Reviewing the Birds of Prey
Year Four: 2002
Birds of Prey #37
"Red, Black and Blue", January 2002, written by Chuck Dixon, pencilled by Marcos Martin, inked by Alvaro Lopez, colored by Wildstorm FX, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Matt Idelson, cover by Phil Noto.
Essentially, this is a wrap-up to the Joker: The Last Laugh event which wandered around the DCU in the prceding month. Since the Birds played a sizable part in that cross-over, the wrap-up issue is a fun idea. And after the serious tone of many of the preceding issues, the light, fun tone of this issue is a pleasant change.
Black Canary is teamed up with Blue Beetle and Robin on clean-up duty throughout the Gotham area. They have the antidote for the Joker venom that "Jokerized" pretty much all the bad guys in the DCU and a tight deadline within which it must be used on the Joker's villain victims before the process becomes irreversible and — typical Joker punchline — deadly.
After dispatching a horror-movie-type monster and delivering him back into the waiting hands of the authorities, our trio is sent to bring in the laughable Condiment King, a villain from the old days when Oracle was Batgirl & Nightwing was Robin and the bad guys weren't very lethal.
Diving in — rather dangerously what with all the falling glass they send showering down onto the occupied food court below, but perhaps that was a poorly-thought-out artistic decision for dramatic effect. In "real life" that'd be a very, very bad idea — full of confidence, our heroes are leveled by lethal doses of condiments right in the face. Seems Condiment King struck up a little friendship with Poison Ivy while incarcerated in Arkham and isn't quite as harmless as he once was.
But the fatal flaw of all theme villains is their reliance on those themes. While Robin & Canary lay gasping, Blue Beetle puts his spicy foods knowledge to work and finds the antidote at hand in one of the food court kiosks. Liberally spraying CK's victims with milk, Beetle saves the day and our three heroes sheepishly administer the anti-venom and deliver him back to Arkham.
Meanwhile, Oracle tries to get through to the Nightwing who has refused contact with allies (shades of Batman) as a self-punishment for his lethal beating of the Joker (who magically came back from the lethal beating thanks to a little magical CPR... but I digress). Nightwing is extremely vicious in his rejection of Oracle's attempts to help and/or comfort him during his penance, and the issue ends on that note.
The art by guest penciller Marcos Martin is nice and clean and a little cartoony which works with the Condiment King part of the story especially, but his use of shadow and light for the Nightwing/Oracle part of the story is nicely effective as well. Overall, this issue is enjoyable and more successful on its own than the "Last Laugh" cross-over was as a whole.
Birds of Prey #38
"The Next Little Thing", February 2002, written by Chuck Dixon, pencilled by James Fry, inked by Andrew Pepoy, colored by Gloria Vasquez, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Matt Idelson, cover by Phil Noto.
This story is a set-up for a new villain, but whether we'll ever see him (or it) again is up in the air since Dixon left the title. A nice techno-espionage episode with Oracle and Canary trying to stay a step ahead of someone out to steal the tech. The art is a little overdone and cheesecakey but it's consistent and the faces are well-done. The coloring of Canary's costume is a bit off, too... not sure why since Gloria is on the case (although apparently for the last time :: Wildstorm FX are listed as the colorists from here on out).
I have to say that this story is just sort of there since it is very much a prologue-ish origin tale and our heroines sort of succeed in spite of themselves. It also features yet another in a long line of situations where Canary doesn't succeed in the mission but has to be saved in some way — this time by Oracle (the last issue also had this problem which was mitigated by the lightness of the story and the fact that all three of the heroes overestimated the bad guy and were initially taken down by him).
Birds of Prey #39
"The Gun", March 2002, written by Chuck Dixon, pencilled by Rick Leonardi, inked by Rodney Ramos and Jesse Delperdang, colored by Wildstorm FX, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Matt Idelson, cover by Phil Noto.
The Birds step firmly into the Bativerse with this issue, as they join in the major-league Bat-crossover Bruce Wayne: Murderer?. Instead of concentrating on that story, however, a large chunk of the issue is focused on Blue Beetle/Ted Kord and his discovery that he has a serious health problem. There is some nice interplay between Ted & Barbara, underscored by the nice, clean pencils of Rick Leonardi who comes on for a few issues (though at the time it was thought he would be the new permanent penciller) before heading over to Nightwing.
Oracle sends Canary on a B&E into Vesper Fairchild's apartment to investigate the murder and see if she can find anything that the cops missed. These scenes are nicely atmospheric and give some direction to what may have been going on in Vesper's life before its abrupt end. While Canary is snooping, she is snooped upon by her wannabe sidekick Spoiler, a nice foil for Canary.
Another part of the story deals with Oracle going undercover to interview Wayne's bodyguard Sasha Bordeaux who is locked up on related charges to the murder. This is a confusing moment in the entire cross-over and is not revisited. Oracle is very antagonistic to Sasha and seems to be trying to find out if Sasha knows "The Secret;" however, when Sasha fails to crack, Oracle seems to be very angry with her which rings very oddly. Did Oracle want Sasha to confess that Wayne is Batman? Or does she not believe Sasha knows? Or is she just that frustrated that she can't find out what really happened that night? Again, this has not been revisited (as I write this, part 15 of the second related cross-over Bruce Wayne: Fugitive has just been published) in any way, so the confusion lingers... what was THAT all about?
Due to it's nature as a part of a cross-over, this issue doesn't entirely work as a standalone issue from that, but the Ted Kord part fits nicely into the BoP universe and there are some nice interactions between Canary & Oracle which show that their post-Lazarus Pit relationship has stabilized and is beginning to feel more equal. The Spoiler's introduction into the mix is a nice touch as well.
Birds of Prey #40
"Switchback", April 2002, written by Chuck Dixon, pencilled by Rick Leonardi, inked by Jesse Delperdang, colored by Wildstorm FX, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Matt Idelson, cover by Phil Noto.
Continuing its participation in the Bativerse proper, this issues is part 12 of the Bruce Wayne: Murderer? crossover but picks up right where the last BoP issue left off. With Spoiler tagging along, Canary returns to the clock tower to deliver her findings to Oracle. Oracle is pleased but has a lot of data to sift and sends Canary off with Spoiler to help the girl solve the problem of her criminal father's having set up his lair in her and her mother's house.
Oracle has another talk with Ted and finds out about his dismal health diagnosis, and Ted retires to his office to regroup and discovers a rather lethal package sent to him by a competitor.
Lots of nice little pieces of character development are drizzled (in a nice, chocolate-sauce sense) throughout this issue. I love the one-page interplay between Stephanie and Dinah while they're driving to Steph's house; Oracle and Ted's relationship is portrayed as a really comfortable friendship, having grown up nicely since their initial email correspondence when neither knew the other's true identity, and the interaction between Babs and Dinah feels right, with a touch of the subliminal understanding friends can have shown in the scene where Oracle apparently foists Spoiler off on Canary.
By far the best part of this issue — and the best moment in the series in quite some time — comes about halfway through the issue when, after hearing Stephanie's story about why her father is holed up at her house, Canary marches in and takes charge of a situation that has left the poor girl and her mother helpless for several issues of Robin. Now THIS is the woman who helped found the original JLA! She takes out these two-bit bad guys, even shaking their weapons to pieces with the force of her Canary Cry, but it's her 'tude that really impresses.
The issue wraps with a pair of cliffhangers — the first being Ted fighting for his life against a robotic spider & the second being Oracle, Robin, and Nightwing's discovery of Bruce Wayne's escape from prison (which officially ends part one of this cross-over and turns it into part two, Bruce Wayne: Fugitive
Birds of Prey #41
"Felony Matters", May 2002, written by Chuck Dixon, pencilled by Rick Leonardi, inked by Jesse Delperdang, colored by Wildstorm FX, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Matt Idelson, cover by Phil Noto.
Oracle and Canary plan a bank robbery to take place in broad daylight. Yep, apparently the Birds have gone bad — NOT! Still investigating the Bruce Wayne case, Oracle wants to find out the contents of Vesper's safe deposit box, so she sends a bank employee on an impromptu all-expenses-paid vacation to Tahiti and sends Canary to work disguised as this lucky woman (or not so lucky... one wonders if Clarissa still has a job upon her return.)
Meanwhile, things aren't going well for Ted and his fight with the evil spider-bot, but an odd phone call with "Ted" tips off Oracle that something is amiss.
Canary cracks the safe deposit box and gets some disks, but not before "Clarissa" is discovered in the wrong place. Canary kindly tosses her wig (perhaps this will buy Clarissa some credibility when she denies all knowledge?) and runs for it. There is a very nice use of a low-level Canary Cry (after last issues full-throttle use of same) showing Dinah's range and skill with her recently restored superpower, but she's no slouch on the merely human athletics either, using some impressive moves to evade capture.
Canary once more delivers the goods to Oracle and shuffles off to rest up for the NEXT exciting mission while Oracle calls in the troops (Powergirl) to save Ted.
We wrap up the issue with Nightwing and Oracle (now reconciled after their uncomfy encounter a few issues back) figuring out an important piece of the Vesper Fairchild murder puzzle.
This is another good character issue, really showing a nice interplay between Oracle and Canary and Oracle and Ted. It offers enough pure BoP fun for readers not following the cross-over and integrates the cross-over pieces nicely so that they are understandable.
Birds of Prey #42
"Karen's Story", June 2002, written by Chuck Dixon, pencilled by Glenn Fabry, inked by Sandu Florea and Glenn Fabry [pp 1-4], colored by Wildstorm FX, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Matt Idelson, cover by Phil Noto.
At long last we get the mysterious story of what happened to make Powergirl so bitter towards Oracle. It's a story of terrorism and no-win situations with Powergirl stuck in the middle. It's also a story of Oracle doing what she frequently does which is to try to control a situation larger and more complex than she seems to really grasp, a habit that often causes more trouble than it prevents. It's also the story of a superhero (Powergirl) who is less able than she once was and who has to live with the fact that not only did she fail in her mission — a mission that turned unwinnable very quickly — but also that she would have been able to succeed had she been in possession of all the powers she once had. A poignant line "Was there a time when your best wasn't enough?" — a question asked of an unconscious Ted Kord as Powergirl sits by his hospital bed telling her story to no one — sums up the situation and the story very well.
Birds of Prey #43
"Blind Spot", July 2002, written by Chuck Dixon, pencilled by Dave Ross, inked by Andrew Pepoy, colored by Wildstorm FX, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Matt Idelson, cover by Phil Noto.
This issue is ostensibly another BoP entry in the Bruce Wayne saga, this time in the sequel Fugitive cross-over. This also introduces the wonderful Dave Ross as temporary penciller (can we keep him, DC? Pleeeeeeeeeeeeease?!). Dixon deals with the cross-over pieces quickly and efficiently while getting started on the set-up for his last BoP story arc throughout the balance of the issue.
It seems another time-travel conundrum lurks in the Birds' future, and Starhaven — the folks who sent Dinah back to the Viking age a few story arcs back — have called her in to consult again. Mixed into the the time travel mystery are other, more modern — and more scary — elements such as biological warfare. And mixed in is the character of Deathstroke, last seen in the pages of BoP escaping from Gorilla City.
Back at Starhaven, there is a bit of confusing dialogue which I couldn't guess the cause of. On page 13, the scientist calls Dinah "Cassandra" which was Oracle's alias during their Viking mission. It was very clear that Starhaven knew who Dinah was (Dinah Lance AND the Black Canary) when they recruited her for that mission, so why the codename now is a puzzler. But this doesn't affect the overall story — it's just one of those annoying "huh?" moments.
Dinah and Stephanie "Spoiler" Brown have a brief but illuminating conversation as Dinah packs to head out on her new and probably very dangerous mission. It shows Dinah as more level-headed and practical about such things as teenaged sidekicks than many of her fellow superheroes have proven to be. She has promised to show Spoiler a few things (superheroing things) but can't be bullied or blackmailed (a la the teenager method) into taking her along on truly life-threatening missions. But she manages to let Spoiler down while also making her feel good about her own abilities -- something that doesn't often happen when she's around the Batcrew. I hope future writers continue to play with this relationship because it really shows both Dinah and Stephanie's personalities in a interesting and fun way.
The issue ends on a note which I found rather hysterical in the emotional rather than humorous sense. While we already know Deathstroke is heading towards the same destination Dinah is, we find out that yet another interest is recruiting Eddie Fyers to go as well. As that negotiation is being concluded, Connor "Green Arrow II" Hawke demands to go along, too, in a way that seems a bit too dramatic considering the setup. So hysterical-funny, too. The end of the issue rang a bit silly because of the overreaction of his character to the situation at hand.
Birds of Prey #44
"Deadly Convergence", August 2002, written by Chuck Dixon, pencilled by Dave Ross, inked by Andrew Pepoy & Nelson DeCastro, colored by Wildstorm FX, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Matt Idelson, cover by Phil Noto.
We're back to BoP full-time as Dixon's final story arc gets properly underway. All the players are lining up to converge on the mysterious, time-lost island, and Ross turns in some really fabulous, atmospheric artwork.
Another character is added to the lineup, and, like Deathstroke, she's not someone who can really be trusted. Camorouge is another Dixon creation (like Connor, Mace [Militia] & Honey, Joe Gardner, and Pistolera and Viscious of the Ravens), and I believe she was last seen in the DCU back in "Where Angels Fear to Tread" — Oliver Queen's final adventure in the first Green Arrow series (which was, incidentally, the story in which he died).
So we have Dinah, Eddie Fyers, Connor Hawke, Camorouge, and Deathstroke — a motley crew, indeed — landing on a island lost in time... REALLY lost, it turns out, as we discover not only World War II era Japanese and American soldiers still believing it's the mid-1940s but also dinosaurs still thinking whatever it is dinosaurs thought.
Running from one of said dinosaurs, Dinah runs right into Deathstroke (small island!) and manages to take down the dino with her Cry after Slade's bullets fail to do the job. Fyers, Connor, and Camorouge meet up with their own prehistoric beastie and get separated, leaving us at the end of the issue with three mismatched teams: Dinah & Slade, Connor & Camorouge, and Eddie & a bunch of American GI POWs who think Roosevelt's still in office.
This was a fun, fun issue with (again I mention it) really fabulous art by Dave Ross. I also want to mention just how uniformly gorgeous Phil Noto's covers on this book are and have been since he started creating them.
Birds of Prey #45
"The Killing Ground", September 2002, written by Chuck Dixon, pencilled by Dave Ross, inked by Andrew Pepoy & Nelson DeCastro, colored by Wildstorm FX, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Matt Idelson, cover by Phil Noto.
In what seems to me to be typical Dixon fashion, the guest stars have taken over the story. And since a large number of the male characters Dixon uses (good AND bad guys) are macho jerks, this can be a fun that isn't. Deathstroke and Eddie Fyers are okay in small doses, but when they're given too much screen time, the cheesy dialogue really slows things down.
Meanwhile, another Dixon type, the untrustworthy female not-quite-villainess takes out Connor really easily, which seems pretty insulting to poor ol' nearly-kicked-Shiva's-butt GA II.
Canary does okay in this issue, keeping up both verbally and physically with Deathstroke, but Eddie is the focus of the "Green Arrow" portion of the story.
After the first issue of this tale which was pretty fun and engaging, this one just seems to move along but doesn't really do much.
I'm looking forward to the wrap-up issue in hopes that the story ends on a bang!
Also, where was Oracle?
Birds of Prey #46
"Cretaceous Picnic", October 2002, written by Chuck Dixon, pencilled by Dave Ross, inked by Nelson DeCastro, colored by Wildstorm FX, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Matt Idelson, cover by Phil Noto.
I hoped for better after the first issue of this three-parter, but this story only really works as a full-on action/adventure. Not a lot of logic, and far too many characters for anyone to really get developed as more than a "then he did this, then he did this, then..." The Birds do practically nothing in this issue with Babs only showing up at the end and Dinah standing around a lot and steering a boat.
The art is very, very pretty, I just wish as a final arc for Dixon, the story had been one of his best rather than just okay.
Birds of Prey #47
"The Chaotic Code, Part One: Icarus Rising", November 2002, written by Terry Moore, pencilled by Amanda Connor, inked by Jimmy Palmiotti, colored by Hi-Fi, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Lysa Hawkins, cover by Phil Noto.
This entire issue was a breath of fresh air. Everything except Phil Noto's gorgeous cover art and Albert De Guzman's steady lettering is new and ALL of it is crisp and clean. New writer, artists, and editor Lysa Hawkins, and the book feels different from the first panel.
This is the sort of story that plays to the strengths of both Birds. There's action, mayhem, politics, science, and intrigue.
Dinah gets to inflict some down-home butt-whupping to a plain, old bad guy criminal (which is such a nice change of pace, harking back to the early BoP one-shot days when the balance of bad guys tilted toward the non-super-powered scumbags rather than the metahuman crazy people).
Artists Amanda Connor & Jimmy Palmiotti do a really beautiful job on the entire book, especially brightening up both the Birds' looks. Dinah has a new mutant version of all her old costumes which is actually a good version of the hideous biker-*itch outfit she wore (briefly) in her short-lived eponymous series back in the early 90s blended with the current costume and her classic fishnets look. I like it a lot, actually. I also like the fact that no one comments on it. Dinah just changes her costume as she wants to -- no big speech, no fanfare, no announcement on the cover, just a new outfit. Cool.
Oracle is also shown being active and actually networking and researching in a way that shows the work of it. She gets a new wheelchair (I got the impression it's supposed to be one of her "fleet" to be used when going out and about so that she has full mobility regardless of the accessibility of the buildings she encounters) which she clearly built herself (cool again), and Dinah's "civilian outfit" is a nice, plain black version of her fightin' duds.
The interplay between Babs & Dinah is wonderful, comfortable, and amusing. There's a cute little visual nod to Terry Moore's regular title Strangers in Paradise (Dinah's seen reading it), and the issue ends on a pair of cliffhangers, what's-gonna-happen-next! notes.
This is a great issue to jump onto the series with. HIGHLY recommended.
Birds of Prey #48
"The Chaotic Code, Part Two: Crash & Burn", December 2002, written by Terry Moore, pencilled by Amanda Connor, inked by Jimmy Palmiotti, colored by Hi-Fi, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Lysa Hawkins, cover by Phil Noto.
Whee! What fun this issue is. A blast from a super-girl with mysterious healing powers, brings Barbara to her feet — literally!
Madison, the super-girl in question, is able to fix physical disorders, putting the "repaired" person in prime physical condition — temporarily. The events immediately following Barbara's encounter with Madison's powers lead her to leap into action, a la Batgirl.
The art is fun and conveys the action and frenzy of the escape scene without feeling cluttered or confused. Barbara seizes the moment with both hands and LOVES the adventure in spite of the danger.
Dinah, meanwhile, is trying to figure out what is even going on. She's been sort of kidnapped and is being held by a vanload of thugs — government mooks? Terrorists? She's pretty sure it's something political, but she can't get any answers out of them.
So, she finally gives up and decides to escape, but, unable to see outside of the van, she mistimes her Cry.
Right about at the same time, Barbara's zap of health is wearing off.
So part two ends as part one did: with two big ol' cliffhangers.