Thursday, February 1, 2001

The Mount - JLA: Act of God, Part Three & The Problems With Birds Of Prey

Last month, I said that I'd finish talking about JLA: Act of God, the third and final part of which had yet to be released as of deadline time for Fanzing Numero Zero. Ironically enough, it came out on the same day that Fanzing Zero did.

With that explanation out of the way, I will be brief. The series showed promise at points, but except for a few scenes, the series was not really remarkable in most respects. And fairly horrible in others.

When last we left our scene, The Atom had just been killed after he lost control of his super powers and wound up expanding too quickly in between the atoms of a table. This loss of power was due to the result of Palmer's genes being tampered with by geneticists in the employ of Lex Luthor.

We cut to the apartment of Ted Kord, Mike Carter and Rex Mason (the former Blue Beetle, Booster Gold and Metamorpho). They are quickly captured by Joker, Captain Cold and a host of other tech-powered baddies. Turns out ol' Boosty, in an effort to get back in the spotlight like Guy Gardner (who is now the best selling author of a book about his life's story) "came out" about his superheroism and sent his address and name out trying to find an agent.

Cut to the Batcave where the former Supergirl, Flash, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter have adopted new identities with new gimmicks, now calling themselves Justice, Red Devil, The Hand and The Green Man. Under Batman's leadership, the new team begins investigating the genetics lab that was asking for metahuman volunteers. Linda's former police connections allow her to get into the lab and find a message The Atom scrawled out in the doll house he lived in while in the lab. This leads the Phoenix Group to start investigating Luthor, and with a little help from Oracle, discover that Luthor is working to corner the market on superpowers. By coming up with a metagene blueprint, hiring all the tech-powered villians and by mass producing the most powerful superhero technology (stolen from the labs of Steel, Booster Gold, Blue Beetle…) This makes up the main thrust of the rest of the plot, with the four new heroes working to take on Luthor, an army of supervillains, while Batman and other non-powered heroes watch from afar.

Had the book merely stuck with this plot, it would have been okay. Not good, but okay. But like in previous chapters, it is bad characterization in the subplots that sinks the book.

You may remember complaints I made last month regarding Superman's giving up on life in this story being far too out of character. Well, it gets even worse in this chapter, as Superman turns to the bottle and becomes a homeless bum. He later turns his life around after being helped by a priest in a shelter, eventually going to live in the wilderness for a while and then returning to work at the Daily Planet.

Diana, the former Wonder Woman, get the worst treatment of all this time around. Previously, we saw a woman who was as strong spiritually and emotionally as she was physically collapse into despair and then materialism. As this chapter opens, just before Diana and Clark break up, we see that Diana has apparently converted to Christianity and is now spending most of her time moaning to the heavens as to why her powers have left her.

There's another big question here that is totally ignored: what happened to all the gods of the Greek Pantheon? Did they die along with all the magic that apparently disappeared? And what about the magic heroes? We get a throw away reference to the magicians of the DCU being powerless too, but we never see any of them.

And there is no explanation given as to why Diana didn't just go back to the Island of the Amazons. Presumably the island is no longer magically hidden, but I doubt all the amazons would go into Man's World and assimilate themselves. I think the amazons could still defend themselves pretty well from any men who tried to take over the island.

The simple answer is that all these issues are being ignored so that we can focus on the idea that this is an act of God. Not Gods. And while it isn't too far fetched to think that someone as spiritual as Diana wouldn't seek comfort from whatever venue possible, no reference is made as to how Diana converted other than some throwaway line about being abandoned by Hera.

The worst is yet to come though. Near the end of the book, we see that Diana is contemplating suicide. She has pills strewn in front of her and holds a broken shard of glass to her wrist, before praying one last time… just before Clark shows up to ask her to be with him again. The Green Lantern subplot ends with a little bit less melodrama, in the same way that Rudy ends with less melodrama than Fatal Attraction.

We find that Kyle has been dumped by Jade and has now given up on getting the ring to work. No, we still never get any reason for why Kyle's tech-based ring isn't working. We do however get to see Kyle working out in several scenes that just beg to have "Eye of the Tiger" blaring in the background. Kyle eventually hears about Sonar committing another robbery in New York, and leaves his apartment to confront him.

Quick point here. It's kind of hard to tell based on how the story jumps around, but if we go in order, Kyle apparently spends several months working out with a punching bag in his apartment. Considering how obsessed he is with Sonar and how there is no Jade around to take care of the rent anymore, why hasn't he been kicked out on the street by now? Radu being unusually generous with the back rent? Or does Kyle have an NEA grant in this Elseworlds that is covering all his expenses?

I will say this. Kyle's fight with Sonar IS pretty damn good, if only because we get to see Kyle use the smarts and imagination he shows with the ring without it, using a fire extinguisher to short out Sonar's body circuitry. Of course Kyle wins the battle, but he ultimately loses the war; killing himself to stop Sonar. He, Steel and Atom are honored with statues, commemorating them as the three who never forgot what it was to be heroes.

And that leaves us with one final question and my final complaint. What caused the Black Light event? Was it really an Act of God? Did Luthor do it? Was it a freak accident? What reason was there for this story?

The purpose of the loss is explained on the last page, as being a lesson to show that "while the power of heroes power may fade, it can never die."

Okay. So our basic lesson here is that heroes may wind up becoming complete losers, idiots and slackers… but they are still heroes deep down? In an X-Men book, maybe… but not Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern. Sorry. That kind of philosophizing isn't going to cut any ice with me.

And worst of all… even worse than the bad characterization, loose plot ends and unexplored ideas is… the fact that Jack Knight is on the cover of this book, but he doesn't appear once in the story! (Okay… that may just be my personal beef…)

Is your bile raised yet, my children? Then continue on to…the new business.

Bird of Prey?: The Problems With BOP

And now, the new business.

First of all; if you are a die-hard fan of Chuck Dixon, Barabra Gordon or Nightwing, you would be well advised to sit down and take your heart medication before reading the rest of this issue.

All set? Okay. I'm going to let you in on a little secret.


Here it goes…

Birds of Prey could be a lot better.

Okay, now before I get hate mail from half the regulars on the Dixonverse board and become tarred and feathered with the title "the Anti-Anti-Anti-Dixon", let me explain a few things.

First of all. I love Birds of Prey. It's one of my favorite books. I subscribe to it, and I genuinely believe that it is consistently one of the best books every month.

I come to praise Caesar, not to bury him.

So how can I call it lousy? Well, I have a few reasons…

  1. Black Canary? Where?
  2. Okay, this may come as a shock to a lot of you, but Black Canary isn't really a part of the book. Okay, she IS in most every issue, kicking butt and taking names… not necessarily in that order. But Dinah as a character is never really there. There's very little sign of the witty warm woman whom we saw in Grell's "Green Arrow" or even the old O'Neil and Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow. Dinah's basic purpose in every story is to act as the leg woman (no pun intended) for Barbara Gordon. The Archie Goodwin to Oracle's Nero Wolfe.

    We never really get to see any sign of Dinah's life outside of working for Oracle. In fact, aside from a scene in BoP #15, we never really see Dinah at home relaxing. And even then, Dinah's relaxation is short-lived when she has to intervene to help a battered woman. The only other indication of a life outside her work takes place when Dinah is "on vacation".

    To Dixon's credit, he did have fun with the idea of "danger on vacation" in BoP #25 when we get various splash pages of Dinah reacting to things "off-camera" and then pulling back to reveal that what seems like a reaction to danger is actually something harmless.

    Regardless, we never get to see Dinah outside of her work. Which is really a shame because while Dixon is the acknowledged master of the action scene, he also has a gift for dialogue and relationships that is rarely seen. Sadly, most of that gift has been used on Barbara, to very good effect. Dixon built a relationship between Barbara and Ted Kord (yes, the Blue Beetle himself) that was a real joy to read.

  3. The Amazing Oracle…
  4. Most of the time, the stories in this book center in on Oracle. You won't hear me complaining about this. I'm the biggest Babs fan you'll find. But I'm also a Dinah fan, and sometimes Dinah does get the short end of the stick when it comes to story time.

    Case in point: how many of the major story-lines in BoP did Babs have a direct personal tie too?

    Give up? Nearly all of them. In the first storyline, Babs' old fiance, Jason Bard was in harm's way along with Canary. Issues 16 and 17 had Babs directly confronting the Joker for the first time since her crippling in "The Killing Joke". Issue 19 was centered totally on Babs' social life. The following Hunt for Oracle storyline was, again, centered on Babs with Dinah taking the sidekick role. And last month's 27 was totally focused on Babs' dealing with her father being shot, with not a Canary to be seen.

    And then… there's the great, the classic, the now highly collectable BoP #8. A touching story about the love between Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon. And I'm afraid, my dear Wingnuts, that this leads us to…

  5. Birds of Prey: AKA The Adventures of Nightwing
  6. At times, it seems like Birds of Prey is a second Nightwing title. Not that I would object to a second Nightwing title. In fact, get that petition to me and I'll sign twice! But I don't want a second Nightwing title at the expense of the ladies. For example, while BoP 8 was a brilliant story and should have gotten Chuck a ton of awards, it was also a Nightwing story and should have been in Dick's book.

    Then again, Dick's adventures in his own book are so huge that it was inevitable that one book couldn't hold them all. This became evident in the Hunt for Oracle story, where the books crossed over for two months and a subplot for Nightwing (the hunt for a donor heart for Blockbuster) became the main plot for Birds of Prey for three months. This leads to my final complaint…

  7. Too many dirtyword-ing crossovers!
  8. It's been nearly a year now, since issue 18 and in all that time we have only had one issue of BoP that wasn't tied into some kind of a crossover. 19 was an intro into the events setting up the Hunt for Oracle (20-21). 22-24 were devoted to the search for a heart for Blockbuster in Gorilla City. 25, the one exception to the cross-over chain, was devoted to settling the matter of a romantic relationship between Babs and Ted. 26 was part of the GAWD awful "Batman Dies" series, where every single Bat-Book had to do some kind of story involving the Death of Batman. And as I said earlier, 27 was tied into the "Officer Down" storyline, and dealt entirely with Nightwing and Barbara with nary a Canary in sight.

    Thankfully, as of next month… I can't complain about that last one anymore. We're finally back on independent storylines with Dinah going back in time to the days of the Vikings.

That said: I have an idea for a really great story. Let's get Dinah and Babs to meet, face to face and have a good long talk about their various scarrings. I mean, we wind up having a special issue every other month where Barbara has to deal with the stigma of being in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Let's see Dinah talk about her life-affecting injury. I'm talking about her injuries from Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters that left her barren and without her Canary Cry. Think about what a great topic for a story that would be, all you writers out there!

And speaking of Green Arrow, meet me back here next time and I shall spin you a tale of the New Green Arrow book, which will hopefully be out sometime between when you read this and when I next sit down to write to you all.

Until then, happy trails.