Thursday, August 8, 2013

Review: Black Canary #1

Black Canary #1, "Hero Worship Part 1," Cover Date January 1993

"Hero Worship," Written by Sarah E. Byam, Pencils by Trevor Von Eeden, Inks by Bob Smith

We begin our issue with Black Canary heroically hopping around, a running internal monologue in her head. She announces that she's "going to die" on page 1 of issue 1 of her series, which is not exactly a positive attitude. She's apparently following some girl who is in over her head, although it's not really made clear why or how following her is going to result in Canary's death. As she lands in an alley near the girl she's following, a homeless man asks her for some change for a drink. Canary says "no pockets," even though she's wearing a big bomber jacket, because she's a dirty liar. The girl Canary's following, who looks like a member of Frank Miller's "mutant gang" from Dark Knight Returns, complete with a mohawk and leather jacket that says her name, makes her way into a dive bar. As Canary crosses the street, she notices a big fancy van, which she identifies as a cop, even before we get a closeup of somebody in the window with a camera.

That forward roll was vital.
 Suddenly we cut to the past (although we're given no narration boxes or other cues that explain this), as a 15 year old Dinah Lance laments that cops have to follow rules while people are out there being hurt. Why can't cops just do anything they want, right? Her dad explains that it's better than countries where cops are just bullies with clubs, and says private citizens have to be willing to stand up for their communities. Note that 15 year old Dinah is a brunette, and we haven't seen that Black Canary is wearing a wig and looks completely different from her 15 year old self. I'm not sure how mythical "new readers" were supposed to pick up that this is the same girl, years later.

Seattle belongs to the mutants!
Back at the pub, which is absolutely filled with smoke because it's the early 90's, Canary goes to sit across from "Sally," the mohawked girl, as she sips at what looks like a glass of pepto bismal. Sally says she "doesn't like girls" and blows smoke in Canary's face before wandering off. Canary follows her, as a man at the bar tries to grab Sally, then pulls a gun after she kicks him in the chest. Also, somehow being kicked in the chest seems to have given the man a black eye as he pulls a gun at the teenager walking away. Black Canary charges into the mystery man, throwing off his shot. As Sally heads out of the bar, two cops try to stop her, then just shout "you're under arrest" as she runs away, once again with guns drawn.

Canary flashes back again, this time to her martial arts training with "Uncle Ted," who is drawn a lot like her dad. She says she can just disarm people with her sonic powers, but Ted says "you can't rely on your powers," and makes her practice martial arts some more.

Judo the rainbow.
Back in the present, Canary kicks the gun into the air and catches it, as the officer's partner aims at her. Canary returns the gun, then as the partner goes to grab her jacket for no reason, she flips him over her shoulder. A cop gets out of the van and announces that Canary has "ruined" their stakeout somehow by not letting them shoot a fleeing teenager. Canary says they have bigger issues, and leads the cops to a nearby alley. A homeless guy is lying dead, and Canary knows his booze has been poisoned.

Oh no, Black Canary's greatest foe: some guy in a suit!
In another flashback, Dinah overhears some political goons paying for votes, and she follows one of them to a bar, where he threatens the barkeep to get some free drinks for the bum population. Dinah dresses up in her mom's costume and puts on the blonde wig. Canary plans to catch the goons in the act, but accidentally witnesses one of them murdering a homeless woman, then gets so caught up in crying that she lets the villain get away on a bus. The perfect escape! Meanwhile, Sally is confronted by a mystery man in a suit, who flashes a hundred and a flask at her, stating "you deserve a reward." To be continued!

You've Got Mail:

Dian Hardison writes in to an apparent response from the Black Canary mini-series letters page, arguing that the editor's statements in that issue were absurd: "Try putting Batman in high heels and fishnet stockings and you'll see what I mean. For that matter, try imagining any of your favorite male heroes, even the meta-powered ones, having to fight wearing a long, flowing wig! Looks ridiculous, doesn't it? Why do you persist in treating women as some kind of alien species?" Mike Gold, the editor, makes this unbelievably moronic reply: "Actually, that's apples and oranges. We don't portray Dinah as a cross-dresser... so your challenge to present Batman as one is a bit odd; however, we do tend to portray our male super-heroes in sexually idealized ways as well: big pects (sic) nice buns, and more than a few have somewhat suggestive bulges, to boot." Holy moly, I can't believe a comic book editor just made this argument that sounds like something a "men's rights" proponent would leave in a user comments section in a published comic book. Just a total dodge that ignores the problem that multiple people wrote in to complain about: that it's stupid for a martial artist to fight crime in high heels. Totally justified by Batman having bat-abs, right? For more information, please look at the Hawkeye Initiative!

I can't believe this is real.

Fortunately, by 2013, DC comics has completely advanced beyond these issues, right? Oh wait.

90's fashion: Black Canary accessorizes her classic costume with a big jacket (then forgets it has pockets). Sally is a teenage punk with a leather jacket with her name and a mohawk.

It's going to be a bit tricky to find good things to say about this book. I'm an admitted Marvel Zombie, so maybe it's easier for me to look past sloppy storytelling because I know the characters better, but what a mess this is. This is a first issue of an ongoing series, a great time to introduce the supporting cast, set up the "story engine" that's going to drive the book until it gets canceled or overhauled, and introduce a rogue's gallery. Instead, we get basically none of that, as Black Canary just sort of stumbles around, and the last page reveal is of some unnamed guy in a suit I don't know. We're not told what city we're in (turns out, it's the gritty streets of... Seattle!), we're not even told that the girl in the flashbacks IS Black Canary and that she's wearing a wig. The book seems to assume we know all of this, because... I guess there was a limited series in 1991-2? I know it's not fair to compare to Darwin Cooke and Brubaker's Catwoman, but in that series they (re)-introduced two supporting characters and set up Catwoman's feud with Black Mask, which was the whole first year and change worth of storytelling. That's a *good* start to an ongoing series with a similar tone about a female vigilante. Sarah Byam appears to be DC's resident Black Canary expert, as most of her DC writing credits are for the character, but unless I follow the character around Green Arrow and Action Comics back-ups, this is new to me, and the storytelling is basically incompetent. In places, the art is almost incomprehensible because of the poor writing; who's the guy that pulls a gun on Sally in the bar? How did he get a black eye? Where does he go after BC shoves him? There's not that much action in the story but it still sucks out the reader as they have to struggle to piece together exactly what the heck is going on. Also I guess based on the letters page that Canary does not have her superpowers at the moment for some reason. Gee, that'd be nice information to include in the first issue of her ongoing comic, right? And why is this poll-fixing scheme so deadly that Black Canary's first monologue text is about her own impending death? Is she just that sucky a hero?

Trevor Von Eeden, a guy who got his start with DC Comics in the late 70's as their first black artist (hired to draw "Black Lightning," because DC was not progressive back then, either), does a decent enough job, but Byam puts such pressure on the art to tell the story entirely, and his pencils aren't really clean enough or good enough to do it when things get chaotic. I also can't really tell if the book is going for a cheesecake look- we get plenty of Black Canary's legs, and one bizarre forward roll, but none of it particularly works as cheesecake, especially because the faces are so angular. And the homeless bum that asks for beer money may be suffering from some sort of leprosy. But while the pencils are decent with minor issues, the coloring and inking are particularly bad. Bob Smith makes faces look even weirder with heavy lines, and there's way too much sloppy "speed" lines whenever something happens. When Canary judo throws the police officer, there's a straight-up magenta and pink rainbow showing the arc of him being tossed around. Despite a noir story about poll-fixing featuring straight up Frank Miller designs, the colorist has bright pastel backgrounds, sometimes to conceal the lack of background pencils, but more often it's just inexplicable. The bright colors clash pretty badly with the heavy inking and Frank Miller-y tone, and the result is art that just doesn't look particularly good to look at.

1 comment:

  1. Fortunately, by 2013, DC comics has completely advanced beyond these issues, right? Oh wait.

    Ha! I too can't believe that was a legitimate response to a legitimate letter. Yeesh.