Friday, January 31, 2014

1989 Mayfair Games DC Heroes Black Canary Character Card

Years ago, my best friends Shag Eisenstein from Firestorm Fan, Anj from Comic Box Commentary, and Frank from... every other blog I follow celebrated Mayfairstivus, a nine-day celebration of Mayfair Games' DC Heroes roleplaying game.

I won't go into the mechanics of the game, because I've never played it; nor will I describe how betrayed I felt that none of my best friends in the DC blogosphere included me in this holiday event, despite the fact that I didn't know them at the time and I wouldn't debut Flowers & Fishnets for almost two years.

But Frank was cool enough to send me scans of Black Canary's card for the game, so all is pretty much forgiven (for now).  Not having the original game material or any sourcebooks, I'll focus on the art for her card and what I can discern of her skills and attributes based on how the other characters were showcased during Mayfairstivus.


Woo, sorry...  That's her card art.  As you can see from this picture, Dinah's fingers met with an unfortunate incident involving the kind of heavy machinery you find at a rock quarry.  I have no idea what's going on with her breasts; the left one is drooping lower, suggesting she's leaning forward to the left and throwing that shoulder down.  But that doesn't seem possible.  Also, check out the excess jacket fabric under her right arm.  Looks like she's wearing a cape with sleeves.

This might not be the worst card art from the game... Then again it might be.

Okay, let's see if she fares any better in tech specs on the reverse side of the card.

For the purpose of her stats, the Canary is treated as a non-meta human.  Characters like Batman and Bronze Tiger have Dexterity scores of 10, the highest possible for normal human hand-to-hand combatants.  Canary's Dexterity of 7 seems low to me now, but it makes a little more sense back in '89 before her full training history was established.  Strength of 4 and Body of 5 seem low, but those are actually pretty solid for a human.  Batman's Strength and Body are each only one rank higher than Canary's.  For other comparison, Catwoman's Strength and Body are identical to Canary's and the Huntress' are one rank lower.

Intelligence of 6, Will of 5 and Mind of 5 seem about right if we're being honest.  Those are comparable to the Huntress' ranks, and roughly half of what Batman has.  Prior to the game's publication in 1989, Dinah was never thought of as a brainy character.  Her husband Larry worked as a P.I., but she mostly served in the punchy/kicky capacity, and her physical as well as mental conditioning wouldn't be developed until the Birds of Prey era.  Also, have you read her Golden Age adventures?  Every f***ing issue she got pistol-whipped and knocked unconscious.  That's gotta give you brain damage after the second time.  (Actually, I just realized this card is specific to Dinah Laurel Lance... Well, she can't be very smart and still be in love with Ollie!)

Influence of 6 seems pretty baseline for Justice League members who don't have a reputation for terrifying criminals or standing for Truth, Justice and the American Way.  Firestorm, Elongated-Man and Vixen, for example, all have similar Influence scores.  I don't know how the game applied Aura and Spirit scores, so I can't comment on them.

Canary has one power, describe here for the purposes of game symmetry as Sonic Beam, with a score of 8.  That's pretty high, such as it is.  Justice League International member Fire, for example, has a Flame Projection score of 8, and flame projection is like her whole thing!  For skills, Dinah has Acrobatics of 6 and Martial Artist of 8.  I like to think the MA score would have been bumped up at least to nine after writers established she could hold her own against Lady Shiva, but that's still good for the time.

Her motivation is Seeking Justice which seems pretty straightforward.  Her origin might not be as archetypal as Batman's, but what writers like Gerry Conway and Alan Brennert did when they got to retell her story was firmly establish that Dinah wanted to serve--she wanted to be part of something larger than herself, something dedicated to protecting people and making the world better.

Thanks again to Frank and everyone else who participated in Mayfairstivus for posting the cards and giving me references to compare against Black Canary's.  For a list of links to other character cards, check out the DC Bloodlines blog.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Back in Action: ACTION COMICS WEEKLY #625


Every Wednesday, I review an issue of Action Comics Weekly featuring a backup story starring Black Canary among others.  Each installment of Back in Action will look at Dinah's story and touch on my favorite or least favorite moments from the rest of the strips in these issues.

The second chapter of Black Canary's second story arc in ACW Black Canary continues her second story arc in ACW with issue #625.  The cover by artist Eduardo Barreto spotlights Deadman and a whole host of other characters in the red part of his costume.  I don't know if these are all characters he's possessed or what the connection is but you can definitely see Batman and maybe Sargon the Sorcerer and Enemy Ace.  Can you ID any others?

Black Canary

"Knock 'Em Dead" Part 2: written by Sharon Wright, pencilled by Randy Duburke, inked by Pablo Marcos, lettered by Steve Haynie, colored by Gene D'Angelo, and edited by Robert Greenberger.  Unlike the last story arc, which was told in eight-page installments, "Knock 'Em Dead" is broken up into seven-page chapters.

We pick up right where last issue left off.  Black Canary was exercising in some old house on the outskirts of Seattle when the floor gives out and she falls into... water?  Okay...

Elsewhere, a man sits alone in the dark, drinking and reading a death threat he received--possibly the death threat composed on page 1 of the previous chapter.  The man isn't identified here, but this is Ken Glazier.  Dinah Lance is scheduled to meet with him the next day as they're collaborating on a department store window project.

Dinah's friend Walt is also supposed to meet them for lunch.  He does his drinking at a bar where a woman sits down next to him and starts talking.  It's the red-headed woman we saw last issue, the woman who may or may not be named Deborah.  If we read between the lines of her dialogue, we might suspect she's a higher class prostitute.  Meanwhile, the mystery woman who stalked her from a car last time watches her and Walt from across the bar.

After a few more drinks, Walt and the redhead go up to his hotel room.  He invites her in, which activates her superpower to make the lights go out so her eyes can shine like supernovas.  Or maybe that's not a thing and it's just an artistic way of stressing her dark motivation when she follows him in.

Black Canary swims to the shore and passes out in the grass.  She doesn't seem that upset about almost breaking her neck or drowning.

Later, the redhead leaves Walt's hotel room.  The concierge at the front desk tries to forward a call up to Walt's room, but no one answers...because Walt is dead.

[Click the images below to enlarge.]

Dinah doesn't do much in this chapter--just falls into water and swims to safety, but she looks damn good.  And she's dressed in her Black Canary costume the whole time, which is a big plus.  I still can't get over how the same Randy DuBurke who so thoroughly underwhelmed me with "Bitter Fruit" wows me with this story.  The pages with Black Canary are striking, evoking a more fluid, dynamic style like Bill Sienkiewicz or Stephen Bissette from Saga of the Swamp Thing, especially with Dinah's seemingly endless blond locks.

The rest of the pages are pretty typical of Sharon Wright's scripts.  A silent page or two with a character we don't know and little context, and some deeper mysteries.  But the mystery itself gets more interesting this issue, because we have our first body.  And this time, the corpse has a personal connection to Dinah Lance.  That means she has a stake in this story and that makes me want to read it all the more.

I'm still leaning towards giving credit to the new editor, Greenberger, for the clarity of the story and the focus on Black Canary's look in the art.

The Rest

Green Lantern still gets the lead feature in this issue and it's a terrific little done-in-one written by James Owsley (who would become Christopher Priest) and drawn by M.D. Bright.  Hal Jordan goes undercover to monitor a peace summit between two warring alien species.  When the peace talks devolve into open rioting, the Green Lantern settles the conflict and ensures they sign the peace treaty.  Of course, on the last page we discover that the aliens' peace agreement ensures they will work together to create a doomsday weapon.  Classic!

In Shazam! by Roy and Dann Thomas and the Ricks Staci and Magyar, Billy Batson continues to uncover more sinister secrets at a day camp for Future Nazis of America.  The new Captain Nazi, as surprised by his abilities as anyone, displays his super strength, flight, and heat vision so he can be a match for Captain Marvel.  Billy joins a group of boys sent out to poison a racially diverse city, but blows his cover and gets tied up so he can't utter the magic word.

Secret Six by Martin Pasko and Frank Springer is...Hmmm.  I really want to like this strip but I can't get into the story in this format.  Plus, I've missed a lot of the story in other issues of ACW I haven't collected.  There is a whole lot of action and characters shown in this chapter that weren't in the last one, and Pasko's story doesn't make it the most new reader friendly.  Again...wanna like it but can't.

In the two-page Superman strip by Roger Stern and Curt Swan, we learn that while Superman's weakness is kryptonite, if you want to hurt Clark Kent just sit next to him in a plane for a couple hours and talk endlessly about how Superman is a god who can lead humankind to a more perfect and holy place.

All I really got from this Deadman story by Mike Baron and Kelly Jones is that Kelly Jones drawing Deadman is damn awesome!  There were zombies and ghosts and twins with black magic--all good, but a little disjointed with this penultimate part of the story lacking the appropriate setup from earlier stories.

In the letters column of each issue of Action Comics Weekly, the editors asked fans to write in and rank the six features each week.  Because of the publishing schedule, it took a while to get the ranking for the issues with Black Canary's "Bitter Fruit" story.  And the results weren't encouraging.  She pretty consistently ranked sixth out of six features.  It's hard to argue given the quality of the first story compared to the others in those issues.  It wasn't exactly worthy of Action Comics.  Here's hoping the ranking of the new story picked up!

Next week, I'll look at Action Comics Weekly #626, which concludes Deadman's story and continues the ongoing stories of Black Canary, Superman, Green Lantern, Captain Marvel, and the Secret Six.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

We'll Be Back...

Because I've committed to a creative project that will occupy pretty much all of my free time for the next week, I won't be able to post the next Action Comics Weekly review--or anything else--until February.  I may force myself to post a review of Sandman Mystery Theatre #4 over at The Sandman Slept Here, but that's about all I can deviate until this project is done.

In the meantime, if you need more Black Canary, go back and re-read the origin story I posted last Friday.  It's worth your time.

Also, more Toth!

Black Canary by J. Scott Campbell

Over the weekend, I found this awesome Black Canary sketch by J. Scott Campbell over at Comic Vine.

The image is supposedly part of a "jam sketch" where multiple artists contribute to the whole, each adding a different character.  Campbell only posted this much to Instagram, so the entire cast of characters and artists is unknown, but you can definitely make out The Flash and Captain America under her (where they belong).

J. Scott Campbell has a very dynamic albeit gloriously cheesecake style.  I've always wanted to see him work on Black Canary or Birds of Prey, even if he only provided the covers.  I might have to track him down at a Con some day and commission my own sketch.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Golden Oldie: FLASH COMICS #88 (Oct 1947)

Black Canary made her third appearance in the Johnny Thunder strip in Flash Comics #88.  Like her first appearance, this story is only six pages and she continues to straddle the line of femme fatale and female partner.

"The Map That Wasn't There" is written by Robert Kanigher and drawn by Carmine Infantino.

The first thing to notice about Black Canary on the story's title page is that the mask she wore over her eyes in her first two appearances is gone.  Also, it looks like Johnny Thunder's magical genie Thunderbolt is back, as is some ridiculous little girl named Peachy Pet.

When Johnny and Peachy look closely at the pie, a black bird bursts out of it and begins flying around the apartment.  Yes.  Someone sent Johnny Thunder a package containing a pie... and in the pie was a live bird!  Johnny Thunder chases it out the window, up the side of his apartment building, back down to the street, always narrowly missing catching the bird.

Two hours later, he has chased the bird to a junkyard.  Yep, he chased it for two hours.  At the junkyard, he finds two men who look like criminals and asks them if they've seen a black canary.  "The Black Canary!" they exclaim, and attack him.  The crooks grab Johnny and throw him in their hideout, where they have Black Canary tied to a chair.

They're looking for a map that may have also been hidden in the package, or the pie, or the bird.

The crooks drop the ridiculous cage, but Johnny says, "Say, You" which summons the Thunderbolt who rescues he and Black Canary.  

Okay, this adventure was laughably bad.  The bird, the pie...whatever the hell Peachy Pet is.  She first appeared in Flash Comics #21, but I don't know when or how she got adopted by Johnny Thunder, who she calls Papa John.

It definitely feels like Johnny, Peachy, and the Thunderbolt are comedic characters that live in a world of hijinks and minimal consequences, whereas Black Canary feels a bit more hardboiled and morally ambiguous.  Maybe Kanigher and the editor(s) felt the same way, because soon, the Canary will get her own strip in the book.

Come back next Sunday for another Golden Age adventure of Black Canary in Flash Comics #90*!

* She didn't appear in #89.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Origin of Black Canary: 1978

According to the Super DC Calendar from 1976, today, January 17th, is the birthday of Kent Nelson better known as Doctor Fate!

Blah blah blah... segue... Black Canary and Doctor Fate had their origins retold in the tenth issue of DC Super Series.

Like that cover?  You know you do--it's by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Praise Be His Name!

The title page features Dinah, the Doctor, and Lightray drawn by Joe Staton, who also drew the Doctor Fate story.  Staton's Canary, like his women in general, is curvy and voluptuous.  It makes me want to see more of his work on the character.

Dinah Drake's journey to hero of the Justice League is told in "The Canary is a Bird of Prey".  This heretofore untold origin of Black Canary was written by Gerry Conway with art by Mike Vosburg and Terry Austin.

I'm familiar with Vosburg's art from Marvel's G.I. Joe, where he drew some of my very favorite issues in the early '80s.  As much as I loved those stories of America's elite special missions force, I always thought Vosburg's art was holding the stories back.  His art in this story, though, blows me away and I give a lot (most?  all?) of the credit to the inking of the great Terry Austin.  

The story opens with Dinah taking down a mobster, and then being asked an embarrassingly sexist and patronizing question by her boyfriend, Green Arrow.

Thinking about her life's decisions drags Dinah Drake back to her childhood, where she was the apple of her father's eye.  Her father was Lt. Richard Drake of the Gotham City Police Department, and in the wake of his wife's death, he trained young Dinah to be as tough and capable of fighting crime as any cop.  He even calls her "Little Bird".

As Dinah grows to womanhood, she continues her physical and academic training and goes out one night with her father and his partner, Larry Lance.

In typical fashion, Dinah and Larry's relationship goes from feisty to flirty, the sexual tension boiling as their dangerous profession draws them closer.

Service to the police and community was central to the Drake family.  Dinah grew up to follow all the men in her family because Richard Drake didn't have a son.  She never seems resentful about her father pressuring her to take up more so-called manly activities; she goes along completely.

Unfortunately, the Gotham PD didn't feel the same way.  Dinah's application to the academy was rejected.  The disappointment destroyed her father, Dinah believed.

Once her father--and his dream--is buried, Dinah opens up the flower shop.  So she'll honor her mother's wishes after her death, but not her father's?  Well, not exactly.  The call to justice will not go unanswered just because she can't wear a badge and uniform.

Notice Kent "Doctor Fate" Nelson wasn't invited to the wedding.  You'd think they could have added him into that panel as a bit of synergy in the story.

So that was the Black Canary's origin as of 1978.  In about five years, Roy Thomas would retcon Dinah's history to explain why she didn't age like the rest of her Justice Society contemporaries.  It would be...awkward, and I'll get to it a little later.  Then a few years after that, Crisis on Infinite Earths would streamline that origin.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Canary Stunts on ARROW

Last night, Arrow returned to the small screen after its mid-season break.  As of this writing, I haven't seen the episode, but a couple weeks ago, the CW Network released a behind-the-scenes look at the stunt work for one of Black Canary's action sequences.

Check it out, yo!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Back in Action: ACTION COMICS WEEKLY #624

Every Wednesday, I review an issue of Action Comics Weekly featuring a backup story starring Black Canary among others.  Each installment of Back in Action will look at Dinah's story and touch on my favorite or least favorite moments from the rest of the strips in these issues.

Black Canary's second story arc in ACW kicked off with issue #624, which features one of my all-time favorite Black Canary images as its cover.  I mean look at that thing... Alan Freaking Davis!  Look at the Canary.  Amidst all that chaos and action--the bodies thrown every which way, the trash cascading off the walls--she looks graceful, elegant.  Alan Davis hasn't drawn Dinah much in her classic costume; he rendered her in her spy outfit in the early years of JSA, but in her leather and fishnets, I think it's just this cover and the out-of-continuity tales, JLA: The Nail and Another Nail.  But she looks so damn good that Davis is always circling the top of my list of favorite Black Canary artists.

Black Canary

"Knock 'Em Dead" Part 1: written by Sharon Wright, pencilled by Randy Duburke, inked by Pablo Marcos, lettered by Steve Haynie, and colored by Gene D'Angelo.  The last Canary story was edited by Mike Gold, who also edited her appearances in Green Arrow.  This story, though, is edited by Robert Greenberger.  The only structural difference is that the Canary's first story arc in ACW came in eight-page installments; this one is broken up in seven-page chapters.

We open with someone cutting letters out of a newspaper or magazine, a trick commonly associated with composing ransom notes or death threats so people can't identify handwriting.  There is a picture on a desk of a woman and a young child (daughter).  The thing about Duburke's art in these stories, though, is that I'm assuming it's a woman in the picture, but the gender is a touch ambiguous.

Cut to Sherwood Florist, the flower shoppe owned by Dinah Lance, who is inconveniently absent at the moment.  Sherwood is providing foliage as set dressing for a local theatrical production of Peter Pan that is benefiting the Seattle AIDS Association.  The director or producer of the show has come to thank Dinah and invite her to see a dress rehearsal.

Also come to see Dinah is Rita, the young woman who crashed through Dinah's window in Green Arrow #1 and then set Dinah on the mystery surrounding her father's death in "Bitter Fruit", the last previous Canary story in ACW.  Rita has a work visa from INS and is looking for a legitimate job.  This is a nice bit of continuity that doesn't confuse or muddle the plot.

Dinah is out in the city meeting a potential client from New York.  The man she's meeting is named Walt and they talk like old friends, or old acquaintances; they're familiar anyway.  Through their conversation we learn that Sherwood Florist is decorating window displays for department stores in Seattle.  A man named Ken Glazier does the lighting while Dinah does the floral arrangements.  Dinah and Walt plan to meet with Ken the next day for lunch.

Elsewhere in the city, we witness a rather strange encounter.  A woman in a car pulls up alongside another woman and asks for directions.  The driver almost looks like the woman from the desk picture on Page 1, but with different colored hair.  As the woman on the street walks away, we hear the driver's thoughts.  She knows the other woman but wasn't recognized by her.  And that's good.  Hmm... What could that be about?

On page five we see--oh, hey, it's Black Canary!  Dinah's actually dressed as Black Canary, fishnets and all!  We hardly ever got that in the last story from Wright and Duburke.  Maybe some angry fan letters brought about this change...  Dinah has gone to some old castle-looking house to work out.  She seems familiar with the place.  I'm not sure if this house is an established location from Green Arrow or what.

As the sun goes down over Seattle, a woman gets herself ready in an apartment.  She seems to be fixing her hair (or applying a wig?) and she has a syringe on the desk.  She talks about shooting heroin like it's an old habit.  She also refers to herself as Deborah... or she's talking to Deborah.  Whoever she is, she's planning something serious.

Back in the old house, Black Canary swings about the rafters, training her body, maintaining her fighting and athletic skills.  The house betrays her when the old wood cracks and she falls through the floor into the darkness below.

[Click the images below to enlarge.]

This first chapter of "Knock 'Em Dead" continues one or two of the problems I had with the last story arc, mostly related to Duburke's art.  A lot of his characters have the same general appearance, which can be confusing when you have a whole lot of new characters that look and sound the same, and might not be identified by name or context.  On the other hand, from the little bit of narration we got in pages four and six, it seems like ambiguous identities might be a central part of the story.  And Duburke's art isn't bad by any means.  In fact, the two pages with Dinah dressed as Black Canary are gorgeous.  The panel construction and the endlessness of her blonde wig in the last page remind me of Jae Lee art.  Except this predates Jae Lee's work, I guess, so it's a bit more like Bill Sienkiewicz.

One note I'm pretty excited about with this story is its relative clarity.  The title "Knock 'Em Dead" refers, I assume, to the theater.  There's a stage play referenced, and characters appear in disguise in this first chapter.  Ambiguity and voyeurism are two of my favorite themes in literature and art, so this type of story seems like it's right up my alley.

Probably the best part of this first chapter is that Dinah seems to be at the center of the story.  We have just a taste of a mystery to come, but there's enough pages either with Dinah or hearing characters talk about her that there's no confusing whose story this is.  That was a critical issue with "Bitter Fruit"; it was "A Dinah Lance Mystery" not a Black Canary story, and really, Dinah wasn't much more than a spectator.  I looks like that's changed this time.

I wonder if that's Sharon Wright's doing, the infusion of the new editor.  Either way, it's a positive change.

The Rest

As per usual, Green Lantern gets the lead feature in a story written by James Owsley and drawn by M.D. Bright.  That's James Owsley who would eventually change his name to Christopher Priest.  He wrote one issue of Black Canary's solo title in 1993 as Owsley, and wrote her again a year later in the pages of The Ray after he changed his name.

It's interesting that in this Green Lantern story, Hal Jordan is confronted by an alien being named simply Priest.  He puts Hal in a position that taxes his willpower and the limits of his faith in himself and God.

In the second chapter of a Shazam! story by Roy and Dann Thomas and Rick Stasi, young Billy Batson arrives at a summer camp called Aryan Acres...which is exactly what it sounds like.  There's a whole lot of hate speech against blacks and Jews in this little story, which appropriately enough sees the creation of a new Captain Nazi by chapter's end.

The ever-continuing soap opera that is Secret Six picks up with a man named Tony in a hotel room with a woman named Shelley.  They're kissing, but he breaks it off suddenly.  They have a gun; they might be on the run.  Later on, Tony tells her about his life and keeps telling her they can't make love.  Sometime later, Tony visits the grave of his lover and says goodbye.  In the dramatic reveal at the end--his lover was another man.

Roger Stern and Curt Swan continue their Superman saga.  Clark Kent is still protecting Bob Galt, the leader of a cult that worships Superman like a god.  Clark and Bob board a small, private jet, but someone from the mysterious organization hunting Galt sees their plane take off.

Deadman's tale involves ghosts, zombies, voodoo, plantation owners, twins with magical powers, a formal Southern gala with gentlemen in uniforms, a wise old black woman, and some racism.  All the ingredients for classic American horror, but the story by Mike Baron is pretty lackluster.

Man, religion, racism, AIDS, homosexuality, anti-semitism... Talk about a pretty heavy comic!

Next week, I'll look at Action Comics Weekly #625, which continues the ongoing stories of Black Canary, Superman, Green Lantern, Captain Marvel, Deadman and the Secret Six.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Adventurous Woman: ADVENTURE COMICS #419

Continuing from yesterday's entry, the second part of "The Canary and the Cat" by Dennis O'Neill and Alex Toth originally published in Adventure Comics #419 in May 1972.

Once again, I haven't read this entire issue.  Black Canary's strip was published in the Black Canary Archives hardcover collection.  As such, I haven't read the Supergirl, Zatanna or other stories in this issue.  Maybe Anj from the Supergirl blog at Comic Box Commentary has read them.

If you didn't read the first part of the story, go back and check it out.  In case you browser is acting up or there's something wrong with your ability to click a link or homepage icon, I'll give you the short rundown.  A restless and unemployed Dinah finds work teaching Judo to the radical Women's Resistance League.  But not long after teaching them how to fight, they ambush her and she realizes their leader has some nefarious plan, the first part of which involves killing the Canary!

Now, the complete second part of O'Neill and Toth's story!

Oh man, even a glimpse of Toth's Catwoman is breathtaking!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Adventurous Woman: ADVENTURE COMICS #418

Throughout the '70s and a good chunk of the '80s, Black Canary appeared in backup stories of her own or with Green Arrow in the pages of World's Finest Comics, Detective Comics, and in a few notable cases, Adventure Comics.

In April 1972, Dinah appeared in Adventure Comics #418 in a story written by Dennis O'Neill and drawn by Alex Toth.  The story is reprinted in the Black Canary Archives hardcover collection.  I don't have the actual print comic, which sucks because I would love to read the Supergirl and Doctor Mid-Nite stories included.  Maybe Anj from Comic Box Commentary is familiar with the issue.

The story was untitled when first published in Adventure, but credited as "The Canary and the Cat" in the Archives collection.  Here now, the first part of O'Neill and Toth's story.  I've included the whole thing because, well, because I can't deprive anyone of Toth's luscious depiction of the character.

Come back tomorrow for part 2!