character is her eventual husband.  I'm intrigued by him for that reason and that reason only.  In this issue, Lynch implies that Lance is not a field operative, not a soldier, but he specializes in finding people and things that don't want to be found.  Of course, I just described it much more clearly and easily than the script did, but the implication is that he might have been some kind of private investigator like Larry Lance was in the Golden Age.
  • Amanda Waller - This is one of the New 52 updates that just pissed me off.  Amanda Waller was a fascinating character in John Ostrander's Suicide Squad.  The fact that she was a powerful, often terrifying figure who happened to be a large black woman gave her an instant credibility that went beyond the usual supermodel-esque women in comics.  So naturally DC screwed with a good thing by slimming and trimming her down for the New 52.  She doesn't belong on this team, or in this body.
  • Dinah "Not Yet Black Canary" Drake - As for Dinah, she's fine in this issue.  It's clear that the creative team takes her seriously and treats her with respect, although her obvious sense of caring and passion for her teammate sticks out like crazy and I have to wonder why she's even here.  The martial arts training that has always been a staple of the character is completely absent from this depiction of the character.  Lynch considers her love for Kurt Dinah's one weakness.  He also says he's known her the longest, which makes we wonder about something: how old is Dinah in the New 52?  To reach the level of training and expertise she seems to have requires a lot of time and experience.  Lynch's description makes it sound like she's a seasoned operative who could easily be in her mid-thirties if not older.  And this takes place five years before Birds of Prey.  I thought the point of the New 52 was to de-age the heroes.


Another problem with the script is that the characters constantly refer to each other by their last name, as if the reader would be confused at who is being spoken to.  Every time someone talks to Cole Cash, he or she ends his dialogue with "Cash".  It feels like Jordan is entreating the reader to play a drinking game where you do shots every time someone says "Cash".  Also, a lot of the dialogue is just horrible.

It takes way, waaay too long to get into the story.  The characters spend more time bickering at each other, but it doesn't create the chaotic feel for an oddball team that writer Justin Jordan seems to be going for.  Mostly it just makes the members look unprofessional and unqualified for their jobs.  It's hard to take them seriously when you don't respect them.

The prison is called The Float?  Seriously?  Did Marvel take all the good names for supermax prisons?

There's a lot of confusing and missing information right on the title page.  First, we're never told when this issue takes place in the continuity of of the DC Universe, or what Team 7 is.  In every other comic DC releases, on the title page is a little caption describing who the main character is and what he or she does.  That caption is nowhere to be found in this issue and I'm pretty sure it's an editorial oversight.

All told, this isn't a good issue.  The script fails the fundamental show-don't-tell test.  We're constantly told these characters are the best at what they do but they don't belong together; but they don't do anything special, and their arguments are more sophomoric than substantive.

Grade: D+