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The Non-Marvel Action Hour – 12/31/8

A triple dose of Gail Simone! New Wonder Woman. New Fables. Birds of Prey, Superman, Hitman, and more Birds of Prey.

Employee’s Pick

BoP 90

[DC] Birds of Prey #86-90

Writer: Gail SImone
Pencilers: Adriana Melo (issue 86), Bruce Timm (issue 86), David Lopez (issue 86), Joe Bennett (issues 87 & 88), Eddy Barrows (issues 87 & 88), Paulo Siqueira (issues 89 & 90), Adam Dekraker (issue 90)

The brief era of consistent artwork ends, but for having seven pencilers across five issues, this arc winds up looking very good. Three of the seven are on the first issue, each illustrating a different story. Dinah throws Babs a party when she gets out of the hospital, all full of hugs and smiles. Yay! Then Dinah heads out as Black Canary to fight the Prankster, and Huntress finds herself in a unique position to aid a troubled youth. She also officially rejoins the team, completing her character arc from black sheep of the Bat-Family to competent, controlled and in control hero.

Well, no. Her growth is officially complete when Batman says so, acknowledging her change a few issues later. It’s refreshing to see characters grow and change like they do in Simone’s BoP. Huntress severely mellows, becoming much more of a team player, whereas some writers would’ve played up her growly anger ad nauseum, ignoring the fact that she has other things going for her, like her love of teaching. She also wears a proper costume instead of randomly displaying patches of skin like bright pink targets in the night, though that change hasn’t stuck. When Huntress charges into battle in other series, the villains all say "Don’t shoot until you see the whites of her thighs."

Dinah likes toys

Black Canary, as her then ex-beau Green Arrow helpfully points out, has grown in leaps and bounds as a martial artist. Under Simone, Dinah became one of the DCU’s top fighters, where before she was mostly the girl who screams. Savant? Maybe not so much with the growing. He’s more of a project than Helena, though, and he makes some progress before quitting at the end of this arc. Plus, he comes back later. Calculator, Oracle’s evil, male counterpart, sends Hellhound and Black Spider ’round to rough Savant up. That’s the one thing they manage, getting in a couple days of good torturing before the Birds realize he’s gone, beat the snot out of the Z-list villains of the week, and rescue him.

They had ample distractions. BC and GA were busy being awesome, Babs finally let her dad in on the whole Oracle thing, Batman popped by to frown at everyone, and Huntress and Creote were doing much of the legwork in the team’s plan to sink the Gotham mob.

With Brainiac gone, the book’s hit its stride. There’s fun, action, and teamwork aplenty. The Birds have become a force to be reckoned with, as well as following the great DC tradition of teams that are so close-knit they’re basically family.

New-Type Books

Wonder Woman 27

[DC] Wonder Woman Vol. 3 #27

Writer: Gail Simone
Penciler: Aaron Lopresti

Athena decides to lay down and die, which doesn’t seem at all consistent with Greg Rucka’s Athena, who led a coup to overthrow Zeus and place herself in power. She later took all the gods of Olympus out of the world, which was faintly bizarre but still made more sense than this. Before she shuffles off this immortal coil, Athena tasks Zeus with saving the amazons. Because, you know, she has no reason to live. Why stick around for anyone but yourself, when someone else can do it for you? I’m sure they won’t screw it up or misinterpret your wishes. No chance of that. Go ahead and die.

It’s easy to think of Wonder Woman as a feminist hero and Gail Simone as a feminist writer. They’re both women and they’ve done great things for fictional females. But Simone’s never been about putting women above men, only on the same level, and moreso than Rucka, she’s pushing equality in her run on Wonder Woman. Diana has a male patron god, her boyfriend’s an honorary amazon, she’s fought with and against men and women alike, and now instead of Athena, traditional protector of the amazons, there’s Zeus. And Zeus quickly goes to work undoing the effects of the Event That Must Not Be Named, bringing all the amazons home and restoring their memories. Why Athena couldn’t eat a sandwich and do it herself, I’ve no idea, but there you go. Amazons come home.

Speaking of undoing, I have to say DC confuses me sometimes. Over in Manhunter, Phobia had a new, modernized look. She appears here in a very oldfashioned costume, the sort of thing you’d think she’d have burned years ago. Teen Titans #65 had Wonder Girl, Cassie Sandsmark, get a new costume and, supposedly, an overdue change of attitude. She’s little more than a cipher here, which is a vast improvement on her treatment in Teen Titans but not on par with her earlier portrayal in Young Justice. Hard to tell which character she’s meant to be. The new costume is nowhere to be seen, casting further doubt on whether this is Cassie or the thing that’s impersonated her these past several years. Zeus is also radically different between his appearances here and in Teen Titans. If nothing else, it’s good to see Donna Troy again, who assumes the role of big sister to the younger Wonder Girl and looks spectacular all the while.


Oh, and there’s more Genocide. I’m not enjoying this arc. You’re not meant to, but it’s more than Diana being beaten so badly that she nearly gives up, and Athena giving up, and Phobia of all people begging for help. It all feels overwrought. Cassie’s the only one who says this isn’t the worst foe Wonder Woman’s ever faced. Everyone else, especially Wondy, treats Genocide like a Doomsday-level threat. I guess that’s part of her power, that she fills people with despair, but it’s hard to believe no one’s ever taken Diana’s lasso from her, or that this defeat is on another level somehow compared to others. Simone’s trying very hard to sell Genocide as a major threat, and I don’t buy it. Too much tell, not enough show.

It’s too early for judgement, though. Genocide’s identity remains a mystery, and the reveal could go some way toward shoring up her case. Aside from the obvious, that she was Frankensteined together from parts of various people, my best (and worst) guess is that Genocide is Knockout. Red hair, (partially) green costume, spikes, and she’s a god, sort of. Not the type that should be able to go toe to toe with Wonder Woman, but clearly whoever this used to be, if any particular person, they’ve been radically altered. I hope it’s not her, though if it is we’re probably headed for a happy ending. That’s the main thing keeping me from hating this story, that Simone’s writing it. Things look bleak now, as they did last issue, as they might next issue, but Wonder Woman will eventually triumph in dramatic fashion. I just hope it isn’t overdramatic, and that the story holds up better as a whole than it has so far in parts.

Fables 79

[DC] Fables #79
Writer: Bill Willingham
Pencilers: Mark Buckingham, Peter Gross

Here’s another that’ll read better in trade. The fables have a funeral, there’s much ado about the cancellation of all binding spells, and the unbinder, Mister Dark, sets off to do more nastiness. Not a great deal happens, though, so much as it moves closer to happening. It’s very much a middle issue, and figures to go by all the faster once it’s collected. In the backup, the mechanical tiger Mountbatten recounts his origin to Mowgli & Co. I’d have rather had more of the backup, which clocks in at five pages, than the lead story this month, as Mowgli’s adventure has a more palpable feeling of going somewhere. I know the lead has a direction, but it’s more potential and trust in Willingham than anything definite. Will Mister Dark assault Fabletown next issue? or does his vengeance lie elsewhere? Maybe they’re on the list, but a ways down. It’s not clear. What’s next for the fables, aside from a run-in with quite possibly the most powerful being in the series yet? Whatever it is, it’s probably bad. This arc is all bad times, with a side of worse times. As in Wonder Woman, it’s the darkness before the dawn, or perhaps the darkness before the darker darkness. I expect Fables‘ period of bleakness will last longer.

Back Issues

Hitman 36

[DC] Hitman #36

Writer: Garth Ennis
Penciler: John McCrea

Tommy’s family, whom we only learned the first thing about last issue, are all dead. Huh. Kinda senseless. Don’t know what the point of this story was other than to make Tommy’s life that much grimmer. We barely see a glimmer of light, and it’s snatched away. Seemed sad the first time I read it, but really, we barely knew Frances. More lost potential than anything.

Birds of Prey 91

[DC] Birds of Prey #91
Writer: Jim Alexander
Penciler: Brad Walker

Boo! Guest writer! Hiss! He’s OK, though. Brad Walker carries the load well enough on his own, from Babs peeling the crust off her bread to Joe Bull’s defiant grimace, that Alexander scarcely need do anything. Bull’s dying, and his last chance is a kidney donation from a nephew he’s never met. The 100 have hired crooked cops and two members of the Royal Flush Gang to see to it Bull doesn’t get that kidney, as he happens to be a very bad man. More importantly, he’s a businessman, and his gambling empire would be up for grabs if he died. With such weak opposition, it’s all the Birds can do to make a show of it. For fill-in work, it’s fine, though the last page is bizarre. I wouldn’t run screaming away if I saw Alexander’s name on another comic, but there’s not enough here to push me toward him.


[DC] Superman: Strange Attractors
Writer: Gail Simone
Penciler: John Byrne

The more I read of the DCU, the more incestuous it appears, the more familiar. For example, the villains in this trade. Dr. Psycho, Queen of Fables, Dr. Polaris, Shrapnel, Black Adam, and Satanus. Adam raises no flags, aside from his quasi-familial link to Satanus, which doesn’t factor in here as they appear in separate, unrelated stories. Psycho and the mad Queen are Wonder Woman villains, the latter having already appeared in Simone’s young run on Wondy’s solo title, and Psycho in Secret Six. Perhaps they’re here as a hint to DC about who she wants to be writing. Clearly, she likes those two. Polaris is notable because the name, attached to a new villain, surfaces again in Blue Beetle, which wouldn’t be at all strange except that it’s part of Matthew Sturges’ run, as are a pair of would be villains trying to call themselves Hellhound.

I mentioned in an earlier review (about five months ago) that the previous (not the first) Hellhound died in Salvation Run, which Sturges co-wrote, so it made sense for him to pick up that plot thread. What I’d forgotten is that the same Hellhound, some time before his death, appeared in Simone’s Birds of Prey, reviewed above, and that he was teamed with Black Spider, who’s been active most recently in Secret Six. Makes you think. Did Simone and Sturges get together and split the two up? "I get Hellhound, you can have Black Spider?" Maybe it’s all coincidental.

Shrapnel’s appearance almost certainly is, though I found it interesting that I’ve seen him exactly twice, here and in Marc Andreyko’s Manhunter, which has had two unheralded crossovers with BoP, not to mention the Phobia thing. Shrapnel was also in Salvation Run, but hey, who wasn’t? More interesting is that, in the eight issues collected here, the only traditional Superman villain to appear is Satanus, in a Halloween story where his real foil is The Spectre, not Supes. Oh, and one more.

Cartoon native Leslie "Livewire" Willis crosses over to the DCU proper with her personality and signature look intact. Her origin, however, is very different. That is to say, she doesn’t have one. In Superman: The Animated Series, hers was an almost tragic tale and sort of Superman’s fault. Classic story of a freak accident inadvertently caused/aided by a superhero that turns a mostly harmless civilian into a supervillain. Here, she’d always had her powers, and simply never decided to take up villainy (or white skin and blue hair) until she lost her job, the same job she had in the cartoon, as a talk show radio host who delights in bashing Superman. Technically, she gets fired because Superman saved the boss’ wife, giving him an attack of conscience, but an anti-Superman DJ in Metropolis was marked for extinction from the start.

say yes

One wonders, if she’s so committed to her job that she never used her powers for good or ill before, why does she give up so easily? Maybe, like she says, she’s crazy. You push two people and you’ll get two different reactions. It’s also implied, though not explicitly stated, that her powers were low-level until the trauma of losing her dream job ignited them. The lightning strike can’t have hurt in that regard, though it’s merely the capper on her transformation, where it was the catalyst in the cartoon.

Superman’s much more human here than in Camelot Falls. Simone treats him less like a god, using magic and mind control to keep him vulnerable. Busiek used those, too, but Supes overcame them far more easily than he does here. You get a real sense of danger the whole way through for Supes and his supporting cast, as much as you can for unkillable characters like Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, and DC’s biggest moneymaker, Mr. S-Shield, Cape, and Spitcurl. Lois gets kidnapped and Superman has no idea where she is. Busiek’s Supes would’ve saved her in two panels, or had an eye and an ear trained on her until he could get free. Here, he’s confounded. Has to pull a Batman and ask directions from the nearest mug, thug or maniac. There’s something to be said for both styles, though this one flags up the main problem with writing (and reading) Superman: if you don’t *magic* him constantly, he’s obscenely powerful, and you have to go to great lengths to generate doubt and tension. Why can’t he save everyone? Especially Lois. He’s super-everything! Strength, speed, smarts, hair, breath, vision… To quote Bizarro R.E.M., "Me am Superman, and Me can do anything."

He’s not totally nerfed, though, just enough to even the odds. There are a few power displays to remind us that, yes, this is Superman, and he’s called that for a reason. And there’s the old "this is a rare chance for me to cut loose" when he tangles with Black Adam. Artwise, it’s a far cry from Carlos Pacheco. Byrne is Byrne. You get pretty much what you’d expect, though this is surprisingly good compared to some of his work. There are backgrounds and everything!

biggest fan

Simone’s fascination with father figures crops up again. This time with Lois’ dad, long dead, whose ghost drops by to argue over his record as a parent. Lois and her dad fall pretty much exactly between the two extremes Simone’s visited before: Barbara Gordon with her superdad Jim, and Scandal Savage with her crazy pappy Vandal, whose motto is "give me grandbabies or die in a fire." A strained relationship, this. Dysfunctional, natural. I envy what Barbara has, while what Scandal has makes me happy for what I have. But both are fantastic to me. With Lois, I can relate.

I’m glad I read this. It’s far from the best comic, but I enjoyed it, and I learned more about the DCU and one of my favorite writers. And you know what they say about knowing.


Birds of Prey – Delicious cohesion.
Wonder Woman – Athena says: Choose death. Living is foolish.
Fables – Midway through the story, lotta rising action.
Hitman – His parents are deeeeeeeeeaaaaaaad! He helped.
Birds of Prey – Mmm, Brad Walker art. Serviceable story, too.
Superman: Strange Attractors – Worth a look for the comic debut of Livewire and some solid Simone stories.


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