Book Review – Birds of Prey vol. 5: Soul Crisis (New 52)

  • Title: Birds of Prey vol. 5: Soul Crisis
  • Author: Christy Marx
  • Artists: Romano Molenaar, Daniel Sampere, Travis Moore, Robson Rocha, Jonathan Glapion, Vicente Cifuentes, Jordi Tarragona, Oclair Albert, Mark Deering, Julio Ferreira, Scott McDaniel, Chris Sotomayor, Taylor Esposito, Dezi Sienty, Travis Lanham, Carlos M. Mangual
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), Black Canary (Dinah Lance), Suicide Squad, Amanda Waller
  • Collection Date: 2015
  • Collected issues: Birds of Prey #25, 27-34; Birds of Prey: Future’s End 1 (2013-2014)
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/15/2016

**spoiler alert** The fifth volume of the collected New 52 version of Birds of Prey really feels like the end of this series. The book opens with a flashback, telling us how Black Canary became Black Canary. It’s a wonderful story. The book ends with a flash forward to five years in the future – having survived a dip in the Lazarus Pit, Black Canary now leads the Red League – rescuing women from abuse, sex trafficking, slavery, and other crimes. Some of the women she rescues willingly join her. Black Canary runs into a future bizarre Batgirl called Bête Noire (the Black Beast). I liked this taste of a future Black Canary – the only issue I had was the internal monologue boxes were red print on a black background which is very, very hard to read. Actually, I find red print difficult to read on any background.

Beyond those two very separate books – this volume wraps up the loose ends from the previous volume. Then the newly regenerated Mother Eve sends the Birds of Prey on a rescue mission to the Congo in Africa to retrieve one of her operatives. There they run into the Suicide Squad (Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Capt. Boomarang, and King Shark) and Amanda Waller. Waller tells Black Canary “the truth” of why Kurt, her husband, has no memory of her – their marriage was a sham and part of Kurt’s cover. Waller then takes Kurt out of the rehab facility he’s been in since his recovery. Black Canary is devastated by this “truth” – but this is Amanda Waller we’re taking about – a master manipulator who wouldn’t know the truth if it walked up to her and introduced itself.

The story ends, however, with the Birds breaking up – Batgirl leaves in disgust and returns to Gotham. Condor tries to stay with Black Canary, since he’s fallen in love with her (for awhile now) but we know the relationship will go nowhere. Canary strikes out on her own – and the flash-forward last story I already mentioned tells us how that will go.

Birds of Prey is a great graphic novel series because it features all women superheroes. Women who are bad-asses who can take care of themselves. The New 52 version compromises that premise (which has been around since the Chuck Dixon series of the 1990s) by introducing Condor who, although cool, doesn’t really belong in this series. These “birds” do not need a man to rescue them. The series also compromises Black Canary, a long-time DC heroine by making her entire existence about her guilt over accidentally “killing” her husband and then her determination to rescue and restore him. Canary even considers betraying the team and allowing R’as al Ghul to kill Mother Eve – simply to get her husband back and whole. Come on – this is the woman who was the defacto leader of the Justice League! (Batman was the leader on paper, but as he tended to be busy he appointed Canary as his lieutenant.) Canary was the trainer for Young Justice in that animated series. She’s had her own series. And for awhile, she was married to Oliver Queen – the Green Arrow. So why wimp her out? Oh, that right, this is New 52.

Fortunately, Rebirth brings her bad-ass self back. Birds of Prey becomes a story of betrayal and of character after character leaving – another trope of “women can’t work together”. There are some great moments (Starling – I miss her!) and some truly beautiful art. But I prefer the original series. And Rebirth is looking to be good too. I rate things based on it’s own merits – and by that score, this novel was pretty good, but other versions of the Birds are better.

Book Review – Doctor Who: Business Unusual

  • Title: Business Unusual
  • Series: BBC Books Past Doctor Adventures
  • Author: Gary Russell
  • Characters:  Sixth Doctor, Mel
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 02/15/2017

Business Unusual is from the BBC Books Past Doctor Adventures paperback series. I finished the series a few years ago, and started in on the Virgin Publishing Missing Doctors series, but Business Unusual was one of the ones that was out of print. I received an e-book copy, so this is a review of the e-book. Business Unusual features the Sixth Doctor as played by Colin Baker. For the Doctor it’s just after his trial at the hands of the Time Lords, so he’s determined to prevent that from happening at all. As a result, he’s travelling alone, though the book opens with the Doctor on Earth helping a police captain defeat the Master. He’s wrapping that up, and is to meet an human computer programmer who will finish off the virus to destroy the Master’s planned computer take-over. Meeting Mel by accident, the Doctor is determined to not have her become his companion.

Taking place in Brighton, the main story involves Sené-Net, a computer gaming entertainment company, with it’s fingers in prosthetics, human enhancements, and a number of other fields, including a fast-food burger chain. Mel is working at one of their subsidaries as an intern, and she’s the programmer the police have called in to finish cleaning-up the Master’s mess. The Doctor also witnesses a psychic attack on a young man, who turns out to be Mel’s family’s house guest. Also, the Brigadier, though retired, had been called in by UNIT and Department C-19 to investigate a missing operative. He’s promptly captured by Sené-Net.

So, despite his best intentions to stay out of things – the Doctor is drawn in, and meets Mel anyway. Mel and the Doctor investigate Sené-Net, and find that it’s CEO is more computer and cybernetics than human – plus he’s working with the Nestene Consciousness. Or to be precise, the Nestene are using him to launch a beachhead against Earth. From different angles, the Doctor, Mel, Mel’s family and friends, and the Brigadier uncover the plot – and stop it, but not without cost.

Business Unusual is a fun story that manages to combine the Jon Pertwee-Era feel of an alien invasion on Earth story, with really good characterization of the Doctor and Mel. The Doctor’s pain, anxiety, and worry underlies everything in the story. He really does not want to become the Valeyard. Meanwhile, Mel is shown to be an intelligent, professional, computer professional. Yes, she is health conscious, and even a bit pushy about it with her co-workers, but she’s not the whiny, overly cheerful, screamer she was in the series. She’s even a bit of a pragmatist. The scenes between the Doctor and the Brigadier are not to be missed. And the supporting cast is fun.

Overall, I’d give this book four stars. It’s a fun, quick read and recommended.

Book Review – Birds of Prey vol. 4: The Cruelest Cut (New 52)

  • Title: Birds of Prey vol. 4: The Cruelest Cut
  • Author: Christy Marx, James Tynion IV
  • Artists: Romano Molenaar, Jonathan Glapion, Vicente Cifuentes, Julio Ferreira, Scott McDaniel, Graham Nolan, Miguel Sepulveda, Robson Rocha, Sandu Florea, Oclair Albert, Chris Sotomayor, Rain Beredo, Taylor Esposito, Dezi Sienty, Travis Lanham
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), Black Canary (Dinah Lance), Starling, Strix, Talon, Condor, 
  • Collection Date: 2014
  • Collected issues: Birds of Prey #18-24, 26; Talon #9 (2013-2014)
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 9/29/2016

**Spoiler Alert** Volume 4 of the Birds of Prey series focuses on betrayal. Starling is kidnapped from Dinah (Black Canary)’s Dojo and a ransom demand sent: turn over the Talon and get Starling back. Batgirl begins to reassure the Talon (now called Strix) only to have Strix run. Black Canary and Batgirl follow – only to find Strix at the Court of Owls experimental lab. Suddenly, Mr. Freeze shows-up with Starling. Starling had thrown in her lot with Freeze, declaring, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and since Freeze wants vengeance on the Owls for stealing his cryogenic technology, Starling figures she can use Freeze to get to the Court and the Owls. Black Canary and Batgirl don’t see it that way, and are angered at and feel betrayed by Starling. Condor, meanwhile, proves his mettle, and provides shelter at his workshop.

No sooner are the Birds settling in than Batgirl gets a mysterious message and leaves.

We follow the Talon who refused to kill Strix, on his own adventure to try to free his girlfriend (or wife) and child and then to invade Santa Prisca to challenge Bane.

Back at Condor’s workshop, Basilisk attacks, including a new member, Uplink, who psychically attacks the group, trapping them in dreams. Black Canary and Condor are kidnapped. A former police officer arrives and offers help from “the Benefactor”. Batgirl and Strix go to free Black Canary and try to figure out if Condor, a former member of Basilisk, can be trusted.

At the Basilisk stronghold, Canary discovers her husband, Kurt, isn’t dead – but he is comatose and he’s also a metahuman who’s power is the ability to magnify or block the powers of other metas. She also discovers the leader of Basilisk, Regulus, is a fused being that combines Kaizen and Dean Higgins. Canary had thought Dean was killed in a disastrous black-ops mission to destroy the villain Kaizen, and also “killed” Kurt.

The book ends with Canary holding Kurt, whom Batgirl has returned to his coma because he is experiencing continuous seizures. Condor has proven himself, as has Strix. Presumably, the Birds of Prey will escape.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Empire of Glass

  • Title: The Empire of Glass
  • Series: Virgin Publishing Missing Doctor Adventures
  • Author: Andrew Lane
  • Characters: First Doctor, Steven, Vicki
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 1/26/2017

The Doctor, Steven, and Vicki land the TARDIS in 17th century Venice, the Empire of Glass, and meet Shakespeare (currently a spy for King James the First of England and Sixth of Scotland), William Marlowe who isn’t quite as dead as Shakespeare thought he was, Galileo, and another Time Lord from Gallifrey who is hosting intergalactic arms limitation talks on a hidden island in Venice.

This story is short, barely over 200 pages in the e-book version, and a thorough romp. There are plenty of fights in bars, kidnappings, chases, mistaken identity (a cardinal looks very like the Doctor, apparently, so the two keep getting mistaken for each other by everyone), misunderstandings, and even a duel. It’s a fun and quick read. Even the opening chapter describing the infamous Lost Colony is successfully tied in by the end.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book because it was so much fun.

Book Review – Birds of Prey vol. 3: A Clash of Daggers (New 52)

  • Title: Birds of Prey vol. 3: A Clash of Daggers
  • Author:  Duane Swierczynski, Gail Simone
  • Artists: Romano Molenaar, Vicente Cifuentes, Admira Wijaya, Daniel Sampere, Juan Jose, RYP, Dezi Sienty, Dave Sharpe, Chris Sotomayor
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), Black Canary (Dinah Lance), Starling, Katana, Talon, Condor, Catwoman, Comissionor Gordon, Amanda Waller
  • Collection Date: 2013
  • Collected issues: Batgirl Annual 1, Birds of Prey #13-17 (2012-2013)
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 9/26/2016

This volume of Birds of Prey consists of essentially three stories. In the first story, Commissioner James Gordon visits a Talon in jail. He’s trying to get some information from her, but she’s a Talon and a Mute, so his inquiries are a bust. However, Catwoman frees the female Talon. Later this Talon helps Catwoman and Batgirl in a fight against a group of Talons, led by a man who is organizing the arson of a series of buildings occupied by the poor in one of the worst sections of Gotham (and framing Bruce Wayne for the destruction and death). The Talon fights her former cult-mates and helps Batgirl and Catwoman saving their lives. Batgirl is especially impressed by both Catwoman’s heroics and the Talon’s integrity. The art of the first story is beautiful with a painted/watercolor look and a sepia tone.

In the second story, Katana is attacked and her sword is stolen. Katana follows the sword to Japan where she’s captured by the Daggers – a secret society and crime organization. The Birds of Prey follow her. Throughout the story there’s a countdown to something, “24 hours to detonation, 12 hours to detonation”, etc. which gives the story a tense undercurrent. The something turns out to be a scorched Earth bomb. The Birds, Katana, and a mysterious maybe-hero called “Condor” stop the bomb and Katana recovers her sword which she believes hold her husband’s soul. But in the end, Katana decides to stay in Japan.

Black Canary, Starling, and Batgirl return to Gotham. Batgirl brings in Talon as a new member, upsetting the other two who see her, well, by her costume, as The Enemy. Events happen so fast, Batgirl is unable to explain why she trusts this Talon. Condor also arrives, intent on joining the team – despite it being all women. A few weeks later, this new team is up against the Basilisk tech-terrorist group. Things again go terribly wrong when Canary loses control of her powers, Starling covers for her, and then Starling secretly calls in Amanda Waller. Basilisk turns from attacking a building and power grid to attacking the team with “heartstoppers” electric balls that can fire power that would literally stop the heart. Talon saves Canary, and Condor and Starling’s cry to Waller help the rest of the team.

The art in the rest of the collection varies by book. However, it’s all competent to good. Birds of Prey continues to be a fun series to read – full of powerful kick-ass women. I could do with a bit more characterization, but it’s still well-worth reading. Recommended.

Book Review – Doctor Who: Millennial Rites

  • Title: Millennial Rites
  • Series: Virgin Publishing Missing Doctor Adventures
  • Author: Craig Hinton
  • Characters:  Sixth Doctor, Mel
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/24/2015

**Spoiler alert** Millennial Rites is the last Doctor Who Missing Adventures book that I have in paperback, though I have a few more to read as e-books. It was published by Virgin Publishing, and it’s an original novel featuring the Sixth Doctor as played by Colin Baker and Mel (Melanie Bush) as played by Bonnie Langford. The story is told in three distinct parts.

In part one, the Doctor is unusually pre-occupied with his own future, having just gone through his Trial at the hands of the Time Lords and the Valeyard. He and Mel land in London on New Year’s Eve 1999. There they run into Anne Travers who after the events of the Doctor Who Missing Adventures novel, Downtime, has become even more determined to defeat the Great Intelligence. Mel attends her 10-year college reunion, only to have someone slip her a request to hack a computer company that’s closing it’s doors on New Year’s Eve, making the staff redundant (in other words, they are all fired except a small research group). Two of the fired employees: Barry and Louise, get involved in the situation (as does Louise’s very young daughter, Cassie).

Barry shows Louise a CD of computer code he lifted from the office – but when he does so, her computer becomes alive, then a monster attacks them. The three escape, Louise leaves her daughter with her mother, then they attempt to find the other fired employee that Barry stole the computer disk from. But another of the Cybrid monsters has already killed him.

In the fracas, Barry and Louise meet up with the Doctor and Mel. The Doctor fears Ashley Chapel of the computer firm is trying to bring back Verocyl – but he’s wrong. The Doctor tries to prevent Anne Travers from casting her banishment spell – and fails. Everyone rushes to Ashley’s computer company to stop him running the Millennium Codex – and again, the Doctor fails.

In Part Two, everyone suddenly wakes in a fantasy world ruled by three continuously fighting monarchs: The Technomancer, Majestrix Melaphyre (Mel), ruler of the Ziggurat of Sciosophy; The Archimage, Magnus Ashmael (Ashley Chapel), ruler of the Tower of Abraxis; and the Hierophant, Bibliotrix Anastasia (Anne Travers), ruler of the Labyrinth of Thaumaturgy. Mel is attended by fantasy versions of Barry and Louise, who have a daughter, Cassandra, in the fantasy world as well.

The Doctor appears to be unchanged at first, and quickly escapes the Archimage. However, in the fantasy world he is slowly being changed into the Valeyard. However, it is the Doctor who establishes an alliance between Melaphyre and Anastasia – who must prevent Magnus Ashmael from further destroying not simply the new and unstable fantasy universe, but the real universe. This time he succeeds.

The final part wraps up the story. As life in London in the New Millennium is returned to normal.

Millennial Rites is two stories in one – part one is a Cyberpunk “nightmare” as a computer guru attempts to take over the world with malicious code. Part two is an intriguing fantasy. I enjoyed both parts – and I liked the idea that the Doctor, especially Colin’s Doctor would be so arrogant about his ability to stop Chapel – then he fails. Though the Doctor gets to do the same thing again in Part Two. Besides the fantasy elements, Part Two is also fueled by the Doctor’s fears of becoming the Valeyard – something never really dealt with in either televised Doctor Who or the various novels, comics, and audio plays that I’ve read. It made Colin’s Doctor surprisingly vulnerable and approachable.

Recommended!

Book Review – Birds of Prey vol. 2: Your Kiss Might Kill (New 52)

  • Title: Birds of Prey vol. 2: Your Kiss Might Kill
  • Author:  Duane Swierczynski
  • Artists: Travel Foreman, Jesus Saiz, Javier Pina, Jeff Huet, Timothy Green II, Joseph Silver, Cliff Richards, Romano Molenaar, Vicente Cifuentes, June Chung, Gabe Eltaeb, Chris Sotomayor, Carlos M. Mangual, Dave Sharpe
  • Line: New 52
  • Characters: Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), Black Canary (Dinah Lance), Starling, Katana, Poison Ivy
  • Collection Date: 2013
  • Collected issues: Birds of Prey #8-12, #0 (2012)
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 7/13/2016

The second volume of DC Comics New 52 version of Birds of Prey builds on Black Canary’s background – explaining why everyone is after her. Dinah Lance, it seems, was not framed for murder after all – but did actually kill her ex-husband, though it was an accident. He was training her to learn to control her Canary Cry, and well, things didn’t go well.

This volume also explores Poison Ivy’s character – she does betray her fellow teammates as well as show her more violent tendencies. However, this gives her some depth – and in many ways she becomes sympathetic – despite everything in the comic that tries to point to her as an “terrorist” and extremist. There is also some background and information given about Starling, though she remains enigmatic. Batgirl – and yes it is Batgirl, not Oracle, also shows up. Katana remains one of my favorite characters – despite her extremely violent nature.

Birds of Prey is a fast-moving action-packed book, but there is some characterization that manages to sneak in. And it is awesome to see unique, powerful, strong women who are determined in their convictions. Poison Ivy may be called a “terrorist” and Black Canary condemns her for betraying the team, but you can also understand her point of view, even if her methods are a bit extreme. At least Ivy focuses her attacks squarely at criminals rather than the innocent.

It will be interesting to see how this version of Birds of Prey develops.

I will say that although I prefer the Chuck Dixon Birds of Prey series from the 1990s; this book is one of the better New 52 books.