Thursday, April 17, 2014

Black Canary: New Wings #1 - Editor's Note

At the back of Black Canary's first solo comic book, editor Mike Gold offered his thoughts on female superheroes in general and Black Canary in specific.  He describes her history and her importance as an icon, but also emphasizes that none of the best intentions or skills of the creators will mean anything if people don't buy the comic.  Female superheroes don't sell as well as male superheroes; they never had before, they still don't today, and it's hard to imagine a time when they will.  Gold flat-out tells the readers that DC has little faith in Black Canary's ability to sustain a monthly title, but that they're willing to give it a shot.

We can talk more about that in sixteen or seventeen weeks maybe.

Anyway, check out Gold's letter.  It's an interesting read.

[Unless you can read very small or have freakishly good vision, I suggest opening the images below in another window and zooming in.]

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Black Canary: New Wings #1

More than four decades after she debuted in Flash Comics, DC finally published the first issue of a Black Canary solo book in November, 1991.  After the continuity-smashing event known as Crisis on Infinite Earths changed damn near every character's history, Black Canary continued to pop up in various books throughout the late '80s.  She hung around Justice League International for about a year.  The Dinah Drake version appeared in a Justice Society of America miniseries set in the past.  She had two serial features published in Action Comics Weekly.  But her most frequent appearances were as a love interest and (mostly) supporting character in the pages of Mike Grell's Green Arrow.

Unfortunately, she didn't always receive the most flattering characterization in that book, and she hardly ever appeared in her classic superhero costume.  But in '91, Green Arrow's editor, Mike Gold, got the go-ahead to publish a four-issue Black Canary miniseries that would put Dinah Laurel Lance front and center, fishnets and all.

Black Canary: New Wings #1 - "Domestic Troubles" is written by Sarah Byam, with pencil art by Trevor Von Eeden and inks by Dick Giordano.  Byam and Giordano had previously told a tale of two Canaries back in Green Arrow Annual #2, and Von Eeden was well versed in drawing Black Canary from older issues of World's Finest Comics.  Steve Haynie and Julie Lacquement provided letters and colors for the issue respectively, and Mike Gold was the editor.

The cover design has a distinguished--almost prestigious--look, as if they want this book to be taken more seriously.  Graphic novel was a high art form in this era, and tons of superhero comics aspired to that level of classiness.  The design and color scheme (the green hued background of Seattle's cityscape) is also reminiscent of Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters, for which "New Wings" could almost be viewed as a sister title.

Black Canary's first solo issue begins not with Black Canary, but with a radio host taking calls about Asian integration in Seattle, gang violence, and drugs.  The radio host is Gan Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American, with zero tolerance for racism or bigotry, even (or especially) when it comes from within different Asian cultures.  Gan is also quite outspoken against the influx of drugs and gangs on Seattle's youth, calling for his listeners to stand up and fight for their streets.

During his show, Gan takes a call from an older man who describes how his grandson died playing with his father's war souvenirs.

The story moves Gan and underlines one of the themes of "New Wings", that being violence against children and the unintended consequences of gun ownership.  Like Green Arrow and plenty of other comics from the '80s and '90s, this series is clearly going to have a message.

As Gan leaves the KYKO station after his show, he comes across a drug dealer selling to a kid.  Not afraid to put his money where his mouth is, Gan beats down the dealer and scares off the kid before he can score.  It seems this radio host isn't just all talk, because later the dealer calls his boss and it sounds like this is the third time Gan has broken up one of their drug sales.

The boss, unseen but for a swastika tattoo on his hand, tells the dealer not to act; that Gan will be dealt with at a higher level.

Across the street, Dinah Laurel Lance wakes up in her apartment above Sherwood Florist.  She's having trouble sleeping, and reading isn't helping, so she decides to exercise in the costume of her superhero secret identity, the Black Canary.

This page devoted to her workout routine establishes Canary's physical strength and training, but it's also a nice way of allowing Von Eeden and Giordano to show Black Canary in action before diving too deep into the plot of the story.  Von Eeden draws Dinah a little bigger--not overly muscled, but toned (pay attention, Alex Ross)--while Giordano's old school inks harken back to her early days with the Justice League of America.

After her workout, Dinah goes downstairs to do some bookkeeping for the flower shop, but her calculations reveal she's almost nine-hundred dollars in debt.  And that's when her boyfriend, Green Arrow, shows up sporting a fancy and expensive new bow that he bought with money from her account.

I don't want to knock Mike Grell because he told some amazing stories with Black Canary and Green Arrow, but way, waaaay too often, Dinah came across as the nagging wife who kept cramping Ollie's style.  He just wanted to save the world and do his righteous thing and Dinah was always on him about work and responsibility.  So lame, right?

It's refreshing to see this scene play out from the other perspective.  Ollie does seem childish, and selfish, and patronizing to think that all Dinah needs is some good lovin' and then she can calm down and let him play with his new toy.

So Dinah goes hiking up the mountains in the Quinault Indian Reservation with Aunty Wren, a character previously mentioned Sarah Byam's story, "Do Black Canaries Sing?" and a woman I think showed up in some Green Arrow comics, but I can't think of the context or who she is at the moment.  In any event, she's seventy and Native American, so you know she's got to be wise.  Wren calls Dinah "Noisy Crow", which doesn't sound as sweet as Ollie's pet name for her, "Pretty Bird", but a little nicer than "Siu Jerk Jai", what her Sensei called her in Hong Kong.  "Noisy Crow" is a reference to back when Black Canary had a sonic scream, a metahuman power that she lost during The Longbow Hunters.

During the hike, Dinah meets Gan, who Wren introduces as the Quinault's Asian language translator. Gan tells Dinah she can call him "Duke" and she notices a bruise on his face.  Gan and Wren talk business and development deals concerning the tribal land, while Dinah enjoys the tranquility of the sunset.

After the hike, it starts to rain (because Seattle, duh!) and Gan asks Dinah for a ride to the ferry so he doesn't have to ride his bike through the storm.  Dinah obliges and they drive off, not knowing that a pair of hoodlums are staked out looking for a guy riding his bike.  Dejected about missing their target, the two hoodlums drive off and get on the ferry, the same vessel carrying Dinah and Gan across the sound.

Gan wrongly suspects Dinah of being a cop, but that's not too far off.  She is a crime fighter, after all, and both her father and grandfather were cops and her mother tried to be a cop before inventing the identity of the first Black Canary.  For a guy who makes his living talking on the radio, Gan is very observant.  He knows exactly what type of woman Dinah is, what's in her nature, even if he doesn't tag her specific Justice League codename.

Dinah excuses herself to the ladies room where she lets her guard down.  She likes Gan.  Maybe not in a romantic way... not yet... but she's certainly fond of him already, and given how pissed she was at Ollie earlier, it's not outlandish to assume she might pursue some form of relationship with "Duke".

While she's in the bathroom, though, Gan is caught by the hoodlums, one of whom being the dealer that Gan smacked around in the beginning of the story.  For the second time, the dealer mistakes Gan for Chinese, but that offense seems slight after they club him in the head with the butt of a shotgun and drag him to the side of the ferry.

Dinah witnesses the hoods carrying Gan's unconscious body, and she darts back into the bathroom.  As quick as Dinah Laurel Lance vanishes... the Black Canary appears!

If every artist could draw Canary as gorgeously as Trevor Von Eeden does in this page...!

Surprising the first punk with her strength, Black Canary tugs on the chain and throws the hood over the ledge.  He crashes in the water below, screaming for help.  The second hood draws his gun on her, but she trips the lever that sends the life raft dropping down into the water on top of the bad guy.  When Hoodlum #2 looks overboard to see his pal, Black Canary kicks him in the head, taking him out.  Below, Hoodlum #1 climbs aboard the life raft.

Once the fight is over, the captain comes down and Black Canary more-or-less hands the hoods over to his [Port] authority.  Black Canary sneaks back to the bathroom and changes outfits, slipping back to her car as Dinah Lance.  Gan, meanwhile, is questioned by the captain, but volunteer many helpful answers.

Gan returns to Dinah's car where she pretended to be asleep.  He calls her on it instantly.  Again, his powers of observation are not to be taken lightly.

In the issue's epilogue, we venture to the quiet seaside town of Sandbar.  It's a super-conservative town, where people are big on tradition and old-timey values.  Generations of fighting men who have seen too much death and poverty in life, and blame their suffering on what other members of society would call progress.

Within one of these houses, we find a former Marine sniper who has been hired to kill Gan Nguyen.  The Marine's son doesn't sound too thrilled about his dad murdering an innocent man.  Naturally, we'll get to know these players a little better in the next issue.

I first read this issue about a year ago.  At the time, I remember being a little underwhelmed; I don't know what I was expecting but I thought the story seemed too small.  Now, I don't think so.  I've read this issue three times and I like it more with each read.

First of all, Sarah Byam's story is anything but small.  It's not an adventure story, and it's not high-concept superhero fantasy, no, but it ain't small in scope.  It's closer to the street-level private investigator genre that Black Canary excels at, except in this first issue, we don't really have much of a mystery.  What we have plenty of is cultural and societal themes: racial discrimination, urban violence, drugs, gangs, economics, kids playing with daddy's weapons, gender roles and reversals.

And Byam throws most of these themes at us in a way that doesn't feel forced, because they're all relevant experiences to the characters, either Dinah or Gan.  But Byam's finest storytelling moments are the conversational dialogue scenes between Dinah and Ollie in her apartment, and between Dinah and Gan in the woods and on the ferry.  The characters feel right when they're talking to each other, even though her treatment of Green Arrow makes him out to be kind of a douche bag.  I guess that's deserved given how Dinah has been presented in Ollie's book.  If she can avoid the pitfalls of making this book needlessly preachy and "about something" Sarah Byam might just tell one helluva Black Canary story.

As for the art, Black Canary has hardly ever looked stronger or sexier.  There's a weight and shapeliness to Canary that Trevor Von Eeden really grasps in these issues; her power and combat prowess doesn't feel miraculous or superhuman, because you can almost see the muscles under her fishnets.  Dick Giordano's inks keep him in check, though, keep him from going too big.  In later issues of Black Canary's ongoing series where Von Eeden is inked by someone else, Dinah kind of balloons up like something out of Art Adams fused with Rob Liefeld.  Von Eeden and Giordano were a knockout art team, one of the best to ever work on Black Canary.

As a first issue, this story hits just about every major button it needs.  It looks good and it sounds good.  The heroine gets more than one action beat.  We get a cameo by Green Arrow, so there's some familiarity with the greater DC Universe.  We get a new character who serves as the lens and the voice for the reader, addressing the themes that affect both the world of the story and the characters.  We don't get much in the way of big, looming crisis--just the last page, really--but the plot is driven by character, and that's really nice to see and often ignored in superhero comics.

If I had picked up this book when it first came out in November, 1989, I definitely would have come back again for the second issue.  And you can come back next Wednesday for my review of Black Canary: New Wings #2.

As a bonus: Tomorrow I will post editor Mike Gold's history of and comments about Black Canary that appeared in the back matter of "New Wings" #1.  Some interesting insights in his essay.  Come back and check it out.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Birds of Prey #2 (Feb 1999)

Previously in Birds of Prey

In the first issue of the Birds' ongoing series, cyberspace info-merchant, Oracle, sent her field agent, Black Canary, to investigate some missing persons in a third-world country called Rheelasia.  Canary checks out the mansion estate of a gangster named Jackie Pajamas and discovers a room full of personal artifacts like watches and necklaces, as well as jars full of ears, eyes, and fingers.  Just as Canary is making her way out, Jackie comes home, acting very chummy with Jason Bard, a former Gotham cop and close friend of Oracle's alias, Barbara Gordon.

Birds of Prey #2: "One of Those Days" is written by Chuck Dixon and drawn by Greg Land, with inks by Drew Geraci and colors by Gloria Vasquez.  Land's cover depicts Oracle's sense of frustration and helplessness at her partner being tortured, while the text over the title declares the party's over.  The party's over?  This is just the second issue; that was quick!

The issue opens with Black Canary fighting Jackie Pajamas' security guards while Oracle can do nothing but listen in.  Dixon and Land make the opening fight sequence splashy in that they only have four panels in the first three pages.  Dinah gives a decent account for herself by taking out the first couple armed guards, but when she drops onto the helipad, there isn't much she can do to get away from Jackie and half a dozen men with automatic weapons trained on her.

Jackie wants to know who she is and for whom she's working, so he has the guard drag her inside for interrogation and torture while he chats with Jason Bard, who Jackie believes is a Triad bagman named Reed Montel.  The guards leave Dinah alone, but Oracle still has an audio connection and asks if she's okay and then feeds her a cover story for when Jackie's people question and ransom her.

We learn that Black Canary wasn't just thrown into a cell, but tied down to a chair.  Then Jason/Reed comes in with his threats of torture or worse.  Dinah feeds him the story that she works for TransGlobal Insurance, and Bard reveals that Jackie kidnaps people and sells them back to their families or employers "one piece at a time".  Oracle, to her horror, realizes that's what the jars full of small body parts were.

He continues to threaten her while Barbara gets more and more disgusted that a man she once loved could turn so hideous.  But when Jason gets close to Canary, close enough that the armed guard can't hear what he whispers, he surprises both women.

Jason and Black Canary sneak out of the prison, and he reveals that he's working undercover to learn the whereabouts of a kidnapping victim.  She reveals to him that she knows his real identity, and then shares her own codename.

Before Black Canary and Jason make it to the helicopter, though, they're surrounded by Jackie and his armed guards... landing Dinah right back where she was about eight pages earlier.

Jason survives the gunshot, and Jackie orders his men to take both of their hostages to the compound, whatever that is.  They beat Dinah with the butt of a rifle until she's unconscious, but Oracle can still hear Jackie and the guards talking about what they're going to do.

Barbara collapses in front of her computer, half-certain that Black Canary will be killed or maimed beyond recognition.  She's shaken out of her fear and impotence by a message from Beeb, one of her online friends.  Beeb wants to flirt, but Oracle can only focus on the partner she sent into danger.  Beeb gives her some thoughtful advice and gets Oracle to admit something about her relationship with Black Canary that we might not have known.

Barbara tries to contact Dinah, but all of Canary's communications devices are locked away in Jackie's ransom room.

The next day, Dinah wakes up in dressed in khaki civilian clothes on a bed in what's essentially slave barracks.  The other "workers" on the compound are wealthy kidnapping victims, some of whom have had fingers or other parts surgically removed and sent back to family members for ransom.

Dinah is taken to Jackie who lays out his entire operation for her.  His plantation is full of workers who all come from super-rich families or companies.  Unlike a typical K&R, where the victim is  either released or killed after the ransom is paid, Jackie keeps milking the families for more money by sending bits and pieces of the victims back to them.

After Dinah is sent back to work the fields, Jackie meets with his chief enforcer, Hellhound.  The costumed, dog-themed villain knows exactly who Dinah is and how dangerous she is.  And that only excites him more.

When Dinah and the other slaves lineup for water, she sees Jason Bard.  He tells her to leave him alone, that he can't help her escape anymore.  He's helpless.

I was really worried about the pacing of this issue when Dixon and Land devoted only four panels to the first three pages.  And then Dinah's second capture is in the same place and situation as her first capture, except Jason was with her.  So the whole first half of the book really only accomplished one thing: revealing that Jason was still a good, noble guy working undercover.  That could have been done more efficiently.

The second half, too, feels very repetitive.  We hear Jackie's K&R scheme told from three different people, basically: Oracle figures it out, then Jackie explains it to Dinah and the readers, and then Carlita explains it again.  It feels a little wasted.

I'm also not at all scared of a gangster who's nickname is Pajamas.  And Dixon didn't spend anytime really developing the past history between Barbara and Jason, so his betrayal and then reversal doesn't feel as profound as it could have been.  Really, the only character other than the two stars that I'm interested in is Hellhound, and he's only in half a page.

The issue had some good character moments, but it felt like it took too long to get from Point B to Point C.

Come back next Tuesday for a review of Birds of Prey #3.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Golden Oldie: FLASH COMICS #99

Black Canary's ongoing adventures continue with seven thrilling pages of mystery and suspense in Flash Comics #99.

"Time Runs Out!" is written by Robert Kanigher and drawn by Carmine Infantino, who breaks up the title page layout with a splashy cover image that runs lengthwise rather than take up the top portion of the page.

Larry Lance, doing his best Dick Tracy impression with the yellow trench coat, tells Dinah Drake that he's working a case about stolen radioactive vinium, which not any kind of element or compound that I've ever heard of.  Dinah then is accosted by Danny Deake, the florist from across the street, who angrily takes his package from Larry Lance.

Just then, a car speeds up to the curb and two men in the car open fire on Deake.  The rival florist is shot dead, but Larry pushes Dinah into the cover of her own flower shop before challenging the gunmen himself.  Dinah sneaks into the back of her store and changed into the costume of her secret crime-fighting alias, Black Canary.  When she comes out of the store, though, Larry is being thrown into the car with the two gunmen, who also picked up the package that Deake wanted so badly.

The goons from the car take the package as well as the captives Black Canary and Larry Lance to the Modern Glass Company factory.  The evil boss wears a protective suit and hood while he works with the dangerous chemicals and elements.

The boss quickly dumps... something on the molten glass to make it harden instantly, trapping Canary and Lance.  The heroes are then knocked unconscious--not pistol-whipped this time, but still knocked out, so Dinah's still making her monthly brain damage quota.

Black Canary and Larry Lance wake up in the bottom part of a giant hourglass.  The villain tells them they have one hour--because that's how hourglasses work--before the sand from the top half fills their compartment and kills them.  But after the villain explains his deathtrap, he leaves the room assuming everything will go according to his plan and there's no reason at all to confirm the deaths of his foes.

Outside, the leader has his men load glass vases onto a truck.  He drops the vases off at flower shops which he plans to use as a front to distribute the illegal vinium.  But he and the rest of the crooks are shocked when Black Canary and Lance crawl out of two of the vases.  Black Canary explains that she used the diamond beak of her canary locket to cut through the glass of their hourglass prison.

Poor Larry.  So in love with Black Canary and oblivious to Dinah Drake standing right next to him.

Come back next Sunday for another Golden Age adventure of Black Canary in Flash Comics #100.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Black Canary Bombshells Pin-Up

The Black Canary poster above is part of DC's Bombshells line of pin-ups designed by Aunt Lucia.  Each poster spotlights one of DC's heroic or villainous women in a pose and fashion inspired by the 1940's deco style--some with a bit of steampunk thrown in, too.  Ten images will be distributed by Quantum Mechanix, priced at $14.95 each.  Black Canary's print should be among the second wave, available for preorder in early summer.

DC Collectibles is also releasing a statue based on the Bombshell image sculpted by Sam Greenwell.  Head on over to their site for item and purchasing details.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Origin of Black Canary: 1983 Part 2 - JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #220

I've waited months to review Justice League of America #220, a story that radically reimagines not only Black Canary's history but her whole identity and status as a member of both the Justice League of Earth 1 and the Justice Society of Earth 2.  At last, the time is right to cover this story, because according to the 1976 Super DC Calendar, today, April 10th, is Black Canary's birthday.

Justice League of America #220: "The Doppelgänger Gambit" is written by Roy Thomas with pencil art by Chuck Patton and inks by Romeo Tanghal and Pablo Marcos.  George Perez delivers a cover with not one but two Black Canaries--one corpse-like in a casket beside the late Larry Lance, and the other looking on in horror with members of the Justice Society of America, Red Tornado and Sargon the Sorcerer, all while the Earth 1 Johnny Thunder and the Thunderbolt loom menacingly.  The cover boasts that this issue includes the "true origin of the Black Canary".

Gerry Conway already wrote an amazing origin story for Black Canary with only one noticeable problem that I can see: it dated her.  Conway's story specifically locked Dinah into an era that was becoming evermore recognizable as the past.  The Justice League members were supposed to be young and in their prime, but the math would make Black Canary out to be something like sixty-two years old.

DC needed a retcon to explain this age discrepancy so that Black Canary could have functioned in both eras, on both teams, without qualifying for an AARP card.  And in the late 1980s they would write that retcon and it would work wonders.  But before they got there, Roy Thomas would craft a Black Canary origin story (supposedly inspired by a Marv Wolfman idea) that would make even Hawkman's history look straightforward.

Last time, for reasons unknown and inexplicable to characters who know him, Johnny Thunder's genie-like Thunderbolt attacked the Justice League of America during its annual meeting with the Justice Society.  Barry Allen, Hal Jordan, Firestorm, Elongated Man, and Zatanna were struck down by the mad Thunderbolt and now lie comatose in the JLA Satellite.  Only Black Canary and Red Tornado, both of whom originated from Earth 2, as well as Justice Society members Jay Garrick, Power Girl, Huntress, Hourman, and Starman came through the battle relatively unscathed.

Almost immediately after the attack, pairs of super villains from both worlds launched attacks against ancient temples of worship.  While Starman took Black Canary to the Thunderbolt Dimension to investigate the Johnny Thunder connection, the JSA members went planet side to take on the villains.

Power Girl shows her eagerness to tackle the villains, while Red Tornado advises caution and a strategy session to plan their counterstrike.  (Red Tornado is the worst.)  The unexpected arrival of Sargon the Sorcerer prompts half of the JSA to lash out at the mage.  Sargon mildly flirts with Huntress while magically besting her, Power Girl and Red Tornado, who, seriously, is the worst.

Sargon tells the Flash and Hourman that he was working with the Spectre when the Thunderbolt struck him down in his Earth 1 human host, Jim Corrigan.  The Flash welcomes Sargon's help and sends him out with Power Girl, who sounds less than thrilled.

In the Thunderbolt Dimension, Black Canary and Starman were captured, not by the Johnny Thunder they suspected--the Johnny Black Canary befriended in her very first published adventures--but the Johnny Thunder of Earth 1.  This Johnny Thunder is crazy and vengeful and he's taken control of the Thunderolt.

But far more shocking than their enemy's identity is what he shows them: a glass casket with the bodies of Black Canary's late husband, Larry Lance, and another body that looks exactly like her.  Johnny also holds captive the original and noble Johnny Thunder of Earth 2.

At Evil Johnny's command, Thunderbolt tells the story of how he and Good Johnny fought crime in the '40s on Earth 2, how Black Canary joined them in their crusade for justice, and how Thunderbolt was injured during one of their adventures, explaining why Johnny Thunder's monthly adventures went away in favor of Dinah's solo stories.

Good Johnny took off, devastated that the woman he fell in love with favored Larry Lance over him.  In subsequent years, he stayed out of her life while she grew closer to both Larry and the Justice Society.  Until, of course, the day the Justice Society of America quit fighting crime by refusing to divulge their real identities before Congress.

The Wizard... "the greatest super criminal in the history of the planet"?!!  That's a helluva stretch, but I will concede after this story he might be Black Canary's greatest villain.  Maybe.

A desperate Dinah and Larry Lance bring their infant baby to Johnny Thunder, who summons Thunderbolt.  The genie offers to take the baby to the Thunderbolt Dimension where her destructive sonic powers won't harm anyone.  The caveat being, of course, that once there the child can never leave.  If Dinah and Larry send their child with Thunderbolt, she'll be safe, but they'll never see her again.

Approximately ten years after this story is published, the X-Men's Cyclops and Jean Grey would face a similar dilemma when their infant was infected with a virus and needed to be sent into the future to save his life, resulting in their child becoming the militaristic leader of X-Force, Cable.  And that scenario makes only a little bit more sense than what Roy Thomas will offer up later in this issue.

Dinah and Larry agonize over the decision--I would think--but finally surrender their baby to the protection of Thunderbolt.  He brings the baby to the Thunderbolt Dimension and keeps her in suspended animation, but then he goes a little off-script and wipes the memory from Dinah, Larry, and Johnny Thunder.  He convinces them that the baby died... because it will be easier for them to deal with...  Yep.

Black Canary, much like any attentive reader, is full of questions.  But Evil Johnny interrupts the story to draw attention to the ensuing battles on Earth 1 between the heroic and villainous pairings.

In Mexico, Chronos and the Fiddler have seized an ancient pyramid.  Jay Garrick and Hourman rush to intervene but they're thwarted by a time-holograph created by Chronos, and then the Fiddler plays a little ditty causing the heroes to keep dancing until they die.

Meanwhile, Dr. Alchemy and the Icicle have taken over one of the Great Pyramids of Egypt when Huntress and Red Tornado come liberate the place.  Reddy drops Huntress off on the sloping face of the pyramid, but Icicle freezes the side, causing Huntress to slide down.  But being the daughter of Batman and Catwoman affords Huntress a healthy amount of agility and preparedness.  She manages to throw a batarang that knocks out Icicle even as she's sliding down.

At the same time, Red Tornado is battling Dr. Alchemy, who maneuvers the android into position so that Huntress slides off the pyramid and crashes right into him.  The result is that Huntress and Red Tornado are both knocked out, spoiling all of the good will Huntress gained by swatting Icicle.  God, Red Tornado sucks.

And at Stonehenge, we find the last duo, Power Girl and Sargon squaring off against the wicked mages, Felix Faust and the Wizard.  The bad guys use their magic to fool Power Girl and Sargon into striking each other, knocking each other unconscious.  Then, naturally, Wizard and Faust bicker amongst each other, because that's what villains do.

Back in the Thunderbolt Dimension, Evil Johnny taunts his hostages and brags of the devious goings-on that he's fostered down on Earth 1.  Unbeknownst to Evil Johnny, some of the electric sprites of the dimension have come to started rescuing Good Johnny from his bonds.  Just when Evil Johnny is ordering the genie to murder Black Canary and Starman, Good Johnny breaks free and shouts out the magic words that put Thunderbolt back in control.

Freed of Evil Johnny's influence, Thunderbolt races to the JLA Satellite to revive the Leaguers he hurt last issue.  And before long, the heroes of Earth 1 snap back into action.

Elongated Man and Barry Allen help Jay and Hourman take out Chronos and the Fiddler.  Firestorm and Hal Jordan help Huntress and Red Tornado take out Dr. Alchemy and the Icicle.   And Zatanna helps Power Girl and Sargon take out Felix Faust and the Wizard.

In the Thunderbolt Dimension, Evil Johnny is captured though still trying to regain control over the genie.  Black Canary is overwhelmed by the image of what looks like herself and her dead husband.  Is it a daughter she never knew or something even stranger, she wonders.

Oh, it's stranger.  And it's the kind of story that only Bob Haney Superman and the Spectre could tell.

So... Superman thought it best that Black Canary swap bodies and memories with her own daughter who lived a decades in suspended animation.  Dinah Drake effectively dies with her husband, while her consciousness takes over the dormant body of her daughter.

Aside from Red Tornado totally being the worst, what can we gather from this issue?

This ending is so, sooooo $@#%ed up!  I guess at this point Black Canary is considered to be the daughter of the original Black Canary, but she's full of her mother's memories and experiences.  What happens to her now will shape her life as though she's a different person, but couldn't that be said of any character.

The whole motive for this retcon was to de-age Black Canary.  And Roy Thomas did so by putting the character in the identical body of a child she never remembered having.  But the tale ends with her crying and being carried off--happily--in Superman's arms, so I guess it's a wash.  After all, that's how issue #74 ended when her husband died right in front of her.  Maybe that's one of Superman's untapped powers; he can make Black Canary get over any traumatic event.

The action scenes with the Justice Society versus the dastardly duos is mostly underwhelming.  The way the heroes fail to stop their adversaries is forced and lame, but the timely arrival of the Justice League heroes is pretty exciting.

Black Canary has never had much of a Rogues' Gallery; her list of personal foes makes Aquaman's look like the Society of Evil.  This story, however, puts two common foes of the JSA and JLA firmly in Dinah's stack of super villains.  Johnny Thunder of Earth 1 never achieved much on the page or off, but his schemes and his connection to her personal history make him an interesting enemy for later stories.  Likewise, Black Canary now has a personal, maybe the most personal beef with the Wizard.  He cursed her own freaking child and condemned it to suspended animation for life until she took over the body.

Well, Happy Birthday, Black Canary!  You get a new body and a new history, one that will last about five years before cooler heads think of a better idea for post-Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Two Canaries in GREEN ARROW ANNUAL #2

A little less than three years before Sarah Byam launched Black Canary's first solo miniseries, she got to script a short story called "Do Black Canaries Sing?" in Green Arrow Annual #2 published in January, 1989.  Dick Giordano, one of comics' most prolific artists and editors of the Bronze Age, and a man who drew some damn fine images of Black Canary over the years, provided pencil art for Byam's story.  Mike Gold, the editor on Green Arrow who also oversaw Black Canary's first backup story in Action Comics Weekly, edited the story.

Back in the seminal Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters (scroll down to number #59), Black Canary was captured and brutally tortured before the Emerald Archer rescued her.  The trauma done to Dinah left her incapable of using her sonic scream and unlikely to ever bear children.  The emotional after-shocks of this story in the pages of Green Arrow cast Dinah mainly as a victim.

"Do Black Canaries Sing?" attempts to restore Dinah's character to its rightful status as woman of action and strength rather than damaged by confronting the doomsayers head-on in the guise of her own mother.

But first we revisit the horrific scene of her torture...

Dinah Laurel Lance recalls in vivid detail being bound to a forklift in a warehouse and tortured by the man who slices her up and takes the Black Canary choker of her costume.  He drops the choker, which symbolically transforms into a bird feather that lands in a pool of Dinah's blood.  That causes her to wake up screaming.

Luckily, I suppose, Dinah lost her meta-human Canary Cry otherwise she'd shatter every window in the neighborhood when she wakes from a nightmare.  As it happens, something or somebody else is responsible for breaking her bedroom window.

Yep, that's Dinah Laurel Lance's mother, Dinah Drake-Lance, the original Black Canary.  This story has two generations of Black Canary!  A few years earlier, Roy Thomas ret-conned Black Canary's history to include... Y'know, I'm going to cover that tomorrow!  All that really matters is this is one of, if not the first stories to establish the current Black Canary is the daughter of a living, retired former Blonde Bombshell.

Anyway, Dinah Drake seems to be quite the domineering and judgmental mother.  She shames her daughter into coming down from her apartment to chase the little boy who stole her purse.  The boy eludes Old Dinah by jumping into a dumpster.  Meanwhile, Young Dinah gets her car; they squabble about how "helpless" Old Dinah is before spotting the young thief darting across the street.

Young Dinah lets the boy get ahead of them so she can follow him back to his gang leader.  They track him to an apartment building in the city.  Young Dinah "shows off" by leaping up onto the fire-escape, determined to find the criminal mastermind behind the young thief.

Old Dinah follows her daughter up a couple of flights of stairs.  By the time she reaches her daughter, though, Young Dinah is staring through a window, looking crestfallen.

Inside the apartment, the thief has not returned to his gang, but his family.  And the mastermind is not another criminal, but the boy's mother.  And she thinks he got the money from finding a job that will help lift them out of their poverty.

Young Dinah maintains the ruse of being the thief's employer, so much so that she actually gives him the job and expects to see him on Saturday show up for work.  At the same time, she surreptitiously gets her mother's purse back without revealing it to the boy's mother.

The next day, Dinah's old and young walk through the park and talk about the evolution of crime and criminals from one generation to the next.  Young Dinah mentions that her mom came to Seattle to see "Aunt Wren", whom I imagine is Wren Kole, a character who will appear in the "New Wings" miniseries and might have appeared elsewhere, but I'm not sure.

In essence, "Do Black Canaries Sing?" is a story about Dinah Laurel Lance moving beyond the pain of her torture.  And to get there, Sarah Byam wisely avoids throwing Black Canary in a room with a rapist or knife-weilding serial killer.  She doesn't need to re-experience the trauma to have a catharsis.

Instead, Dinah is confronted by the voice of authority telling her you're done, telling her it's time to quit.  Telling her she's broken beyond repair.  And Dinah says no.

She won't quit fighting, superpowers or not.  She's not a victim, and she's not damaged goods.  She's a damn superhero and a former member of the Justice League of America!

This was a great outing for Sarah Byam with the character of Black Canary.  For years, Mike Grell would continue to include Dinah in his Green Arrow series, but her portrayal often came across as nagging and defeatist and just annoying.  Byam polished off the dirt and grime and showed readers the strength in Black Canary.  And a few years later, she would take her to greater heights with Black Canary's own monthly series.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Birds of Prey #1 (Jan 1999)

Previously in
By the time DC launched a Birds of Prey ongoing series, the partnership of Black Canary and Oracle had been going (relatively) strong for over two years.  Series creator Chuck Dixon turned them into a jet-setting international espionage team--well, mostly.  Oracle stayed fixed in her secret headquarters, her true identity as Barbara Gordon, former Batgirl and daughter of Gotham Police Commissioner James Gordon, a mystery.  Even Dinah didn't know who was dispatching her around the globe to take down arms dealers, drug kingpins, master assassins, and lousy boyfriends.  But in spite of their differences, Black Canary and Oracle made the partnership work.  One the brains, one the body.

Birds of Prey #1: "Long Time Gone" is written by Chuck Dixon and drawn by Greg Land, with inks by Drew Geraci and colors by Gloria Vasquez.  Greg Land previously drew the Birds of Prey: Batgirl special, making him the first return artist on a Birds of Prey comic.  This is from the era when he actually drew characters instead of tracing porn stars and his own stock art.

The issue opens wit a close up of Dinah Lance screaming, "No, take it away! It's too horrible!"  What is she referring to, some gory crime-scene photos?  Green Arrow's head in a box?  A platter of poisonous scorpions?

No.  It's a laptop.

Oracle tries to convince Dinah that using a computer will help them communicate more effectively--What a novel idea?  Dinah stubbornly clings to her electronic ignorance and throws her underwear over the monitor, blocking the camera.

Elsewhere, a couple named Brendan and Daria are on the run trying to escape from a dense jungle and find safety in a nearby village.  But they've been tracked through the jungle by Hellhound, a foe of Catwoman who specializes in training attack dogs.

Brendan and Daria run for their lives, which don't amount to much.  Hellhound's dogs catch them in the clearing and appear to savagely rip the people to shreds.

Back in Black Canary's apartment, she removes the underwear obscuring the real-time camera and flashes a tribal (possibly Asian) bat mask in front of the screen.  Oracle shrieks for a moment before regaining her composure.  She starts to tell Dinah about the latest mission which will take Black Canary to Rheelasia, a nation devastated by a nuclear meltdown in the original Birds of Prey Special.

We cut to Rheelasia where a handsome sleaze-ball named Reed Montel meets with a gangster named Jackie Pamerjanian, better known as "Jackie Pajamas".  Jackie Pajamas has billions of dollars in drug money, and in a place like Rheelasia, he can buy and sell anything to or from anyone.  What Reed is interested in buying or selling, we don't yet know.

Then we find Black Canary undercover--though less covered than usual--on a cruise ship off the coast of Rheelasia, getting more mission details from Oracle.

Oracle tells Black Canary to be weary of Jackie Pajamas; he's dangerous and he's not the sort to simply fall for a gorgeous blonde flaunting her body in a bathing suit.  They plan for Black Canary to reconnoiter Jackie's hideout that night with a camera mounted to her costume so Oracle can look for any relevant information.

After ending her conversation with Dinah, Barbara rolls her wheelchair throughout her hideout, chatting online with another cyberspace tech aficionado.  She has a whole other codename besides Oracle--Rollingthunder, in this case.  Barbara keeps her cyber-chat somewhat flirtatious, but avoids any commitment to meet with whoever's on the other side of the chat.

Meanwhile, at the Pentagon, the Major in charge of the 1998 equivalent of Internet and Electronics Security meets with his lieutenant about someone hacking into their system and using memory from the U.S. government.  It's not stated explicitly, but it sure sounds like they're talking about Oracle.

That night, Black Canary swims to the shore, scales the cliff, and sneaks onto Jackie Pajamas' villa.  She creeps around, stealthily disabling Jackie's security force before slipping inside.

Black Canary enters the kitchen and Oracle notices there are two seemingly identical refrigerator doors side-by-side.  She switches to infrared on the Canary-mounted camera and notices that one of the doors isn't giving off any heat or power.  The door leads down into a hidden basement chamber that Canary observes looks like it hasn't had any use or visitors in quite some time.

Oracle hacks through another door and Black Canary enters to discover a room full of expensive suits, expensive cameras, expensive watches... and jars of body parts, such as fingers, noses, ears, and eyes.

Black Canary starts to exfiltrate the villa, but as she's leaving, Jackie Pajamas' helicopter touches down on the helipad.  Canary waits to see who Jackie is with.  Oracle recognizes Reed Montel, but that's not the name she calls him.

For a first issue, I was surprised at the lack of action in this comic.  We see Black Canary take down a security guard or two, but they're small, quiet panels.  The real action of the chapter is Hellhound sicking his dogs on the runaway couple, but even then the event is so horrific and violent that we don't see it.

To compensate for the lack of gunfire and ass-kicking, Dixon gives us some nice character beats.  Barbara has a world to herself of online acquaintances who talk and flirt.  She might also be stealing bandwidth from the Department of Defense, which is an interesting ethical decision for a police commissioner's daughter.  That Dixon devoted a whole scene with these two out-of-their-depth military officers talking about it suggests he has some plans for this down the road.  I hope so, because it's a big deal for Barbara.

Dinah, on the other hand, is still portrayed as Barbara's opposite.  Where the mousy Oracle gets hot for software and technology but avoids face-to-face interactions, Black Canary flaunts her sexuality in this issue, even being willing to use it as a tactic to get close to her target.  She also comes off as frighteningly ignorant and, well, frightened of computers.  I guess fifteen years ago this characteristic might have come across as quaint and amusing, but today it makes her look stupid.

The most surprising highlight of the the comic, though, might be the inclusion of Hellhound.  I sort of /kind of remember him from Catwoman, but despite his ridiculous costume, I've always liked him.  And Black Canary has precious few villains that could be considered her rogues.  She needs all the colorful foes she can get.

Come back next Tuesday for a review of Birds of Prey #2.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Black Canary Sketch by Bruce Timm

This is an older sketch--you can tell from the date beneath the signature--done by Bruce Timm, the creator of Batman: The Animated Series and basically the DC Animated Universe that's existed for two decades now.

There's a little more detail in the sketch, and more color variety between Dinah's black leather jacket and her leotard.  As with her appearance in Justice League Unlimited, her legs are covered by what looks like solid gray tights instead of fishnets.  It's still unquestionably Black Canary, though, and there is a iconic-ness to her look that is completely lacking in her current New 52 costume.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Golden Oldie: FLASH COMICS #98

Black Canary's ongoing adventures continue with seven thrilling pages of mystery and suspense in Flash Comics #98.

"The Byzantine Black" is written by Robert Kanigher and drawn by Carmine Infantino.

The story begins with Dinah Drake hurrying back to her flower shop, having forgotten to put a shipment of orchids in the refrigerator.  When she returns to her store, however, she is shocked to discover that the outside signage and inside contents have been replaced to look like a small grocery store.  She's in the right place, but her business has been completely changed.

Sneaking through the store, Dinah overhears men in the back room talking about pulling a scam on a millionaire named Roger Steele.  Wasting no more time, Dinah dons the disguise of her crime stopper alter-ego, the Black Canary.

She rushes into the back of her shop to foil the crooks.  They take shots at her, but she avoids the bullets.

Outside the shop, Black Canary finds the body of Roger Steele, thankfully still alive.  Larry Lance arrives and tells Canary that he was hired to bodyguard Steele after the Byzantine Black was stolen.  Lance tells her the Byzantine Black is an extremely valuable stamp.

Black Canary and Larry Lance bring Roger Steel back to his mansion, where the millionaire's niece, Elaine, helps him recover.  She mentions her uncle meeting the crooks at a grocery store, which rings an alarm bell in Black Canary's mind.  But before she can inquire, Canary and Lance are pistol-whipped unconscious because that happens every month.

When the pair of heroic investigators awaken ,they are on a precariously balanced teeter-totter above a pit of quicksand.  Should either of them move too much in any way, the other or both will surely fall into the sand and die.  But Black Canary has a plan.  She dislodges a boulder with a rope vine and pulls it down on her side of the plank.

Black Canary and Larry Lance rush off to pursue the crooks while she makes fun of Larry's clothes.  In no time at all...

Upon reading this story, I'm confronted by one burning question: was this whole contrived plot just a means to encourage kids and readers to collect stamps?  Have stamps ever really been worth anything or is that just a myth?  I don't get it.  The Byzantine Black could have been anything--the whole point of a McGuffin--but why a stamp?!!

Anyway, the plot and Larry's place in the story are pretty thin, but it's nice seeing Black Canary use her mind to figure out traps and the identity of the real criminal mastermind in this story.  Not only is she a superb fighter, she's a smart detective.  She's a better judge of character--by a thousand--than Black Canary in the New 52's Birds of Prey.

Come back next Sunday for another Golden Age adventure of Black Canary in Flash Comics #99.