Thursday, November 28, 2013

Black Canary in BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT #25

It's Thanksgiving here in the United States, a day for--among other things--giving thanks for all the pleasing and fortuitous things in our lives.

Today I'm thankful for yesterday's issue of Batman: The Dark Knight, because it featured a cameo appearance of Black Canary drawn by one of my favorite artists in the business, Alex Maleev.  This is the last comic of the New 52 era I will buy until things at DC make a serious change in direction, so it was nice to see Dinah make show up in a book that is consistently better written and drawn than her own.

I'm not going to review the entire issue because it's the conclusion to a story of which I didn't read every chapter.  Also, Black Canary (and Condor, too) makes little more than a cameo appearance.

Black Canary appears in a grand total of five panels and gets only a handful of lines.  Batman asks her and Condor to help him track down Clayface.  They run around Gotham looking for the villain, but Batman finds him and stops him before they arrive to help.

Okay, no kidding, there is absolutely zero reason for Black Canary and Condor to appear in this issue.  They do nothing of consequence and if their roles were omitted from this story, nothing about the plot or characterization would change very much.

Call it cynicism, but this feels like another example of an editor telling Batman: The Dark Knight's writer, Gregg Hurwitz, to find a way to use Black Canary to capitalize on her popularity in other media, such as TV's Arrow.  Of course, if DC really cared about elevating her profile, I can't understand why she hasn't been a focus in Forever Evil, being one of the last heroes left on Earth.

Anyway, I don't care about any of that.  Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Back in Action: ACTION COMICS WEEKLY #615


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 seventh appearance in ACW was issue #615, which features a cover highlighting the return of Wild Dog drawn by Barry Crain and inked by Rick Magyar.  Even though I don't know much about this character, having previously only read the final chapter of his first story in this series, I really get a kick out of this cover.  "Wild Dog Breaks Loose" certainly suggests the action in the book's title, and the machine-gun fire backs it up.  But what I really love about this cover are the dogs.  I'm a dog lover and their inclusion in this image both warms my heart and cracks me up.

Black Canary

"Bitter Fruit" Part 7: written by Sharon Wright, penciled by Randy Duburke, inked by Pablo Marcos, lettered by Steve Haynie, colored by Gene D'Angelo, and eddied by Mike Gold.  In keeping with the rest of her story, other than her first chapter, Dinah's story comes at the end of the comic, after the letters column.

The penultimate chapter begins with Doug Vallines--the real Doug Vallines, the bald-headed fatty, not the cowboy--coming home to Seattle and hearing the message Dinah left for him regarding the attack on Hector Librado.

Doug goes to a public park the next day expecting to find "Bonnie Cardinal" but he finds the Black Canary.  After the initial shock that the Doug Vallines she's meeting isn't the cowboy who charmed her and maybe threw her unconscious ass in a dumpster wears off, Black Canary finally gets some answers.  Which means we the reader finally get some answers.

Doug explains that he was a pilot and sales representative for Scales Agriculture and recently discovered that he got something like cancer from his years of exposure to unsafe, untested products created by Scales' company.  Hector Librado has a similar disease, and Doug's lawyer, the goatee sporting Barry Neiman, had been looking for Hector when the goons put him in the hospital.  Dinah suspects that Scales and his cowboy enforcer, Gary DeMott, tried to silence Hector to shut down Doug's lawsuit.  But that doesn't explain the whole situation with the INS...

Meanwhile, William MacDonald from the same Immigration and Naturalization Service is aboard Vincent Scales' party yacht, informing the CEO that one of their problems will be taken care of any moment.  At the same time, the good-hearted INS agent Ellen Waverly comes home to find a hit man waiting for her.  Two gunshots bring her down.

Back in her civilian clothes, Dinah Lance goes to check on Hector at the hospital when she learns his condition is worsening and he's been moved to the intensive care unit.  As she's leaving, she overhears another man asking about Hector's condition.  She may or may not know that this man is Barry Neiman, the lawyer Doug Vallines told her about, so she decides to follow him from the hospital.

Barry goes to the apartment of Ellen Waverly, walking right by the anonymous assassin.  When Barry sees her body, he makes a run for it, but Dinah catches up with him at his car.  Barry pleads his innocence to Dinah, and then calls Doug to report that Waverly has been murdered.  Doug lets them know that Hector, too, has just died.  Doug is furious that all of his contacts and support in his case against Scales keep getting bumped off, and threatens to take matters into his own hands.

Barry drives Dinah to the pier.  They arrive in time to see Doug pulling his seaplane away from the dock.  Dinah dives into the water after him.  Concluded next week!

It's both sad and telling that this second-to-last chapter is the first time I haven't had any problems with the artwork.  Marcos' inks finally heighten Duburke's pencils rather than muddle them and the color doesn't ever confuse me about which character i'm looking at.

There's something else I noticed for the first time in this chapter.  We really haven't seen Dinah in her Black Canary costume much in this story, and this is the first time I really noticed the big gold jewelry adorning her neck and the black headband across her forehead.  The band is a nice nod to her Justice League International costume, though it's not keeping her hair out of her face.  The jewelry, though, seems like it's meant to evoke her old choker, but it just comes off as garish and flashy.

This Black Canary doesn't wear a costume.  She just has a change of clothes that happens to include a wig.  That fact makes itself all the more obvious when you consider her major dramatic action in this issue--leaping into the ocean to chase a seaplane toward the story's main villains--she does in her civilian clothes.

This story isn't really a Black Canary adventure so much as a Dinah Lance pseudo-mystery.  Unless you don't consider Black Canary an alternate identity.  Hell, she even calls herself Bonnie Cardinal when she's "in costume".  It seems as though this story is trying to run as far away from the normal tropes of a superhero comic as fast as it can.  And that wouldn't be bad except that's what she is, those are her roots, and it comes off as if the creators are ashamed of that part of the character.

The Rest

Peter David begins a new Green Lantern adventure, this time with artist Richard Howell.  Hal attends a science convention where his girlfriend, Arisia, is modeling for a self-defense object.  There's some woman named Veronica who is apparently beautiful, but we never get a look at her.  The joint is robbed by two super-criminals named Siphon and Castle, who look utterly %@#$ing ridiculous, but they actually have cool powers.  Siphon gets trapped in a box but swaps places with Hal, sticking the Green Lantern in an airtight safe lined with yellow.

In the surprise of the week, Martin Pasko and Rick Burchett kick off a new featuring starring Janos Prohaska, better known as Blackhawk.  The story is set in Singapore, 1947, and combines elements of pulp and serial adventure, like a cross between Casablanca and Raiders of the Lost Arc.  After a daring shootout with some drug smugglers, Jan is reunited with an old friend from Russia named Natalie Reed.  He hires her on as the crew chief and engineer for his plane just as he receives a mission to investigate a mysterious plane crash.  I really like this story, I love Burchett's art, and one of my favorite things about it is the title: "That Was No Lady."  It reminds me of Lady Blackhawk, another leggy blonde familiar to fans of Black Canary from pre-Flashpoint Birds of Prey.

Max Collins and Terry Beatty bring Wild Dog back for a story called "Fatal Distraction".  The story opens with the police and press investigating a serial murderer who targets men outside singles bars.  Since I missed most of the character's last story arc, I learned a lot more about the man under the hockey mask and why he does what he does.  He keeps a mission log, ala Punisher's war journal, and he has friend and confidant in the press, ala Daredevil's silent accomplice, Ben Urich.  He shoots up some creeps robbing a convenient store, but aims for their knees so as not to kill them.  The rest of the story is narrated by an impressionable child who witnesses the vigilante in action, and the woman who is going around murdering men to avenge someone named Bobby and redeeming herself to someone named Jordan.  If I had to guess, she was raped by someone outside a singles bar, causing her to miscarry an unborn child named Bobby and disgusting her husband named Jordan.  That's my first take.

In the two-page Superman strip by Roger Stern and Curt Swan, the Man of Steel barges into a hospital room to find an assassin smothering the man Superman intends to question.  Superman violently pushes the killer, who is dressed as an orderly, into the wall.  The nurse on duty says the man in the bed is comatose and can't answer any of Superman's questions.  Then a police officer tells Superman that the would-be killer died when he slammed into the wall.  But... but wait... Superman doesn't kill!  I'm sure there was an argument about that online recently!  There must be more to this story!!!

In the Nightwing story by Marv Wolfman and Chuck Patton, Cheshire continues to successfully murder her targets, while her one-time lover Roy Harper not-so-successfully tracks her down.  Meanwhile, Nightwing meets a high-ranking official in London and tells him about his work with Speedy from the Central Bureau of Investigation, and how they're trying to catch Cheshire.  The official, Lord Hill, is pissed that nobody from the CBI informed him that they were operating in the United Kingdom.  Cheshire returns to her home where she takes care of her and Roy's daughter, Lian.  She insists to the old man who might be family that around her child, she is Jade, not the killer known as Cheshire.  Roy threatens some lowlifes to get a lead on Cheshire, then he asks Dick to meet him that night.  Dick, growing ever suspicious of Roy's motives, calls in support from the rest of the New Teen Titans.  Some boy named Danny who I don't know drops the bomb that Roy no longer works for the CBI.  He's operating on his own.

Next week, I'll look at Action Comics Weekly #616, which concludes Black Canary's first adventure in this comic, as well as continuing the sagas of Superman, Green Lantern, Nightwing, Blackhawk and Wild Dog.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

BIRDS OF PREY #18 (New 52)

It took way, way too long for DC to put someone other than Duane Swierczynski on Birds of Prey, and initially they announced Jim Zubkavich as the book's replacement writer.  Of course, for reasons that have nothing to do with creating good comics, that never came to be.  Instead, DC signed Christy Marx to write the continuing saga of Black Canary and Company based on covers that were already drawn.

Birds of Prey #18: "Burning Cold" marks the debut of new series writer Christy Marx, with art by Romano Molenaar and Vicente Cifuentes.  Chris Sotomayor colored the issue and Emanuela Lupacchino provided the cover, which features yet another Batman villain infringing on this series.  "Mister Freeze Demands Vengeance" the cover proclaims.  Oh yeah, has he been reading this book for the last eighteen months, too?

The issue begins with a Talon held captive in ice, being tortured and questioned.  The opening image isn't dramatic enough to warrant a full-page splash, but given Marx only had fifteen minutes to write this issue, I'll let it go.  Mister Freeze has captured the Talon and demands to know some vital bit of intelligence that the Talon isn't coughing up.  Considering who Mister Freeze is and what his driving motivation has been for the past two decades, we can probably assume that he's after the Talons' regenerative secrets so that Freeze can save his beloved Nora.

Knowing that he won't get the answers from this Talon, Freeze lets his unseen partner execute their captive with a shotgun while they proceed to target another Talon.  And if I had to hazard a guess, I would think they're talking about Strix, the latest Bird to join Black Canary's team.

We then transition to the Birds of Prey's hideout, which is identified as Black Canary's dojo.  Hey, I think that's the first time we've ever been given a specific location for where these people meet other than rooftops.  (Because, you know, the previous writer sucked!)  Strix is combat training with Condor, the other new member, while Batgirl asks Dinah to let the formerly murderous Talon who very recently tried to kill Dinah live with her at the dojo.  Starling, for her part, just stands around looking grumpy.

Christy Marx does something interesting in the beginning of this scene.  She has Dinah think about the other characters and form conclusions about them as well as herself.  This is what people who get paid to tell stories call characterization, and it's something this series never really had before now.  (God, the previous writer sucked!)

Anyway, Strix gets a little carried away during their sparring session and throws Condor into a full-length wall mirror.  This upsets Dinah because, hey, that shit's expensive, which leads Strix to lash out and fight Dinah.  Then Batgirl has to come in and put Strix down.  Everyone is fighting because that's the kind of relationship these characters have.

Oh, okay.  I've thrown people into glass because I needed to get some buffalo wings in my face, too.  No hard feelings.  And seriously, there are none, because the next thing you know, Condor is taking Strix into the kitchen to make omelets.  Batgirl leaves because she has a life and friends and goals and consequences and stuff, all in her own self-titled series that probably doesn't suck.

Then we get a moment between Dinah and Starling that reminds us how much the previous writer sucked.

Right, right.  When we left our main character, she was a liar and a coward.  She refuses to take responsibility for the damage and bloodshed she has caused because she cannot control her super powers.  And the one person who is able to confront her about it--her friend, supposedly--Dinah refuses to acknowledge.  This is painful to read, but at least it's consistent so I can't fault the new writer.  Also, Starling walking out on Dinah is probably her best moment in the series.

Then we get another first in the series.  We see Dinah going to get a coffee.  She's not punching somebody in an invisibility suit.  She's not putting her trust in Poison Ivy.  She's not admonishing Katana for using lethal force.  Nope, she's sitting in a diner and reflecting on her life.  We're actually getting introspection and evaluation that we never got in the previous issues.

Dinah is approached by an elderly black woman, who, if you've ever seen TV or movies, you know is always a source of cosmic wisdom.

It's not terribly original, but for this series it's enough.

Yeah, she's evaluating her life choices while looking in a broken mirror.  Original? No, but it's as deep as this book has ever gotten.

Then the whole team returns to the dojo, claiming that Dinah sent out an emergency distress call.  I think this kind of trap was used back in the first story arc when they were all brainwashed, but whatever.  As they realize they've been duped, Mister Freeze comes a-callin'.

There's a bit where Starling shouts, "Freeze?!" and he replies, "That's Mister Freeze to you."  It's stolen from Batman: The Animated Series.  Just pointing that out.

Freeze's cold gun proves too much for the combined fighting prowess of Black Canary, Batgirl and Strix, as well as the Canary Cry and Condor's telekinesis.  But when Freeze realizes he cannot capture  Strix, he escapes with Starling instead.

The Characters

Black Canary is still a liar, a coward, a killer, and a dumbass, just like before.  Only now, she seems to recognize the problem, which is the first step to solving it.  Will she redeem herself?  We'll see.  Or we won't.

Condor has the potential to liven this book up with humor and a dash of machismo, but he doesn't do much this time.

Strix seems more like a plot device than a character, which is always tricky with someone who cannot communicate or even emote.

Batgirl continues to serve no purpose in this series other than wearing the bat symbol on her chest and supposedly bringing in more readers.


This issue reads better now than it did months ago when I first read it.  It's still not great, but it takes steps in the right direction.

The book still feels like it's clinging to Batman's coattails instead of trying to walk on its own.  Not only do we have another Batman villain in Mister Freeze, but the story is rooted in the Court of Owls/Night of the Owls saga.  That crossover already created one sort-of heroic Talon in his own solo series.  Why did we need Strix thrown into this book?  Her existence makes the other guy less special, and vice versa.

The action piece that takes up half the issue isn't that exciting or well-crafted.

What hurts this book the most, though, is that it doesn't depart enough from the dreck that came before.  It still feels like a Swierczynski story, or maybe the editor's story, with Marx's dialogue written over it.  Which it is, really; that much she admitted.  The stink of past failures lingers on this new issue, which tries very hard to seem fresh.

Grade: B-

Monday, November 25, 2013

Black Canary by Chris Samnee

Last week, Chris Samnee posted this gorgeous Black Canary sketch to his blog:

As was pointed out by some fans on Twitter, this isn't just a full body sketch, but almost a mid-action shot.  I love the nod toward her "Canary Cry"--more of a call or song in this image--and the birds (bats?) in the sky.  Terrific!

I've become a huge Samnee fan over the last few months, enjoying his work on Marvel's Daredevil and Thor: The Mighty Adventure.  Check out more of his fantastic work at!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

TEAM 7 #6

In the present day, Deathstroke hunts down his former boss, John Lynch.  Five years earlier, Alex Fairchild's daughter Caitlin is interning at the Advanced Prosthetic Research Center under the direction of Dr. Henshaw.  Project: Spartan goes haywire and lots of little cyborg monsters start killing people at the lab and hunting Caitlin.

Team 7 #6: "Mission 2.2: Birth of a Superman" is written by Justin Jordan with art by... hoo-boyPascal Alixe (pages 1-5), Cliff Richards (pages 6-15), and Gui Balbi and Juan Castro (pages 16-20).  Once again, Gary Frank and Cam Smith provided a cover for a book that is well below their talent level.  By the time Jordan was scripting this issue he had to have known the series was cancelled, so the text on the cover confirms that this final arc is just cleaning house.

The issue opens up with most of Team 7 racing toward the Advanced Prosthetics Research Center in their ridiculous looking ship piloted by Summer Ramos, who we haven't really seen much in this series.  Ramos tells the team they're nearing the APRC, and that no distress calls are emanating from the facility.  Strange... How did Team 7 know there was a problem?

Alex Fairchild is understandably distressed because his daughter is down at the facility, but he doesn't know what kind of situation they're walking into.  Again: how did Team 7 know there was a problem and yet not know anything about the problem?

There's a bit of banter from Cole Cash and Amanda Waller revealing that James Bronson did not come on this mission, but rather went to visit his family.  Cash also mentions rather flippantly that the Lances didn't even get a honeymoon.  Really, Dinah Drake and Kurt Lance got married between issues?  We didn't see or hear anything about it before this mention?

As the stupid drop ship approaches the APRC, uh... $#@% goes down.

Ramos, we hardly knew ye.

As the ship comes under attack from little robot drone monsters, the Team fight back while Ramos pilots the ship to a safe landing before she dies.

Ramos' death might have felt meaningful if we knew here, or even entertaining if it wasn't such a blatant ripoff of this other scene.  (Man, Justin Jordan rips off a lot of movie material for this book.)

After the crash, Slade Wilson takes charge and leads the team through a crowd of cyborg zombie monsters that don't present much of a threat.  Once inside, they find a whole bunch of corpses messed up by the cyborg monsters unleashed by Project: Spartan.  From the carnage, Caitlin Fairchild emerges to the joy of her father.

Uh oh, that ain't a good look...

Slade chases the cyborg monster Caitlin and executes her/it for killing his best friend.  Dinah thinks these cyborgs are too easy to kill and that it must be part of a setup.  Her fears are confirmed when what's left of Hank Henshaw shows up.

Henshaw reveals that this whole chaotic mess was just to lure Team 7 to the Spartan robot or program (again, we don't know how they found out so we don't know how it lured them).  Also, the Spartan robot or program was created by Gamorra, a rogue nation or the name of its leader... maybe.  Also, Gamorra and Spartan wanted Team 7 member James Bronson specifically for reasons unknown.

Cut to James Bronson having dinner with his family at someone's apartment.  His mom is attacked in the kitchen by Spartan, who then... does something... transfers its core programming into Bronson, I suppose.

This causes an explosion.

The final page shows somebody who looks like the WildStorm character Mr. Majestic flying out of the wreckage.  I guess we're to assume that Bronson combined with Spartan creates Majestic.

Last issue involved a frame device with present day Slade/Deathstroke and John Lynch.  That sequence doesn't appear in this issue.

The Characters

  • Dinah Drake is apparently Dinah Lance now.  She doesn't do anything noteworthy.
  • Slade Wilson is sad that his friend dies and murders the friend's daughter, but she was a cyborg zombie so it's probably okay.
  • Amanda Waller has a line about never losing an operative in the field.  Throughout this series she has had the most consistently ironic dialogue, which is only interesting if you know they're ironic because you know the character in other comics.
  • Cole Cash doesn't do anything noteworthy.
  • Dean Higgins doesn't do anything noteworthy.
  • James Bronson becomes Mr. Majestic.
  • Kurt Lance doesn't appear in this issue.  I guess married life is too smothering for him, or more likely he was separated from the team since marriage violates all sorts of laws and regulations of the military code.
  • John Lynch doesn't appear in this issue.
  • Alex Fairchild dies in this issue.
  • Summer Ramos dies in this issue.


Given the gleeful death and destruction and the cyborg zombies, this book should have at least felt fun, but it was pretty boring.  Last week I said the new threat of Spartan and the robot monsters was a lot more interesting than the Eclipso zombies from the first arc.  Yeah, I called that one too early because this is just more of the same.  Despite the body count, these things aren't interesting or dangerous; they're just so much cannon fodder.

Also, there are two pages devoted to a building exploding.  Nothing really interesting about this double-page splash, just a building getting blown up--a building full of people we don't know or care much about.  Two pages is a lot of real-estate in a twenty page comic.  Ten percent of the story is just a big anticlimactic boom.

The series is winding down, so you can tell that Justin Jordan is rushing to tie up... just ends.  The deaths feel arbitrary and hollow.  I'm expecting Higgins to die next issue, and maybe we'll see how some of the survivors, like Dinah, got their superpowers.

Grade: C-

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Super-Team Family: Black Canary, Green Arrow, Man-Thing

It's Thursday and that means I get to plagiarize pay homage to one of Ross' custom DC/Marvel crossover covers from the Super-Team Family blog.  Below, Ross had depicted Black Canary and her lover, Green Arrow, running through the swamps from the burning touch of the Man-Thing.

Courtesy of Super-Team Family: The Lost Issues blog.
There is so much going on in this cover that I simply adore.  First there is Dinah partnered with her longtime beau/onetime hubby, Oliver Queen.  For the image of Dinah and Ollie, Ross sampled a page drawn by the incomparable Brian Bolland from the historic Justice League of America #200.  Bolland's style is pretty identifiable from his well known covers and interiors on Batman: The Killing Joke.  His work on this image, though, is less obviously Bolland.  In fact, at a glance I assumed this was from Neal Adams and/or Dick Giordano.

The next best part of the cover is the inclusion of Man-Thing.  Boy do I love me some Man-Thing!  I found an old dogeared copy of Giant-Size Man-Thing #4 when I was a kid, I don't think a day went by that I didn't go down to the basement and pull out my Giant-Size Man-Thing and have fun.  As soon as I got home from school I couldn't wait to get my hands on my Giant-Size Man-Thing.  I even scared some little girls by showing them my Giant-Size Man-Thing in the park.  Good times.

Lastly, I get a chuckle out of the tag "Burn in the Bayou".  It reminds me of the Creedence song "Born on the Bayou".

Check out Super-Team Family: The Lost Issues for many, many more DC/Marvel crossover covers!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Back in Action: ACTION COMICS #614


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 sixth appearance in ACW was issue #614, which features one of my favorite covers of this series.  Mike Mignola, creator of Hellboy, shows Green Lantern in a way that accents the hero's cosmic dimensions with a dash of the gothic mystery Mignola does better than anyone.

Black Canary

"Bitter Fruit" Part 6: written by Sharon Wright, pencilled by Randy Duburke, inked by Pablo Marcos, lettered by Steve Haynie, colored by Tom Ziuko, and edited by Mike Gold.  There is a misprint on the title page, saying this chapter is Part 4 when it's actually the sixth of eight.

This chapter begins with William MacDonald, an Immigration & Naturalization Service official calling a hit on another INS agent named Ellen Waverly.  Why?  Because Ellen is unknowingly close to discovering that MacDonald is corrupt and preventing immigrants from gaining legal status at the behest of...somebody with power.  Maybe a guy named Scales who has his own company.

At the same time, Ellen receives a phone call from a man calling himself Barry Neiman, and he is the mysterious man with the goatee who has been following several characters around throughout the story.  He was turned away from Hector Librado's hospital room at some point before Hector was attacked and put in a coma; is this "Barry" the man who tried to kill him?  Is "Barry Neiman" this man's real name?  We'll have to see.  After that call, Ellen informs Hector's family that she is awaiting documents from another office that will finalize their citizenship.

Meanwhile, in the alley behind Hank Beecham's shop, the forger is getting threatened by two familiar goons.  Dinah rushes the goons with a broken bottle and kicks their asses.  She threatens one with the bottle while demanding answers.  She reveals, perhaps accidentally, that she was the woman with the cowboy who the goons jumped in an earlier part of the story, even though she was in her Black Canary costume then.  The guys say they weren't the ones who knocked her upside the head, and then run away without telling her who they work for.

After the rescue, Hank Beecham takes Dinah inside his store and fills in some useful gaps in the story.  He says that he forged work history documents for Hector to help get him citizenship, and every job he did was paid for, so he had no reason to attack Hector.  But someone else has been muscling in on Beecham's business, trying to get him to retire.  He says the two goons Dinah just fought worked for the Cowboy, who Dinah thinks is named Doug Vallines but is probably named Gary, and Doug Vallines is another guy.

At the Scales building, Vincent Scales gets word that MacDonald is coming to Seattle for some business.  Scales tells Cowboy Gary to prepare the boat so they can go out to an island.

Down in California, the real Doug Vallines is spying on a piece of land that is owned by Scales, but fenced in by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and patrolled by government security forces.

That night, Dinah is sitting alone in her apartment above Sherwood Florist.  She has a sudden idea and dials for Information to connect with Doug Vallines.  She leaves a message--calling herself Bonnie Cardinal again--and says she knows who attacked Hector Librado.

I continue to have the same problems with this story week after week, namely the unwieldiness of the plot and supporting characters, and how the art fails to distinguish different people we barely recognize from page to page.  However, this chapter was a little better and things seem to be picking up steam.  They had better; after all, there are only two chapters left after this.

The highlight, as always, is seeing Dinah in action.  She gets the drop on the goons and gets some valuable information out of them and their target.  I wish we could see her do this in her Black Canary costume--that's kind of the point--but something is better than nothing, I guess.  Revealing her past involvement with them in a different costume seemed like a mistake, though, like a dumb non-blonde thing where she forgot she was supposed to have a dual identity, even if she's "out".

I have mixed feelings about Dinah's phone call at the end.  On one hand, it's nice to see her be proactive, especially if she's formulating a plan or putting the pieces together.  On the other hand, does she really know who she's calling?  Is this message an intentional trick?  A trap?  Is she leaving a message for the real Doug or the fake one she knows?  If this is a trap, will it succeed if the wrong man gets the message?  I guess hope we'll find that out next time.

The Rest

In the Green Lantern chapter, Peter David and Tod Smith treat us to a GL retcon worthy of Geoff Johns.  The ring reveals to Hal Jordan that the reason he is a man utterly without fear is because Abin Sur's ring sort of lobotomized him.  We see the moment where the ring identified the two most worthy candidates for stewardship of the ring: Hal and Guy Gardner, but Hal was closer geographically to where Abin crashed.  But Hal still had some basic fears that the ring erased by rearranging part of his brain.  So in this issue, Hal has the ring reverse that process.  Now Hal Jordan has fears that he must overcome through will power.  "You don't have to be a man without fear," Hal tells himself.  "Just a man."

Writer Paul Kupperberg and artist Tom Grindberg conclude their short Phantom Stranger adventure with the titular character being captured by Ah Puch, the Mayan death god.  I'm a big fan of Kupperberg's writing, and Grindberg creates some gruesome and horrific images in these panels, but somehow, this story didn't really grab me.  Maybe it needed more time to breathe, more pages, or maybe it wasn't right for the Phantom Stranger, whom I have always had difficulty viewing as a protagonist in his own stories.

In the second part of the Nightwing story written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by Chuck Patton, Nightwing and Roy Harper have traveled to London to prevent Cheshire, the mother of Roy's child, from killing a member of British government.  They save the target, but Jade kills an innocent bystander.  In combat, Cheshire proves more than a match for her former lover.  Against Dick Grayson, though, Cheshire must resort to trickery in order to escape.  Later, Roy tells Dick the story of how he hooked up with Jade and got her pregnant.  Even later, Cheshire murders her target by pumping lethal gas into his shower.  Later still, Jade taunts Roy in an alleyway, scoffing at his threats.

This is a really enjoyable story, though I'm not sure why Roy Harper or Speedy doesn't get equal billing with Nightwing, since it's as much his story as Dick's.  I'm a big fan of Marv Wolfman's work at Marvel, particularly in the horror titles.  I never had the same fondness for his DC work.  I didn't like Crisis on Infinite Earths, and I couldn't get into New Teen Titans, though I concede that nobody wrote Dick Grayson better than Marv, and that's why this story works for me.

In the Superman strip by Roger Stern and Curt Swan, the Man of Steel races to the hospital to question the man who tried to kill the other man who told Clark Kent that he--the man--is part of a cult that worships him--Superman--like a god!  Superman arrives at the hospital just in time to find another man attempting to smother the first attempted murderer man.  Fun.

Finally, Mindy Newell and Barry Kitson wrap up Catwoman's adventure in "The Tin Roof Club" part 4.  Previously, Selina Kyle stole an Egyptian cat brooch and hid it with her friend Holly.  Then Holly's husband got the brooch and blew up his wife.  When Catwoman came for the brooch and some revenge, Holly's husband, Arthur, threw Catwoman out the window of his penthouse apartment.  As this chapter begins, Catwoman saves herself from the fall and scales the side of the building, going back up to Arthur's room.  Two security guards come to the room after Arthur's mistress called for help.  The guards act shifty, pretty much demanding a bribe... and then Catwoman straight up murders the guards by pulling them over the ledge and dropping them off the side of the building.  She leaves the brooch there, so when the cops arrive to investigate the two dead men, they find the stolen property in Arthur's room.  Arthur is arrested, and Selina feels justified in avenging her dead friend.  But still.  She freaking murdered two security guards.  They weren't even a danger to her.  They were completely incidental, and while not the most noble of people, I don't think they deserved what they got.

Catwoman is a tricky character.  I will always categorize her as a villain, no matter how many times Batman screws her and then lets her go with a warning.  Catwoman is a criminal.  She doesn't break the law to make society better like a vigilante.  She breaks the law to make herself happy.  She's a villain.  That doesn't mean she's a psycho killer like Joker or Two-Face.  This last chapter felt really unsettling with her killing two people as a means to punish someone else.  Also, her story only got seven pages instead of the usual eight.

Next week, I'll look at Action Comics Weekly #615, which kicks off two brand new features starring Wild Dog and Blackhawk, as well as continuing the sagas of Black Canary, Superman, Green Lantern and Nightwing.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

BIRDS OF PREY #17 (New 52)

I hate this series.  I hate the writer.  I hate myself for choosing to review this crap every week.

Birds of Prey #17: "Heartstopper" is the last issue written by Duane Swierczynski (thank Christ).  The art once again is provided by Romano Molenaar with Vicente Cifuentes on inks and Chris Sotomayor on colors.

Last issue, during a mission to capture a weapons dealer for the (probably terrorist) organization known as Basilisk, Black Canary lost control of her sonic powers and unleashed a devastating "Canary Cry" that leveled a power station and plunged Gotham City into a blackout.

Yeah.  A blackout.  In Gotham City.  Riots, looting, jailbreaks, death, destruction.  All of that is on Dinah.  Intentionally or not, she just caused damage to the city's infrastructure that could easily cost upwards of ten million dollars and probably dozens if not hundreds of casualties.

That is ALL. ON. DINAH.

How will she deal with it?

Oh.  Oh no.  No no nononono.  No.

"It's nothing for you to worry about," she tells Starling.  Nothing for you to worry about.

Let's review the events that "the writer" clearly didn't: Dinah lost control of her powers.  Said loss of control just brought the building in front of them to the ground, causing a citywide blackout which will result in incalculable damage and death to innocents.  And any or all of her teammates could have been among the wounded or dead.

But it's not something Starling needs to worry about.  And it's not something Dinah's teammates need to know about.

Since issue #1, I have wanted "the writer" to provide some insight into the characters, especially the so-called leader, Black Canary.  I have wanted to know who she is and why she does what she does.  Well... now I know.

She's a coward and she's a liar.  In issue #9, Batman called her "sloppy and dangerous".  He was right.  Dinah should be in a prison cell.  This is what "the writer"--what the New 52--has done to Black Canary.

I... I don't want to go on reviewing this issue, because it's going to get worse.  Much worse...

Anyway, Batgirl and Condor don't realize that Dinah brought the power plant down, but Strix sure does and she lashes out physically at Dinah, who lashes back verbally, saying the silent assassin has no cause to judge her.  Y'know, the sort of defense a coward and a liar would mount.

Everyone keeps returning to Dinah's horribly bad decision to recruit Poison Ivy, but no one ever seriously calls her on it.

Meanwhile, in another part of the rubble, we find the weapons dealer the Birds came here looking for--who, after three appearances, I don't believe ever gets a name, because why would "the writer" bother with something like that?  Pulling himself out from under a building, his first reaction is to dig out the weapons he was going to sell and have them target nearby people.

Why?  **** you, that's why!

The weapons are little floating robots that detect human hearts and stop them with electro shocks.  They're called "heartstoppers".  This little bit of super villain mad-science is too specific to be anything other than absurd.  If you could invent something that could fly and detect the specific biological or rhythmic patterns of a living, beating human heart, why would you make it shoot out little snake-like tendrils like a police taser?  Why not, oh say, a missile?

**** you, that's why!

The heartstoppers attack Dinah, Batgirl, and Condor, but Strix slips under their radar because she doesn't have a living, beating heart.  Hey, that's convenient: almost as if it was planned that way!

Away from the battle, Starling checks in with her handler, Amanda Waller, revealing Dinah's part in the devastation.  Then a SWAT team shows up, because, y'know, someone blew up a power plant outside a major American city.

Oh, Dinah, you're hilarious!  I keep forgetting you're the devil-may-care smart-ass of the group.

Now you don't dare open your mouth?  What about all that dialogue you just delivered?

After Strix destroys some more of the trying-too-hard-to-be-clever-it's-just-stupid robots, Dinah jumps to a ridiculous conclusion.

How does she know it's Basilisk technology?  And why does she assume that in the wake of an entire building coming down that the dealer is still alive just because somebody activated the machines.  Doesn't matter.  Now it's Batgirl's turn to be stupid.

The last time you left Strix and Dinah alone, Strix tried to kill her.  And that wasn't a long time ago and like they've made up and bonded and stuff.  That was five minutes ago!  Also, Strix was trying to tell you that Dinah is dangerous.  She started writing it in the dirt and you just forgot about it, Batgirl.  I thought you were smart!

So as soon as everyone else is out of earshot, Strix grabs one of the robots and threatens to kill Dinah unless she comes out with an explanation.

Strix lets her live.  I don't know why.  Maybe she understands something about not having control and feeling like you've been co-opted to kill everything.

But that doesn't change the fact that Dinah is still, by her own admission, a "walking weapon of mass destruction".  By her own admission, she cannot control this destructive power, and even suspects she might be going crazy.  Shouldn't something be done about this?

During this scene where Dinah reveals her secret to the conveniently mute woman who can't repeat it to the others, we learn that Batgirl and Condor stopped the Basilisk guy--off panel--and Starling got Amanda Waller to call off the authorities--also off panel.

Then it's time for levity.

Gotham City is still in a blackout.  Stores are being looted.  Crimes are being committed.  People are being robbed, raped, murdered.  That's all on Dinah.  And she and the rest of the Birds are walking off together, smiling, talking about getting a drink.  Why don't they go help?  Why don't they try to save somebody?

**** you, that's why!

This is how "the writer" concludes his run on the book, with the characters ambivalently ignoring the giant cluster**** they created.  How fitting. 

The Characters

At the beginning of this series, Black Canary was a fugitive, wanted for murdering her husband, Kurt Lance.  Later, she as much as admitted to her friends that she was guilty.  She killed her husband.  She believed he was dead and she was at fault, but she never surrendered to the authorities or accepted any form of punishment.  Instead, she dressed up in a costume with her vigilante girlfriends and fought crime-ish.

Now, a year and a half later, Black Canary is responsible for a disaster that will doubtless cost many innocent lives.  Dinah knows it's her fault, but she never surrenders to the authorities or accepts any form of punishment.  She lies to protect her own ass, keeping it a secret even from her teammates.

Black Canary: liar, coward, killer.

Oh yeah, she also trusted Poison Ivy.  Add dumbass to the list above.


I have had dozens of questions about this book since the first issue of the New 52.  I have even more today because "the writer" never answered any of them.  I won't bother restating the questions now because there isn't a point.

But the lack of answers and the offensive characterization are only some of the problems with this issue.  Here's another one:

Dinah calls herself a "walking weapon of mass destruction" because she cannot control her powers.  That might have been interesting sixteen months earlier, but now it has no meaning, no effect, no danger because we have seen it before.  Twice.

The first story arc of this series saw people, including Dinah, being used as biological weapons of mass destruction.  Living bombs.  The second arc had Poison Ivy betray her team, turning them into biological weapons of mass destruction.  Living chemical bombs.  And now we're left with Dinah incapable of controlling her Canary Cry, making her a self-proclaimed biological weapon of mass destruction.  Living sonic bomb.

That's not a recurring theme.  That's "the writer" literally having no other ideas, just using the same plot device over and over and over again.

Duane Swierczynski, you suck.  Your writing on this book was horrible and you should be ashamed of it forever.

Grade: Why bother even giving it a grade?

**** you, that's why!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Black Canary on ARROW S2 E4-6

The fourth and fifth episodes of the Arrow's second season are all about Black Canary and she plays a pretty substantive part in the flashback sequences of the sixth.  Needless to say, these were among my favorite episodes of the series.

Season 2, Episode 4: "Crucible"

Because why should Ollie and Malcolm Merlyn
and Shado and the Huntress and Roy be the only
ones who get to have fun with bows and arrows?
I mean, seriously, share the love!
While Oliver has to deal with a sudden flood of military-grade weapons onto the streets of his city, Felicity has an epiphany regarding the woman in black leather.  Both times the Canary appeared--to rescue Green Arrow from a police ambush and to stop the Dollmaker--Laurel was there.  Maybe the Canary isn't following Oliver, but rather Laurel (Katie Cassidy).

So Ollie stakes out Laurel's apartment to find Canary (Caity Lotz) watching her.  He captures Canary in a nifty snare trap.  She drops a sonic grenade like the kind she used to get them out of the police station, but this time, Ollie had the foresight to wear earplugs.

Canary speaks to Oliver very familiarly, even calling him by name, and warning him that her identity will rock his world.  He removes her mask to discover the Black Canary is... Sara Lance, Laurel's sister, long thought drowned on the boat that marooned Oliver on the island six years ago.

Ollie has plenty of questions, but she doesn't want to answer yet.  Her sonic grenade explodes into a smoke cloud; when it evaporates, Ollie is alone on the roof.  When he regroups with Diggle and Felicity, Ollie reveals that he knew Sara didn't drown on the Queen's Gambit, but he still thought she was dead because of something that happened a year after the shipwreck.

Back at her clock tower hideout, Sara talks to her young friend Sin.  They exchange a few cryptic remarks about their past.  Later, Sara goes to Ollie's club, Verdant, to find out if he's revealed to her family that she's still alive.  She stays vague about her whereabouts for the last couple years, only hinting at the kind of rough crowd she fell in with to learn how to fight the way she does.  Before they can say much more, Sara's father, Detective Quentin Lance, shows up to ask Ollie for help with his daughter.  Of course, he means Laurel, who has been having problems with drugs and alcohol since Tommy Merlyn's death and her capture by the Dollmaker.  Sara slips away, unnoticed by her father.

Wait, why is her hair different?  Oh, damn --
 I think this screen grab is from the wrong show!
Ollie recruits Canary to help him take down the episode's villain, a gangster called The Mayor who is running guns into the Glades.  Green Arrow and Black Canary naturally make an effective fighting team, watching each other's back and even trading weapons at one point; he uses her bo staff and she uses his bow.  It's a nice little moment.  Anyway, they stop the Mayor and Ollie convinces Canary not to kill him.

Ollie and Sara meet again the next day when she goes to visit her friend Sin in the hospital.  Ollie thinks Sara should tell her family that she's still alive, but she tells him who she really was died on the island.  She also says everyone would hate Ollie forever if they knew what really happened.

Meanwhile, during the flashback sequence, a younger Ollie has been captured and taken prisoner aboard a freighter called Amazo.  He is taken to the captain's quarters where he discovers Sara alive for the first time.

Season 2, Episode 5: "League of Assassins"

After a flashback sequence revisiting Sara's last moments aboard the Queen's Gambit before it sinks, she wakes up in present day in a guest bedroom of Queen Manor.  Ollie tries to convince her to go see her family, but she still thinks it's a bad idea, that there are things from her past that she cannot reveal because they are unforgivable.

In another flashback, we see Sara lying on a piece of debris adrift in the ocean.  A canary lands beside her, chirps, and then takes off.  She follows the bird's flight path, leading her to see a ship in the distance.

While Ollie and Sara discuss Moira Queen's trial, an assassin dressed in what looks similar to Malcolm Merlyn's Dark Archer costume, breaks in and attacks Ollie and Sara.  They fight him to a standstill and he escapes, but not before showing his face, clearly revealing that it's not Malcolm or Malcolm's ghost or anyone Ollie knows.

Ollie takes Sara to the Arrow Cave where she meets Diggle and Felicity.  Ollie gives Felicity some dirt the assassin left so she can trace him back to his hideout, because you know, that's something Felicity can do.

Sara tells the others she doesn't want them involved.  She reveals that the mystery man was gunning for her, not Ollie, and that he was a member of the League of Assassins.  Diggle and Ollie thought the League was nothing but a myth, but Sara assures them it's real and that she is was a member, taken from the island and trained at Nanda Parbat.  This is why Sara cannot return to her family.  She is not the woman they remember; she is a cold-blooded murderer.

Felicity traces the assassin's dirt to an abandoned factory.  Green Arrow and Black Canary confront the man, Al Ow-Al, who claims to have trained Malcolm Merlyn.  Arrow demands that the League stay away from Canary, but that threat doesn't go over very well.  Two more assassins show up and they all begin fighting, with Ollie taking on Ow-Al and Sara fighting the other two.  One of the assassins wounds her, and Ollie breaks off the attack to escape with Sara.

There's already a lot of BDSM stuff going on with that costume, but holding
the bo staff like that just adds layers and layers of subtext.
Oliver stitches up Sara back at the hideout.  He and Diggle reason that Sara's family could become targets if the League really wants her to surrender, so Ollie goes to protect Laurel and Felicity goes to warn Quentin to get out of town... which goes horribly.

Knowing that her father won't take any warning seriously that doesn't come from her, Sara has no choice but to reveal herself to Quentin.  They reunite in a touching embrace and then go to a restaurant.  She doesn't answer his questions about where she's been, but when an abrupt noise startles her, she accidentally exposes her keen reflexes and killer instinct.  Being the good cop that he is, Quentin realizes that she is connected to the Arrow, that she's the Black Canary, and she has been back in the city for weeks.  He realizes that Felicity's warning about him being in danger was true, and that the danger is because of Sara.  He asks if she would have ever revealed herself if her family wasn't in danger.  She says no, and then they leave.

Meanwhile, in the flashback sequences, Sara has been locked in a cage in the ship and abused, until a white man calls the guards off of her.  The man introduces himself as Dr. Anthony Ivo, and claims that he is keeping prisoners in cells as part of his work to save the human race.

Sara brings Quentin to the clock tower, where they are ambushed by Al Ow-Al and the two other assassins.  The Canary has a number of traps set up that throw her enemies off their footing.  Green Arrow arrives in time to stop one of the assassins, while Quentin manages to shoot and kill another one.  Canary fights Ow-Al and kills him over Arrow's objections.  She lets the last assassin live so he can take a message back to Ra's al Ghul's daughter that her family is off limits.

Sara and Quentin have a touching father-daughter moment, but she has to leave in order to keep her family safe.  As long as she's around, the League will keep hunting for her, so she can't be close to her family and friends.  She also can't let her sister or her mother know she's alive because they would never stop looking for her.  Then Sara leaves.

Later, Quentin visits Laurel who is still sheltering an addiction problem.  He promises her things will get better, but he cannot reveal the secret.

Years ago, aboard the Amazo, Ollie is taken to the cabin where he sees Sara who has now been working with Ivo for a year.  She smacks him and addresses him as a prisoner.

Season 2, Episode 6: "Keep Your Enemies Closer"

Sara only appears in the flashback sequences as Ollie tries to understand his new situation as a prisoner aboard the Amazo.  We learn a little bit more about Ivo's plan.  He is looking for the remains of a Japanese submarine crew who were doing genetic experiments to create super-soldiers or super-humans in the 1940s.

Sara appears to want to help him, feeding him information to keep him safe and keeping his identity a secret.  However, she also betrays him, tricking him into revealing that Shado and Slade Wilson are still alive.  However again, she intervenes on his behalf when Ivo is going to kill Ollie, so her loyalty at this stage in the game is entirely unknown.

New Identity/Origin

Obviously, this is not the Black Canary of the comics.  That doesn't bother me, though, because this is not the Green Arrow of the comics.  This show is its own entity with its own rules and history and characterizations and I've grown to both accept and admire that.  So I have no problem with this twist on Black Canary.  Hell, I love it!

After watching the pilot episode, I had a difficult time believing Laurel could ever become Black Canary.  Well, problem solved: she doesn't.  Instead, it's her long-thought-dead sister who trained with the League of Assassins to be one of the best, most cunning warriors in the world.  Halle-freaking-lujah!

Each episode of this new season is as good if not better than the one before, so there is plenty to get excited about.  This mini Black Canary saga, though, has been my favorite storyline in the series.  Obviously, I'm biased about the character, but it feels like a dramatic twist that was earned instead of forced.  The shock of Sara being alive is unexpected, but not ludicrous, and making her a darker, even more tragic reflection of Ollie, adds new dimension to both of their characters.

I hope she comes back again in the second half of the season.