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The Non-Marvel Action Hour 1/14/9

New Secret Six, a double dose of Birds of Prey, Hitman, Superman/Batman, and Gotham Central.

Employee’s Pick

Birds of Prey 95

[DC] Birds of Prey #92-95

Writer: Gail Simone
Pencilers: Paulo Siqueira (issues 92-94), Joe Prado (issue 95)

The series skips ahead to One Year Later… except not. Instead of following the editorial mandate that idiotically pushed many titles a full year ahead in comic time (that’s, like, a decade in real time. Maybe more with the sliding timeline keeping certain people forever young) and maybe got around to covering some of that year’s events in flashback while going "ooh, mysterious!" until 52 ended, which took a year in real time. Instead of that, Simone skips ahead… maybe a few weeks. It might as well be tomorrow, as the Birds did nothing in the interim. No mysteries, no dramatic changes that you weren’t around to see. Things happen, rather quickly, and in a way that gives the illusion of a time jump, but nothing’s missed.

Black Canary leaves as part of a deal with Lady Shiva, to trade lives for a while. Shiva becomes the Jade Canary, doing her best to fight crime alongside Dinah’s teammates without using lethal force. Dinah goes to a hidden village somewhere in Asia to train with the woman who first trained Shiva. More time passes for Dinah than Shiva, but there’s no way she’s gone a year. A few months at most, covered in a few monthly issues, before she and Shiva each decide the other’s life is not for her.

Meanwhile, the Birds have a mission. Perfectly normal mission that has nothing to do with timejumps, aside from the fact that it involves the Secret Society of Super-Villains. That doesn’t place us firmly in the future, but one could argue that interacting with the greater DCU makes BoP as much an OYL title as the rest. It just doesn’t suffer for it. Their mission? Helping the Crime Doctor defect. His origin reveals that he’s an unrepentant killer, the sort who loves what he does and could never be a good guy. But he has a daughter, his one weakness, a daughter he loves and wants to protect. He decides he wants out, for her sake, and I guess he figured things would go better for him with the low-powered Birds than, say, Superman helping him escape. They are sort of like the superhero FBI, and the most logical place to turn if you’re a criminal looking to sell out your associates is someone in law enforcement who can get you a deal and protect your family. The regular FBI are ill-equipped to handle the likes of Killer Croc and Prometheus, but Oracle does OK.

Like Sensei & Student before it, Progeny is one of the book’s strongest arcs thanks to the odd couple dynamic between Dinah and Shiva. Dinah has a Wonder Woman-like quality to her, in that she can see the good in almost anyone and is slow to think ill of them. She’s a nurturer, and Shiva’s basically what would’ve happened to Cassandra Cain if she had never been accepted into the Bat-Family. Her nature isn’t evil, only her upbringing. She might be too far gone to save, but I’m convinced that in another life, she and Dinah would’ve been best friends and comrades-in-arms.

Simone made an interesting, though perhaps ill-advised, move with this story, introducing a little girl named Sin. Sin was to be the successor to Shiva, and was used as a threat by Shiva’s "mother" to keep Dinah from quitting. Her solution? Take Sin with her when she leaves. Setting aside the fact that Sin would obviously be replaced by an equally innocent little girl, Black Canary adopting a daughter brings up all sorts of problems. In a normal story, these problems don’t exist or can be worked around with good writing, but in a mainstream superhero comic, kids don’t work. You have this adorable child, and Simone uses her to good effect without making her the focus of the series or some moronic comedy relief, and that’s great for a while… But Dinah can’t get old. Odds are, by 2030, she won’t be more than 30, despite being a founding member of the JLA. Few characters are allowed to age in anything approaching real time, so you either have a kid who never grows up, or one of all too many situations where comic fans have to pretend it makes sense for aging to slow to a crawl for adults.

Or worse, the kid gets speedaged by a plot device, in which case you have to wonder what the point of bringing them in so young was, especially with an adoptee. Ultimately, Dinah left the series with Sin in tow, and the latter was written out in time for her marriage to Oliver "Green Arrow" Queen. Last I heard, she was taken to a monastery (read: comic limbo) by the other Green Arrow, Connor Hawke.

New-Type Books

Secret Six 5

[DC] Secret Six Vol. 4 #5

Writer: Gail Simone
Penciler: Nicola Scott

I wonder what the point of Faces of Evil is. Dan DiDio seems to view it as the DC version of Marvel’s Dark Reign, only without the various Faces issues being directly tied to each other or having a definite purpose. So, it’s more like the "embrace change" ads, where the company ask "What if the bad guys won?" to throw doubt on the outcome of Final Crisis, while not tying into Final Crisis itself or having anything to do with the inevitable positive outcome (read: the good guys will win).

It boils down to being, as DiDio puts it, "a means to give our villains a chance to shine," which is all well and good in theory. In practice, in the case of Secret Six, it’s a regular issue with a slightly gimmicky cover. Deadshot is chosen as the spotlight villain, and we do get a certain focus on him via captions of his thoughts on the story as it happens. However, we get the same from Bane, who spends most of the issue separated from the team. It’s all done in a way that, if you didn’t know this issue was meant to have a particular focus, you’d never guess. Simone could have a bunch of captions from Scandal and Ragdoll’s POV next issue, and nothing would seem amiss. There are good story reasons for both to happen, as there were with Bane and Deadshot this issue. Or she could go with few to no thought captions, not focusing on any single team member. That, too, would make sense.

I can’t complain. This is basically the perfect Event. It’s not an event, for starters. The only temptation to collect them all comes from liking the style of the covers, or mistakenly believing this is a crossover. And it doesn’t affect the story, which is my main complaint about crossovers. It’s just odd. It looks like a crossover, and sounds like a crossover (DiDio clearly intended for issues like this to have special importance in each series, as he says it will allow writers to "cut loose and have the villain play the lead role in the book and the story, and let the hero take the back seat"), but it doesn’t act like a crossover. I guess that’s what happens when you decide to flag up your universe’s villains, and you already have a series starring all villains, all the time. It has to take part, surely! But there’s no hero for the villain to play off of. Maybe if Junior had been spotlighted instead, but again, there I go trying to make this into something I don’t want it to be.

So, typical issue of Secret Six. Typically awesome. Deadshot apparently channels Deadpool when he’s far enough out of it. Still not liking Jeanette, who seems to have nothing more to her than looking weird and being an untouchable badass. Accepting Junior after a similar introduction hasn’t made me more open to the idea of characters popping up out of nowhere and whomping on established threats. Maybe I’ll warm to her later. Has to show vulnerability sometime; everyone else in the Six has. Love Bane. Realistically, it’s only a matter of time before the Bat-Writers or Bat-Editors decide they need him, probably as a nemesis for Batman, though it’s hard to imagine him caring about the Dark Knight anymore, and he’ll leave the team. I’m dreading that day. He should stay here forever.

Weird start to the issue. All in media res, after last issue ended on a cliffhanger. Tension melts away as we learn the Six escaped their dire predicament before we learn how. Works well enough, maybe better than telling it straight, but it threw me at first, as that technique tends to. Bane also goes from "omigosh, is Junior gonna kill him?" to being tied up and fully costumed with no explanation (though it’s easy to connect the dots in his case). The tension returns with a vengeance after that, though only for Bane.

Art seems a bit sketchier than normal. I’m not fond of the way Scott tends to draw Ragdoll’s mask; it too often takes on a masculine shape, whereas other artists gave him a decidedly effeminate look, the mask being key in the confusion. And the hair’s ropier, more like a natural raggedy andy doll, where before it seemed almost alive, an extension of Merkel that he could move in bizarre ways or that did so on its own. Those are nitpicks, though; this continues to be one of the best examples of eye candy on the shelves. I hope Scott never leaves.

Superman/Batman 51

[DC] Superman/Batman #51
Writers: Michael Green, Mike Johnson
Artist: Rafael Albuquerque

Cuteness… overload… *asplode*

Mr. Mxyzptlk transports cutesy copies of the JLA to the "regular" Earth in an effort to make Superman happy… whether he likes it or not. He kinda does, unlike Batman, but you can’t be happy all the time. This series has a questionable place in continuity, but it looks like this story at least could slot in nicely enough. It’s based on the present-day JLA lineup, so we get chibi versions of Black Lightning, Red Arrow, Black Canary, and Vixen, alongside more traditional Leaguers like Wonder Woman and Green Lantern.

All delightfully drawn by Albuquerque, who’s a perfect fit for this story. Much as I missed him on Blue Beetle, he’s put to better use here stretching his creative muscles. There does seem to have been a miscommunication on an early page, where li’l Batman saves a woman from a mugger and, as she runs off scared, he yells after her that she’s forgotten something of hers. She has her purse, though, and nothing else is apparent. That quibble is drowned out by things like li’l Red Tornado drawn as a classic toy robot, li’l Supergirl supercrying when she gets upset, and li’l Batman’s parents having been brutally shoved to the ground (where they presumably suffered a nasty bruise or two) when he was but a lad. I lost it when li’l Vixen channeled the strength of a teddy bear.

Back Issues

Hitman 37

[DC] Hitman #37

Writer: Garth Ennis
Penciler: John McCrea

And then there were vampires. Ennis did a great parody of Anne Rice-style poseur vamps over in Preacher. This is like a watered down version of that, the biting wit diluted to the point you can barely taste it. I don’t know how it ends, as this was the last issue of Hitman I read, but in the first part, here, there’s a fight with one vampire. There’s nothing vampirey about him, aside from the obvious. He’s basically a recycled mobster with vampire trappings, a generic bad guy trotted out to make Tommy feel better and look superior by defeating and humiliating his opponent. In other words, it’s Tuesday.

Tommy’s down because he just learned of his Tragic Past, and killed his own dad after watching the sister he’d just met bleed out. By the way, Bat-Editorial decided to hit Gotham with a devastating earthquake (Cataclysm), then make the government abandon the city rather than help rebuild (No Man’s Land). And they say Ennis is cynical. Chaos ensues, and, uh… vampires are chaotic? The series seemed to have lost its way at this point, or maybe it was going through a down period. Wouldn’t be the first time the quality dropped off only to rebound later. Still… vampires. Really? Vampires? It is a two-parter, so at least it’s over quickly.

Birds of Prey 96

[DC] Birds of Prey #96
Writer: Gail Simone
Penciler: Paulo Siqueira

Sin eats pancakes. Worth the price of admission for that scene alone. There’s also a tribute to Ted Kord. It doesn’t work as well, but it’s nice to see Ted’s friends missing him while he’s gone. Then Black Alice returns, and is rather easily manipulated into fighting the Birds. As quick as she is to anger, to abusing her vast power, it’s tempting to lump Alice in with the Crime Doctor under "irredeemable villains." Her one weakness is her father. She tries to be good for him, but it doesn’t seem to be in her nature. Perhaps she’s less evil than immature, but with her power, both are equally dangerous.

Trade

Gotham Central: Half a Life

[DC] Gotham Central Vol. 2: Half a Life

Writer: Greg Rucka
Pencilers: Jason Pearson (Batman Chronicles 16), William Rosado (Detective Comics 747), Michael Lark (Gotham Central 6-10)

A collection of stories about Two-Face and Detective Renee Montoya. Starts out heartwarming, with my favorite Two-Face tale, of a time during Cataclysm when Harvey’s coin kept coming up on the good side. That’s followed by a quiet little story where Harvey sends Renee flowers on her birthday. Then it turns ugly.

Two-Faced hero

Two-Face falls in love. Renee shows him kindness, and like a man who hasn’t had a date in what must seem like his whole life now, he latches onto that kindness, warping and twisting it in his mind until he’s sure he and Renee are meant to be together, and that the way to make that happen is to systematically remove everything from Renee’s life until she has nothing but him. It’s sick. The crux of his plan is hiring a P.I. to dig up dirt on Renee, some secret she’s hiding, something scandalous. Turns out, she’s gay. Cue strife. Parents take it badly, fellow cops tease her about it like they never escaped high school. Just put on a badge and said "I’m a police" one day.

Batman plays a small role in each story, but Gotham Central was always about a realistic police department in a fantastic city, and that’s as true here as ever. Montoya and her partner, Crispus Allen, are the heroes. Harvey comes across as something of a victim. He does terrible things, and it’s tempting to hate him, but he’s clearly not right in the head. It’s sad. He can never be well, but there’s a good man, a sane man inside, trapped within the insanity that is Two-Face. But Two-Face is evil and vicious and technically part of Harvey. He doesn’t simply fall in love with the wrong woman and throw a fit when she rejects him. He rides into crazytown and plants a flag made of his own soiled underwear before he asks her. Even without editorial mandate, it’s hard to imagine a natural rehabilitation for Harvey. Seems to be the theme this week: villains who are too far gone to hope for anymore. Not that it stops Batman; he’s a bigger bleeding heart than I am.

Truncation

Birds of Prey – Simone ignores One Year Later, tells her story unaltered.
Secret Six – Simone ignores Faces of Evil, tells her story unaltered.
Superman/Batman – One of the most joyful comics of 2008, covered late here.
Hitman – Vampires. Why did it have to be vampires?
Birds of Prey – Black Alice, fond memories, and delicious pancakes.
Gotham Central – Both sides of Two-Face. One beautiful, one hideous, two sides of the same coin.

 


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