25 January 2013

Faster than a DC Bullet: Birds of Prey, Part III: DC Comics: The Sequential Art of Amanda Conner

Comic hardcover, 292 pages
Published 2012 (contents: 1998-2012)
Borrowed from the library
Read January 2013
DC Comics: The Sequential Art of Amanda Conner

Writers: Barbara Kesel, Chuck Dixon, Jai Nitz, Terry Moore, Patton Oswalt, Geoff Johns, Mark Waid, Justin Grey & Jimmy Palmiotti, Judd Winick, Amanda Conner
Penciller: Amanda Conner
Inkers: Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner
Letterers: Gaspar Saladino, Clem Robins, Kurt Hathaway, Albert T. De Guzman, Phil Balsman, Rob Leigh, Ken Lopez, Wes Abbott, John J. Hill
Colorists: John Kalisz, Pamela Rambo, Tom J. McCraw, Carrie Strachan, Paul Mounts, Rod Reis

Amanda Conner first came to my attention with her fabulous "Supergirl" strip in Wednesday Comics-- rarely is any comics artist able to master facial expressions so well, and even more, she used them to humorous effect. The Sequential Art of Amanda Conner collects a number of different examples of her work for DC Comics over the years, and I like her stuff enough to make it a must-read.

I'm reading it now, though, because it collects issues #47-49 of Birds of Prey (vol. 1), the only collected issues in the gap between Old Friends, New Enemies and Of Like Minds.1 The story is "The Chaotic Code," and it features Barbara and Dinah fighting to protect a young girl with the astounding power to undo the effect of entropy on people. Of course, like all advanced medical science in a comic book world, There Are Things That Man Was Not Meant To Do, and it'll kill you if it lasts too long. Also the guy the girl is working for is evil. The interesting part is that Barbara temporarily regains use of her legs; there's a great page where she jumps out of a window after some fearsome hand-to-hand stuff, and there a couple good jokes. What's unfortunate is that the fact she is forced to go back to the way she was isn't really dealt with.

Meanwhile, Dinah gets in trouble for parking illegally, and it escalates crazily from there. This is goofy, action-driven fun, a dynamic that the post-Green-Arrow Black Canary is well-suited for, I think.  Unfortunately, she's already back in her old outfit, though at least it's drawn better here than it was in the late 1980s/early 1990s. I miss the full-body jumpsuit! She ends up throwing down with Talia al Ghul, who is working for President Luthor for some reason.

Conner is maybe the perfect artist for Birds of Prey: fun and even sexy, without ever feeling crass and exploitative. Her faces, especially for Dinah as the situation gets worse and worse, are great, and she choreographs potentially-confusing action scenes quite well. It's a shame that she only ever drew this single three-issue arc.

The book is, of course, overall an excellent showcase for her immense skills; I'll touch just briefly on the other tales here. Superman: Lois Lane #1, the not-properly-titled first story by Barbara Kesel, features Lois on her own, battling in a submarine. This is definitely the action-Lois of the 1990s (as seen in World Without a Superman, for example), and it's fun in much the same way Birds of Prey itself is.

Geoff Johns's "Power Trip" takes place on the eve of the Infinite Crisis, with the Psycho Pirate trying to confuse Power Girl about her tangled origin story. I'm not sure why, as the story takes four issues to not answer any questions. It also features the completely stupid explanation of the "cleavage window" on her costume. Some good jokes, though. Some obvious ones, too.

"Scared Straight" has the most anal rape jokes I've ever encountered in a superhero comic, and I have no idea what the hell it even is. I'm afraid finding out will just make things worse, though.  And Ame-Comi Girls featuring Wonder Woman #1 has a charming scene where the protagonist wants to know why she's dressed in a ridiculously exploitative costume and no one answers her and the thing just keeps on happening!

The best story in the book is clearly the one Amanda Conner wrote herself: "Fuzzy Logic," a charming short where Power Girl, Wonder Woman, and Batgirl fight a tentacle monster, and then Wonder Woman gives Power Girl advice about her cat.

1. There are some other collected issues in this gap, actually, but they're all in collections branded with other series titles, like Batman and Nightwing.

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