Sunday, March 2, 2014

Golden Oldie: FLASH COMICS #93

After starting her solo adventures in Flash Comics, joining the Justice Society of America in All-Star, and popping over to Comic Cavalcade for a guest story, there was no stopping the lady crime fighter known as Black Canary!  Indeed, the Canary was becoming so popular that her adventures saw an increase from six- to seven-page stories starting with Flash Comics #93, cover dated March 1948.

"Mystery of the Crimson Crystal" is written by Robert Kanigher and drawn by Carmine Infantino.

Larry Lance checks his client's condition to discover that she has died.  At that point, a group of women wearing red hooded cloaks enter Dinah's flower shop demanding something called the Crimson Crystal.  Unseen, Dinah sneaks into the back room of her store and changes into the costume of her secret crime fighting identity, the Black Canary!

When she comes back into the store, however, Black Canary is alone with the dead woman.  Larry and the women in cloaks have vanished.  Canary checks the body for identification and finds her clutching a giant and quite valuable crimson crystal.  She realizes this is what the woman was killed for and what the other women must want.

At that moment, however, the local police enter and mistake Black Canary for the killer.  They try to subdue her, but Canary is far to skilled for them and escapes.  Later, she posts an ad in the personals column of the newspaper agreeing to exchange the Crimson Crystal for the safe release of Larry Lance.  She goes to the bridge that night to make the trade, or at least to find out who is behind this mystery.  There she is surrounded by the women in red cloaks.

They try to take the crimson orb and Black Canary fights back.  However...

Swami attacks but Black Canary's martial arts training proves far superior.  Even as the women of the Crimson Crystal cult rage in disbelief, Black Canary flips Swami over and throws him into the crowd.  She tells the women that the crystal is a fake and proves it.  She unscrews the orb, which has a self-generating lightbulb inside to give it its eery supernatural glow.

Wow!  As silly as parts of this story were, it was far-and-away the best Black Canary story from the Golden Age so far!

For one thing, this marks the first time she fights a villain, if you'll forgive the pun, more "colorful" than the ordinary gangsters she's been used to tussling with.  This Order of the Crimson Crystal is visually distinct by the red cloaks and the all-female membership.  'Tis a shame that it's nothing more than bored debutants foolishly duped by a conman.  This group could easily be resurrected for a modern story as a truly sinister cult of brainwashed women who actually believe some mystic object will grant them eternal life.  And maybe it will.  They just need a better leader than this racist caricature, Swami, who turns out to be someone named "Bullet" Benn.  

We get a lot of other great character moments in this story.  Black Canary uses her skills to elude the police, to fight the cultists and defeat Swami.  She also uses the canary on her choker to release smoke, enabling her to escape.  That's a cool trick that could use a comeback.  We also have her using her brains to literally unlock the mystery of the Crimson Crystal.  She doesn't solve this case by happenstance; she actually does the detective work in her mind and on her feet.

And then we have Larry Lance taking a bullet for her!  Even though he is described as Dinah Drake's "pet peeve" in the first page, you can see the admiration between the two of them that will grow into love and eventually marriage.  The extra page in this story really allowed Kanigher and Infantino to stretch out and tell a great story.

Come back next Sunday for another Golden Age adventure of Black Canary in Flash Comics #94.


  1. I love these older stories, especially the art which works so well with the material.

    The 'something' in her Canary choker that just happens to be what she needs to escape is a bit gimmicky. I think at one point it is a lock pick. This time smoke, etc.

    But that is a sidebar to the otherwise great stories here.

  2. Oh yeah, Dinah's "utility belt" is a half-inch diameter pocket that changes from issue to issue. In fact, next issue I'm pretty sure it's a strobe light!!!

  3. Bullet Benn -- no doubt it's a classic! I loved that the New-52 alluded to the "Cult of the Crimson Crystal" with that rival gang. But the police-chase, and Dinah dealing with a cult, and all these tropes recall for me a good throwback to Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" short-story (a literary classic) on one hand, and decades later the 2008 (?) film Martyrs, which also featured a cult targeting young women as well as a leader who wears a Swami-like turban.

    Either way, what gets under my skin about cult-stories is how with Black Canary that seems somewhat of a coincidental recurrence. The famous O'Neil/Adams Hard-Travelin' Heroes run gave us Black Canary in a Charles Manson-esque story, and I'd like to imagine she was infiltrating the cult rather than as Green Arrow put it, completely duped by it, but that's more of a deliberate mis-reading on my part! I believe the 60s cult-villain was a guy called Joshua, and later had an unnamed sister in a later issue.

    Either way, great Black Canary stories all around! (you can all reach me on twitter as of now).