Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Birds of Prey #4 (Apr 1999)

Previously in Birds of Prey...

Oracle sent Black Canary to investigate a kidnapping and ransom cartel in the nation of Rheelasia.  Black Canary was captured, but eventually escaped and helped bring down the kidnappers with the help of Jason Bard, a former boyfriend of Oracle's.  Meanwhile, the beautiful and deadly assassin called Cheshire has put together a team of female mercenaries and killers called The Ravens.

Birds of Prey #4: "The Ravens Strike" is written by Chuck Dixon with pencils by Greg Land, inks by Drew Geraci, and colors by Gloria Vasquez.  Land's cover looks fittingly like a poster for a James Bond movie, but it leaves me with a few questions.  Is that supposed to be Black Canary in the scuba gear?  If so, why does she look like a red head?  If not, who is she?  And why is the series title "Birds of Prey" printed twice on the cover along different edges?

The issue begins with some animal-on-animal action as the Ravens--the team comprised of Cheshire, Vicious, and Pistolera--launch a merciless attack against the forces of Kobra.  Vicious and Pistolera are catty and joke about killing each other off to collect the other's share of the score, which happens to be half a billion dollars for killing Kobra Prime.  Cheshire reprimands her partners for their unprofessional conduct while leading them on a killer rampage.

Kobra Prime doesn't seem too worried about the attack, though.  More intrigued than anything.  Is that because he's not their true target, but their employer?

Yes, the entire attack was merely a test of the Ravens' abilities and Kobra Prime approves of their talents, so he hires them to retrieve something for him.  The what is unknown for now.  The why is that whatever it is is valuable as a weapon of terror.  And the where is Lake Mackichitahoo, Minnesota.

And would you believe it, that's exactly where Dinah Laurel Lance is heading to recuperate after her captivity in Rheelasia.

Every week I'm reminded that for the first couple years of their operation, Black Canary didn't know with whom she was working or from whom she was taking orders.  Their "partnership" was one-side blind; so despite the friendliness of of their chats, it's hard to see them as true friends when Oracle doesn't trust Dinah enough to reveal her secret identity.

Dinah arrives at the Lutefisk Lounge at Lake Mackichitahoo, drawing lots of attention from the men at the resort.  Almost as much attention as the Ravens attract when they arrive.

Meanwhile, Barbara rolls around her apartment, chewing on the anger over Black Canary asking for a date with Nightwing.  Of course, that wouldn't happen if Babs told Dinah who she is and what her real connection to Nightwing is.  But that's not the important part of this scene; what's of greater concern are the people spying on Oracle.

At the same time Oracle is continuing her anonymous internet flirtation with someone named Beeb, Dinah flirts with the concierge of her resort, a nerd named Gary.  Gary shows Dinah to her cabin and tells her about the local tourism boom that has accompanied sightings of the "Lake Mackichitahoo Monster".

At the Pentagon, the Air Force division assigned to electronics security may have finally traced the hacker who has been piggybacking on the military's memory and data.  Is it Oracle they're tracing, or someone/something else?  We ought to find out soon because the Air Force is getting closer to their target.

Back at the lake, the Ravens wait until nightfall and don scuba gear before diving into the water and finding their own target.

On the surface, Dinah walks the dock taking in the night air and enjoying the peace and tranquility of Lake Mackichitahoo when something stirs beneath the wooden planks.  She glances down, catching the faint outline of something monstrous... Then she gets a closer look.

I could give this issue the benefit of the doubt and call it a transitional issue that's used to set up a new story arc, but that would feel too generous.  The fact is, this hardly seems like a Birds of Prey comic at all.  Dixon devotes twelve out of twenty-two pages to the Ravens, who I don't care about.  He spends another page on the Pentagon, and a page on whoever is spying on Oracle.  That leaves only a third of the book for Black Canary and Oracle, and all they really do is flirt with boys and gab about dating Batman and Robin.  It's hardly stimulating stuff.

Land's art is inoffensive but unremarkable.  He likes big, splashy panels, but the characters always seem so posed and lifeless, like they're not really part of their environment.  All told, this was mostly a boring issue.  I liked Dinah and Barbara's early conversation, but that was all I enjoyed in the whole chapter.

Come back next Tuesday for a review of Birds of Prey #5.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Black Canary Talk on Her/His Dork World

Some time ago, I appeared on the April 17th episode of "Her Dork World, His Dork World", a live radio show on the VOC Nation Radio Network.  Show hosts Dean Compton and Emily Scott invited me on to take part in a discussion of Black Canary, her place as a superhero icon in comics, and her role in the gender dynamics of popular fiction.

Although the interview was conducted and broadcast live to Thursdays ago, you can listen to an archived recording of the whole show at PodOmatic right here, or download the podcast on iTunes by searching VOC Nation and the April 19th update of "Her Dork World, His Dork World."

The interview and thus my part of the episode begins at roughly the 15-minute mark, but I encourage everyone to listen to the whole episode because Dean and Emily have a nice discussion about female-driven stories and movies in the first segment, and they namedrop Paul Dini, the writer of the upcoming graphic novel Black Canary/Zatanna: Bloodspell.

I had a great time appearing on the show and talking Black Canary with two passionate and involved fans.  Dean and Emily were wonderful, professional, and respectful hosts and they've made me a fan of not just Black Canary, but "Her/His Dork World".  Check it out and enjoy the show!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Golden Oldie: FLASH COMICS #101

Black Canary's ongoing adventures continue with seven thrilling pages of mystery and suspense in Flash Comics #101.

"The Day That Wouldn't End!" is written by Robert Kanigher and drawn by Carmine Infantino.

When Dinah Drake and Larry Lance deliver the flowers to James Taylor (probably not that one), they meet his lawyer, Mr. Crane, who tells them Taylor is returning from the hospital.  When the lawyer leaves, Larry accidentally knocks over a desk calendar in which every date is labeled May 16th.

Larry suspects a mystery and needs to get rid of Dinah to investigate.  Dinah, at the same time, needs to shake loose of Larry so she can change into Black Canary and find out what's going.  So they ditch each other, and when Black Canary sneaks around the Taylor mansion, she finds a group of hoods hiding outside.

Inside the mansion, James Taylor is aghast about the date on the calendar and today's newspaper.  Everything, the paper, the radio, even Taylor's lawyer, Mr. Crane, says today is May 16th, and Taylor has been reliving the same day over and over again.  He feels like he's grown crazy.

But Black Canary discovers that the radio broadcast is only a recording, but before she can confront Crane, the goons from outside return to the house.  Black Canary and Larry are knocked unconscious and placed in this month's elaborate deathtrap.

Black Canary and Larry Lance race from the house figuring that Crane went to hide in the flower conservatory.  Inside the greenhouse, Crane tells the goons that he'll frame Taylor for killing Black Canary; Taylor will have no credit what with his complaining about time stopping.

I really don't know what Mr. Crane's plot was or why he chose repeating dates to drive James Taylor crazy.  At this point, the formula for Kanigher and Infantino's stories was so obvious there could have been a table of contents for it:

Pages 1 and 2 - Opens the mystery with Dinah Drake and Larry Lance
Page 3 - Black Canary fights some thugs
Page 4 - The mystery deepens and Black Canary is knocked unconscious
Page 5 - Black Canary and Larry Lance wake up in someone's bizarrely conceived deathtrap
Page 6 - Black Canary uses her locket to escape the deathtrap
Page 7 - Black Canary and Larry Lance stop the bad guy, and Larry explains it to Dinah Drake, not realizing it's the same woman.

This is how the last couple stories have played out, and this will be how the next five stories proceed. Yeah, we only have five more Golden Age Black Canary stories to review!

Come back next Sunday for another Golden Age adventure of Black Canary in Flash Comics #102.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Team-Up: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #166 (Sep 1980)

Today is World Penguin Day, and if you know anything about me and this blog, you know I take advantage of every ridiculous opportunity to coordinate posts with holidays and anniversaries, be they real or not.  Well, as soon as I heard about World Penguin Day, I knew I would review the Black Canary and Batman's team-up against the Penguin.

Actually, when I first heard about World Penguin Day, I hung my head and sighed heavily.  But then I thought of the issue!

The Brave and the Bold #166 pairs the Dark Knight Detective with the Blonde Bombshell in a tale called "Requiem for Four Canaries" written by Michael Fleisher with art by the legendary Dick Giordano and the nearly as legendary, but no less extraordinary, Terry Austin.  Fleisher is probably best known for his work on Adventure Comics where he pushed The Spectre to new heights of horror and greatness with the even legendarier artist, Jim Aparo, who happened to provide the cover for this issue of The Brave and the Bold.


"Requiem for Four Canaries" opens with a breakout at Gotham Penitentiary.  Three prisoners sprint across the marshland after an unknown party dynamited the exterior wall.  These convicts don't know who blew the wall, but they're not waiting around to find out.

Unfortunately for them, the Batman arrives on scene and puts the three escapees down pretty quickly.  Through his inner monologue, we discover that the dynamite went off two hours ago and Batman has spent the time since rounding up prisoners who are trying to get across the bog.  At last, the Dark Knight has recaptured all of the convicts save one: the Penguin.  Commissioner Gordon tells Batman they had better get back to Gotham before the Penguin's latest crime wave kicks off.

Batman knows, though, that the Penguin isn't heading to Gotham; he's going to Star City on the other coast, to exact revenge on four henchmen who sold him out after his last crime spree.  And sure enough, we find the Penguin in Star City the next day...

The Penguin explains that canaries are crucial to his revenge plot for what they symbolize.  The word "canary" is slang for a criminal who "sings" to the authorities, like the underlings who turned state's evidence on the Penguin.  The noisy canaries in their cages will serve as inspiration in the Penguin's attacks on Batman and his former goons.

That night, Dinah Lance, "the lovely brunette who is secretly Black Canary", attends a Star City night club for a performance by a songstress known as the Divine Miss B.  As the talented beauty belts out the song "People", the audience listens in rapt attention.  But when Miss B. hits a particular high note, a sugar shaker cracks releasing a toxic gas right in the face of the spectator at the table.

Dinah examines the victim and then notices the Penguin slipping through the crowd and exiting the night club.  Dinah tells her friend Alice that she's not feeling well because of the noxious gas floating around the dead guy's table.  But when she sneaks away...

As the Penguin is about to get in his getaway car, one of his henchmen asks why he didn't use a canary in the murder of the first victim.  Penguin argues that he did use a canary, in a way:

Suddenly, a batarang rips through the night and disarms the henchmen before he can execute Black Canary.  The Batman swings down toward the Penguin and his goons.

Acting quickly, the Penguin sprays Black Canary with the poison gas from his umbrella.  He knows that Batman can't chase him and save Canary at the same time, and he correctly guesses that the Dark Knight will save a life first.  After the Penguin escapes, Black Canary regains consciousness and asks Batman what he's doing in Star City.

Black Canary tries to play tough cop with her informant, demanding information on the Penguin and the three remaining henchmen.  Max isn't intimidated by a girl in fishnets.  She makes a few sexist comments before suddenly changing his tune and looking quite intimidated.

Unbeknownst to Black Canary, Batman has snuck into the room behind her.  The Bat's mere presence is enough to frighten Max into revealing everything he knows, but Batman slips out before she sees him.  So when Black Canary comes out with the intelligence they need, she's beaming with pride over the effectiveness of her tactics.  For his part, Batman lets her feel like she earned the win.

The heroes arrive at the second target in time to see the explosion that kills him.  Now the Penguin has only two victims left and Batman proposes that he and Black Canary split up to watch over the next targets.  But the Penguin anticipates this strategy and takes action to get rid of Batman first.

While the Dark Knight surveils one of the other targets, the Black Canary surprises him by coming back and claiming the other target is already dead.  Then she throws herself at him.

As if this scene wasn't strange and unexpected enough, the final sequence comes completely out of nowhere.  Suddenly, the Black Canary is held captive at the Penguin's hideout and she's stripped down to her bra and underwear.  Because, sure, why not?

We learn that the Penguin sent a decoy dressed as Black Canary to kill the Batman.  Batman's thought bubbles also reveal that the plan nearly succeeded, but when the impostor got close enough Batman could tell she was a natural blonde, whereas the Dinah Lance is not.

I present here the last two pages of the comic because they're full of Batman in action and a nearly-naked Black Canary.  It's cheesecake, but it works on me.

The odd turn at the end notwithstanding, this is a really fun story.  Most issues of The Brave and the Bold starring Batman that I've read were written by Bob Haney, and his storytelling... leaves some to be desired.  And yet, the ending does take a bizarre twist, but still, Fleisher's story works really well.  This same plot could have been farcical, but the seriousness of Fleisher's script and the beauty of Giordano's and Austin's art save it from going to far.

Probably the greatest achievement in this story is how well Fleisher depicts the Penguin as a cold-blooded and productive gangster.  He's not silly or stupid or spouting off puns or poetry pertaining to ornithology.  He's a killer; his methods get a little comic book-y at times, but he kills without drawing too much attention to himself.

Batman, as always, is Batman.  Black Canary doesn't get a whole lot of standout moments.  She beats up a couple of goons, but she's twice endangered, and one of those times isn't explained or justified.  She's reduced to damsel in distress...or rather damsel in undress.  Still, though, she manages to help Batman and she even kisses him very familiarly in the end.  And she's rarely looked as good as she does in this issue.  Both Giordano and Austin have worked on Black Canary before and they deserve a place on the list of Greatest Black Canary Artists.

Happy World Penguin Day!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Black Canary: New Wings #2

Previously in Black Canary...

Black Canary: New Wings #2 - "Home is Where Ya' Live" is written by Sarah Byam, with pencil art by Trevor Von Eeden and inks by Dick Giordano.  Mike Gold edited the issue with Steve Haynie providing letters and Julie Lacquement colors.

We pick up with Dinah having a sort of picnic date with her new friend, Gan Nguyen, a passionate and danger-prone talk-radio host.  They eat takeout and enjoy a beautiful Pacific Northwest sunset while Gan tells Dinah about his history.  His father served in Air Force Intelligence during the War in Vietnam and promptly disappeared after getting his mother pregnant.  Gan's mother put him on a refugee boat bound for America to spare him the harsh treatment of half-American children growing up in Vietnam after the war.

Gan faces the same violence and discrimination in Seattle, but not because of his ethnicity.  It's because he challenges the system.  In addition to picking fights with street-level drug dealers, Gan is highly critical of Senator Loren Garrenger's hypocritical drug policies.

In the sleepy nearby town of Sandbar, a teenage boy named Chad Brennan narrates the social and economic troubles that have fallen on his father and the rest of the community.  Sgt. Brennan was a Marine sniper, but with no war to fight, he has started drinking heavily and seeing enemies in the government, and the faces of immigrants, and other social castes he views as infringing on his freedom.

The Brennans are paid a visit by Loren Garrenger, Jr., the senator's son.

Back in Seattle, Dinah tends to her daytime business, Sherwood Florist.  She grumbles and curses about Oliver Queen's inattentiveness while listening to Gan's radio interview with Senator Garrenger. Gan points out the inadequacies in Garrenger's drug policies, citing that there are no treatments and avenues for assistance targeting non-English speakers.

Dinah recalls something she heard in the news some time ago and heads to the local library to do a little research.  She finds an article about Loren Junior getting arrested in a drug bust.  The newspaper named Garrenger, but Junior was later released with all charges against him dropped.  Dinah calls the paper to speak to the journalist who wrote the article, but he's been transferred and nobody knows where.  Dinah smells cover-up.

Dinah goes to Gan's apartment and shuts down his flirting with a stack of notes pointing to corruption in Senator Garrenger's office and family.  Gan looks over her findings but deems them speculation, not evidence; he thinks she's too quick to see conspiracy that she's not being an objective detective.

Dinah spends the night at Gan's place, and the next morning he leaves her sleeping so that he can go start another fight.  He parks a radio sound-truck outside a local drug den and announces his plan to "Adopt a Crack House" for the community.  His timing is either great or terrible, because a local pusher inside the building is meeting with his supplier.

A crowd gathers around outside, including police trying to maintain order while Gan stirs them up.  Inside the crack den, the well-dressed supplier, Drake, argues with the local pusher, Sooner, about the severity of the situation and why Gan wasn't killed off earlier.  Dinah wakes and recognizes the trouble brewing.  She dons her Black Canary costume and rushes to help Gan.  Unbeknownst to her, Sgt. Brennan has taken position in a tree down the street and taken aim against Gan.

Black Canary's appearance causes enough of a commotion that Brennan's shot strikes Gan but not fatally.  The shot causes the crowd on the street to explode in panic.  Pedestrians run every which way while the cops exchange gunfire with the drug dealers inside the apartment.

Black Canary runs to the apartment to take down the drug dealers, and the wounded Gan follows her.

Seemingly boxed in, Drake kills Sooner and his accomplices and plants a gun with a stoned junkie who won't be able to explain the situation to the police.  Then Drake sneaks into the sewers beneath the apartment as the police storm the den.

Black Canary and Gan find more dead dealers, but Dinah is more concerned with the junkies who lost themselves to the drugs before the violence was set off.

The action in this issue isn't as clean or exciting as the previous chapter, but the story has grown a little more substantive.  The conspiracy between the Senator, his son, this rogue Marine sniper, and the drug trade in Seattle is a worthy opponent for Black Canary.  It's both street-level and systematic with wealthy or governmental connections; exactly what a good crime noir should have.

I enjoy the mention of Dinah's mom as the previous Black Canary, and the oblique references to Canary's torture in Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters, but I wonder how new user-friendly these references are.  There is a bit of prerequisite knowledge in this story if you want to really understand how frustrated Dinah feels when faced with a powerful adversary like Senator Garrenger.  It's clear that she wants to strike back because of the victimization she felt before.  But the whys and wherefores are kept from the reader, and I'm not sure if that hurts Byam's storytelling.

Come back next Wednesday for my review of Black Canary: New Wings #3.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Birds of Prey #3 (Mar 1999)

Previously in Birds of Prey...

Black Canary has been captured by forced to work in a slave labor camp in Rheelasia.  While Oracle looks for a way to free her partner, Canary is looking for her own means of escape... with an old boyfriend of Oracle's named Jason Bard.

Birds of Prey #3: "Hounded" is written by Chuck Dixon with pencils by Greg Land, inks by Drew Geraci, and colors by Gloria Vasquez.  The cover by Land is doubly strange, not for Black Canary's contorted pose, allowing the viewer to see both her front and back parts, but also because it appears that Dinah and Hellhound are locked at the crotch.  I'm not sure if they're supposed to be fighting, dancing, or something untoward, but I've never seen two figures positioned in such a way.  Also, Black Canary never appears in that costume within the issue.

This issue opens with a splash page of Hellhound and his savage-looking pack of killer dogs.  Hellhound is practically salivating with anticipation over Black Canary's inclusion at the slave camp. He can't wait to test his fighting skills against hers.

After Hellhound walks off, Dinah is left alone with Jason Bard, who was blinded by muzzle fire from a gunshot by one of Jackie Pajamas' guards.  Dinah returns to the subject of escaping the compound, noticing that the area isn't secured by a fence; all they'd need to is slip by the armed sentries.  But Jason tells her they would never get through the jungle with Hellhound's dogs chasing them.

Jason maintains that he's too helpless, too much of a liability to help Dinah escape, but she swears she won't leave without him.  He was blinded, after all, saving her life.

Meanwhile, Oracle has called the second most computer savvy hero in Gotham City: current Robin, Tim Drake.  They meet in Barbara Gordon's apartment, where they huddle over satellite maps of Rheelasia, looking for the slave compound.  Barbara reveals that she's already paid the ransom for proof that Jackie has Black Canary.

Who's bank account is paying Black Canary's ransom?  Is it billionaire Bruce Wayne, perhaps...?

Nope.  It's Roland Desmond, better known as the villainous Blockbuster!  And he's none too happy about a cyber-hacker transferring illicit funds from his accounts and using it to pay another criminal.  No, he's mad enough to crush a computer with his bare hands.

That night in Rheelasia, Dinah goes to Jason Bard's barracks and wakes him so they can make their escape.  As she ties a rope around his waist so she can guide him, he once more pleads for her to leave him behind.  Dinah refuses.  Jackie will have Bard killed once he figures out that no one will pay him a fortune for Jason's release.  On top of that, Jason saved Dinah's life, and he was once Oracle's lover.  No way is she going to leave him behind.

As they're slipping out of the barracks, they run into a random sentry.  Dinah knocks the guard unconscious before he can sound an alarm, but her escape does not go unnoticed.  Hellhound watches her and Jason run into the jungle.

The next morning, after Dinah and Jason been running for a couple hours, Hellhound tells Jackie Pajamas about the escape.

In the jungle, Dinah does her best Lara Croft, Tomb Raider impression, by traipsing through dense foliage in sweaty, clingy, khaki shorts and shirt.  She asks Jason who he came to Rheelasia looking for, and he tells her about Brendan and Daria, the couple that Hellhound tracked down and killed in the first issue.

Jason asks Dinah about their "mutual friend" and she characterizes Oracle as her best friend in the world, even though she doesn't know the identity of the woman behind the computer.  Before she can explain any more, they hear Hellhound's dogs catching up to them.

Over the course of two days, Oracle and Robin have narrowed their search to half a dozen locations on Rheelasia that might house the slave labor compound.  Now all they can do is scan more recent satellite pictures in the hopes of spotting a familiar face.

Back in Rheelasia, Dinah gets herself and Jason out of the rushing river and back on the land.  Their clothing is basically tatters now covering about as much as a bathing suit.  For the time being, they've escaped from the hunting dogs.  But there are crocodiles on the river bank, so they have to head back into the deep jungle to stay ahead of their captors.

In Gotham, Oracle shows Robin a sat-pick of Dinah and Jason making their way to the coast.  Robin, though, shows Barbara a picture of armed goons less than a mile behind Dinah and Jason.

Dinah and Jason make it to the coast, coming out of the jungle near a Rheelasian Coast Guard base.  But just as they're breaking cover, the armed goons open fire on them.  Dinah and Jason duck down, avoiding the bullets.  The goons have orders to kill Jason, but spare Dinah.

Dinah takes out most of the goons, and Jason manages to club the last one before he gets the drop on Dinah.

Then Hellhound appears, cutting them off from the beach.  His dogs come racing out of the tree-line. Jason tells Dinah to take care of Hellhound while he fends off the dogs.  Jason picks up one of the assault rifles and blindly sprays the ground in front of the dogs.  Mercifully, he doesn't hit either of them, but it's enough to scare them away.

That leaves the two warriors to test their skills, just as Hellhound hoped they would.

It looks and sounds as if Hellhound messes up his knee when he falls back with his foot pinned down by the sai.  (I have some experience with this type of injury, minus the sai, of course.)  By the time Hellhounds slumps over in agony, the Rheelasian army has been alerted to their presence and drives up the beach to save Dinah and Jason.

Later, Dinah calls Oracle to debrief the mission: the Army moved in on the camp, liberating all of the hostages, but Jackie Pajamas escaped.  She says Jason will likely need surgery, and Oracle insists that he'll get the best.  In her apartment, Barbara looks at a picture on her computer desktop of her and Jason together, thinking about what could have been.

This was a very fast-paced issue, but that's okay, because it was the climax and it had some good action beats.  For pure adventure genre fun and cheesecake, I enjoy seeing Dinah marching through the jungle in wet, ripped-up khakis.

Canary's battle with Hellhound could have been better.  It wasn't bad, but it seemed to lack some intensity.  For that, I blame Greg Land.  His art is more picturesque, his figures more posed.  Fluidity and motion are not his strong suits.

Still, though, I really like Hellhound as a villain for Black Canary.  Yeah, his costume is a little ridiculous, but is it really any worse than most Silver Age super villains?  I wish he could have been established as a major, recurring foe for the Birds and Black Canary.

Maybe the most interesting part of this story is that Oracle's part was superfluous; she effectively did nothing to help Black Canary in this chapter.  Dinah and Jason escaped on their own, unless somehow Oracle got the Rheelasian Army to show up at the end, but that's not made clear.

Come back next Tuesday for a review of Birds of Prey #4.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Birds of Prey Sketch by Chris Samnee

Chris Samnee is one of the best artists working in comics today.  If you don't know about him, check out his work on recent issues of Marvel's Daredevil.  You can see more at his official webpage.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Golden Oldie: FLASH COMICS #100

Black Canary's ongoing adventures continue with seven thrilling pages of mystery and suspense in the milestone 100th issue of Flash Comics.  Hmm... I would've expected something a little bit more milestone-y for the cover.

"The Circle Terror!" is written by Robert Kanigher and drawn by Carmine Infantino.

Bizarrely, the Pierrette model on the music box raises a gun and appears to shoot Pierrot.  Dinah Drake and Larry Lance go inside the music store, where a surly looking man passes them on his way out.  At once, Dinah and Larry notice that the store clerk looks just like the Pierrot figurine on the music box.  Then they notice he's fallen down dead, almost as if the figurine's death was replicated in real life.

Suddenly, the skylight gives way and Black Canary falls down into the bad guy's hideout.  But the ever-graceful Mistress of Judo lands on her feet.  She scoops up some diamonds and throws them at the henchmen.  Then Black Canary corners the bad guy leader, but he doses her with a gas from the flower on his lapel.

Black Canary wakes up tied to a post on a giant music box.  And she's not alone; Larry Lance is tied up, too, having tracked the music box back to the enemy hideout.  The bad guy starts the music box, telling them that when the posts spin to the point where they face each other, the box will explode, killing them.

After freeing themselves, Black Canary and Larry Lance trace the bad guy back to a jewelry store he's in the process of robbing.

That's a hint, Larry.  Dinah is the Black Canary!

Come back next Sunday for another Golden Age adventure of Black Canary in Flash Comics #101.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Pretty Bird: GREEN LANTERN #78

Not long after writer Denny O'Neill brought Black Canary to Earth 1 and made her part of the Justice League, he partnered Green Lantern with Green Arrow for a road trip across not just America's terrain but its social consciousness.  Oliver Queen had recently lost his fortune, turning from fat cat capitalist to bleeding heart liberal.  Hal Jordan had recently, um, discovered racism, turning from daredevil of the skies to... lame guy.  Their bromance kicked off in Green Lantern #76, wherein the book was unofficially retitled Green Lantern/Green Arrow.  By this time, O'Neill had also established a flirtatious but hesitant romance between Ollie and Black Canary in the pages of Justice League of America.

Green Lantern #78: "A Kind of Loving, A Way of Death" comes from the legendary team of writer Dennis O'Neill and artist Neal Adams.  It was published in July, 1970, right around the time Charles Manson was going to trial for the murders he and his "family" perpetrated in the '60s.  That's not an irrelevant historical fact, as we'll see in this story.

Other than one or two JLA covers,  Adams hadn't really drawn Black Canary until this issue, but the opening sequence cemented his place as one of the greatest Black Canary artists of all time.  "A Kind of Loving..." begins with Black Canary riding her motorcycle through the Pacific Northwest when she's stopped by a violent biker gang.

One of the bikers demands that Dinah surrender her bike, the custom bike that Superman made just for her.  When she refuses, the biker attacks.  Naturally, puts the guy on his ass.  His gang respond and angrily close in on her whilst calling her a frail, because, y'know, that's how women were referred to back in the day.

The leader, though, makes it clear that they're only going to beat and rob Dinah as a matter of pride.  Because she embarrassed one of them and they have a responsibility to stick together and show unity.  Even though their plan is to rob and possibly rape and murder Black Canary, it's just an unfortunate cost of doing business; this is how they demonstrate that they aren't victims.

Then Adams delivers one of the most recognizable pages in his storied career, as Black Canary systematically takes down the gang.

The first biker she put down, who goes by the name of Snake Eyes (though definitely not that Snake Eyes), crawls over to his motorcycle, enraged that his gang's reputation will be ruined because a woman kicked their butts.

The gang rides off with Canary's bike, leaving her on the side of the road.  As the sun goes down, a stranger comes around and picks up her unconscious body, carrying her away.

Two weeks later, Hal Jordan and Oliver Queen drive their pickup truck through an Indian Reservation near where Black Canary was attacked.  With Hal and Ollie is one of the immortal Guardians of Oa, though he has taken on the guise of an elderly human so that he can learn more about life on Earth.  The heroes stop for food and have talk with a young Native American who uses words like "paleface" and "redskins".  The dialogue is a little cringe-worthy in a modern context and makes it hard to root for Washington, D.C.'s football team without rolling your eyes a little.

Soon after the guys eat their beans, the familiar Demon biker gang barges into the restaurant.  They beat on the proprietor and threaten Hal and Ollie... which is when Hal speaks the Oath of the Green Lantern Corps and he and Ollie change into their costumed alternate identities.

Green Lantern and Green Arrow disarm the gang without breaking a sweat.  One of the bikers makes a run for it and jumps on a motorcycle.  He doesn't get far, though, as Green Arrow fires a net arrow that wraps up the punk and his bike, causing them to crash and roll over.  But as the heroes approach their captive prey, Ollie and Hal recognize the motorcycle the punk was riding.

After another awkward encounter with the Native American, Green Arrow and Green Lantern set out to search the surrounding area for Black Canary.  And conveniently, it seems, they find her right away just wandering around the mountainside.

I'm sure O'Neill and Adams had this dramatic effect in mind when Joshua introduces himself, but bereft of any other context it just seems a little weird.  I think you need to understand or at least be cognizant of the biblical context of the name Joshua to get the full force and effect of this encounter.  Knowing that Jesus Christ's real name translates into English as Joshua, combined with the character's somewhat ambiguous ethnicity, help emphasize the spiritual, almost supernatural power Joshua conveys.

Ollie cares little for Joshua or his followers, except for Dinah.

Black Canary has clearly been brainwashed, but for the moment, there's nothing the emerald-clad heroes can do about it.  Hal leads a reluctant Ollie away, but as they walk off, Dinah's memories begin to come back.

Joshua snaps Dinah out of her daydreams with a special gift.  Opening the present, she sees that Joshua has brought her a gun, which he claims will help them fulfill their mission.  She instinctually resists, not wanting to use a weapon such as this, but Joshua has a great and terrible power over her.  She looks into his amber-colored eyes and becomes transfixed, hypnotized, completely enthralled by Joshua's power.

Elsewhere, Green Arrow and Green Lantern argue about what to do with Black Canary.  Hal elects to leave her be.  She's a free woman; she can make her own life choices.  Ollie doesn't think she's so free, though; he suspects she's being manipulated by Joshua.  When Hal suggests that maybe Dinah simply doesn't share Ollie's feelings, the archer punches his friend and storms off into the woods.

Ollie hasn't gone far when a series of gunshots ring out through the wilderness.  He rushes in the direction of the sound where he finds Black Canary and the rest of Joshua's "enlightened" followers practicing with their firearms.  And then the leader makes his impassioned speech.

It's clear that Denny O'Neill had been following the news coverage of the Manson Family Murders and Charles Manson's trial, because Joshua is a obviously depicted as a cult leader bent on starting a race war.  But where Manson used drugs and other forms of psychological manipulation to control and direct his followers on his bloody agenda, O'Neill gives Joshua a more comic-booky ability to control people's minds.

Green Arrow fires off a signal flare arrow to bring reinforcements in the form of Green Lantern, but the light from the flare gives away Ollie's position and Joshua orders his family to open fire on the intruder.  Green Arrow dashes through the woods, but a bullet grazes his head, knocking him out.

Joshua's followers rush out of the woods to attack the Indian Reservation town nearby, but Green Lantern stand in their way.  Using the awesome power of his ring, he deflects their bullets, removes their guns, and leaves them trapped in a ditch, unable to cause any more damage or harm.  But he didn't capture everybody.  Joshua and Black Canary managed to escape and backtrack through the woods to Green Arrow's position.

Dinah still holds her gun.  Joshua makes her aim the weapon at Green Arrow and orders her to pull the trigger.

In a last, desperate act of resistance, Black Canary drops the gun, unwilling to shoot Green Arrow.  Enraged, Joshua picks up the revolver and takes aim, but Green Arrow smacks him with a projected fist.  Joshua falls to the ground, rolling over and accidentally discharging the gun.  The bullet hits his heart and kills him almost instantly.  For their part, none of the heroes seem to care that much.

A problem I've always had with this sequence is we don't know why Black Canary refuses to shoot.  Is it because she loved Green Arrow and couldn't murder him?  Or is it because she was resisting Joshua's control and she knew that killing an innocent was wrong?  Adams expertly shows the agony and struggle on her face, but O'Neill doesn't let us inside her mind.  What if it were Green Lantern on the other side of the barrel, or some random person from the town, would she still have dropped the gun?

Dinah asks Ollie to help her remember herself, who she was and who she is.

Well, that was a bit of a depressing twist at the end of an already dark story.  I mentioned how Joshua manipulated Black Canary and his other followers through the supernatural means of his crazy eyes, but Ollie robs them of that excuse.  He tells Dinah there must have been some part of her that was weak enough and hateful enough to respond to a psycho like Joshua.  That's nice, Ollie, way to go.  She'll definitely love you now.

"A Kind of Loving, A Way of Death" is from an era when comics publishers like DC and Marvel experimented with telling "important stories", stories about real world problems and events.  Green Lantern/Green Arrow was the primary vehicle for this exploration of hyper-reality in a fantasy medium, which is why it was so successful at the time and continues to be referenced as one of the most influential runs in comic books.

Unfortunately, these types of stories that take a focused look at part of society are instantly dated because society changes.  This type of story couldn't have been told in any other era, so while it is most certainly historic, it fails to be timeless.  But I don't want to dwell anymore on relations between "palefaces" and "redskins" or Charles Manson's cult.  I want to talk about Green Arrow and Black Canary.

The Emerald Archer and the Blonde Bombshell had exchanged long, meaningful glances up to this point, but this was probably the first serious confirmation that they were a couple, or at least that they were going to be.  O'Neill states in Dinah's memory montage that she fell in love with Ollie and took off on her motorcycle to join his road trip.  And given Green Arrow's willingness to deck his best friend for insinuating that Dinah's heart might belong to a creep like Joshua, it's pretty clear that Ollie loves her as much as she loves him.

Black Canary would spend a couple issues recovering from the psychological trauma of this issue, but from here on she was a fairly constant supporting character in Green Lantern/Green Arrow.  Their relationship was more-or-less official within the pages of Justice League of America, but this is where it began.

Between bringing her aboard the Justice League and then making her part of the Hard Travelin' Heroes and pairing her up with Green Arrow, Denny O'Neill is one of the most influential writers on Black Canary's history.  And Neal Adams draws a better looking Black Canary than maybe any other artist in the field.