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Fiction’s Fearless Females: Black Canary/Birds of Prey

Welcome to the latest installment in our yearly Fiction’s Fearless Females series! Michael of My Comic Relief kicked us off with his post on Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy of the Harley Quinn animated and comic book series. Kalie of Just Dread-full followed with Ellie and Sandie from the film “Last Night in Soho.” Look out for Jeff of The Imperial Talker’s post in just a few days, and Nancy’s post next week!

In last year’s post, I teased the heroine I had in mind for this year’s post. Our friendship theme for this year fit perfectly for who I had in mind: Black Canary. This was a prime opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, if you’ll forgive the pun.

Quick note: I’ll be talking strictly about the comics, as the movie with the same title shares… the title only. It not only doesn’t focus on Black Canary, but didn’t even include all canonical characters that make this team so special.

There are (to date) two iterations of the Black Canary character: Dinah Drake and her daughter, Dinah Laurel Lance, who we’re going to focus on. The character you think of when you hear “Black Canary” is most likely the second iteration. Though both are blonde bombshells and martial arts experts sporting tight leather bodysuits and fishnets, Baby Dinah’s signature superpower is her Canary Cry: a supersonic scream that she can control and direct. But as we’ll see, that’s not her only power…

The Canary Cry, as seen on the Justice League animated series (GIF source)

Baby Dinah grew up surrounded by heroes. Her mother, the first Black Canary, was part of the Golden Age Justice League of America. Naturally, Dinah wanted to be a crimefighter, just like her mom and the heroes who were family to her. Mama Canary, not wishing a vigilante’s dangerous life upon her only daughter, forbade it. In a classic #FFF move, Dinah went against her mother’s wishes to follow her dreams. She trained with Ted Grant (Wildcat) to become a martial arts expert and took up the mantle of Black Canary. She even starts operating out of a floral shop in Gotham, just like Mom did. She goes on to become a founding member of the Justice League International and joins the Justice League, where she meets Green Arrow (Oliver Queen), marking the beginning of their romantic relationship. After the death of her mother and a bad breakup with Oliver, Dinah finds herself adrift and unsure of what to do with her life. (Source)

Enter Oracle (the hero Barbara Gordon, or Batgirl 1, became after her paralysis due to Joker’s shooting, as outlined in my 2020 FFF post), seeking the perfect operative for her covert operations. This was the case in Birds of Prey #1 (the cover of which is the featured image for this post!), written by Chuck Dixon in 1995, published in 1996. The rest is history.

Now, up until this point, Black Canary had very rarely had her own book, in an “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” sort of situation. That changed with Birds. Though she shares the limelight with Oracle to start, Huntress in 2003 when Gail Simone took over the helm, and an ever-expanding roster in later years… Dinah is very much the heart and soul of the book. She might share the title, but she is the embodiment of everything the Birds come to represent over the course of the run.

Of course, the biggest themes of the book are that of friendship and found family. Barbara, in selecting Dinah as her first covert operative, gave Dinah a second chance to find her purpose as a heroine. Conflict in the earlier issues stems in part from Barbara and Dinah’s clashing personalities and work methods. Barbara as Oracle is methodical, meticulous, and organized. Dinah’s Canary is a little more loose and a go-with-the-flow type of gal. They each cause the other no end of grief, until they learn to trust one another. But once they do, Barbara and Dinah, along with Helena Bertinelli as Huntress later, grow so much closer than mere coworkers.

The cover of trade paperback Vol. 3 (reviewed here), which collects the beginning of Gail Simone’s run, when Huntress was added to the roster

In fact, it’s Dinah who suggests that Helena becomes part of the team. Barbara is resistant because she doesn’t approve of Helena’s more violent methods of crimefighting. But when Dinah welcomes Helena with open arms… what is she to do but give her a chance? And though Barbara and Helena clash the same way she and Dinah did in the beginning, and even through Helena’s brief departure, they learn to trust each other. With that burgeoning trust comes a deep respect for each other. They become partners, friends, sisters. They become a team in so many other ways than just a covert operations unit. And none of it would have happened without Dinah.

Dinah, as a character, is idealistic and humanitarian. She is (with few exceptions) willing to give everyone, even the most heinous villains, the benefit of the doubt and a chance at redemption, rehabilitation, and in Helena’s case, friendship. Helena had been an outcast of the Batfamily due to her violent tendencies, but Dinah does what they didn’t: give her a chance. Conflict within the team further arises from this clash of ideals. Barbara’s faith in others has been damaged due to the trauma she suffered. Helena naturally distrusts and is quite cynical of everyone. Dinah leads by example by being open, accepting, and willing to give everyone a fair shot.

For example, there’s an arc where Dinah and Sandra Wu-San (Lady Shiva) trade places for a year. The two women share a tentative bond, as they were trained by the same martial arts sensei. However, again, the two women are very different: Sandra is the world’s deadliest assassin, while Dinah has a code against killing. Shiva offers to further Canary’s training, but Dinah refuses, fearing her morality will slip. They arrive at this compromise instead. Dinah goes to train for a year as Sandra did, and Sandra joins the Birds for a year, calling herself the Jade Canary. Dinah hopes her time with the Birds allows Sandra to warm up to new experiences and helping people rather than killing for hire. The rest of the team might (and certainly did) call her crazy – but Dinah believed what she was doing was right: giving Sandra a chance to grow and change. (Sources 1 and 2)

The cover of Birds of Prey #95, showing “the two Canaries” (Image Source)

Dinah Laurel Lance, as Black Canary, might be one of three top billers on the Birds of Prey book – but she is the heart and soul of the story. Barbara Gordon as Oracle gave her the chance to reinvent herself as a hero, and Dinah went above and beyond the call. She showed herself, her coworkers-turned-sisters, and us the readers, the power of friendship. As corny as it sounds, Dinah’s greatest power is her loving acceptance of others and her willingness to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Though she is the loudest – literally and figuratively – of the bunch, her power comes from the quiet, understated kindness that she gives to everyone.

If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you likely know that Birds of Prey is my favorite comic book series of all time. I’ve reviewed the entire series in trade paperback for this blog and am currently re-reading the newly published omnibus editions with my husband. It’s been a joy to take a deeper dive into the friendship this series is famous for with #FictionsFearlessFemales this year. Look out for the rest of this year’s series!

Kathleen

The Black Canary Archives (Vol. 1)

The DC Archives titles compile issues from a character’s archive. This one is Black Canary’s! Volume 1 contains her very first appearance in Flash Comics in 1947 up to a one-off in the early ’70s.

First, Black Canary was featured in Flash Comics in Johnny Thunder stories. Johnny Thunder was a man who could summon a magic thunderbolt to help him in times of distress. Canary was a “Robin Hood” type at first, who stole from criminals to return them to their rightful owner. She soon grew so popular that she was co-billed with Johnny, then given her own feature in Flash Comics. Her backstory was fleshed out more: the nondescript and uptight Dinah Drake owned a flower shop by day, but transformed into the Black Canary to fight crime and solve mysteries, often coming to the aid of private eye Larry Lance.

Early Black Canary stories are fast and fun – but formulaic, predictable, and of no particular substance. I started skimming after a few stories under her own title because they followed the same exact format. This is definitely something you’ll want to read at the beach or when you need something that doesn’t require much brainpower to get through.

I did appreciate that, much like early Batgirl, Canary doesn’t take crap from her male counterpart. She gives Lance as good a ribbing as she gets. It didn’t seem to me that they particularly liked each other (though Lance obviously has the hots for Canary), so there was a weird jump in the book from 1949’s Flash Comics to 1965’s Brave and the Bold where they were married. I had known Dinah Drake and Larry Lance got married and had Dinah Laurel Lance (today’s iteration of the Black Canary), but I found it really strange that no more of their developing relationship was included in this book.

My favorite story from this volume was the previously untitled “The Canary and the Cat!” published in 1972. The art is phenomenal! The lines are bold and heavy, yet precise in a way that reminds me of printmaking. Canary herself is witty and savvy, and though Green Arrow is mentioned she doesn’t pine after him. I want more of this Black Canary!!!

– Kathleen

Various. The Black Canary Archives (Vol. 1). 2001.

Black Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell

While on an undercover mission for the Justice League of America, Black Canary maybe accidentally got a spell put on her. A nasty one that’s causing the women she worked with on said mission to commit suicide. It’s only a matter of time before the spell takes her, too. She calls up her teammate and friend, Zatanna Zatara, to see if there’s a way out of it. Though Zatanna concludes it’s a bloodspell (one that’s bound to the person by – you guessed it – blood), she is certain she can break it if they find the person who put the spell on Canary. Trouble is… Tina Spettro is dead. How the heck do you break a spell when the one who cast it is dead???

DC veterans Paul Dini and Joe Quinones teamed up for this fun… well, teamup =P Though Green Arrow makes an appearance, along with a few other JLA members, the focus really is on Black Canary and Zatanna. Not only do we get the main story above, but we see how the two women met as fledgling heroes, and a few other fun flashbacks that give us more context about their relationship. Overall I got a Birds of Prey vibe from it, which with me, is never ever a bad thing!

What I found most interesting was Quinones’ renders of both women. The two are stylistically very similar – black jackets, dark leotards, and fishnet stockings. Quinones made the two women different visually: Canary has a bluer, cooler palette, and Zatanna’s is more mystical and warm purple. Zee is taller, with a more oval face and more delicate form and features; whereas Dinah is shorter, stockier, and a little more blunt, to indicate her incredible strength and physical prowess. These subtle differences in their designs tell us a lot about these characters before we even read any words!

For any reader who’s looking for girl relationship power remniscent of Birds of Prey, but who also likes a big slice of magic, give them this!

– Kathleen

Dini, Paul and Joe Quinones. Black Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell. 2014.

Black Canary: Ignite

Dinah Lance wants to do it all. She wants to win her school’s Battle of the Bands with her two best friends. She wants to attend the Gotham Junior Police Academy and become a police officer just like her dad, so she can help people. So what if she and her friends haven’t decided on a band name yet? So what if Detective Lance doesn’t want her to become a cop? Dinah knows what she wants and she knows what she has to do to get it. But someone is very, VERY determined Dinah won’t get the things she wants. That someone is from her mother’s elusive past. Together, Dinah and her mother must confront her past, and Dinah’s future, if they are to defeat the shadowy threat.

I’m older than the targeted middle-grade audience for this graphic novel, so I found the characterization and writing inconsistent. Detective Lance vehemently denies Dinah has powers at the beginning of the book, but once they are revealed, takes her and Laurel out for a nice dinner. I had to do a double take there because seriously… What??? There were also some plot threads that were not explained or explored fully, then dropped, such as with Dinah’s vocal teacher. Honestly, I expected better from veteran middle/YA grade writer Meg Cabot. In this regard I was severely disappointed.

Dinah’s story here is one of breaking boundaries and stereotypical feminine roles. Various characters tell Dinah she’s too loud, too brash, too this or that. Does Dinah pay the haters any attention? No! That’s awesome! But to me it felt like so much effort and energy was focused on this, and ONLY this, aspect of the graphic novel that the rest of the story and writing got left in the dust.

Cara McGee’s illustrations are delightful. They are energetic and easy to interpret for younger readers. The bright colors are fun and attractive to the target audience. There is more emphasis placed on the figures and characters, but the scenery and backgrounds are also well-rendered and not cluttered.

Overall, this is a fine introduction to Black Canary for younger readers, but to older fans, do yourselves a favor and skip it.

– Kathleen

Cabot, Meg, and Cara McGee. Black Canary: Ignite. 2019.

Green Arrow/Black Canary: For Better or For Worse

As I’ve stated in previous posts, I love Green Arrow and Black Canary as a couple. They have a lot of history and are so freaking cute besides. This volume compiles various stories of Ollie and Dinah starting from the Silver Age. Some of my favorites were:

  • “In Each Man There is a Demon” by Denny O’Neil, Dick Dillin, and Joe Giella. One of the first GO/BC stories, in which various members of the Justice League have to battle their evil selves!
  • “Zatanna’s Double-Identity” by  Elliot S! Maggin, Dick Dillin, and Frank McLaughlin. Zatanna casts a spell that accidentally gives her the Black Canary’s personality – and she tries to get between Dinah and Ollie as a result!
  • “The Hunters” by Mike Grell, Lurine Haines, Julia Lacquement, and Steve Haynie. Ollie reminisces on the old days of crime fighting before proposing to Dinah. Her answer will change the course of their relationship. The art in this story was by far my favorite, and I want to pick up “Longbow Hunters” (the GO comic it’s from) as a result!
  • “Feast and Fowl” by Kevin Smith, Phil Hester, Ande Parks, Jaims Sinclair, and Sean Konot. Contains Ollie and Dinah’s reunion after Oliver’s death, which is just the sweetest and most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever read.

As with any compilation, the art and writing styles varied considerably throughout. There was only one I absolutely hated, but it’s one of the short ones so that was good! I really wish they would have put cover pages at the start of each individual story like they do in the Greatest Stories Ever Told. They did kind of at the end, where all the stories were connected – but they only wrote what was missing between them. This might not bother some, as it does make it a little more cohesive, but it’s something I didn’t know I appreciated until it was gone!

… For some strange reason, I felt some weird deja-vu as I read the first few stories especially. I felt as if I’d read them before. When I texted my boyfriend what I was reading, he said he’d bought that one and I must have flipped through it at some point. Great minds think alike =P

– Kathleen

Various. Green Arrow/Black Canary: For Better or For Worse. 2007.

Black Canary (New 52; Vol. 2): New Killer Star

Dinah’s left Black Canary in the hands of Bo Maeve, their new lead singer, and gone to find out the truth about her mother. She falls in with a ninja death cult, who may have had a hand in her mother’s disappearance, at the persuasion of her Aunt Rena. She manages to escape and returns to Gotham to enlist the help of her friend, Barbara. The leader of the cult, however, follows her… and will stop at nothing until Dinah shows her a move called “the Five Heavens Palm.” Dinah’s mother apparently knew it, and it’s assumed she showed Dinah how to do it. But how can Dinah show her a move she doesn’t even know? And when she gets wind that Black Canary is in trouble, will Dinah help her friends, or continue her quest to find her family?

The art in this run is phenomenal. The characters, dressed in dark clothes, look almost cut and pasted against the neon backgrounds. It’s flat but not at all boring: lots of different angles are used to portray the same scene so that there’s depth. Dinah is a woman pulled in multiple different directions as she tries to understand her past to move forward with her future. There was also a preview of Rebirth Birds of Prey in the back! I can’t wait to get to it… after I eventually finish Simone’s run 8D;;

– Kathleen

Fletcher, Brenden, Sandy Jarrell, and Annie Wu. Black Canary (New 52, Vol. 2): New Killer Star. 2016.

Arrow Season 4

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***There are major spoilers for seasons 3 and 4 ahead***

Let me start off by saying that this might be the first and last season of Arrow I ever review on this blog. I knew going in what was going to happen, and that the fandom backlash on this season was pretty rough. But I went in optimistic anyway, deciding to give this show one more shot. By the end of it, I’m done. I am just done.

I get ranty. I get angry. I only hope it doesn’t scare you guys off.

Continue reading “Arrow Season 4”

Birds of Prey (Vol. 6): The Battle Within

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Simone, Gail, Ed Benes, Tom Derenick, and Joe Bennett. Birds of Prey (Vol. 6): The Battle Within. 2006.

The Birds are back in quite a few adventures here. They tackle a lonely and grieving teenage girl who can absorb the magical powers of other people; a specter named Harvest in the middle of nowhere, Kansas, who is stealing the youth of her victims; and a drug lord and the Twelve Brothers in Silk in Singapore connected to the Gotham mob. Throughout all these adventures, the Birds are having their own inner struggles. Helena is just starting to feel like part of the family; could it be that someone has an ulterior motive for her being there? Barbara is more powerful than ever, due to the bit of Brainiac inside her. But could it turn deadly? When the Birds finally break, can they be put back together?

This volume was awesome. It was super action packed, but also had a lot of inner conflicts within the team and each individual member. The title is very appropriate. I think the thing I like most about this series is, even as all kinds of crap is hitting the fan, it still manages to have funny and touching moments. There’s a bit in here where Helena tells a guy the night they shared was so bad, she’d remain abstinent for the rest of her life. I was at work reading this and I just about DIED XD And, pleasant surprise, it contains one of my favorite comic panels of all time:

IMG_20160702_140052_325

❤ ❤ ❤

– Kathleen

Birds of Prey (Vol. 5): Between Dark & Dawn

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Simone, Gail, Ed Benes, Ron Adrian, Jim Fern, Eric Battle, and Eduardo Barreto. Birds of Prey (Volume 5): Between Dark & Dawn. 2006.

Three kids, dressed as superheroes who have already died, have killed themselves in quick succession. It bothers the Birds, and they send Huntress to Kinder Pines, Oregon, where all the kids were last. There, she infiltrates a cult led by a Soveriegn Brusaw, and she’s not quite sure what to think. The kids seem all right, and the Father seems genuine… up until she realizes that her backup, Vixen, no longer recognizes Huntress and has turned against her. In trying to remotely investigate, Oracle suddenly collapses and has a seizure, and soon she realizes it’s not just her inside her head anymore. Meanwhile, the Birds have gained a new member: Savant, who kidnapped and tortured Dinah on one of their first missions. Barbara has tasked him with clearing out a major crime lord in Gotham. This causes uneasiness in everyone, especially Dinah, despite believing whole-heartedly in second chances. Can Huntress get Vixen to snap out of whatever trance she’s in? Will Barbara survive?

You can really see the bond between the Birds tightening in this issue. Everyone has their own personality and their own code, but they share a mutual respect for each other and are even becoming friends – maybe a family. Simone is a great writer. The art is still superb, action-packed and dynamic. Every time I read one of these I fall in love with the series all over again. I might have to start buying them…

I hope everyone is having a fun and safe 4th of July!

– Kathleen

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