Reviewing the Birds of Prey
Year Two: 2000
Birds of Prey #13
"Apokolips Express, Part One", January 2000, written by Chuck Dixonco- pencilled by Greg Land and Patrick Zircher (pp 11-15 & 21-22), inked by Drew Geraci (with assists from Ray Snyder & Keith Barnett), colored by Gloria Vasquez, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Joseph Illidge , cover by Greg Land and Brian Stelfreeze.
I really like Giordano's work, but it's great to have Land & Geraci back (and kudos to Zircher on knockin' one out of the park with that gorgeous shot of Powergirl), albeit briefly. This story is almost all Canary & the aftermath of her boom tube trip to Apokolips. It doesn't look good for our heroine. While the military types dig in and prepare to fight off the forces of Darkseid, Canary and Catwoman try to find a way off the firepit-riddled planet by chasing down what turns out to be a pretty pathetic parademon in a seriously high-tech trenchcoat and trying to nab his mother box. But it's broken. Meanwhile, the military types (led by a redhead named Dina — how confusing is that?) decide to take a chance on teaming up with their prisoners in hopes of beating back the forces of Apokolips — not necessarily a good plan. One of the villains says, "I saw that movie too, lady." and a small debate has raged on WHAT movie? I thnk he was speaking metaphorically — the truce as plot device is quite common in film, TV, and books. The whole issue looks fabulous, but I want to especially praise Gloria Vasquez's colors in this issue — wonderful. This road trip wraps up next issue along with Greg & Drew's BoP tenure.
Birds of Prey #14
"Apokolips Express, Part Two", February 2000, written by Chuck Dixonco, pencilled by Greg Land and Patrick Zircher (pp 5-12), inked by Drew Geraci, colored by Gloria Vasquez, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Joseph Illidge , cover by Greg Land and Brian Stelfreeze.
I've never been a fan of Jack Kirby (I know, I KNOW! I'm a blasphemer in the comics church), although I think Darkseid done well is one of the best villains ever (see JLA: Rock of Ages). But in general, I just don't get the Kirby fuss. I wish I did, 'cause I really feel as if I must be missing something special.
I say this, though, so that I can then say with all fairness and honesty that the BoP: Apokolips storyline was the most fun I've ever had in Kirby-land. I liked the way Canary got herself and everyone else off of Apokolips (with an assist from Catwoman) without any superpowers and without having to have help from someone with superpowers (even though Joe Gardner does give her a lift at the end — it's a courtesy).
This was a fun, fun, fun story and a great sendoff storyline for Land and Geraci. Greg absolutely outdid himself on the art. Canary has never looked more beautiful than in the closeup on page four, and Gloria the Glorious colorist reminds one of just how important to comics these unsung pros really are. Go back through this issue and look closely at the details, the backgrounds, the skies, the fires. Rich, vibrant, and absolutely essential to the effectiveness of this action-packed tale. One of the best of the "fun" BoP stories.
Birds of Prey #15
"Face Time", March 2000, written by Chuck Dixon, art by Jackson Butch Guice, colored by Gloria Vasquez, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Joseph Illidge , cover by Butch Guice.
In this issue, the girls get a day off... sort of. And Oracle FINALLY meets her e-pal at a computer show! And it's none other than Ted Kord aka the Blue Beetle! I didn't know that's who it was going to be, but someone on the now-defunct Birds of Prey Message Board suggested him, and I'd leapt on that bandwagon with both feet and agreed it would be a really great idea if it were him. So that's way cool.
So the big issue this issue (ahem) is the art, and it's gorgeous. Mr. Guice is a worthy successor to Land and Geraci, giving us a beautiful, flirtatious, and vibrant Babs, and a lovely, active, realistically-dressed Dinah. I love the little in-jokes he put in, too: Dinah's wearing a "Toth's Gym" t-shirt in honor of the great comic artist Alex Toth; She has a poster for something called "SongBird" with the name "Sprang" featured prominently (Dick Sprang is the Bat-artist you think of when you think of Batman in the 1950's). There are bunches of jokes sprinkled throughout the computer show, so look closely at those.
Dinah's moved back into her apartment building in Gotham and it's a nice one. She seems to have settled in quite well, too, and the implication is that she lived there for an indeterminate time period before the quake (I believe it's the same one she was living in in BoP #1) 'cause she's got MAIL and a fun, friendly relationship with the doorman. She also has neighbor problems which she handles creatively if not quite successfully and which are likely to have repercussions in later stories.
And what's more fun that seeing Dick Grayson in this issue? Seeing Dick Grayson talking to Babs' ex-flame Jason Bard in this issue!
This is an excellent way to start the new year and to showcase the new artist. Chuck's building up to some big things this year, including the long-awaited sequel to Birds of Prey: Batgirl (see review, below) titled "Siege" which will be a four-parter starting in Nightwing #45 and ending in BoP #21. And next issue: The Joker.
Birds of Prey #16
"The Joker's Tale", April 2000, written by Chuck Dixon, art by Butch Guice, colored by Gloria Vasquez, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Joseph Illidge , cover by Butch Guice.
Yipes! That extreme close-up on page one aptly sets the tone for the entire issue. This issue just cements my very favorable first impression of Mr. Guice's art from issue #15. Butch makes the potentially static early pages of this issue dynamic and exciting. He clearly shows us the Joker's frenetic energy, and paired with Dixon's excellent dialogue, what could've been a real dull issue was quite the opposite. And I don't know who's responsible for the placement of the word balloons, but kudos to him for utilizing them to the best advantage in the early, Joker-only pages — their placement and abundance underscored the sense one gets of the Joker's rapid-fire, disjointed verbal style. When the same method is used for Oracle's disembodied voice, however, one instead gets the sense of calm, measured speech. Control. My favorite line: "You're boring me." And when Oracle is finally revealed, her strength and toughness shine through.
The panels showing Powergirl & Canary chasing down the Joker are exquisite — you can almost hear the city noises and feel the rain falling. I particularly love the panel where Powergirl smashes in the top of the Joker's getaway car — the grace, energy, and joy in a move well-executed are all clearly expressed in the picture and in Powergirl's face. My other favorite panel is the beautiful shot of Canary on her new, kickin' motorcycle. The inks and colors absolutely work together here.
Not to slight Dixon on this issue, either. He does a great deal with what is basically two people talking (not exactly to one another but certainly near one another). By showing us the result of the escapade whose beginning we glimpsed in the last issue and only giving us the Joker's version of how he got captured, he risked much but his art team came through with flying colors.
Birds of Prey #17
"Nuclear Roulette", May 2000, written by Chuck Dixon, art by Butch Guice, colored by Gloria Vasquez, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Joseph Illidge , cover by Butch Guice.
We're back in action! First page is a gorgeous shot of Canary flying. That's so cool. Seems Powergirl's powers come from magic, and she can share a bit of it with others when the need arises. Ergo the aerial lift.
Going on the info Oracle gleaned from the Joker in the last issue, Black Canary and Powergirl are hot on the trail of the terrorists who are planning to lob a nuclear bomb at NYC in less than an hour. There are some terrific action and fight sequences in this issue, and as in the last issue, Guice shows a wonderful sense of movement and variation that gives the action a very realistic feel. You can almost see the movement in his very cinematic panels. Great work.
This final installment of the Joker story arc shows Dixon at his best, too. His Oracle is always strong and smart, and she always has not just one backup plan but as many as it takes. She completely trusts her agents/partners, but she knows that not every enemy can be defeated by brute strength. Powergirl gives everything she's got and knocks out a bunch of the non-nuclear missles; Oracle calls in her nemeses / admirers at the Pentagon and their people knock out all but one of the remaining missles. Leaving Oracle herself to blow the last one out of the sky before it can detonate in the middle of the hapless Big Apple. Either I missed something, though, or none of the bombs turned out to be nuclear (at least none of the explosions were of that magnitude).*
Powergirl seems to be a bit embittered in this issue. A little bit more about her history with Oracle is revealed, and apparently they worked together at some point in the past and things did not end well. I've heard some readers are shocked by this revelation, but Oracle has always worked with a variety of vigilantes and superhero types ever since her early days with the Suicide Squad so the assumption that she only works with the Batfolks and the JLA and Canary (which almost covers the entire superhero community right there!) didn't occur to me. I hope we find out more about that untold Powergirl/Oracle story. Good issue.
* I received this bit of info from Andrew in Australia about nuclear missles :: "...It is very hard to make a nuke go, well, nuclear. The process is very precise to create the implosion that forces the fissionable martial (uranium / plutonium) to reach critical mass. So shooting down a nuke or just blowing it up with a normal bomb will not make it go nuclear, but chances are it will release some radioactive material into the air/sea/land." Hmm! So, not as reckless as I thought, blowing up the nukes before they blew up... Good to know!
Birds of Prey #18
"The Hateful", June 2000, written by Chuck Dixon, pencilled by Dick Giordano, inked by Jackson Guice, colored by Gloria Vasquez, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Joseph Illidge , cover by Greg Land and Brian Stelfreeze.
Dick Giordano steps up to the pencils again and turns in some nice work with truly lovely ink work by BoP artist Butch Guice (and the last time Giordano guested, the inks were most definitely not as good as one would hope). Dinah's wearing her fringed tan leather jacket last seen in BoP #15 but dating back, I think, to the Green Arrow 3-parter (which has been back aways), but I comment upon its inclusion because it demonstrates an attention to detail and a realism in that a person would wear [a] something besides her costume sometimes and [b] favorite items of clothing repeatedly. It's the little things that make a really good book a really great book.
There are some really interesting moments which take place in this issue between Babs and Dinah (including Dinah's playing the "Babs" card after all this time and revealing that she's learned Oracle's real name), and we get an update on Jason Bard (who is turning up throughout Dixon's books, also guesting in this month's Robin).
The main plot of this issue isn't as strong as it should be, however. The story is a serious one, a look at what drives people to hate one another so much that we end up with Northern Irelands and Bosnias, but it feels a bit too familiar. This is the third time in recent history that Dinah has been just a moment too late to save someone's life while she looks on and sees it happen, and it's the second time very recently that she's watched a woman in distress strike out lethally at another and ended up comforting her, helpless to do anything else. I'm getting Miami Vice deja vu. We need some follow-up to these situations if they're going to occur. What ever happened to Dinah's neighbor after she killed her boyfriend in issue #15? What's going to happen to this girl? What have the longterm effects been in Dinah's life of these situations and of not saving the dictator back in issue #7?
Butch Guice returns to full-fledged art duties next issue, and it will set us up for the four-part crossover (and VERY long awaited it has been, too, going all the way back to Birds of Prey: Batgirl) "The Hunt for Oracle" with the story and all the words by Chuck Dixon, BoP art by Butch, and Nightwing art by ex-BoP penciller Greg Land!!! So don't miss that.
Birds of Prey #19
"Masks", July 2000, written by Chuck Dixon, art by Butch Guice, colored by Gloria Vasquez, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Joseph Illidge , cover by Butch Guice and David Smith.
What a fun issue! And it makes sense of some things that occurred in Nightwing #44 which apparently takes place very shortly after the action in this issue though it was published first. It's just another evening at home for Oracle, playing a future-tech game of VR alien tag with Robin, the Boy Wonder. Same ol' same ol'. Oracle's just looking better and better, too, and it's nice to see her not wearing her glasses all the time (speaking as a VERY near-sighted person who DOES wear her glasses all the time, I've long assumed Babs' glasses were of the reading variety and therefore somewhat optional).
Anyway, this issue is almost all Babs. She has an odd night where her three suitor-types all visit at once and mayhem ensues. It's fun to see Nightwing showing up with flowers and pizza and in regular-guy Dick Grayson mode while Robin is there insisting, teenager-like, on maintaining his secret identity for no other reason than that it's "cool" that Oracle knows just about every superhero identity on the planet EXCEPT his (a fact which I politely dispute with Mr. Dixon since there's almost no way she wouldn't have figured it out practically without trying based on what she does know about Batman and Bruce Wayne and Azrael and all). It's equally fun to see the guys scrambling to decide who has to hide when Ted Kord shows up at the door a few moments later. Dick being clearly jealous of his arrival is terrific.
Ted is an old friend & colleague of Dinah's and he's surprised to find out that Babs hasn't revealed her identity to her partner. Of course, that's going to happen in issue #21 (yay!) but it was neat to see him kind of stick up for Dinah.
The most poignant part of the issue is Babs face-to-face reunion with her ex-fiance Jason Bard. We find out a bit of the when of their engagement, too. This is an excellent character-centered issue. Canary's part in it is small but pivotal to the upcoming crossover, and the issue ends with her in BIG trouble. There are some absolutely beautiful shots of Dinah in action, too. Terrific issue, and I'm so looking forward to "The Hunt for Oracle."
"The Hunt for Oracle, Part One: To the Slaughter", July 2000, written by Chuck Dixon, pencilled by Greg Land, inked by Jose Marzan, Jr., colored by Patricia Mulvihill, lettered by John Constanza, edited by Bob Schreck, cover by Greg Land and Karl Story.
Birds of Prey #20
"The Hunt for Oracle, Part Two: The Noose!", August 2000, written by Chuck Dixon, art by Butch Guice, colored by Gloria Vasquez, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Joseph Illidge , cover by Butch Guice and David Smith.
"The Hunt for Oracle, Part Three: The Dying Hours", August 2000, written by Chuck Dixon, pencilled by Greg Land, inked by Jose Marzan, Jr., colored by Patricia Mulvihill, lettered by John Constanza, edited by Bob Schreck, cover by Greg Land and Karl Story.
Birds of Prey #21
"The Hunt for Oracle, Part Four: The Deep", September 2000, written by Chuck Dixon, art by Butch Guice, colored by Gloria Vasquez, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Joseph Illidge , cover by Butch Guice and David Smith.
The HUNT FOR ORACLE actually starts a couple of issues back (one each in Nightwing and Birds of Prey) but this is where it's official. The first thing you notice in Nightwing #45 is just how good Greg Land is. And then you start reading and you realize again just how good Chuck Dixon is. He builds in subtle layers until suddenly there's this great creation standing in front of you that you can only say "wow" to. The dynamic between Black Canary and Oracle really works in this story arc, and Nightwing's involvement, though indirect, is fascinating (and a major development for him takes place in BoP #20 so let's hope the 'Wingsters were following this story, too).
Dinah and Babs both are at their bests. They get multiple-teamed and keep fighting back to win battle after battle, but its their near-constant communication with each other that keeps them going. This is a watershed story in the development of their friendship. This is when it becomes a fully equal partnership for the first time, because it's in this story that Oracle has to be saved and has to trust Dinah to come through. And she does, spectacularly. Butch Guice really shines, especially in part four, and Dinah and Babs have never looked more real. You can almost see the movement, almost hear the film reels turning.
The end of this four-parter is truly moving and leaves us wanting more. There had better be a Babs'n'Dinah having lunch issue somewhere in the future, just so we can enjoy it. For all that he tries through betrayal, murder, loss of his car, and almost unto serious injury, Nightwing gets there too late. Robin and Alfred get there too late. Though she's had much farther to travel, Dinah gets there first. I like that. The story arc is over, but the story is far from finished. Great job, guys and gals. Great job.
Birds of Prey #22
"The Hostage Heart, Part One", October 2000, written by Chuck Dixon, layouts by Butch Guice, finishes by Bill Sienkiewicz and Butch Guice, colored by Shannon Blanchard, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Joseph Illidge , cover by Butch Guice and David Smith.
The immediate aftermath of The Hunt for Oracle finds Black Canary in a very sticky situation, posing as a computer expert and trying to fool Blockbuster and all of his hired guns AND get herself out of the situation she so bravely lied her way into in the last issue in order to save her life. Dinah proves to be a very capable actress, which is a good thing since she's surrounded by Baddies including Lady Vic, Deathstroke, Blockbuster, and MORE! The conversation between Oracle and Black Canary is the highlight of this issue as it takes on a warmer and closer tone following their face to face meeting. A solid transitional issue. Guest-colorist Blanchard has a bit of trouble matching Gloria Vasquez's warm, vibrant tones, but she does much better next issue.
Birds of Prey #23
"The Hostage Heart, Part Two", November 2000, written by Chuck Dixon, art by Butch Guice, colored by Shannon Blanchard, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Joseph Illidge , cover by Butch Guice and Drew Geraci!
Chuck has clearly become a fan of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, as he uses bad-girl slayer Faith's favorite catch-phrase in this issue (and one more time in the next ish)! I love the cross-pollination of pop cultures!
Babs and Ted Kord (who she called in last issue to help out) have a rather heated conversation about leaving Dinah in the situation she became mired in last issue and she clearly expresses her disdain not only for the Giffen-era JLA (which was the most unprofessional of them all excluding the one with Gypsy and Vibe as members... *shudder*) but also for Green Arrow! He better watch out when he comes back — if he and BC look like they're getting back together, I'm sure Dinah's best friend is going to be reminding her repeatedly about how he treated her the last time.
Oracle tries to make lemonade out of lemons by focusing her energies on getting Dinah out of the situation safely with the added bonus of finding out Gorilla City's location which would turn the "job" from something they're doing because it was the only way out of The Hunt for Oracle into a valuable fact-finding mission.
The ethics of this situation are very dicey, (is it right to help a bad guy buy the heart of an intelligent gorilla which will result in that gorilla's death?) This isn't really addressed which is somewhat disturbing. It is a murder the Birds are participating in even though they aren't directly responsible for it, and while the argument that the heart donor was a minion of Grodd and therefore a probable enemy as well as an animal, intelligent or not, is possible to make, this seems a very fine hair to split for the woman (Oracle) who was furious with Huntress for escaping a crumbling burning building without risking her life to make sure the man who tried to kill her (Braun) got out, too (in BoP: Manhunt #4).
Shannon Blanchard — who is apparently the new full-time BoP colorist — does a much better job on the colors this time out, and it's very nice to see Drew Geraci working with the Birds again by inking the cover.
Birds of Prey #24
"The Hostage Heart, Part Three", December 2000, written by Chuck Dixon, art by Butch Guice, colored by Shannon Blanchard, lettered by Albert T. De Guzman, edited by Joseph Illidge , cover by Butch Guice and David Smith.
As this story arc concludes, I'm left thinking that Lady Vic needs to stick with her assassination for hire gig because she totally stinks at spying. Totally! She is not the well-rounded bad guy she thinks she is, plus her hairstyle is ridiculous. But aside from that, she does better as an ally to her allies this time than she did in Titans a few months ago (which, by the way, is what everyone keeps referring to in this story arc with Deathstroke's wife getting killed and Lady Vic and Grodd being there, etc.)
Dinah keeps her head (both figuratively and literally) with some difficulty, but in the end she manages to get her hands on the prize — the donor heart — and Oracle's deal with the devil last issue pays off with a spectacular rescue this issue by yet ANOTHER clone brother of the late Guy Gardner who calls himself "Militia."
This leaves the rest of Canary's erstwhile allies still stranded in Gorilla City and surrounded by really angry gorillas — which I'm sure won't leave them feeling all warm and fuzzy towards our herione next time they meet up — but they'll probably escape since bad guys are really good at doing that. The ultimate success of the mission is in some doubt as the story arc comes to a close, but Canary is safe and sound as are Oracle and her secret identity.