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White Tiger #4

Posted: Saturday, February 10, 2007
By: Ray Tate



Writer: Tamora Pierce, Timothy Liebe
Artists: Phil Briones(p), Don Hillsman(i), Chris Sotomayor(c)

Publisher: Marvel Comics

My eyes start to mist when reading White Tiger. Pierce of course is a novelist, but novelists do not necessarily display their best when moving to another medium. Tamora Pierce and Timothy Liebe's writing is so elegant, so well crafted that I was moved just by the expertise in technique. In White Tiger, they write like novelists, really, really good novelists.

Pierce and Liebe open this chapter with a surreptitiously constructed opening. An old Spidey foe threatens innocents and interrupts the Tiger's perusal of The Daily Bugle. The scene does so many things. First, it positions the White Tiger in the usual balliwick of Spider-Man. Back in the day, Spidey would stick to walls while reading J. Jonah's latest disparaging marks. Tigress Angelo del Toro finds herself the object of sexist ridicule. The villain provides the Tiger with an A-list threat. The Tiger naturally assumes the role of protector, and the entire fight, smartly sketched by Briones and given depth by Hillsman and Sotomayor, foreshadows the finish to the chapter.

Liebe and Pierce cut to the introduction of a new player in the Chaeyi scheme of blackmarket passports and green cards. Angela is a snappy dresser and a picture of grace, but for stakeout she assumes a disguise that gives her the look of Rita Morena circa the Electric Company. You wouldn't be able to recognize her. The new arrival's dialogue pronounces complications for the book's big bad Sano. The character's presence also draws upon the authors' influences. I've said it before in reviews, and it merits saying again. The White Tiger is a direct descendent of Sister Streetfighter, and this new character is of pure martial arts grindhouse goodness.

Pierce and Liebe end the stakeout abruptly, and this was a good play. White Tiger is an action book, and you don't want to stretch out the non-action scenes. The authors' use the Marvel Universe to their advantage. Whereas the pre-Crisis DC Universe was shiny, the Marvel Universe was never as pretty. Prejudice was common, and in the Marvel Universe, it merely extended its reach to include the super-hero. The Tiger as a result finds herself protecting two super-powered individuals from two types of idiots. We however don't see the throw down except on a glimpse on the screen of Angela's boss' prodigy daughter.

The choice not to include the fight exhibits experienced judgment. They could have come up with another fight for Briones to expertly direct, and yeah, it may have been well done. In fact, there's a ninety-nine-point-nine percent chance it would have been superb, but it wouldn't have meant anything to the story. Instead, the creative team takes the Tiger's victory against these low-level morons as read and focuses on the story, which is partially about Angela a former FBI agent becoming an asset to a bodyguard service as well as a role model to a bright young girl. You know what would be great? A whole generation of young readers wanting to grow up to be White Tiger or Manhunter.

From solo super-hero to trusted operative, Angela then drops in at the gym where Luke Cage used to work out. She finds that old habits die hard. Angela gets a hug from her uncle Luke. The Tiger's legacy ties into the street level super-heroes almost like a wonderfully sweet game of Six Degrees. Angela del Toro was the niece of Hector Ayala the original White Tiger who became friends with Spidey and ran with Iron Fist, partner to Luke Cage. Black Widow became involved because Daredevil kicked Angela off a roof, and you can't help wondering if another jaw dropping cameo from the Marvel Universe isn't connected to Black Widow. It's certainly probable these two ladies would have encountered each other in the espionage field.

Angela and Luke do a lovely dance in the ring. Briones, Hillsman and Sotomayor are at the fore to spotlight Angela's feline nimbleness. They also display amusement and pride from Luke as he holds back so not to plow his niece through a wall while marveling at her skill. Liebe and Pierce reintroduce an idea about the amulets in this scene. A couple of people have e-mailed me about gushing over a female incarnation at the expense of the original White Tiger. As I pointed out, the original White Tiger found the discarded amulets of the Sons of the Tiger, and their history partially comes into play here. Regardless, Pierce and Liebe make the White Tiger such a natural super-hero. She fights better and just seems better suited for the role. The amulets in a sense welcome her and sink into her characterization to become part of her.

From the sparring scene, Liebe and Pierce mature Angela as a super-hero. With the loss of her FBI status, Angela lost most of her contacts. In this scene, the authors have her earn a cat’s-paw. The snitch also exhibits a rationale, greater than greed, in aiding the Tiger's hunt for Sano and Chaeyi. White Tiger functions on a slow evolution of scenes. Things don't just suddenly happen. They don't jump ahead. They don't fly back. They move in a linear fashion to manifest an easy to follow narrative with rich characters.

The Tiger does more detective work at her home to identify Sano's contact man in the passport department. Her knowledge sets up a tail and leads her to the encounter with a surprising Marvel super-hero who takes advantage of the Tiger's witty put-upon signature. Day becomes night, and the Tiger prowls a construction site for the exciting denouement and the startling cliffhanger. When you think things can't get any better, the Tiger starts quoting from Buckaroo Banzai.

It's rare when something so beautifully written and gracefully drawn pads through the super-hero genre. If you haven't bought the series, I urge you to pick up the collected version



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