Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Origin of Black Canary: 1983 Part 1 - JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #219

Because I can't help myself when it comes to these little segues, today, April 3rd, is the birthday of the original Flash, Jay Garrick, at least according to the Super DC Calendar from 1976.  That's why I've saved my reviews of Justice League of America #219-220 until now.  The story spanning these issues doesn't just radically revise Black Canary's origin, but also prominently features Jay Garrick and the Justice Society of America.

Justice League of America #219: "Crisis in the Thunderbolt Dimension" is cowritten by series regular Gerry Conway along with Roy Thomas, who'd been writing All-Star Squadron at the time and pretty much owned anything related to the Golden Age heroes.  Pencils and inks on the issue are provided by Chuck Patton and Romeo Tanghal respectively.  The cover, depicting a familiar-looking genie called Thunderbolt attacking the Justice League while their Earth 2 counterparts look on in horror, is drawn by none other than George Perez.  The story came out in October of 1983.

The story begins with a group of heavily armed terrorists taking hostages in a public park in Central City.  While the terrorist leader announces their demands to the police, however, an unseen force begins taking down his cronies and henchmen.  See, in all their scheming, this group didn't count on two scarlet speedsters to interfere with their plans.

Both Barry Allen and Jay Garrick, each known as The Flash, the Fastest Man Alive in their worlds, race into action in a title page that pays homage to the original Flash of Two Worlds story.

Jay and Barry take turns redirecting the terrorist's machine-gun spray so that it spells JSA and JLA on the wall.  The Central City spectators and police are a bit slow to recognize Jay, who they mostly know as a fictional superhero appearing in Flash Comics.  'Cause, y'know, that made sense at the time.

After saving the day, the Flashes run to the Justice League Satellite transporter.  Jay lends voice to a concern that I've had for years about the proper naming for Earths 1 and 2.

As they speed up the side of the building and prepare to teleport to the League's orbital headquarters, the two reflect on their annual meetings and how enjoyable it is for them.  However, as they're about to leave, the weather abruptly turns stormy.  And a crackling spike of pink lighting arcs down from the sky toward the speedsters.

Jay recognizes the energy source too late.  The lightning grazes him but turns its full force on Barry.  Even the Flash of Earth 1 can't outrun the bolt that seems to strike him dead.

The Thunderbolt gives no reply.  Jay tries to attack, but it effortlessly knocks him back with a low-level blast.  He looks up just in time to see the Thunderbolt fade away.  Jay crawls over to examine Barry and finds the other Flash barely clinging to life.

Desperate, Jay knows he must get Barry up to the satellite, currently orbiting the Earth at a distance of 22,300 miles above the surface.  There the combined members of the Justice League and Justice Society of America mingle like friends at a company picnic.

I love Black Canary's half-conversation with Huntress and Power Girl.  There's so much innuendo delivered in her line before Power Girl clears up the matter.  And speaking of Power Girl, Firestorm is pining over her like a classic teenager with a crush.  And why wouldn't he?  It's Power Girl!

Green Lantern and Starman talk about boring cosmic stuff, while Elongated Man pulls Firestorm aside so that he, Zatanna, and Hourman can give the kid some dating advice.  Unfortunately, just before Firestorm asks Power Girl to visit the Trophy Room (wink wink), the frivolity is spoiled by the pink lightning bolt crashing into the room.

Black Canary and Starman recognize the energy signature of the lightning bolt, but Firestorm doesn't much care.  Unwilling to be ****-blocked by a light show, the Nuclear Man rushes to confront the lightning.  It promptly shocks him, knocking the life out of him.  Then the lightning takes the familiar form of Johnny Thunder's genie, the Thunderbolt.

Hourman pops a pill and charges the Thunderbolt with his newfound super-strength, but is easily batted away.  Green Lantern attacks with his Power Ring and Starman with his Cosmic Rod (wink wink, wait, that's not a euphemism!)  Thunderbolt absorbs the energy and redirects it, striking Green Lantern with all the power.  The Thunderbolt next turns its attention on Red Tornado, knocking the android across the room, demolishing some of the satellite's dimensional transporter in the process.  It strikes at Power Girl, Elongated Man, and Zatanna before the Mistress of Magic can cast a spell against it.

As the heroes still standing check on their wounded and ask questions, the transporter tube opens to reveal Jay Garrick carrying the unconscious Barry Allen.  The Flash, Green Lantern, Zatanna, Firestorm, and Elongated Man are all taken to the medi-lab, where they remain in critical condition.  It doesn't take long for the survivors to realize what they all have in common: Black Canary, Power Girl, Huntress, Hourman, Starman, and Jay Garrick were all born on Earth 2, and Red Tornado was first assembled there.  The next question, of course, is why does that matter?

For newer readers who might have thought Black Canary was always a native Leaguer, she recounts her story of coming to Earth 1.  It started when Starman crashed through the roof her home with Larry Lance, her husband on Earth 2.

Dinah goes on to remember how on her first day with the Justice League she let slip a tremendous blast of sonic energy.  Batman had explained that her proximity to Aquarius' energy when Larry died and mutated her, granting her a new metahuman power, her Canary Cry.  Dinah admits that Batman's explanation never quite made sense to her (or to Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas, I'd bet).

While she's daydreaming about the past, Power Girl and Red Tornado use the satellite's surveillance equipment to confirm that Superman and Wonder Woman have also been rendered unconscious by the Thunderbolt, and Aquaman, Green Arrow, Hawkman and Hawkgirl may also have been taken out like the other League members.

Huntress speculates that the problem might not emanate from a rogue Thunderbolt but from Johnny Thunder himself.  Black Canary refuses to believe her old friend could have betrayed them like this.  At that point, Power Girl reveals that pairs of super villains from both Earths are attacking ancient temples on the planet below.  From Earth 1, Chronos, Dr. Alchemy, and Felix Faust are each partnered with The Fiddler, Icicle, and the Wizard from Earth 2.

The heroes speculate that these combined villains are behind the Thunderbolt's attack on the League.  They quickly jump into action.

I'm going to say it right here, a big part of me has and always will prefer Black Canary and Starman as a couple over Black Canary and Green Arrow.  That these two had a brief but passionate affair was the best retcon James Robinson ever contributed to the DC Universe.  I just love the way these two interact, and you can see the love Ted has for her in the last panel.

Black Canary agrees to Starman's plan to track the Thunderbolt and get answers directly from the source of their problem.  He uses his Cosmic Rod (tee-hee) to transport them through space and into the alternate dimension of the genie: the Thunderbolt Dimension!

While struggling to get their bearings in the topsy-turvy alternate world, they spy someone watching them from a lofty throne.  Before they can react, the Thunderbolt attacks Starman.  Black Canary lets loose a sonic cry, but it has no effect on the genie this time.  Dinah is immobilized and the two are brought before their captor: the Johnny Thunder of Earth 1!

What's with the glass coffin holding Larry Lance and a double of Black Canary?!!  I guess you'll have to wait until next Thursday for my review of issue #220.

This is a great issue, and as one of the annual crossovers with the Golden Age heroes of Earth 2, it's a real treat to see characters like Jay Garrick, Hourman, and Starman get such a worthy place in the story.  True it's at the expense of the titular members of the Justice League, but even they get moments to shine, however briefly.  Everyone gets to use his or her power, mostly to little effect, but it still looks cool.

But naturally my favorite part of the story is the emphasis on Black Canary's pre-League roots.  She originally debuted in the Johnny Thunder strip in Flash Comics, so it's thrilling to see that history play out as her friends are stalked by Johnny Thunder's wayward djinn.  Everyone questions the culpability of Johnny Thunder, but Dinah refuses to believe her old friend could have gone bad like this.  It is more dramatic and powerful then at the end when she learns that a Johnny Thunder is behind her woes, just not the Johnny everyone suspected.

Conway and Thomas' script is impeccable in this issue, filled with nice character beats, like the dialogue between the Flashes and the cops in the first scene; and Firestorm's angst over Power Girl; and Starman coming to Black Canary alone, giving her a chance to resolve this personal conflict for herself.  All perfect moments.  Patton and Tanghal's art, too, is beautiful.  The tension and terror on the characters' face have never seemed so dramatic.  Brilliant stuff here.

In the end, though, this issue is mostly a set-up for the greatness--and wonkiness--that will come with issue #220.  That issue is full of a ton of action and a whole new origin story for Black Canary.  Come back in a week to check out my review!

1 comment:

  1. I always used to love those old JLA/JSA crossovers, and the various, if slightly corny reasons for their get togethers.
    I also felt that Dinah's Canary Cry could've been better come from Johnny Thunder's Thunderbolt rather than some one-time villain like Aquarious.