Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Team-Up: DC COMICS PRESENTS #30 (Feb 1981)

Black Canary partnered with the Dark Knight Detective a number of times in issues of The Brave and the Bold, but alas, she didn't team up with the Man of Tomorrow nearly as often.  In fact, excepting a few cameos here and there, Black Canary only "co-starred" in one issue of Superman's sister title to Brave and Bold.

DC Comics Presents #30: "A Dream of Demons" starring Superman and Black Canary is written by Gerry Conway with art by Curt Swan and Vince Colletta.  The cover by Rich Buckler and Steve Mitchell depicts the Last Son of Krypton and the Mistress of Judo assaulted by the nightmarish creatures of Doctor Destiny.  The issue also features a backup story, "Whatever Happened to the Golden Age Atom?"  DCCP #30 is cover dated February 1981, but shipped in November the previous year.

We open with profiles of the issue's stars, Superman and Black Canary.  Then we find "The Mistress of the Sonic Scream" parachuting down to the frozen wastes of the North Pole.

Dinah Drake Lance lands on the snow covered plane and gathers her chute.  In the distance, she sees the great and formidable entrance to the Fortress of Solitude.  She hopes its occupant received the message she sent from the Justice League Satellite otherwise she might well freeze to death.

Marching across the arctic plane, Dinah doesn't hear a polar bear stalking her until it attacks.  She narrowly avoids being slashed by the animal's powerful claws.  She thinks one of the bear's paws in wounded and that's why it's "angry" and attacking a human.  Whatever its reasons, Dinah's of no mind to let the beast kill her.

Superman dries the polar bear with his heat vision.  Then he then leaves the animal to tend its wounded paw and pride while he carries Dinah to the Fortress of Solitude.

There, Dinah stands in awe of the size and splendor of Superman's home away from Metropolis (and Smallville).  This is her first time at the Fortress and she gives Superman a bit of a ribbing about extravagance.  Superman asks her about Green Arrow, who quit the Justice League a few months earlier; Dinah says Oliver Queen made the right decision for him and he's been much happier lately.  But she didn't come way out here to talk about her boyfriend, Superman acknowledges, and asks her what caused her the distress he heard in her message from the Satellite.

Before she tells him, Gerry Conway gives us a lovely character moment where she asks if she can call him Kal.  He says, "I'd rather it be Clark."  I love the formality with which she treats him; they've been teammates for years and shared some harrowing adventures, but he's still freaking Superman!  She knows his name, but she's never addressed him that way, just like she knows where he lives but she's never been there.

Eventually, Dinah tells Clark about the dreams that have been haunting her lately.

How awesome is this panel?  They're costumed superheroes sitting in a
mountain fortress in North Pole, but Swan makes them look like
casual friends having coffee.

Dinah recounts the story of her exodus from Earth-2 after her husband, Larry Lance, died in battle with the evil Aquarius in Justice League of America #74.  Unnecessarily for Superman but perhaps informative for readers, she explains how, in the aftermath of Larry's death, she felt like Earth-2 had nothing for her and so joined Superman and the members of the Justice League back on Earth-1.

She tells Clark that she doesn't think she ever got over Larry's death.  She had nightmares for a long time after his passing, but eventually those nightmares subsided.  Until recently...

Superman is skeptical of ghosts, but so is Dinah.  She thinks her husband is trying to reach out to her from some place other than the hereafter.  She brought this theory to the Justice League and received no support, so she pleads her case with Superman.  She reminds him that other dimensions and zones exist and posits that maybe when Larry Lance was struck down by Aquarius' energy, his life essence might have been sent to a place she calls the Dream Dimension.

She asks him to use not his super-strength or super-speed, but his super-mind and the far-out science of Kryptonian technology to find Larry in another dimension.  With the compassion of a friend, Clark agrees to help her.

Meanwhile, far from the Fortress of Solitude, Doctor Destiny sleeps in his cell at Arkham Asylum.  Through days and nights of sleep and meditation, Destiny has made contact with the Dream Dimension.  Now he seeks to control the dream forces he finds there.

Back in Superman's lair, the Man of Tomorrow has created a machine that can, in fact, identify a new dimension.  Black Canary's subconscious is able to pick up messages from this other dimension, perhaps because of the same effect that created her Canary Cry.  Then Superman uses his super-speed to build a portal big enough for the two to travel into the Dream Dimension.

Superman and Black Canary travel to the other dimension where "fantasy has form and substance."  In the Dream Dimension, physics is a little wonky.  They witness floating planes, multiple suns, and a giant bird that attacks Superman.  Luckily, his super-strength and super-breath are enough to send the bird flying away.  Superman and Black Canary realize that the bird was a creature of myth; in fact, all of the inhabitants of this dimension appear to be creatures of myth or fairytale.

They proceed to an idyllic-looking castle where Dinah hopes to find answers about her husband.  Superman hopes they find answers quickly and reveals through thought bubbles that the portal he created will only stay open for ten minutes and then they'll be trapped.

The castle appears deserted when they arrive, but Dinah feels the power of the place.  The power... and a presence.  Suddenly--astonishingly--the spectral form of Larry Lance appears to Black Canary and Superman and warns them of danger.

As Larry's ghost vanishes, Black Canary hears the mocking taunts of Doctor Destiny who leers at her and Superman from the castle's battlements.  Superman realizes that the Dream Dimension is all part of Doctor Destiny's creation and the villain explains how, after losing the power to dream organically, he developed a new power with the help of radiation from his old devices.  Now Destiny is able to travel into and manipulate dreams effortlessly.

And more important than that is his revelation that the Dream Dimension he taps into is a realm of magic.  That's a problem for the heroes because Superman is vulnerable to magic.  Vulnerable, yes, but he's still freaking Superman!  He fights free of the trees' grip and then frees Dinah.  He tells her to use her Canary Cry reasoning that if the sonic scream made her sensitive to this dimension, than maybe the reverse will be true.

As Doctor Destiny howls in impotent rage as his world crumbles around him, Superman grabs Black Canary and takes off.  The portal begins to close and they must race toward the exit lest they become trapped in Destiny's nightmare realm.

They escape the Dream Dimension just in time.  Doctor Destiny isn't so lucky.  The heroes visit Arkham Asylum where they find Destiny lying in a coma, unable to escape his own dreams.  As they leave, Superman and Black Canary confer about the "ghost" they saw.

Okay.  I looooove this story, and the more I think about it--between her first "Secret Origin" and her adventures in Justice League of America--the more I think Gerry Conway might have been the best writer to work on Black Canary.  Okay, that might be overstating: Gail Simone did amazing things with Dinah in Birds of Prey, so let me amend my statement to read Gerry Conway wrote the best pre-Crisis Black Canary.  Yeah, that sounds right.

What makes this story so good?  First of all, Dinah throws caution to the wind and parachutes to the middle of the damn Arctic in the desperate hope that Superman can help her where the rest of the League laughed her out of the meeting.  Um, then she judo flips a polar bear!

I also love the restrained way Conway plays with Superman in this story.  Forgetting Black Canary's scream for a moment, she's primarily known as a fighter.  She's a martial arts master, but she's pretty much human, definitely street-level by most estimations.  Next to Superman, Dinah is comparatively helpless.  (Okay, next to Superman, 90% of people are comparatively helpless.)  So you'd think that in a team-up with the Man of Steel, Conway would accent Superman's super-physical powers, his strength, speed, flight, etc.  But while we do see those attributes in small amounts, what Dinah needs from Superman is his super-smarts.  She asks him to build her an inter-dimensional portal.  Superman for this story is the Super-Scientist, and it's a long forgotten and much missed element of his character that we never see anymore.

There's also the terrific use of the villain Doctor Destiny.  Conway and Swan's reinvention of one of the League's first enemies is nice, if a little underutilized.  Even with the all white costume, I love the look of Destiny.  I can't help but here the voice of Skeletor when I read Destiny's dialogue, though blessedly, I mean the Skeletor from the movie not the cartoon.

Ultimately, the story hinges on the emotional beat that is Dinah seeing her dead husband again and realizing she can finally properly grieve and move on.  Her experience in the Dream Dimension did not crush Dinah's hope but reinforced it.  She believes stronger than ever before that Larry's spirit is out there somewhere watching over her.

Conway and Swan give us a handful of great Black Canary moments, both action and emotional, in this story.  And they give us a visually distinct villain and a wacky new dimension.  And freaking Superman!


  1. I never read this DCCP so thanks for covering.

    It is issues like this that make me miss team-up books. This showcases everything that is cool about Black Canary and stars Superman. But he doesn't dominate. He helps showcase what is cool about Black Canary.

    The Supergirl DCCP issues are much the same.


  2. Thanks, Anj! You put it perfectly: Superman brings out the best in BC and the other characters who show up in DCCP. I was hoping to pick up the Supergirl issues but one of them was rather pricy.

  3. I reviewed them both on my site if interested:

    I am afraid to read the one from 2008. Who knew how I wrote back then!