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.

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