Friday, June 27, 2014

Pretty Bird: DETECTIVE COMICS #554

Last week I made the argument that the Green Arrow backup strip in Detective Comics #553 was--somewhat covertly--DC's first attempt to really differentiate between the current Black Canary and her Golden Age mother since Roy Thomas' retcon in Justice League of America #220.  Certain aspects of Dinah's inner monologue in today's chapter may support or refute that position.  I'm not entirely sure.  What is certain, though, is that 'Tec #554 debuts the first change to Black Canary's costume since she abandoned the domino mask way back in 1948.

Detective Comics #554 starred Batman in a story by Doug Moench with art by Klaus Janson, who also drew the cover.  Said cover features the newly adorned Black Canary bursting through a paper hoop held by Batman and Green Arrow as a direct homage to her first cover appearance in Flash Comics #92.  The bold text caption on the cover reads, "For the first time anywhere...The All-New Black Canary."

...but that's not exactly accurate.  This issue of 'Tec is cover dated September 1985, but thanks to Mike's Amazing World of Comics we know the issue hit the stands on June 27 of '85.  Six months earlier, though, the second issue of Who's Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe came out, clearly depicting Black Canary II in her "all-new" costume drawn by Terry Austin.  So Janson's cover here can hardly claim to be the first ever appearance of the all-new Black Canary.

What further complicates things is neither Austin nor Janson deserve credit for the all-new design.  My best friend, Rob Kelly, founder of The Aquaman Shrine, informs me that 'Mazing Man artist extraordinaire Stephen DeStafano created Black Canary's new look for the post-Crisis era, and the interior artist for this very issue corroborates this claim.

"Crazy from the Heat II: The Past is Prologue" is written by Joey Cavalieri with art by Jerome Moore and Bruce Patterson.  Black Canary gets top billing over Green Arrow at the top of their first page, and she's advertised as "the NEW" Black Canary.

Picking up where the last issue left off, Dinah Lance is in bed recovering from a nearly disastrous encounter with a female arsonist named Bonfire.  She combs through her mother's old scrapbook, wondering if the original Black Canary ever had a bad day like this one.  She's awestruck to find an article Dinah Drake had saved recounting the case of another female arsonist named Pyra.

The original Black Canary confesses, in her journal, to choking when it came to collaring Pyra.  She describes being pinned down and nearly burned alive... and all she could do was scream.   Hmm, sounds exactly like what Bonfire did to the younger Dinah earlier that day.

Dinah II thinks the reason she froze when fighting Bonfire was because her mother's spirit lives on in her, and she psychically relived the same calamitous bout with Pyra when trapped in the blazing building last issue.  Now she understands why she failed and she's more determined than ever to redeem herself.  That means severing the residual psychic connection to her mother.  That means not following directly in her mother's footsteps.  That means a brand new look for Black Canary.

That night, Dinah suits up in her all-new Black Canary costume and returns to the Star City slums that Bonfire has been torching lately.  She feels guilty over not bringing Green Arrow along with her, but she recognizes that this is a conflict she must face on her own.  If she is to truly break away from her mother's past demons, she must overcome her fear and take down Bonfire.

She slips into a condemned building that ought to be abandoned, but she notices an old derelict sleeping in one of the rooms.  The man has a hat pulled down low and a fake-looking beard covering half his face; of course, Dinah realizes, it's a disguised Green Arrow doing some undercover surveillance of the area.  Dinah doesn't wake him, but she is relieved to know she'll have backup later if she needs it.

And as it happens, Bonfire shows up just as Black Canary's walking down the stairs.  Bonfire torches the landing and the stairs around Black Canary, though she doesn't recognize the superhero for her new costume.  Black Canary lets her know "the plumage has changed, but the name is the same."

Thanks to her new fireproof costume, Black Canary stalks Bonfire back to the room with the sleeping "derelict".  Using the man for a hostage, Bonfire sets fire to an empty mattress and throws it at Black Canary.  The doorway goes up right around Dinah, who might not have to fear burning alive with her new duds, but she's still in danger of asphyxiation from the smoke.

Bonfire is dazed but staggers to her feet.  Then, out of nowhere, an arrow launches a rope around the arsonist, capturing her.  Green Arrow stands in the doorway in all his emerald archer glory and tells Dinah that he took care of the fire downstairs.

Dinah is shocked.  She thought Ollie was dressed up as Bonfire's homeless hostage; she thought she was rescuing him.  Well, it turns out the derelict was someone else undercover: the Star City Fire Chief that Ollie accused of corruption the day before.  The chief calls the police to take Bonfire away as Black Canary and Green Arrow walk away.

Okay, first I have to say that I never used to like this Black Canary costume.  I thought it looked too dated, too much like a tracksuit or something from the movie Flashdance.  The thing about that is, my exposure to this costume was mostly from the pages of Justice League International drawn by Kevin Maguire.  For all the strengths of that series and for Maguire's art, I never liked how he drew Dinah (or any other women, honestly).  I thought the costume looked too soft, it took away her edge.

Seeing how Moore depicts Dinah in the costume, though, is a whole 'nother matter.  She looks fluid, graceful, birdlike.  And plenty tough.  This Black Canary looks like an avenging warrior of the night. She could partner with Nightwing and clean up the streets of Gotham and Bludhaven.  It's definitely more of a superhero costume and it's not bad.  (I don't even mind the absurd white boots--I love 'em.  They remind me of Green Lantern's white gloves!)  However, I still prefer the classic black leather and fishnets Black Canary.

I love that Dinah II is reliving moments of her mother's tragedy and triumph, and struggling to exorcize that ghost.  She wants to live her own life, out of her mother's shadow, so she forces a separation by changing her identity.  It's a very natural occurrence for a daughter rebelling against her mother.  This two-part story delivers some great art and characterization for Dinah(s), but maybe my favorite part is that it gave her and her mother some villains.  Black Canary has a pretty pathetic rogues gallery, and I don't think Bonfire or Pyra are ever seen again after this, but they're nice benchwarmers.

Unfortunately, after this stunning debut of the All-New Black Canary, she dropped out of the Green Arrow backup strips in Detective Comics for a couple of months.  She turned up next in Green Lantern during the Crisis on Infinite Earths.  I might cover that story next week, in addition to recapping Ollie's solo efforts in Detective Comics #555 through #558.


  1. Call me nuts, but I love that costume. Not more than the classic. But I'd love to see her don that every so often.

  2. It reminds me of Zatanna's white and violet costume from the JLA satellite era. They seem like more conventional superhero costumes, like that's what they should wear when they go to work with the big guns in the League. But I like both of their fishnet costumes more.