We get a fun shift in perspective this issue as Bo Maeve hits the road with Ditto and shares her life story to fill the silence.
One of the things that Brenden Fletcher has quickly established for himself as a writer, especially between Black Canary and his collaboration with Becky Cloonan on Gotham Academy, is giving (seemingly) antagonistic characters their own space and voice to expand them beyond being two dimensional villains. He’s done it most effectively with Pomeline on Gotham Academy, but we see much of the same deft hand with Maeve here.
The key difference here is that while Pomeline proved willing to work through her initial misgivings about Olive and open up to her, the more we learn about Maeve, it becomes apparent that she’s completely lacking in perspective or empathy. Clearly, something had gone very wrong for her in life to resort to kidnapping Ditto for personal gain, so when her story begins and she describes her parents as wanting to capitalize monetarily on her early promise as a dancer it seems credible enough even though the corresponding panels present a fairly neutral perspective that doesn’t include any major confrontations or signs of abuse. But as her story moves on and she remains the solipsistic center of it all, narcissistically confiding to Ditto that she never bothered to explain the origin of the band’s name -Alias Insane- to her bandmates, the perspective on her parents begins to waver like the Wayne’s World flashback transition she references to begin her story.
As an amusing aside, her description of having moved to the US from England as a child and music videos being her first love eerily recall Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl’s Emily Aster, who struck a “Full Faustian” with an entity living behind the television screen in exchange for half of her personality, leaving her with only the most superficial qualities.
If we indulge ourselves for a moment to imagine that the UK she immigrated from as a child was the one and the same that Phonogram takes place in, you could easily read the idea of Maeve striking a “Full Faustian” as being inevitable. Had she stayed in the UK, she might have followed that same entity behind the screen, but as fortune would have it, she landed on the other side of the pond and found Amanda Waller waiting for her.
There’s another, and more immediate reference point for Maeve’s journey in this issue in the sadly underrated and underutilized Batman villain Hush, Bruce Wayne’s childhood acquaintance Tommy Elliott. Elliot, who was already a troubled child to be sure, looked on with envy at Bruce being orphaned, projecting an ideal image of a child emancipated from his parents to live however he wanted to onto the other boy, completely missing Bruce’s guilt and pain at the death of his parents. Tommy acted on that fantasy by murdering his parents in the hope that it would transform him into the image he’d created of Bruce in his head. It was, obliquely, a fable designed to communicate that simply replicating the trauma that produced Batman was not enough to become Batman.
Although Jeph Loeb wrote Hush’s origin years before Morrison’s Batman run, it fits nicely into the latter’s explorations of the same principle culminating in Morrison’s contention that the key moment in becoming Batman wasn’t childhood trauma or training, but Bruce’s decision to trust Alfred with his secret and call on him for help. One of the key reasons that Elliot turned out the way he did, a villain continually chasing the dream of becoming Bruce, is that he failed to understand that the self reliance he projected onto Bruce was an illusion. Just like Maeve’s fixation on Dinah and her canary cry will prove to be her downfall.
The difference between Maeve and Tommy Elliot is that Elliot knew, or at least understood, everything but one key fact about Bruce while Maeve effectively knows only one thing about Dinah. Maeve is fixated on the fact that Dinah has been given everything she once had and continues to believe she’s entitled to, searching for anything tangible Dinah might have that she doesn’t in order to account for this cosmic imbalance. What she finds, and latches onto, is the Canary Cry. Thus, she uses Ditto -the source of Dinah’s powers- as a bargaining chip to do a “Full Faustian” with Amanda Waller to get the one thing Dinah has that she doesn’t.
Creating a pop star twisted by narcissism and jealousy as a nemesis for Dinah is a brilliant move on Fletcher’s part, which shares a lot of the ridiculous camp fun of Batgirl’s updated rogues gallery that has so far turned Livewire into a YouTube celebrity and has just reintroduced Velvet Tiger as the best tech sector start up supervillain since Elon “Let’s Nuke Mars” Musk. To call the world that Maeve has just immersed herself into as shark infested waters doesn’t seem to go quite far enough. Walking into Amanda Waller’s backyard is better described as water infested shark, or as the Beastie Boys once put it, “I take my sugar with coffee and cream.”
Which actually puts Maeve in intriguing and rarefied company. Vixen, after all, was a supermodel who joined Waller’s Suicide Squad in the classic Ostrander-Yale run, although she did so under very different circumstances. No matter what path Maeve finds herself down in the near future, it’s going to be a very, very interesting one.
Joining Fletcher and Loughridge this issue is rock star Pia Guerra, best known for her collaboration with Brian K. Vaughan on Y: The Last Man, which is something akin to Joan Jett joining Bikini Kill on stage. She brings a much cleaner, more precise quality to her work than Annie Wu’s choppy, anarchic lines but maintains a very solid sense of visual continuity that doesn’t rest on Loughridge to provide, not least because he deviates significantly in some of his choices this issue. Guerra maintains a lot of the key elements of what make Wu’s take on the characters so physically distinctive, like Dinah’s lovely, lovely nose, but where she truly scores a home run is on Heathcliffe’s profile, which is eerily identical to how Wu does it while clearly remaining Guerra’s own.
While Guerra’s inks don’t have the chopped off edges and occasional splatter that Wu’s are known for, there’s still a very perceptible stop-start quality to them (somewhat reminiscent of Marguerite Sauvage’s less opaque technique) that does a lot to close the gap between the artists. Guerra has clearly studied up on Wu and worked to align herself with the overall aesthetic Which isn’t just cool in terms of continuity, but feels particularly relevant to the fact that Dinah seems to have two doppelgangers this issue in Maeve and the mysterious blond ninja who confronts Waller.
Maybe because he’s finally on to me, or maybe it’s Maybelline, but Loughridge has started to open up a bit in his palette choices this issue. He keeps his time honored sepias for the daylight exteriors on the road as well as the inverted colors for Dinah’s, and now Maeve’s Canary Cry but he adds more depth elsewhere. Of particular note is the sequence with Waller as Maeve hands off Ditto, in which Loughridge uses a very similar palette to the one he used to define Black Mask’s gang attacking the Hasigawa family in Catwoman #44. Those blues, and pale, greenish sickly yellows get amped back up to their full day glo levels at the close of the issue as Maeve receives a transfusion of what, if I understand correctly, appears to be a compound derived from Ditto’s blood, giving her a Canary Cry of her own.
One of the most intriguing elements of the developing feud between Bo Maeve and Dinah, which, if there’s any justice, will be the most explosive and visually arresting superhero fight in a generation, is the disconnect in how the readers view the dynamics at work relative to how the characters do. Just like in Black Canary #3 where Kurt’s amnesia was used as a vehicle for our recollections of the Dinah of was and when, Maeve looks at Dinah as if she’s Ghostface Killah and Dinah, who has usurped her band, is Action Bronson, but from the outside we look at Maeve’s appropriation of the Canary Cry the same way, making her the upstart. As much as I adore Dinah, when this confrontation finally happens, I sincerely hope that Maeve can take her to the fifteenth round. In the new tradition of quoting song lyrics to close out each review of this title, it seems most appropriate to reach out to Cypress Hill’s Rock Superstar:
“There’s gonna be another cat comin’ out lookin like me, soundin’ like me next year. I know this. I’ll be a flipside to what you did, someone trying to spin off like some series.”
Written by Brenden Fletcher
Drawn by Pia Guerra with colors by Lee Loughridge
Letters by Steve Wands
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Emma Houxbois is a fiercely queer trans woman from the wilds of Canada, most recently spotted in the Pacific Northwest. She is a two time IWC Women’s World Champion and has written about comics for the web since 2005 for sites including Playboy, Bitch Media, and Graphic Policy.