On the Trail of a Trojan Horse

July 30, 2005

Birds of Prey: Sensei and Student TPB
Writer: Gail Simone
Artist: Ed Benes
Inker: Alex Lei

By Avi Green

Picking up some time after the story in the previous TPB, Black Canary goes to Hong Kong to pay a last visit of respect to her locally based martial arts instructor, Otomo. And not only that, the story here gets even better than the last story arc, thanks to Simone’s very stellar character development.

We get a very good viewpoint from her on how she’s had plenty of father figures in her life, especially when you take into account what things have been like ever since Roy Thomas’ 1983 retcon, and certainly since the post-Crisis era, when the Blonde Bombshell was rewritten as the daughter of the original BC. And then, as she’s visiting her trainer’s estate, who should she discover turning up and as also having been a disciple of Otomo, but Lady Shiva, the mercenary who walks the fence between good and bad, and who’s also come to pay her last respects to the trainer, who thanks her for not killing him years before when she was training with him. While as for Dinah, he thanks her for being a good student, of course.

He makes a request of both of them, that Dinah not arrest Shiva, and that the latter not kill the former. Dinah’s cool with that, knowing that Shiva can reform, and, having a redeeming side to her, Shiva’s got no problem with that either.

But tragically for Otomo, it turns out that he won’t get to pass away peacefully, as, when Dinah and Shiva return to the estate for one more thing following a scuffle with some hoodlums at a resturant where they’ve gone to chat, they find that just about everyone’s been poisoned to death in the house, and the leading suspect is none other than Cheshire, the mother of former Green Arrow sidekick Arsenal’s illegitimate daughter, Lian. But Cheshire, when captured (with quite a funny sideshow featured as they march her away), denies that she was responsible, and suggests that the corrupt senator whom the Birds first encountered towards the end of the last story arc, is behind it.

This leads to another connecting storyline wherein Babs finds that her computer equipment’s failing her, leading to her getting just about everything wrong about what clues and leads the rest of the Bat-family can investigate. And it’s all part of a plot to lure her out into the open, where the corrupt senator’s men can kidnap her, in hopes of finding out if she’s Oracle, with Savant providing help, since he hopes that this’ll secure Creote’s release from prison.

And that’s not all: connecting with this whole affair is a mystery from the first Black Canary’s case files, which she was unable to solve: a slasher who preyed on blonde women, but who managed to get away when she was trying to stop him; it was either his arrest or the loss of the life of the librarian in Gotham City whom he’d targeted next, and Dinah Drake Lance wisely chose the latter option. Now, years later, her lovely daughter Dinah Laurel Lance, having stumbled onto clues involving this, decides to investigate and do a last service for her mother, by making sure that the creep who’d committed the heinous crimes years before is sent to jail where he belongs.

I think that one of the best things here besides the again stellar artwork by Benes is that Simone gives the audience a chance to get to know Lady Shiva more in depth, as a crook who’s still got a redeeming side to her, and proves to be a very helpful ally to Dinah in figuring out what’s going on with the assassination of their sensei. And she also displays quite a talent in humanizing the characters as well. It’s thanks to this that I’m able to appreciate Dinah Lance even more, and even Oracle and the Huntress, whom Dinah’s decided would make a good partner to the leading two as well. And there’s just no way that the male villains in this story can match up to the brains of Barbara Gordon, whom even one of the would-be secret agents has to admit is very smart. Which is an understatement, of course.

And the book’s also got a very good flashback story, featuring the case that the Golden Age Black Canary was unable to complete, telling how it all came up at the time she was already married to the late Larry Lance, and hadn’t been in costume for a time, this being one of a few where she got back into it again to fight crime.

Not only that, we even get a special explanation from Black Canary as to why she doesn't use her Canary Cry as much as could. This is one of the things that makes her almost like Spider-Man, who often tries to fight with fisticuffs more than he uses his web fluid to combat criminals. The explanation given here by Dinah on why she uses her martial arts skills more than her sonic scream was certainly impressive.

The book also continues the funny side story for the Huntress involving her blind date with a parking lot attendant, and it was a very enjoyable scene as well. Plus, there’s even some cameos here by a few other of DC’s female stalwarts, both major and minor, including Catwoman, Katana of the Outsiders, and even Gypsy, a minor member of the Justice League years before. They too are a very welcome guest appearance in the book. And again, Benes and Lei's artwork is magnif, ditto even Greg Land's cover artwork.

Sensei and Student is a very good addition to DC’s most prominent team title for the girls, and is very strongly recommended.

Copyright 2005 Avi Green. All rights reserved.

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