Reviewing the Birds of Prey
Year One: 1999
Birds of Prey #1
"Long Time Gone", January 1999, written by Chuck Dixon, pencilled by Greg Land, inked by Drew Geraci, colored by Gloria Vasquez, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Jordan B. Gorfinkle, cover by Greg Land and Brian Stelfreeze.
Wow. Great art, great characterizations, great setups to about three or four plots and/or subplots, and lovely touches all throughout the book (Dinah has Asian art hanging on her walls harking back to her years with Ollie and his many connections with things Eastern (most notably his two bi-racial children, one of them Connor) including pictures of canaries and she's let her bleached-blonde hair grow out so she's looking more like her old Canary self again; Oracle now has a "Nightwing" doll to go with her ubiquitous "Batgirl" doll). Dinah seems younger than she has in the previous one-shots (by DC's own timing and without any other way around it unless they decide she's gone through a time warp and skipped some birthdays, she is at the very least twenty-nine years old), but this could just be the way Land is drawing her. Dinah and Babs have a very nice, friendly relationship which still has some tension but seems to have smoothed out after their little talk at the end of "Wolves." Good to see see women portrayed not only working together but getting along! I love it, and, of course I'm looking forward to #2. No signs of the Gotham quake, so who knows when in that chronology this story takes place. Also, Dinah apparently has a house or an apartment somewhere... where? Is she living in Gotham?
The first of the most notable plot elements which are set up in this premiere issue are Babs' e-mail pal who also, apparently, has her under surveillance. So this is creepy. Already the fans are making guesses as to whom the e-buddy is some even think it's Nightwing which I cannot imagine (I mean, Nightwing? A stalker?). I have my own, vague theory which I won't posit here. The second is, of course, the main story. Dinah takes a cruise to an exotic island paradise... oh, heck, you KNOW it ain't gonna be that easy. A heavily armed petty dictator-type with many illegal fingers in slimy pots and an ex-flame of Babs' are involved. Good, solid cliffhanger ending, too. Don't miss it. It's a keeper.
Birds of Prey #2
"One of Those Days", February 1999, written by Chuck Dixon, pencilled by Greg Land, inked by Drew Geraci, colored by Gloria Vasquez, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Jordan B. Gorfinkle, cover by Greg Land and Brian Stelfreeze.
Picking up right where the last issue left off, Dinah gets captured by the bad guys and much mayhem and danger ensues. We learn a bit more about Babs' ex-flame, Jason Bard (he was a Batgirl supporting character back in the 1970's in Detective) who has my favorite line from this issue "THE Black Canary? Wow." 'Bout time she got her due! But in the end, Dinah's still a prisoner and in even more trouble than before. Also, Hellhound another fan of her talents is eager to battle this worthy opponent. Babs' e-stalker puts in another non-appearance and the foreboding builds. The "island paradise" story arc ends with next month's issue. I'm looking forward to it.
Birds of Prey #3
"Hounded", March 1999, written by Chuck Dixon, pencilled by Greg Land, inked by Drew Geraci, colored by Gloria Vasquez, lettered by Constanza & De Guzman, edited by Jordan B. Gorfinkle, cover by Greg Land and Brian Stelfreeze.
After her initial panicked reaction in #2, Canary has her equilibrium back and takes matters into her own hands. Though Oracle is working hard on her end to rescue her partner, turns out the Canary needs no rescuing. I like to see that in a competent hero! Not only does she escape her captors but she brings along the blinded Jason Bard who in a nice parallel to Oracle turns out not to be so handicapped as one might think. Canary has a healthy respect for her opponents, but she knows her own capabilities, too, and girlfriend knows she can take 'em (with a little Bardic help, that is). A good, kinda tense, action-filled finale to the first BoP adventure. Next up: The Ravens return.
Birds of Prey #4
"The Ravens Strike", April 1999, written by Chuck Dixon, pencilled by Greg Land, inked by Drew Geraci, colored by Gloria Vasquez, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Jordan B. Gorfinkle, cover by Greg Land and Brian Stelfreeze.
Can't a girl enjoy a well-deserved vacation? Not if she's a superhero. Black Canary heads to Minnesota to what was apparently a traditional Lance family vacation destination in order to enjoy a little R&R after breaking up her umpteenth slavery ring. And if that sounds like a dull setup, try this: So much happens in this issue, I can't even tell you all of it! But a few bits include: A conversation with Oracle drops a few more hints about the possibility of a romantic future for the former Batgirl and the former Boy Wonder. Canary accidentally and apparently oblivously guesses Oracle's past identity, and she ticks Babs off by asking to be set up with Nightwing. More hints are dropped about Babs's stalker(s) and her e-pal (who may or may not be the same person). Oh, and the Ravens working for the villainous Kobra gang are at the same resort along with a big, ol' lake monster. For those of us who wondered, too, Chuck lets us know that our BoP tales are running concurrently with No Man's Land. Great cliffhanger ending, too.
Birds of Prey #5
"Monster", May 1999, written by Chuck Dixon, pencilled by Greg Land, inked by Drew Geraci, colored by Gloria Vasquez, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Jordan B. Gorfinkle, cover by Greg Land and Brian Stelfreeze.
How does this story rock? Let me count the ways: GREAT ART! WOW! I'm sorry, guys, but this book is seriously gorgeous, and I couldn't be happier. The BoP titles have always been blessed by strong art teams, but Land, Geraci, and Vasquez (plus Stelreeze working with Land on those killer covers) are definitely the best yet and they just keep getting better. Birds look so good and like real women, too. The story, slightly fuzzy science aside, is interesting and (thank goodness) so far doesn't involve breaking up any slave rings ;-) Canary has one heck of a cool fight scene, the dragnet is tightening on Oracle's, *ahem*, borrowing of military computer memory space (at least, we are to believe Oracle is the target), and the Ravens are finding themselves up against some extremely unexpected adversaries. Plus, Canary dons her costume and gets down to the superheroing business at hand just before, again, the issue ends on a nice cliffhanging moment. So far so great. The "Ravens" storyline wraps with the June issue and is followed by at least two stand-alone stories in July and August.
Birds of Prey #6
"Time's Rainbow", June 1999, written by Chuck Dixon, pencilled by Greg Land, inked by Drew Geraci, colored by Gloria Vasquez, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Jordan B. Gorfinkle, cover by Greg Land and Brian Stelfreeze.
Batman! You know, I really did figure that it was Batman, but the mystery of who the email buddy is remains to be solved. Great surprise ending to the hacker-tracker military dudes subplot that's been burbling along since issue #1. Meanwhile, Canary socks it to the Ravens while Oracle natters on about how dangerous they are (which is a funny and revealing bit about our heroines' relationship, too), and the lake monster saves the day! A good wrap-up to a good three-parter.
Birds of Prey #7
"The Villain", July 1999, written by Chuck Dixon, pencilled by Pete Krause, inked by Drew Geraci, colored by Gloria Vasquez, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Jordan B. Gorfinkle, cover by Greg Land and Brian Stelfreeze.
This is what's known in the comic game as a fill-in issue but on the pencilling side of things only. And a very nice job Mr. Krause did, too (even if the Birds' jaws look a bit squarer than usual ;-) This story reintroduces the long-time gone "Canary Cry" though this time it's a technical wonder and not a metahuman mutation. Neat, neat, neat little moment there. And the story is a good one, too. A stand-alone story about Canary's attempt to rescue a dictator from assassins so that he can stand trial for his crimes. She has understandably mixed feelings about the entire situation, and in the end she's left with a lot of soul-searching to do. A solid entry in the series, but oh, next month... NEXT MONTH! Nightwing guest stars. 'Nuff said.
Birds of Prey #8
"On Wings", August 1999, written by Chuck Dixon, pencilled by Greg Land, inked by Drew Geraci, colored by Gloria Vasquez, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Jordan B. Gorfinkle, cover by Greg Land and Brian Stelfreeze.
Wow. I mean WOW! This is probably the best comic book I've ever read. An amazingly nuanced, subtle, and beautiful character story which brings Richard "Nightwing" Grayson and Barbara "Oracle" Gordon closer than ever. The art team obviously was completely inspired by the material for even the always superlative Land, Geraci, & Vasquez outdo all their previous work on this book. I love good comic book art, but I don't always stop and notice the pictures when a story is carrying me along. But everything held my attention here: the story was so genuine and heartfelt and the art is, too. Every picture deserves second and third looks at least. For the first time, I wanted to buy two copies of a comic so I could have one to read over and over and one to save for posterity. Do not miss this. I say that a lot, but I mean it even more this time. This, my friends, is the way it should be done. A perfect issue.
Also concerning this issue: What follows is the word from Drew Geraci, the BoP inker extraordinaire himself, on this ish:
I'm currently in the middle of [inking] #8, which prominently features Oracle with guest-star Nightwing. It's one of those nice breather "getting to know the cast better" issues that I've always enjoyed. I'd go into more detail, but I have to restrain or get in trouble with [Jordan B. Gorfinkel], my editor . . .
I just received the final pages to BOP #8, and I want you to know that it's a very touching story. I've read way too many comics since 1974 (you do the math), so I'm quite jaded. However, I think Chuck wrote a real standout story with moments of riveting anger, humor, discomfort and disarming warmth. Greg's lush pencils breathe life into it, so it's my and Gloria's job not to drop the ball. Keep the kleenex handy.
Birds of Prey #9
"Girls Rules", September 1999, written by Chuck Dixon, pencilled by Greg Land, inked by Drew Geraci, guest-colored by James Sinclair, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Jordan B. Gorfinkle, cover by Greg Land and Brian Stelfreeze.
We're back to a multi-part tale of action and adventure! The Canary sees non-stop action in this installment, outwitting (and out-teching with yet another appearance of her "canary cry" gadget which first appeared in issue #7) the Iron Brigade, breaking into a high-tech prison, and rescuing someone who doesn't seem to be the poor prisoner of conscience Oracle's information paints him. Meanwhile, our hacker-hunting military friends are regrouping after their ignominious attack on Blockbuster's HQ, so Oracle might still be in for a small invasion of her own. Though a lot happens and more than one storyline is moved along (plus we get an update on Jason Bard's condition), this is basically a set-up story for what will follow. A note on the "canary cry" device: It seems Dinah though she's lost her meta sonic cry ability has retained her immunity to sonic sounds, so she can level her opponents and be unfazed herself. Cool. Nice cliffhanger ending and great art work, as usual.
Birds of Prey #10
"The Wrong Guy", October 1999, written by Chuck Dixon, pencilled by Greg Land, inked by Drew Geraci, colored by Gloria Vasquez, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Jordan B. Gorfinkle & Joseph Illidge, cover by Greg Land and Brian Stelfreeze.
As Canary says, the Iron Brigade can't catch a break. They bust in on our heroine and her two rescuees and proceed to get seriously pounded apparently by Guy Gardner! It turns out not to be Guy, however, but his very genetically enhanced alien clone. Canary's history with anyone named "Gardner" isn't too great, but Joe (as the clone is called) does yank her out of the fire zone just in time. He's if possible even more confident and obnoxious than his progenitor which leads to the best "ew!" take in comic book history. Oh, and Oracle seems to have started a war by sending Canary on this mission in the first place. A mysterious, slimy-looking guy has apparently set our heroines up but we don't know who he is or why he's done this... yet. And aGAIN with the cliffhanger finale! Next issue's art is by Dick Giordano and Mark Probst. Countdown to Land & Geraci bidding the Birds farewell has begun (*wah!*)
Birds of Prey #11
"State of War", November 1999, written by Chuck Dixon, guest- pencilled by Dick Giordano, guest-inked by Mark Propst, colored by Gloria Vasquez, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Jordan B. Gorfinkle & Joseph Illidge, cover by Greg Land and Brian Stelfreeze.
We only have a couple more issues (13 & 14) pencilled 'n' inked by Land & Geraci. But this is a nicely-done guest job by Giordano (who inked Canary back in the Silver Age when she was hanging around with the "Hard-Traveling Heroes" and pencilled the Birds during their one-shot era on the excellent "Wolves" issue [see below]) and Propst (about whom I'm afraid I know less).
This issue specifically and this story arc in general take Birds of Prey into little-traveled territory for a Bat-book there are metas in the story. First off, the insufferable (and he's even more so than his progenitor a feat of superhuman proportions right there!) Joe Gardner who's bent on taking over Koroscova, and second of all and a nice suprise it was, too "here I come to save the DAAAAAY!" (Oh, wait... that's Mighty Mouse) Superman! I liked that little moment (though I thought maybe Supes would've been a little bit... I dunno, nicer about the whole thing. He and Dinah have known each other for a loooong time and started their careers at about the same time and were in the JLA together and all. But perhaps I read a bit too much testiness into his "I hope you can handle it from here, Dinah"). I loved the splash page where Supes knocks Joe out with one punch (something we've all wanted to do from the moment he showed up, I think ;-) And "the things I do for world peace" moment was funny.
It's notable that Oracle apparently tries to kill Joe she's that desperate to fix her accidental war-starting that she'll try to off the guy?! Or does she not consider him under the same rules since he's an alien clone? One to ponder. This story was more action than anything else (character development, etc.) but it was a solid entry. Not the best, but a nice, solid entry. The teaser ending seems set to lead us into even more of the same meta-strewn territory, and other indicators (Previews reports on what the upcoming issues will deal with, for example) seem to point to our mysterious, reptilian meddler having some connection with Darkseid and Apokolips.
Giordano again guest-pencils issue #12 (with a different guest-inker), and then Land & Geraci are back for their final issues #13 & #14. New regular art-guy Jackson Guice will start his run on the book with the January-release #15.
Birds of Prey #12
"Hellbound Train", December 1999, written by Chuck Dixon, guest- pencilled by Dick Giordano, guest-inked by Jordi Ensign, colored by Gloria Vasquez, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Joseph Illidge , cover by Greg Land and Brian Stelfreeze.
Another nice job by Giordano (but I have to wonder if his inkers are quite up to the task we get a few gorgeous, classic Silver Age close-ups of Dinah where Giordano's skill is clear but a lot of the regular scene pictures are less well-defined with opportunities missed for an inker to really show his stuff).
This issue starts up a new story arc taking the Birds quite literally into another world. Guest star Catwoman is in her usual mode of seeming as much ally as enemy. By and large a setup story for the rest of the arc, it nevertheless shows off Dinah's abilty to think fast and keep moving no matter how the odds keep piling up against her success. She flashes not only her JSA credentials but her JLA credentials as well in a (successful) attempt to get the good guys to take her seriously. By the end of the story Dinah, Catwoman, the train they were attempting to save (or perhaps not in Catwoman's case ;-), and everyone onboard it has been boom-tubed on off of Earth, Oracle's systems have been fried by the feedback (which begs the question why she works with Orion & Barda who have boom tube capabilities perhaps its the difference between Apokolips tech & New Genesis... yeaaaah. That's gotta be it ;-). Oracle rings up Powergirl (who's hanging out at home in full costume Oracle must've caught her on her way out the window), and we're left hanging on the edge of the cliff again. Greg & Drew are back next issue!