Reviewing the Birds of Prey
Year Three: 2001
Birds of Prey #25
"Old Habits", January 2001, written by Chuck Dixon, art by Butch Guice, colored by Shannon Blanchard, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Matt Idelson, cover by Butch Guice and David Smith.
New BoP editor Matt Idelson oversees a very nice transitional issue which finally allows Dinah to go on a successful vacation! Yay! A superhero goes on a successful vacation! I don't think we really need to discuss the issue anymore since this is such an unheard of situation...
Case in point? Babs and Ted Kord go on a less successful joy ride (less successful in staying a joy ride, that is) in the Beetle Bug (or whatever it's called) where they end up having to save the day! And Ted reluctantly dons the mantle of the Beetle again (he's retired, remember?) which may or may not be a harbinger of things to come. We do get a very cool splash page shot of Ted in costume out of it, though.
In fact, since I haven't mentioned it in a few reviews, I just want to say how terrific Butch Guice's artwork is on this book. Both Oracle and Black Canary have very consistent and defined looks and they always look great. The details are fabulous, and he draws some of the most realistic comic panels in the business. Great work!
In spite of the danger they encounter during their joy ride, Babs and Ted have fun and establish the parameters of their friendship very nicely; Dinah gets to relax and have a good time, eat heartily, and generally enjoy herself.
Next issue sees the Birds joining in a Bativerse crossover for the first time (yay!) where BC meets up with none other than BANE!!! Yikes!
Birds of Prey #26
"The Suitor", February 2001, written by Chuck Dixon, art by Butch Guice, colored by Shannon Blanchard, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Matt Idelson, cover by Butch Guice and David Smith.
An odd entry into the "Batman Dies" theme — the Birds' first participation in a Bativerse crossover of any sort since the start of their monthly series — but a good entry in the series nevertheless.
There are some really nice moments in this story — especially the by-play between Canary and Bane — and artist Guice is getting a firmer grip with every issue on his Canary "look." There are hints of a storyline to come involving Batman's nemesis Ra's Al Ghul which promises to be a very cool one for Canary in particular. A solid entry in the series and a fun one to boot.
Birds of Prey #27
"Officer Down, Part Three: Armed and Dangerous", March 2001, written by Chuck Dixon, pencilled by A. Steven Harris, inked by John Nyberg, colored by Noelle Giddings, lettered by Willie Schubert, edited by Matt Idelson and Bob Schreck, cover by Durwin Talon
This issue doesn't tie in to the regular BoP series at all and is not even a BoP take on the "Officer Down" story arc which was handled uniquely in that each "Officer Down" entry simply took over the book it was featured in during that month (Robin, for instance, barely cameoed in Robin). This is not to say it isn't good, but since it has no bearing on the series, I will not be reviewing it.
Birds of Prey #28
"History Lesson, Part One: Time to Kill", April 2001, written by Chuck Dixon, art by Butch Guice, colored by Shannon Blanchard, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Matt Idelson, cover by Butch Guice and David Smith.
We're back on board the good ship Birds of Prey with this issue and the highlight of the story is Babs and Dinah hanging out! They know a lot about each other, but as in any friendship that has developed at a distance (penpals, e-mail pals, etc.) there is a great deal they don't know about each other. The familiarity mixed with unfamiliarity of these situations is nicely captured by Dixon's dialogue and Guice's really lovely artwork. The girls are both very expressively and energetically portrayed, and one gets the feeling they'd be a lot of fun to hang out with.
Running concurrently with this girls-night-out is a mystery involving a 1,000 year old artifact with the Black Canary's likeness on it, the fatal return of Cheshire from the past, and Vikings.
What I liked best about this issue is that we finally get some sense of the interior life of the Black Canary. I've been feeling very strongly over the past several months that Dixon has not displayed any sense of who Dinah is on an emotional level. She's lacked any kind of internal development in the series since the one-shots era. But this issue is the turning point. Her conversation with Babs hints at untapped depths, and things only get better in the next issue. A highly recommended issue.
Birds of Prey #29
"History Lesson, Part Two: Valhalla, Baby!", May 2001, written by Chuck Dixon, art by Butch Guice, colored by Shannon Blanchard, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Matt Idelson, cover by Butch Guice and David Smith.
Analyzing my dissatisfaction with the Black Canary's portrayal in this title since the monthly got started twenty-nine months ago, I'd decided that what was missing was internal monologue. That's what well-developed comic characters have going for them! And as if he'd read my mind (I KNOW he works well ahead, so perhaps he was just anticipating me ;-), here in this terrific issue, Canary's internal voice is finally heard.
Babs has a couple of great moments in this issue, but it's really all Canary's game. She's completely on her own for the first time since the series began and she rolls with the punches like the pro she is. In grand Black Canary tradition, she gets knocked out in a fight (this happened in every single Golden Age Black Canary solo story... every single one...), but she bounces back, finds the time-lost Ravens, and then plays them like fish to keep herself alive and her plan going.
The art is the best yet from Guice and Canary and Babs both look amazing. I LOVE that Dinah's in the long-legged version of her costume and the long, stylish, and very professional-looking coat she's wearing over it is a cool touch. Babs pulls out all of her creditials and gets into the control end of things at STAR Labs (harking back to her Suicide Squad beginnings) where we all know she'll soon be in charge. Guice has this little head-dip thing he does when drawing Babs which is just bursting with personality. His take on Dinah seems to be heavily influenced by her lovely, rather exotic Silver Age look (of which I highly approve) and just becomes more sure in this issue.
The story is strong — exciting and intriguing. Full of action, hints of romance, danger, and spy skullduggery. It's great and with the first two issues in this 3-part story arc being so strong, I'm thinking this might be the best story for the Birds yet by the time it's done.
Birds of Prey #30
"History Lesson, Part Three: Time and Time and Time Again", June 2001, written by Chuck Dixon, art by Butch Guice, colored by Shannon Blanchard, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Matt Idelson, cover by Butch Guice and David Smith.
Inner monologue or not, This issue doesn't really deliver on the promise of the preceding issues in this arc. The story is rushed and confused with even the characters bringing up obvious plot holes. The art is excellent — Butch draws one of the best Cheshires I've ever seen — and the colors are especially vibrant, but the story just sort of finishes.
Though I got no sense that a great deal of time passed while Canary was in the past (I was thinking maybe a couple of days — at the absolute most a week), at the end of the story it is implied that Dinah's apparently brief fling with Jon — a big, strapping Viking straight out of a time-travel romance novel — was a Great Love for Jon and possibly for both of them.
Dinah also fails to change history so Cheshire still makes it through to kill a bunch of people at STAR Labs. And so absolutely nothing actually happens in this story arc. A really big disappointment, story-wise.
Birds of Prey #31
"The Big Romance", July 2001, written by Chuck Dixon, guest-pencilled by Mike McDonnell, guest-inked by Rodney Ramos, colored by Gloria Vasquez, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Matt Idelson, cover by J. G. Jones and Alex Sinclair.
Jason Bard returns in this initially light-hearted issue. The story opens with an explanation of how (and when) Pistolera and Vicious return to the present, and then its on to a Bogie/Bacall scenario with Jason and Babs playing the respective roles. A very nice, mood-building, and effective scene with the spell nicely broken by a well-timed retort from Oracle.
But then the mystery begins. Babs hires Jason to stalk Dinah (okay, not exactly stalk) without telling Jason that Dinah's the target. It is believable that Jason wouldn't recognize Dinah right away — he only saw her very briefly and in a shadowed room before he was temporarily blinded all the way back in issue #2 — and both she and he figure out each other's identities soon after they meet up on the French Riviera.
And at this point, I have to ask: the French Riviera? Does that really seem like a Dinah-destination to you? And even if it is, what's she doing in the casino alone when she claims to have met the perfect man? Why isn't he there with her? Why is Babs having her followed? What the HECK is going on here?
And Jason is just as baffled as we are. The mystery deepens when Babs sends him to spy on this mystery man. After pulling a 007 scuba swim out to the guy's yacht, we discover at least a small part of the mystery: Dinah's dating Ra's Al Ghul.
This issue also features a guest penciller and he does a competent job. Gloria Vasquez has returned as the colorist and she does a lovely job, but she seems to have forgotten that Dinah's not a natural blonde ;-) and Jones and Sinclair give us a really gorgeous cover. This is a fairly long 5-part story arc for the Birds, running through #35, so we'll see where it takes us. At this point, I'm more confused than intrigued.
Birds of Prey #32
"The Stray", August 2001, written by Chuck Dixon, guest-pencilled by Mike McDonnell, guest-inked by Rodney Ramos, colored by Gloria Vasquez, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Matt Idelson. , cover by Phil Noto.
Dinah walks in right where the last issue ended (with Jason getting the snot kicked out of him by Ra's Al Ghul's goons). She calls them off and buys a rather unconvincing explanation by Ra's as to why they were kicking the snot out of Jason, and then boats him back over to Cannes. And then she finds out who sent Jason in the first place.
Dinah proceeds to ask a bunch of very valid questions: "What is the idea of having me followed?" Yeah, what is the idea, Babs? "Don't you trust me?" Still waiting for the answer, Babsy. "Don't I have a right to a private life?" Again, hmm? Babs apologizes but doesn't explain why she had Dinah followed in the first place. She didn't know about Ra's Al Ghul — his being Dinah's beau was a big shock to her, so why? Maybe by the end of the arc, we'll get the explanation for this, but it is a head-shaker, and the fact that the story started in medias res plagued it last issue and is problematic for the reader in this issue, too.
By the time Barbara tells Dinah her boyfriend is Ra's Al Ghul, Dinah doesn't believe her and accuses her of being paranoid. On my first read-through of this issue, I completely thought that was a stupid reaction, but while I still think Dinah would take such a claim more seriously, it seems slightly more probable — considering how ill-treated she was by Babs — that she might be so furious she wouldn't listen.
BUT (and this is a big one) there are things that should have clued Dinah — the daughter of not one but two excellent detectives and a woman who was trained by the JSA from young childhood as well — in to who her boyfriend might be. Bane (in issue #26) made several references to Ra's and to Talia. While Ra's is using a fake name, Talia is not. "Raymond" has a goon entourage... do non-supervillain European counts generally have entourages OR goons? There are just things that should've set Dinah's instincts to buzzing way before Babs told her "Raymond's" true identity. This is a very frustrating story for me, and I'm hoping the resolution makes up for some of the boneheaded behaviors both Babs and Dinah are exhibiting in this arc. I wouldn't trust these two to wash my car let alone save the world.
Babs does, however, manage to save Jason from Ra's minions (who, of course, were sent after him on the QT after Ra's placated Dinah's worries), and the issue ends with Talia (acting oddly young and silly when she's got to be at least Dinah's age (31 according the DC's 12-year timeline) giving Dinah a bit of a shock.
Guest penciller McDonnell does an even better job this issue with some really nice close-up shots of Dinah and Talia especially. Gloria's still getting Canary's eyebrows wrong, but hey... and new cover artist (at least for the rest of this arc) Phil Noto's stylized and elegant cover is really striking. I especially like his sophisticated and formidable-looking Oracle.
Birds of Prey #33
"The Courtship", September 2001, written by Chuck Dixon, art by Butch Guice, colored by Gloria Vasquez, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Matt Idelson, cover by Phil Noto.
"Raymond" and Dinah have sailed on to the Caribbean (so a good deal of time has passed — this is a bit of a hike by boat from the Mediterranean) a fact the returning Butch Guice clues us into with one of his signature opening splash pages. Right up front, I must say that this is simply the best work Butch has done yet on this title. Dinah looks amazing in every single panel — a real, beautiful, and elegant woman. A nicely dramatic but dialogue-free opening sequence sets a good, foreboding mood. Butch's art makes a huge difference in the story's tone and impact. While I still am annoyed over the way Dinah was portrayed in the last issue especially (as a daytime talk-show-fodder lovelorn bubble brain who won't believe anything bad about her man!), this issue shows a more intelligent Dinah who's beginning to use her brain and not just her heart.
Butch makes a good case for Dinah falling for Ra's, drawing him as a suave, sophisticated Sean Connery-type in prime physical shape — and the last part of the issue where Dinah follows Ra's and Talia, her suspicions finally roused enough for her to act on them, are cinematic and tense and exciting.
This arc is still unsatisfying with too many unanswered questions going straight to everyone's motivations, but this is the best issue of the three and gives me some hope that the arc will actually provide some answers by the time we reach its end. (Also, Dinah has black eyebrows again ;-)
Birds of Prey #34
"Heartbreaker", October 2001, written by Chuck Dixon, art by Butch Guice, colored by Gloria Vasquez, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Matt Idelson, cover by Phil Noto.
Dinah has finally found out that Babs wasn't lying to her about "Raymond's" true identity, but not in time to avoid getting caught by Ra's al Ghul and his nutsy daughter Talia (not to mention the minions).
Ra's pushes his suit in spite of Dinah's complete disillusionment with him (now that she's accepted reality) and things pretty much go from there.
Oracle, meanwhile, has gathered together an also-ran team to help her rescue Dinah from the villain's clutches.
A great deal of this issue then is made up of fight scenes of various sorts — Powergirl & Militia vs. Ra's's minions and Dinah vs. Ubu.
There is a major disconnect between the art and the story in several panels. Early on while Ra's is threatening her, Dinah is bantering back in her usual way, but the expressions Butch has given her imply she is blithely unaware that Ra's is a MAJOR threat — she's simply too blase about it.
Overall the art is good but not up to the previous issues' high standard. And the story itself — the entire arc, actually — fails to make a case for itself. This story arc exists to get Dinah into the Lazarus Pit so she can be healed of all the Grell-Era injuries she suffered. A great goal, and it's just fabulous to have a restored, mint condition Black Canary back in business, but the getting-there deserved a better story.
On a final note, I have had more than one wheelchair-bound person comment to me on the ridiculousness of Oracle's running around Ra's's caverns in her chair. These are comics, granted, but the line between suspension of disbelief and downright silliness was really pushed by this story on several levels.
Birds of Prey #35
"The Shout", November 2001, written by Chuck Dixon, art by William Rosado, inked by Keith Champagne, colored by Gloria Vasquez, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Matt Idelson, cover by Phil Noto.
She's baaaaaack! The Black Canary utters the shout heard 'round the world in the opening panels of this issue, and there are some really nice moments overall in this final installment of the overlong and disappointing "Big Romance" story arc.
Since Butch Guice ended his BoP run last issue, guest penciller William Rosado steps in to wrap up the tale, and he does a nice job. Though overall Butch has a more elegant style, Rosado's first splash shot of Dinah in full cry is much more dramatic than Butch's reveal panel of her coming out of the Pit in full cry last issue.
Dinah, it turns out, is a mean sort of crazy, and she insults and abuses Oracle and Beetle until Oracle's forced to knock her out with her taser gun.
Once again, Oracle's running around a cavern in a wheelchair... apparently the DCU has some nicely-floored, even, and code-friendly villain's lairs!
As we have far too much lately, we spend time with Militia and his sidekick Honey and with Powergirl. Powergirl is of some interest, but every panel spent on Militia and Honey's banter is wasted. There's little point in their being in the issue to begin with and what they do accomplish could easily be shown in a panel or two without any dialogue.
Meanwhile we get some more glimpses into Powergirl's bitterness at Oracle over their unspecified history, but what she says doesn't mesh with what we've been shown of her current relationship with Oracle. This seems meant to show us that Powergirl is being pretty severely irrational about whatever it was that made her so resentful, but it just makes that thread even more confusing.
In the end, everyone escapes and makes it back to their homes. Dinah and Babs have a weird moment where Dinah apologizes to Babs but the reverse doesn't happen... seems to me that Babs — ultimately right or not — made some very poor decisions well before she had any reason to suspect Dinah was involved in more than a possibly unwise romance.
The issue ends with teasers for upcoming storylines, most notably the mega-DC-crossover Joker: The Last Laugh which the Birds play a healthy part in.
Again, this was a disappointing arc. On the other hand, Phil Noto's covers — especially this issues's — are incredible!
Birds of Prey #36
"Canary Caged", December 2001, written by Chuck Dixon, art by James Fry, inked by Andrew Pepoy, colored by Gloria Vasquez, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Matt Idelson, cover by ???.
It's tie-in time! Starting with this issue, the Birds start being the crossover queens of the DCU. Since Birds of Prey scribe Chuck Dixon is responsible for the Last Laugh crossover, the Birds play a nice role in the entire story, and Canary gets the starring role in this issue.
Canary is trapped in DC's uber prison the Slab in the midst of a Joker-inspired riot. As if that weren't bad enough, all the inmates have been "jokerized" — they're all green-haired, white-skinned, and nutso.
Now this is an interesting concept that is actually a big visual problem. Everyone looks alike, and this causes a problem during the story when Canary refers back to incidents in BoP's internal history (which involves one of Guy Gardner's several clones/twins/whatever, Joe Gardner) but the allusion is pretty much lost because Joe Gardner doesn't look like Joe Gardner so one wonders what she's talking about, and the joke falls flat.
This everyone-looks-alike problem plagued the entire crossover, actually.
The story doesn't really stand alone, though it is a nice look at Canary being proactive and self-possessed in a no-win situation.
A comment on the art :: what were they THINKING getting this guy to draw BoP? Witchblade or Fathom, maybe, but BIRDS OF PREY??? It was extraordinarily distracting and not right for the characters or the tone of the story.