Review: Green Arrow/Black Canary: Road to the Altar trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, September 22, 2008

It's amazing, or perhaps a little sad, that a single book can demonstrate both the comics industry's increasingly progressive attitudes toward women, and also the juvenile mindsets that reinforce comic books as a boy's club instead of a medium open to everyone.

Yes, Green Arrow/Black Canary: Road to the Altar on one hand spotlights the mature, rocky relationship between Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance that remains one of the most interesting corners of the DC Universe. On the other hand, it devolves in the end into some pre-wedding silliness that defeats any efforts this book might otherwise make to have itself taken seriously.

Tony Bedard writes the first two parts of Road to the Altar, both an excerpt from Birds of Prey #109 and a four-part Black Canary miniseries. In the Birds of Prey pages, Bedard has Barbara Gordon play the voice of the reader, recounting every bad thing Ollie's ever done to Dinah, so as to get it all out in the open. Remarkably, it all boils down to only one true act of cheating -- and ultimately, Bedbard falls back on the "changed man" theory that I discussed alongside Green Arrow: The Road to Jericho.

Though Barbara comes off as a little shrill, the reader knows deep down that Black Canary marrying Green Arrow is borderline nonsensical, and it's nice that at least one character points it out. Black Canary invariably falls back on the argument "I love him anyway," because of course, love is inexplicable -- much like this turn of events. Still, the reader roots for Ollie and Dinah to get hitched (hoping all the while that another writer won't come along and ruin it), so the paltry explanations don't needle as much as they could.

Not to mention, the second part of this trade, the Black Canary miniseries, read like a classic Chuck Dixon Birds of Prey story -- and if Ollie and Dinah marrying means more stories like this, I'm all for it. Bedard (not, unfortunately, the regular writer on Green Arrow/Black Canary) takes on the unenviable job of writing Black Canary's adopted daughter Sin into limbo, and even though we all know what's coming, Bedard held my interest throughout. Canary goes up against perennial Green Arrow-villain Merlyn, offering a nice contrast to Ollie's battles with him; there's also a great "heist story" tone to Sin's kidnapping and Team Arrow's resolution. The final scene where Dinah accepts Ollie's proposal is, again, a little nonsensical, but it has sweet moments and stays true to the characters overall (with nice art by Paulo Siqueira, too).

And then we get to the Black Canary Wedding Planner.

I do understand that I'm taking this final chapter too seriously, and DC Comics, with writer J. Torres, meant the story to be all in fun. But where Tony Bedard's dialogue between Green Arrow and Black Canary felt serious and meaningful, Torres writes the characters as whiny and silly. I can't help but think that if, say, a Brad Meltzer fan who liked Identity Crisis heard about Green Arrow's wedding, liked how Meltzer wrote Ollie and checked out this story, they'd be flabbergasted by Torres's Wedding Planner. The jokes are repetitive and barely groan-worthy; Ollie and Dinah come off as people you'd barely want to know, let alone attend their wedding.

Not to mention, Torres ends the story with Black Canary taking her super-hero friends to try on lingerie (as if), including the most awkward, un-sexy-looking Wonder Woman panel ever. It's hard to know if Torres meant this sequence to be titillating or humorous, but it's neither; instead, it smacks of self-impressed adolescents drawing pornographic stick figures and giggling about it. I believe, ultimately, that's the impression the wider non-comics reading world has of comic books, and Torres's sequence just proves the stereotype. In a book that demonstrates the complex relationship between two long-established comics characters, the Wedding Planner sticks out at the end like a sore thumb.

Overall, however, Green Arrow/Black Canary: Road to the Altar is an exciting read, better than I was expecting, and it leaves me eager for the first issue of their new series.

[Includes full covers]

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3 comments:

  1. I felt that "Wedding Planner" was trying to do the same thing the first 90% of the "Wedding Special" was doing. That is, there is an element of old school camp in the actual wedding story that sticks out from regular Green Arrow continuity, but still works *at least, until the damn bedroom fight scene). "Wedding Planner" was obviously trying for this as well, but failed miserably. The hallmark of good camp is ironic self-reflection, which the Planner had none of. There is a difference between playful immaturity and just being juvenile, and Torres either doesn't get that, or can't do it.

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  2. Hmmm. I've been debating whether or not to check out some Green Arrow/Black Canary stuff (this storyline included). After this review, I'm still debating it. I've heard from some people who think it's quite entertaining, and others who think it's very childish. Your review seems to indicate that it's a bit of both. Ah, well. Maybe I'll give it a peek sooner or later.

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  3. A friend of mine read the Wedding Planner the other day and found it entirely enjoyable and not at all offensive. Different tastes for different folks, I guess.

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