Book Review – Birds of Prey vol. 3 (1990s – Chuck Dixon)

  • Title: Birds of Prey vol. 3
  • Author:  Chuck Dixon
  • Artists: Greg Land, Gloria Vasquez, Patricia Mulvihill, Dick Giordano,  Albert T DeGuzman, Patrick Zircher, John Costanza, Butch Guice, Drew Geraci, Jordi Ensign, Jose Marzan Jr.
  • Line: 1990-Era (Early Modern Age)
  • Characters: Oracle (Barbara Gordon), Black Canary (Dinah Lance), Power Girl, Nightwing, Alfred Pennyworth, Robin
  • Collection Date: 2016 (reprint)
  • Collected issues: Birds of Prey #12-21 and Nightwing #45-46 (1999-2000)
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 3/22/2017

This is the third volume of the collected Classic Birds of Prey written by Chuck Dixon and illustrated by Greg Land and others. First, Black Canary is out to stop the breakout of a number of super-villains from a prisoner transport train. She, the military officers protecting the train, and the villains are transported by Boom Tube to Apokolips. There, with the help of a weaker parademon that isn’t part of the hoard, they must all escape. Barbara meets Ted Kord at a technology conference – and discovers he’s the co-hacker she’s been chatting with on-line for months. Diana tries to help an abused woman in her apartment building but is too late to prevent her from killing her abuser. Barbara interviews the Joker from an unseen position. Finding out the Joker has sold nuclear cruise missiles to a terrorist group, she asks for more information. When she tells Joker he isn’t in Arkham but New York, he tells her the nukes are on missiles that will hit New York. Oracle calls in Powergirl, Black Canary, and even the US Military to stop the attack. Dinah (Black Canary) is sent on a humanitarian mission to Transbelvia to help refugees and victims of ethnic cleansing and war between Krasy-Volnans and Belvans. She helps a group get to a shelter, overall things do not go well. Meanwhile, Jason Bard calls Barbara from the hospital where he’s undergoing an operation to restore his sight. Barbara offers to get him some investigative work.

There is a flashback story of Barbara setting up her Oracle base with the help of Richard Grayson (Nightwing) and Robin. She ends up also having Ted Kord visit her apartment and meeting with Jason Bard as well (who discovers she is in the chair).

The final volumes collected in Volume 3 of Birds of Prey reprint Nightwing and Birds of Prey in order. Nightwing is captured by Blockbuster, but freed by Cisco Blaine, who turns out to be a Federal agent. However, while Nightwing goes to get the files to bring down Blockbuster, Nite-Wing (Tad) the not-that-bright vigilante kills Blaine. Grayson freaks. Meanwhile, Black Canary is being pursued. Alfred and Robin rescue Dick, and they race to rescue Oracle. Meanwhile, Blockbuster has hired Mouse, Giz, Stallion, and Lady Vic, to find and destroy Oracle. Alfred, Robin, Nightwing, and Black Canary rush to help Barbara (Oracle). Barbara survives but Dinah is captured by the bad guys who think she’s Oracle.

Birds of Prey Volume 3 collects Birds of Prey 12-21 and Nightwing #45-46. Note this is NOT the Gail Simone version of Birds of Prey – it’s the original Chuck Dixon version.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Crystal Bucephlus

  • Title: The Crystal Bucephlus
  • Series: Virgin Publishing Missing Doctor Adventures
  • Author: Craig Hinton
  • Characters:  Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Turlough, Kamelion
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 9/17/2015

The Crystal Bucephalus is one of several books in Virgin Publishing’s Doctor Who the Missing Adventures series. It’s actually the first book in the series I read many years ago about the time it was published. All I remember from the first time I read it was that it was a bit confusing. Re-reading the book now, I was able to understand the novel, but I still thought the end was rushed.

The Crystal Bucephalus features the Fifth Doctor (as played by Peter Davison), Tegan, Turlough, and eventually, Kamelion. For once, the novel doesn’t start with the TARDIS landing someplace and the Doctor and company getting involved in local affairs. The Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough are enjoying a fine meal in France when they are literally picked up, only to appear in The Crystal Bucephalus, an extremely exclusive tenth millennium time-traveling restaurant, where the movers and shakers of the galaxy make their deals to form the galaxy.

The Crystal Bucephalus is a unique restaurant, it consists of a series of cubicles which can be projected back in time to any restaurant or other exclusive recreational area. There, the customers of the restaurant can eat, drink, and be merry without affecting history because their “reality quotient” is .5 – and when they return to the restaurant’s present, even their image is forgotten by those in in the time period they visited (time re-sets itself as if the time travellers were never there).

But one of the patrons has been murdered, and in the emergency retrieval of that patron, Arrestis, and his mistress – the Doctor and his companions are brought to the Bucephalus too.

There, the Doctor and Turlough are taken to the Maitre’D, while Tegan “escapes” with Arrestis’s “girl” – actually an agent of the Intent (but more about that later).

The Doctor reveals to the Maitre’D, that he is the Benefactor – the person who endowed the money to build the restaurant. The Doctor also asks to see Alex Lassiter, the time scientist responsible for making the Bucephalus work.

Politically, the Galaxy in the Tenth Millennium is split between three groups – the Enclave, a group of mobsters who run all crime in the Galaxy, The Lazarus Intent – a religious group with considerable Political Power, several small Empires of Reptilian Races (Draconians, Earth Reptiles, Martians, etc.) who have been steadily losing power, influence and territory, and the remainder of the Earth Federation/Empire. But the real power players are the Lazarus Intent and the Enclave. And, as Arrestis was the leader of the Enclave, and his mistress an agent for the Intent – it could be a charged murder mystery right there.

However, the Doctor soon discovers Arrestis is a clone – in a time where all cloning technology and research had been banned so long most people don’t even know what it is. (Tegan at one point explains what cloning is to someone.) The Lazarus Intent strictly forbids cloning and all research into cloning technology.

The Doctor also is intrigued by the technology of the Bucephalus because it’s very close to a working, TARDIS-like, time machine. Soon, though, other murders take place (it becomes confusing because most of the “murders” end-up with no one actually dead – just temporarily misplaced in time – such are the hazards of a time machine that’s breaking down). The Bucephalus uses Legions to pilot it’s time bubbles in the Time Vortex, but one is attacked and barely saved by the Doctor, then another is killed (really).

However, the plot does still get confusing – people “dying” but who are alive and trapped in another time. Or on the time machine operated by Matisse, Lassiter’s ex-wife and previous co-developer on the Bucephalus, now agent of the Enclave. Even the Doctor at one point is time-scooped by Matisse and dropped on a frozen planet of intelligent dog-like creatures, where, once rescued – the Doctor spends five years opening then building up the reputation of a restaurant so it will be included in the Carte d’Locales of the Bucephalus so he can find his way back.

The plot does eventually settle down into it’s two many points: the tangled love life of Monroe, Matisse and Lassiter (Monroe and Matisse are both his ex-wives), and the plan of the head of the Enclave to also take over the Lazarus Intent. And a few truly bizarre time travel hijinks – that work, but are a bit strange.

Overall, though at times it was a bit confusing, there was an almost philosophical bent to The Crystal Bucephalus which was interesting and different. The characters were well-written and written like their television counterparts. Turlough, especially was well-written (he shows up in very few Past Doctor Adventures which focused on Davison’s early TARDIS crew or Peri). It was also neat to see Kamelion, I really think this is the only novel I’ve read that features him.

Book Review – Birds of Prey vol. 2 (1990s – Chuck Dixon)

  • Title: Birds of Prey vol. 2
  • Author:  Chuck Dixon
  • Artists: Greg Land, Gloria Vasquez, James Sinclair, Dick Giordano,  Albert T DeGuzman, Pete Krause, Nelson DeCastro, Tim Harkins, Drew Geraci, Mark Propst
  • Line: 1990-Era (Early Modern Age)
  • Characters: Oracle (Barbara Gordon), Black Canary (Dinah Lance), Ravens
  • Collection Date: 2016 (reprint)
  • Collected issues: Birds of Prey 1 – 11 and Birds of Prey Ravens 1 (1999)
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 4/18/2016

Goodreads has this book mis-identified, though I can see the confusion. The cover shown is for the Chuck Dixon, Greg Land, Drew Geraci DC Comics Brids of Prey Volume 2 graphic novel published (or rather re-published) copyright 2016. Gail Simone is author of the current New 52 Birds of Prey run. This is a reprint of the 1999 series, and features: Birds of Prey 1 – 11 and Birds of Prey Ravens 1. So either the wrong cover is assigned (I looked at the other Birds of Prey book listed in Goodreads and it has the wrong cover and only lists Birds of Prey 1 -2 for content.)

Birds of Prey are the female heroes and sometimes chaotic good characters (such as Catwoman or Huntress) of the DC Universe. This book also introduces the Ravens a group of female assassin characters. Volume 2 of DC’s collected reprint of the 1990s run of Birds of Prey focuses on Black Canary and Oracle. In the first story, Oracle sends Black Canary to Rheelasia on a rescue mission. It’s a set-up, but in the midst of the chaos, Black Canary does manage to rescue Jason Bard – Oracle’s former fiancé and a PI sent to rescue the rich and privileged hostages a villain named Pajamas has kidnapped. Although Jason is injured, they manage to rescue the hostages and shut down Pajamas operation.

The next story is a Ravens story and introduces the Ravens: Cheshire, Vicious, Termina, and Pistolera, assassins all – who are on a mission to prevent the terrorist organization S.I.M.O.N. from exploding a neutron generator – which produces a continuous stream of deadly radiation over a controlled area. The Ravens are betrayed by Termina who thinks the radiation from the generator will reverse her illness that makes her deadly to everyone around her. The other three Ravens escape.

In the next story, Black Canary heads to the Minnesota lakes country – only to run into the Ravens again as well as an honest-to-goodness lake monster, and Kobra (an international criminal syndicate) – throw in a little time travel and Canary’s vacation becomes a Busman’s Holiday. However, the story is fun, light, and very, very enjoyable. I loved it.

There is also a short story of Barbara Gordon (the real identity of Oracle) and Dick Grayson (Nightwing) going out on a date to Haly’s Circus. It’s a wonderful and sweet story.

Getting back to the Birds of Prey, Black Canary also is sent on an humanitarian rescue mission, only to discover the man she was sent to rescue is the stereotypical “mad scientist” and his experiment is a super-powered clone of Guy Gardner (one time Green Lantern). Evil Guy Gardner clone nearly kills Canary but he is stopped by a big and pleasant surprise!

Birds of Prey is an awesome series – and this graphic novel I found to be even more enjoyable than volume 1 because it focused on Oracle and Black Canary. The guest-starring Ravens were introduced with enough detail to make them understandable as characters – and to make this reader sympathetic to them, even with their rather shady profession. Still, assassins who kill the lowest of the low / scum of the earth types although considered evil or at the very least chaotic good in the DC Universe (where killing people is always bad no excuses) seem to have their place at least in Birds of Prey. It’s also wonderful to see a whole series devoted to the female heroes and characters of the DC Universe.

I recommend this graphic novel and the series.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Sands of Time

  • Title: The Sands of Time
  • Series: Virgin Publishing Missing Doctor Adventures
  • Author: Justin Richards
  • Characters:  Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 8/13/2015

I started this book as an e-book and finished by reading the paperback reprint that is part of the BBC Books Doctor Who Books Monster Collection. Sands of Time was originally published by Virgin Publishing as part of their Doctor Who Missing Adventures. Additionally, it’s a sequel to the aired episode, “Pyramids of Mars” featuring the Fourth Doctor as portrayed by Tom Baker. The novel features the Fifth Doctor, as played by Peter Davison and his companions Tegan and Nyssa. However, from a strictly linear sense the story takes place before “Pyramids of Mars”. Timey-Whimy indeed.

I enjoyed this story very much. It is very much a historical story, with the only SF elements being the TARDIS and the idea that the gods of Egypt are aliens called Osirans. All the “guest” characters are strong and memorable. I particularly liked Atkins, the Victorian butler who ends-up being a short-term companion of sorts.

The story begins with the TARDIS being drawn off course, and landing in the British museum. There, the Doctor, in trying to figure out precisely where he is prior to returning to the TARDIS, walks out of the museum and meets Atkins, who knows him well. The Doctor, though, has no idea who Atkins is. The Doctor and Tegan follow their path, Nyssa having been kidnapped, both trying to rescue her and trying to figure out what’s going on – only to discover they are caught up in events that seem to already have happened. They go to the Savoy, for example, to get some hotel rooms – and discover they are already registered. Tegan finds a green Victorian dress waiting for her in her room. At breakfast, the waiter offers the Doctor and Tegan the table they had the previous night.

It’s a wonderful twisty-turny plot that comes together beautifully. And interspersed between the main chapters are very short chapters that fill-out the story perfectly. These short bits are some of my favorites in the novel, because they give the story depth or fill-in background information that’s interesting but not part of the main plot (such as when a mummy is scanned by a CAT scanner).

I highly recommend Sands of Time especially as it is now available again in a reprint edition.

One important different between the e-book and the reprint. The e-book includes extensive author’s notes, which are instructive to an aspiring writer. And it also includes the author’s alternative ending. I must say – I prefer the original ending (the one in the reprint and the one used in the original final version of the first published version) rather than the alternative ending. But the author’s notes on why he wrote a second ending are fascinating – in short it’s a classic case of second-guessing yourself. I’m glad his editor said, “No, keep the first one – it’s better.” Because I liked it better as well.

Update: As mentioned at the start of this review, this novel is now available as a reprinted edition as part of the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who. This time I actually read the reprint!

Book Review – Birds of Prey vol. 1 (1990s – Chuck Dixon)

  • Title: Birds of Prey vol. 1
  • Author:  Chuck Dixon, Sherilyn van Valkenburgh, Jordan B. Gorfinkel, Dave Grafe, Gloria Vasquez
  • Artists: Jordan B. Gorfinkel, Gary Frank, Stefano Raffaele, Matt Haley, Jennifer Graves, Sal Buscema, Dick Giordano, Greg Land, Albert T DeGuzman, Phil Felix, John Dell, Stan Woch, Wade von Grawbadger, John Lowe, Cam Smith, Bob McLeod, Wayne Faucher, Drew Geraci
  • Line: 1990-Era (Early Modern Age)
  • Characters: Oracle (Barbara Gordon), Black Canary (Dinah Lance), Huntress (Helena Bertinelli), Catwoman (Selina Kyle)
  • Collection Date: 2015 (reprint)
  • Collected issues: Black Canary/Oracle Birds of Prey 1, Showcase ’96 3, Birds of Prey: Manhunt 1-4, Birds of Prey: Revolution 1, Birds of Prey: Wolves 1, Birds of Prey: Batgirl 1 (1995, 1996, 1997, 1998)
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/24/2015

Birds of Prey is DC Comics all-female superhero team. The team is lead not by a male hero nor a male mentor, but by a woman: Barbara Gordon who was once Batgirl but after the events of Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke is now Oracle. Oracle is one of my favorite DC characters – after being paralyzed by gunshot – she returns to college, gets her MLS and becomes a librarian. However, not only does she remain independent with an excellent job, she’s also Oracle – the information hub for all the DC heroes especially Batman and Nightwing – and she runs her own organization of female heroes.

Birds of Prey Volume 1 is a reprint of several early Birds of Prey comics from the mid to late 1990s, written by Chuck Dixon. I hope DC reprints the entire run, because this volume gathers a number of specials, the stories are slightly disjointed. A few characters reappear, but really each issue within this volume could be read as a stand alone.

Other characters featured in the volume include: Black Canary (who’s awesome, has a much better new costume, and has dumped Oliver Queen), Catwoman (Oracle warns against working with her – Canary and Huntress do anyway), and Huntress. Featured villains include Lady Shiva, Mad Hatter, Spellbinder (who’s female) and corporate hack Nick Devine.

I enjoyed this volume very much, but it does have a strong, “Good start, where’s the rest?” feel to it. I would very much like to see more.

Book Review – Doctor Who: Goth Opera

  • Title: Goth Opera
  • Series: Virgin Publishing Missing Doctor Adventures
  • Author: Paul Cornell
  • Characters:  Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 8/02/2015

When I decided to read all the Doctor Who Missing Adventures published by Virgin Publishing, I also decided to read them in Doctor and Doctor-Companion order. That is, chronological according to when they would take place in the series, not the original publication order. So, after just finishing the last book in the series, The Well-Mannered War, I’m now reading the first book in the series, Goth Opera, which includes a nice introduction by Peter Darvill-Evans, the book series editor. Goth Opera is also a sequel to the New Adventures book Blood Harvest, despite the fact that Blood Harvest features the Seventh Doctor and Goth Opera features the Fifth Doctor, as played by Peter Davison, as well as featuring Tegan, and Nyssa. I thought about skipping the book until I’d read Blood Harvest but decided to read it anyway – and re-read it when I read Blood Harvest.

Goth Opera opens in Tasmania at a cricket match. The Doctor’s taken Tegan there in order to give her a holiday after her second encounter with the Mara. But Tegan is not enjoying her vacation. Soon, the Doctor and his companions are involved in a plot by vampires to take over the world and turn all humans into vampires. Aiding the vampires in this is Ruath, a Time Lady that the Doctor has encountered before – or that he will encounter again in his Seventh form. Nyssa is kidnapped and turned into a vampire. And Ruath even turns the Doctor into a vampire, though the process takes longer to affect him. Eventually, the Doctor is able to turn the tables on the vampires, eliminate many of them, and even turn other new vampires back into humans, or in Nyssa’s case, back to being a native of Traken.

The story was good, with several interesting characters. However, I’m not a big fan of vampire stories. Still, I enjoyed this novel.

Book Review – Nightwing vol. 5: The Hunt for Oracle

  • Title: Nightwing vol. 5: The Hunt for Oracle
  • Author:  Chuck Dixon
  • Artists: Greg Land, Scott McDaniel, Patrick Zircher, Butch Guice, Karl Story, Drew Geraci, Mark McKenna, Jose Marzan Jr, Bill Sienkiewicz, Hector Collard, Robert Tewes, Patricia Mulvihill, Gloria Vasquez, Shannon Blanchard, John Costanza, Albert T DeGuzman
  • Line: 1990-Era (Early Modern Age)
  • Characters: Nightwing (Dick Grayson), Huntress, Oracle, Nite-Wing, Black Canary
  • Collection Date: 2016 (reprint)
  • Collected issues: Nightwing #35-46 and Birds of Prey #20-21 (1999-2000)
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 3/13/2017

I really, really enjoyed this volume of Chuck Dixon’s Nightwing. The first few issues overlap with Nightwing a Darker Shade of Justice from the previous printing, but here they are presented with two issues taking place during No Man’s Land, when, in the wake of an earthquake, Gotham is abandoned. Batman sends Nightwing into Blackgate prison to get rid of the warden, Lock-up. Nightwing’s plan to go undercover is immediately uncovered and he’s dropped in a hole with a number of villains that he and Batman had previously faced and captured. Later, the hole begins to fill with water. Nightwing manages to get the villains to work together enough to blow a wall between the hole and the next chamber so the water has someplace to go. Nightwing is also captured by Lock-up again – who has discovered the rumors of his death are exaggerated. The prison is back under Batman’s control, and a broken and beaten Dick Grayson shows up at Barbara Gordon’s.

Barbara begins to care for Dick, taking care of him, when her Oracle’s nest is attacked by the GCPD. The police get closer and closer, walking in to every one of her traps. Eventually, Dick and Barbara have to escape. They are nearly caught in the parking garage but Huntress arrives to help her former Birds of Prey team-mate.

After all that, Dick decides to return to Blüdhaven. Dick returns to the police academy and graduates. He also discovers that Clancy had always wanted to go to med school but she couldn’t afford college and she was too intimidated to apply for a scholarship. Dick encourages her to apply for a WayneTech Scholarship, which she of course gets. Clancy goes to med school. But when Dick applies for a job as a police officer in Blüdhaven, he’s told he isn’t qualified. Another student, whom Dick has reason to suspect of being not that honest, gets the job instead. The corrupt chief of police makes this other “cop” his enforcer.

Meanwhile the same police chief has arrested Tad, alias Nite-Wing, but provides him with information to start taking down some of Blüdhaven’s connected criminals, mostly as a means of disrupting Blockbuster’s gang and eliminating competition. Our Nightwing notices this, and takes Nite-Wing under his wing, so to speak, to train him. Dick’s first suggestion: change your name and get a better costume. The two are captured by Blockbuster’s henchmen. Immediately separated, Blockbuster threatens torture. But the minute he leaves, his chief enforcer gets the twins threatening Nightwing out of the way and reveals himself to be a Federal agent investigating Roland (Blockbuster). Nite-Wing, meanwhile, had a ton of documentation to take down Blockbuster from the chief of police. It’s in his car, though Dick had started to FAX it to Oracle. Dick tells Cisco Blaine (the Federal agent), he will get the info while Blaine releases Nite-Wing. Tad, though, being a bit of an idiot, kills the agent, thinking he’s a henchman and enforcer for Blockbuster. Dick is really upset by this, obviously.

Blockbuster meanwhile sends his hired villains after Oracle, including Mouse and Giz.

The remainder of the book is “The Hunt for Oracle” as Blockbuster’s goons chase Black Canary and go after Oracle. Both Black Canary and Nightwing try to get to Barbara to help her. Black Canary doesn’t actually know who Oracle is – only knowing her as a voice on her comms. It’s a chase, and a good one. Not going to spoil the end.

I loved this book. The writing was both sharp and fun. Dixon’s characterization of Dick Grayson is perfect – smart, caring, loyal, and with a driving need to help others – whether that’s helping Clancy get in to med school by encouraging her to apply for a scholarship, or training Tad. The opening Blackgate/No Man’s Land sequence is full of action – as is the closing chase, but the Nightwing series shines when it focuses on characters – Dick Grayson and his friends. Even a villain like Blockbuster is given some humanity – his extraordinary size has caught-up with him and he’s facing heart trouble or a possible stroke. His private doctor even talks to Roland about a heart transplant with an artificial heart, or a heart from an animal. Blockbuster rejects the idea of a pig’s heart, but has the doctor investigate the use of ape heart from Gorilla City.

I highly, highly recommend this book and the rest of the series. It’s an enjoyable read. The book is beautifully written and the characterization is spot-on.

Update: Nightwing Vol. 5 The Hunt for Oracle features Nightwing #35-46 and Birds of Prey #20-21.