Monday, June 30, 2014

Super Powers Comic by Phil Postma

This custom cover showing Black Canary kicking criminal ass was designed by Phil Postma as part of a series based on the Super Powers action figures.

Okay, first of all, how awesome would this comic have been?  Either back in the '80s at the height of the toys' popularity, or today, cashing in on the retro-love books like Batman '66 receive, a Super Powers comic showcasing the greatest heroes and villains of the DC Universe in an all-ages, wacky fun comic would rule.

Second, I love that Postma thought highly enough of Black Canary to include her in this series even though she never got the SP toy treatment.  True, she's not the only fresh far; Postma includes a ton of villains that weren't part of the toy line, like Cheetah, Sinestro, Harley Quinn, Black Manta, Chronos, and more, but they're all engaged in combat with heroes that were part of the toys.  Black Canary, though, is engaged in fighting anonymous street thugs.

On the one hand, it's great that Dinah's trashing some hoods and looking beautiful doing so.  On the other hand, this further supports the unfortunate truth that Black Canary has virtually no rogues gallery.  I mean, yes, she does have villains of her own... but nobody knows who they are except me and, like, two other guys who might read this blog.

Anyway, check out all twenty of Postma's Super Powers covers over at his website and bask in the joy of what could have been.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Golden Oldie: FLASH COMICS #104

Black Canary's ongoing adventures in Flash Comics... conclude with nine thrilling pages of mystery and suspense in issue #104, the series' last installment for roughly a decade.

"Crime On Her Hands" is written by Robert Kanigher and drawn by Carmine Infantino.  I don't know why the editor or publisher bumped up the page space on Black Canary's feature from seven to nine, but I do know hers was the fifth and final story printed in Flash Comics #104.  Essentially, she closed one era of Flash, and Barry Allen kicked off the next one.

Larry Lance, "The World's Most Unemployed Private Detective" according to Dinah Drake, confesses that he's been evicted from his apartment for failing to pay the rent.  But he assures Dinah that he's got a new paying client, an Ernest Nythe who hired Larry to bodyguard his famous uncle Professor Lane Nythe, a criminologist at the State College.

Dinah acts less than impressed, and Larry leaves calling her his "thorny little rose".  Later, the phone rings as Dinah hangs floral wreathes while balancing carefully on a step-stool.  She employs some of her impressive martial arts training to kick the phone into her hand.

Dinah listens helplessly as Ernest Nythe blurts out half of a warning to Larry Lance before the sound of gunshots on the other end kill the conversation.  Dinah slips into the back of her store and changes into the Black Canary.  At the Nythe home, she finds Larry with Professor Nythe.

The professor appears distraught and blames himself for his nephew's death.  He explains that Ernest was working on an old unsolved murder case from years ago as part of the professor's criminology case.  Professor Nythe helped Ernest, but the younger man lost interest in the case even as word spread that they were nearing a resolution.

At that point, armed gunmen enter the room and jump at the chance to take out the famed Black Canary.  She fights one while Larry throws a heavy hardcover book at the other.

Yes, even in her final appearance in Flash Comics, Black Canary gets pistol-whipped unconscious.  Fearful that the gunshots will alert witnesses, the goons make a quick escape with the professor but leave Black Canary and Larry Lance alive.  When the two detectives awaken, Black Canary notices a chalky substance on the floor from the goons' footprints.  The substance burns to touch and she concludes that it's lime.

Black Canary and Larry track the bad guys to the one abandoned lime-kiln in town.  After a brief shootout, she drops sacks of lime on the goons.  This takes out the goons, but there's no sign of the professor.  Larry thinks they're too late to save him, but Black Canary still believes they can catch the criminal mastermind by using the professor's files on the old murder case.

They return to Professor Nythe's office only to find--shock of shocks--Professor Nythe is there, alive, and making up a pathetic story about escaping from the goons.

Realizing she's too smart, Professor Nythe taps a button and metal clamps come around the chairs, capturing Black Canary and Larry Lance.  Nythe reveals what the Canary has already figured out, that he was the killer in the unsolved case Ernest was investigating.  When Ernest learned the truth, his uncle murdered him and hired the goons to make it look like he was in danger, too.  Then he taps another button and knockout gas puts Black Canary and Larry to sleep.

Yes, because the two extra pages for this story means Black Canary can be knocked unconscious twice.

As deathtraps go, this one was pretty comically bad and the professor deserves to be caught for even dreaming it would work.  Robert Kanigher, it seems, was going to stretch the same formulaic pattern in his Black Canary tales no matter how many pages he got.

That was Black Canary's last published solo-adventure in the Golden Age, but it's not the last Golden Oldie for this blog.  Over the next two Sundays, I'll post reviews of Kanigher/Infantino Canary stories that didn't see the light of publication until twenty years later.

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.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Black Canary Sketch by Mike McKone

My best friend, Anj, of the Supergirl blog Comic Box Commentary, alerted me to this superb sketch of Black Canary by Justice League United artist Mike McKone.  The sketch was commissioned for a lucky fan at Heroes Con in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Check out more of Mike's work at DeviantART and follow him on Twitter @Mike2112McKone.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Origin of Black Canary: 1990 - SECRET ORIGINS #50

I've read every Black Canary origin story that I'm aware exists, but none are more comprehensive, more definitive than the tale in Secret Origins.  That shouldn't surprise anyone.  That was the whole point of Secret Origins, to tell, retell, or even repair the origins of DC's greatest heroes and teams (except Aquaman).

Black Canary already had her origin story told by Gerry Conway in the late '70s.  Feeling the need to de-age the character in the '80s, however, Dinah's life story was radically altered by Roy Thomas in the pages of Justice League of America.  Thomas made Dinah Lance two different characters--mother and daughter--though the daughter was a blank slate imbued with her mother's memories, and thus, basically, a younger clone of her mother.  The Crisis on Infinite Earths that rocked DC's characters and continuity in the mid-'80s blessedly provided the perfect opportunity to clean up the spilled crazy of Roy Thomas' "fix".

It took the rest of the decade and the brilliance of Mark Waid, but the origin of Dinah Drake Lance and Dinah Laurel Lance was finally told in the series' final, extra-sized issue from June of 1990.

Secret Origin #50 featured six stories.  They knew the book was ending, so I guess the editorial team threw in everything they were working on.  The stories include a Dick Grayson prose story by Denny O'Neil with extra accompanying illustrations by George Perez.  There's a retelling of "The Flash of Two Worlds" written by Grant Morrison with art by Mike Parobeck and Romeo Tanghal.  The story of Johnny Thunder--that's the western hero, not the doofus with the genie that sponsored Dinah for JSA membership--that's by Elliot Maggin and Alan Weiss.  Though Aquaman was snubbed by the series, Dolphin gets a story Richard Bruning and Bove, and the final story in the final issue is none other than... the Space Museum by Gerard Jones with Carmine Infantino pencilling and George Perez inking.

Black Canary's story is the penultimate feature, and it's the real anchor of the issue, I believe.  The other five stories range between eight and fifteen pages.  Black Canary's story is twenty-four pages.  Yeah, two pages longer than an average comic of the time; four pages longer than a comic today.  This story could have been it's own issue, a one-shot maybe to test the waters for her miniseries that came out.

"Unfinished Business" was written by Alan Brennert with art by Joe Staton and Dick Giordano.  Todd Klein and Julia Lacquement lettered and colored the story respectively, and Michael Eury was the editor.  Mark Waid edited a lot of the tales in Secret Origins, and though he isn't credited as editor of this story, he is given a "Special Thanks To" nod the title page.  The general feeling is that he helped put all the disparate parts of Dinah's history together into one cohesive narrative that Alan Brennert fleshed out in his script.

Also of note, the story acknowledges the works of Robert Kanigher, Gardner Fox, Gerry Conway, Paul Levitz, Frank Miller, Mike Barr, Denny O'Neil, and Mike Grell.  Most of these creators had a hand in shaping Black Canary's history, and the others at least contributed to the DC Universe and the world Dinah inhabits.  There contributions will be reflected as I go through the story.

(Man, I think I wrote more to preface this story than I usually write for an entire review of a Chuck Dixon Birds of Prey issue... And more than Chuck Dixon used to write for a Birds of Prey script!)

So.  "Unfinished Business" opens with Dinah Laurel Lance in bed with Oliver Queen because all they ever did in the Mike Grell issues of Green Arrow was have or talk about sex.  Ollie is giving Dinah a deep back massage when the phone rings.  Dinah learns that her mother, Dinah Drake Lance, is in a coma in Gotham General Hospital.  The elder Dinah probably won't live through the night; her daughter, meanwhile, is frantic about being three-thousand miles away and helpless to get across the country before time runs out.

Ollie promises she'll get there on time and then makes a difficult phone call for him.  Next we see Green Lantern Hal Jordan has carried Dinah and Ollie to Gotham General using his power ring.  The ring is also able to scan Dinah Drake's vital signs and locate her room number.  Dinah Laurel rushes on ahead to see her mother while the Hard Traveling Heroes sort out their personal business.  Ollie thanks Hal for coming to help Dinah even after Ollie was such a sonofabitch when Hal needed him.  Hal points out that he's always been Dinah's friend, too, and Ollie goes on to apologize for being a dick before.

Hal flies off to locate someone else he thinks should be there with Dinah while reminding Ollie that no one can handle losing a parent.

When Ollie rejoins Dinah, she's meeting with her mom's attending physician, a doctor who claims to have interned with the original Dr. Mid-Nite and knows all bout Dinah's membership with the Justice Society of America.  He says Dinah, who has had cancer for some time, collapsed at her flower shop. Dinah Laurel remarks that the store was all her mom had after her husband died and she retired from crime fighting.

If the flower shop was all Dinah Drake had, that that doesn't speak highly of the relationship between mother and daughter.  When Dinah Laurel and Ollie go in to sit with the comatose Dinah Drake, the younger woman addresses this.  They didn't speak for years, and now they might never speak again.

We then flashback to the days of Dinah Drake's youth.  A general omniscient narrator guides us through young Dinah growing up with her father, Detective Richard Drake of the Gotham City Police Force.

In 1947, just as Dinah was about to join the GCPD, she accompanies her father and his partner, Larry Lance, on a raid on a gambling den.  Richard Drake's informant told him the outfit was supposed to be smalltime and ill-equipped to handle the police.  Still, as a precaution, he tells Dinah to wait outside while he and Larry bust in.

Drake's tip was dead wrong about the gang's muscle.  He and Larry are severely outgunned and about to be killed when Dinah sneaks up behind the hoods and takes them out with her fancy judo moves.

This vignette is taken directly from the Black Canary origin written by Gerry Conway over a decade earlier.  What Alan Brennert adds to the story, though, is a more complicated reason for Dinah not being allowed onto the Gotham Police Force.  Instead of there being a moratorium on female police officers, Dinah is blacklisted as punishment for saving her father at the gambling den.  Brennert lays the foundation for Gotham's systemic corruption this early, that the Drakes embarrassed some mobbed-up politicians.  Richard Drake even suspects that he and Lance were lured into an ambush meant to kill them because his informant's tip was so wrong about the guns they'd be facing.  In the aftermath, and full of guilt, anger, and paranoia, Dinah's father suffers a fatal heart attack.

The dream of serving the police force may be over for Dinah, but not serving the cause of justice.

As Dinah cleans up the underworld as the costumed Black Canary, we see her open up the flower shop as the front for her civilian life.  We also hear that Larry Lance grew disillusioned with the police force and struck out on his own as a private investigator, and eventually, Dinah's lover.  We also see her teaming up with Johnny Thunder and the Thunderbolt, and her joining the legendary heroes of the Justice Society of America.  The details of Black Canary's early adventures come from the Golden Age tales written by her creator, Robert Kanigher, and her membership with the JSA was originally penned by Gardner Fox.

We then see the Justice Society going up against HUAC, as told by Paul Levitz in "The Defeat of the Justice Society" in Adventure Comics #466.  The JSA disbands and Black Canary returns to civilian life.  She marries Larry Lance and becomes his partner in Lance & Lance Private Detectives.  While she and Larry continue to fight injustice in civilian life, she learns more and more how dirty Gotham City has become.

Crime in Gotham becomes so rampant that before long, a new costumed vigilante steps in to combat it.  No... not that vigilante... not yet.  First is The Reaper, the skull-masked villain with two scythe gloves from Batman: Year Two.  He's going around killing bad guys while former Green Lantern Alan Scott tries to call attention to this extremism with his radio show.  That's not enough, though, and after a while, Alan Scott becomes the Green Lantern once more.

Scott catches the Reaper one night and uses the power of his ring to disarm and nearly detain the killer.  In desperation, the Reaper flings a pair of wooden nunchucks at Alan.  The wood passes through the Green Lantern's forcefield and strikes him in the head, nearly killing him.  The rest of the former JSAers rally to Alan Scott and the hospital and put on their costumes once more to avenge their friend.

Judson Caspian, the Reaper, was created by Mike Barr for the "Year Two" story in Detective Comics #575-578.  That's really all he ever appeared in and there was nothing to do with Black Canary, Green Lantern, or the Justice Society of America in his story.  That's all a retcon by Brennert, but it does layer the histories that he's joining together and making the world more interconnected.

Dinah Drake Lance, we find out, was not among the heroes to return to costumed crime fighting.  She and Larry moved to the suburbs and had a daughter, Dinah Laurel Lance, who grew up with the most amazing "extended family" you could ever imagine.

Dinah Drake forbids her daughter from growing up to be a costumed hero like her.  She tells Dinah Laurel that the world has grown too dark and too dangerous for any normal human to fight crime without superpowers.

The appearance of Batman in Gotham City begs to differ.  Speaking of Batman, there's never really a scene or story thread that directly references Frank Miller's work, despite him being acknowledged with other creators at the top.  Names from "Year One" like Commissioner Loeb and Carmine Falcone are dropped from time to time when the story talks about how awful life in Gotham is, but that's it.

A few years later, Dinah Laurel is training at her Uncle Ted Grant's gym.  Her sparring partner is Yolanda Montez, who would become the second Wildcat and a member of Infinity, Inc. after Ted  appeared to perish.  Dinah talks to Ted and we learn that this fight training is a secret kept from her mother.  Ted tells Dinah Laurel that her mother is right to be worried about the bleakness of the world they live in now.

Ted then recounts a heartbreaking story about getting his girlfriend Irina pregnant.  They eventually had a son named Jake, but one of Wildcat's forgettable Golden Age villains, Yellow Wasp, learned about Jake's existence and kidnapped the boy.  Ted never found his son.  He asks Dinah Laurel one more time if this is the kind of life she wants to get involved in, but her resolve is as steely as ever.

As far as I've been able to ascertain, the situation with Ted's kidnapped son never existed before this story.  The Yellow Wasp only made a few appearances in the Golden Age and nothing about Jake was ever explored until a decade after this issue.  This story, I assume, was created by Brennert or Mark Waid, but not, I suspect, entirely out of nowhere.

The touch of a villain breaking into the hero's home and targeting an infant child mirrors the story of the Wizard attacking and cursing the infant Dinah Laurel from the revised origin in Justice League of America #220 by Roy Thomas.  That attack explained the younger Dinah's "Canary Cry" and the separation from her family for twenty years.  That bit of retroactive continuity will not be used in this latest origin story, but Brennert and Waid found a way to use the same idea in a different way.

So what does cause Dinah Laurel's sonic scream?  Well, it first manifests when she's a teenager fighting with her mother.  Mom learned that her girl was training behind her back and the two of them shout at each other about trust and violating trust and after a while Dinah Laurel bursts with teenage girl angst.

Wait, is her power the result of metahuman genetics?  Or magic?  Or "mystic radiation"?  And is it Green Lantern's fault?!!  That much is unexplained, and honestly, who cares where it comes from?  Because next we see Dinah Laurel Lance has taken on her mother's former guise as Black Canary and joined the new generation of heroes.

We then get a rapid succession of the new Black Canary's early adventures, such as falling in love with Green Arrow; mothering Ollie's sidekick, Roy Harper, as he fights heroin addiction; and lying in bed with Ollie, telling him she doesn't want kids of her own.  We also glimpse one of the annual team-ups of the Justice League and Justice Society, as well as the ill-fated battle against Aquarius that cost Larry Lance his life.  These story beats directly reference moments originally told by Denny O'Neil and Mike Grell.

At last the flashbacks of old and young Black Canaries are over and we return to Dinah Laurel and Ollie in the waiting room of Gotham General.  She tells Ollie that her mother never recovered from Larry's death, that she begged Dinah Laurel to hang up the fishnets because the superhero life would cost her everything she loves.

Hal Jordan returns, and he's brought Roy Harper with him.  Roy reminds Dinah that she was there to take care of him when he was at his lowest; the least he could do was return the favor.  Dinah remarks that when her mother died, it will be the end of an era.  She's the last Justice Society member left after the others went on to Ragnarok in Last Days of the Justice Society.  Hal tells Ollie that he failed to track down the veteran heroes, and after speaking with Doctor Fate, his heart aches that they're "not even resting in peace."

The doctor tells Dinah that her mother's vitals are fading and there isn't much time left.  Dinah Laurel and her friends gather around Dinah Drake.  No one expects the elder Dinah to wake up or speak, but that's exactly what happens after an invisible hand reaches out from another plane and touches her.

Dinah Drake regains consciousness long enough to ask for her daughter's forgiveness.  She spent too much of their lives fighting about Dinah Laurel following in her footsteps.  Dinah Drake was so full of anguish after Larry died, and so full of guilt after her daughter was tortured in The Longbow Hunters.  The dying Dinah reveals that the cancer eating away at her was caused by the same power that killed her husband, that the radiation merely took longer to finish her.  She admits to being grateful that she's not just another cancer death, and wonders how arrogant that sounds (pretty arrogant).

The last thing she tells her daughter is she loves her and asks Ollie to take care of her.  Then she passes away and her spirit is greeted... and comforted... by The Spectre.

Whew... At twenty-four pages, this is a deep, dense story.  I said upfront that this origin was comprehensive.  It covers the lives, the exploits, and the tragedies of two different women.  And in between we get little side-stories of Alan Scott and Ted Grant.  Brennert's script manages to take enrich already great ideas and make sense of truly kooky concepts.

Selfishly, I'll admit I like Conway's origin from '78 more.  It's just simpler and straightforward because he was only dealing with one character not a legacy, and he didn't have to clean up other writers' crazy ideas.  Also, the concept of the tomboy raised by her cop dad wanting to be cop but turning into a costumed superhero is just classically beautiful, which is why it's been used for both Batgirl and Batwoman.

This is a pretty damn awesome story, though, from the framing device of a parent's passing, to the parallel tracks of childhood maturity--one driven to please her father, one driven to defy her mother.  Dick Giordano was inking just about everything related to Green Arrow and Black Canary in the late 1980s and early '90s.  He does a solid job of handling Joe Staton, who gave subtle alterations to the flavor of this book by casting the flashbacks with more angles and expression.

I don't know if there will ever be a Black Canary origin as flush with iconic moments and original bits as this one.  If there ever needs to be, something has gone wrong.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Birds of Prey #7 (July 1999)

Previously in Birds of Prey...

Birds of Prey #7: "The Villain" is written by Chuck Dixon with pencils by Peter Krause, inks by Drew Geraci, and colors by Gloria Vasquez.  The cover, once again, was penciled by Greg Land over a Brian Stelfreeze sketch, who then inked over Land's pencils.

General Garanza of the sovereign nation of Bosqueverde has been captured in Markovia and slated to be executed for war crimes.  Thing is, Markovia wasn't too concerned about Garanza's right to a trial, so Oracle sent Black Canary on a one-woman mission to rescue Garanza and bring him back to his homeland... so they could put him on trial for war crimes.

When we find Black Canary, she's throwing the general in the back of a Stryker infantry assault vehicle and crashing through a Markovian barricade.

Oracle feeds Black Canary directions to her extraction point, but the counterattacks force Dinah and the General to take a different course.  And then, a local driver in a suicide vest forces them out of the IAV.

As Black Canary and Garanza take their escape to the rooftops, her conversation with Oracle fills in the backstory I already summarized above.  We also learn how Dinah feels about this mission: she ain't thrilled.  She thinks Garanza is a Pol Pot-level monster, and if he died unglamorously during their escape, Dinah would call it righteous and sleep just fine.

Then a sniper challenges her resolve by shooting the general from a building across the street.  She pulls Garanza out of the way and says, "One Canary Cry coming up."  Of course, Dinah lost the use of her sonic scream in The Longbow Hunters, so when she refers to the Canary Cry this time, she's talking about a weaponized grenade that fires off damaging sonic pulses.  Just like the device used by Canary in Arrow.

When she gets back to Garanza, she finds that he was wearing a bulletproof vest that saved him from the sniper's round.  Oracle tells Black Canary that her window of escape is closing; the authorities are beefing up security, but the media revealed Garanza's escape and now mercenaries are flocking to the area hoping to kill him.

Black Canary and her charge make it to the subway, but instead of keeping a low profile and staying off the police's radar, they engage in a heated shouting match about the people he killed.  Garanza defends his actions because the Bosqueverdan citizens he executed were violent separatists who themselves would have committed crimes against humanity if he didn't put them down.  Garanza is actually hoping for a trial in his homeland because his people will vindicate him whereas the world media condemned him.

Naturally, a cop engages them, drawing everyone's attention to Garanza.  Some assassins open fire, killing the cop and forcing Black Canary and the general to run.  The gunmen follow them into the subway tunnel, but Black Canary uses the dark to her advantage to takes them out pretty quickly.

Garanza shoots and kills the gunman who got the drop on Dinah, but she doesn't sound grateful, no, sir, she all mad.  She accuses him of murder while he debates the morality of killing an enemy.

They take the argument all the way to the building where Oracle set up their extraction, but when the elevator door opens, a man inside pulls a gun.  Garanza pushes Dinah out of the way and takes three bullets to the chest.  I guess these bullets went around the vest or he took it off, but it definitely looks like they tagged him.  Black Canary takes out the gunman.

After the general dies, Black Canary makes her way out of Markovia using an ultralight aircraft.  Now she's all sad about the guy she hated and wanted dead dying for her.  Oracle tells her it wasn't her fault, but Dinah thinks she let her emotions cloud her judgement and that's why she didn't see the final gunman until it was too late.

The last three issues of this series felt atypical, what with the time-travel and the sea monsters.  This one, however, is like the quintessential Birds of Prey adventure from Dixon.  It's a smaller, simpler version of the one-shots that preceded the ongoing series.  Oracle's position is clearly defined by her intellectual attachment to law and order.  General Garanza, however evil, deserves the same rights as anybody.  Black Canary, on the other hand, comes from a more emotional place.  Her loyalty is to the innocent dead, but she'll do the job out of respect for her boss.

It's not a complex story, which is good, because Dixon doesn't excel at complex stories.  Peter Krause's art is a nice change from Greg Land; Krause might not draw as photorealistic beautiful a Black Canary as Land, but his panel construction and action beats feel more organic.

Come back next Tuesday for a review of Birds of Prey #8.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Black Canary and Green Arrow by Ben Towle

Ben Towle did a series of commission sketches based on DC's heroes of the Silver Age.  In hall, he drew eight character, six of the original seven Justice League members, as well as Green Arrow and Black Canary.

I really like his Black Canary as much as his choice to include her over someone like Hawkman or Adam Strange or The Flash.  But I think his Green Arrow is my favorite.

Check out the rest of Ben's Silver Age sketches at his website.

Update: Ben Towle contacted me on Twitter to explain the reason he didn't include The Flash with the rest of this series was that he had already drawn the character for the same customer who commissioned this set to complete the roster.  Follow Ben @Ben_Towle and check out his wonderful work!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Golden Oldie: FLASH COMICS #103

Black Canary's ongoing adventures continue with seven thrilling pages of mystery and suspense in Flash Comics #103.

"Mystery On Ice" is written by Robert Kanigher and drawn by Carmine Infantino.

Nevermind why Larry Lance's client would ask to meet him on a frozen lake, he tells Dinah to sit back and watch him with his fancy skating moves.  And then promptly falls on his butt to much amusement.  Dinah changes into her Black Canary costume and displays her own fancy footwork.

At that point, Larry Lance's client arrives, having fled for his life from crooks trying to steal a valuable element.  Fled for his life... to an iceskating park... with is own skates...

Black Canary kicks one of goons, but the other (you guessed it!) pistol-whips her unconscious.  When she wakes up, she and Larry are tied to an ice sailboat and set adrift down the frozen river.  As the boat nears the falls and their certain death, Black Canary and Larry shift their weight causing the boat to list one way then the other.  They manage to steer the boat off the river into the snow bank and down the other side.

The boat skids down the snow slope and crashes right into the criminals' car preventing their escape.  The goons make one more desperate escape attempt, kicking out the door, but Black Canary takes the leader's ice-skate.  She throws it back at his face, but lucky for him, the boot hits him instead of the blade.

After this issue, there would only be one more issue of Flash Comics in its original print run.  The end of this era would net Black Canary an extra two pages in her adventure, but see the last of her solo adventures for more than a decade.

Come back next Sunday for another Golden Age adventure of Black Canary in Flash Comics #104.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Pretty Bird: DETECTIVE COMICS #553

For the last week I've been thoroughly scrutinizing every Black Canary appearance I could find from early 1985.  If you're familiar with this era in DC Comics history, you know this was around the time of Crisis on Infinite Earths, a maxi-series that left a few subtle changes to some of DC's characters.

Why would that pique my interest?  Well, among the retcons to come out of the Crisis was a change to Black Canary.  The last time her origin was experimented with, Roy Thomas made the Black Canary of Earth-1 (the JLA Dinah) a daughter/clone of the Black Canary of Earth-2 (the JSA Dinah)  from suspended animation but with the memories and experiences of her mother overwriting her own so that the younger, hotter Dinah could continue her adventuring in place of her mother/self.

Crisis allowed new writers to say, "Screw you, Roy Thomas!" and make the Justice League Black Canary a normal, non magic-cursed/non-memory-affected daughter to the original who fought crime with the Justice Society.  But when would that change be crystalized?  It's a little vague, but I think this issue of Detective Comics is the first story to treat Dinah Laurel Lance as a really, truly different person.

Detective Comics #553 starred Batman in the lead story by Doug Moench and Klaus Janson.  The Green Arrow backup strip "Crazy From the Heat" is written by Joey Cavalieri and drawn by Jerome Moore with Bruce Patterson.

When Black Canary rushes into the burning building, she discovers a mother and child trapped in the blaze.  The mother's foot slipped through rotted floorboards.  Black Canary quickly and awesomely punches through the rotted wood to free the woman.  She ushers the lady and her infant daughter out to the street, telling them Green Arrow will help them relocate.

Then Black Canary meets the cause of the building fire...

The woman named Bonfire makes a snarky remark and walks away, leaving Black Canary to either burn to death or suffocate.  Dinah rolls over, losing her wig, but she cannot move from under the burning wreckage.  She feels death approaching... but it's actually Green Arrow with a trick arrow that puts out the fire around her.

Green Arrow carries Black Canary out of the inferno just as the fire department arrives.  The fire chief thanks Green Arrow, but Ollie isn't interested in his gratitude.  He has some choice words for the fire chief, including his ranting theory about greedy real estate companies setting fire to the buildings so they can redevelop the neighborhood without dealing with squatters in the buildings.  Ollie as much as accuses the fire department of corruption and collusion with the real estate firms and allowing the buildings to burn.

Later, back at Dinah's home, Ollie checks to see how she's recovering from the incident.  He tries to dance around the issue, but neither of them can avoid the fact that she "choked" in the room when Bonfire showed up.

Black Canary can't explain why she reacted that way any more than I can explain why artist Jerome Moore decided to give her the curliest damn hair this side of a Soul Glo commercial.  Seriously, her hair didn't look like that a few pages ago when the wig fell off!  Maybe in the post-Crisis continuity, Larry Lance ain't the real daddy.

Ollie accuses her of melodrama and making too big a deal over nothing.  He suggests she get over her momentary lapse in action by staking out the neighborhood and waiting for the arsonist to return.

Dinah doesn't get much sleep that night as she tosses and turns.  Among the thoughts keeping her up is the question of whether or not her mother ever found herself in the same position: sleepless and obsessive about a criminal she couldn't catch.

Okay, clearly Dinah makes a shocking discovery about her mom that will be revealed next issue, but I'm not going to focus on the cliffhanger.  That will be addressed next week when I review 'Tec #554.

What concerns me is everything else Dinah says about her mother.  First, that she clearly states her mother was the first Black Canary.  That gels with the new history Thomas established two years earlier, but when Dinah says she has tried to live up to her mother's legacy... That doesn't sound like a Black Canary who had all the memories and experiences of her mother imprinted on her own consciousness.

Second, the way she refers to her mother's history doesn't sound like it's from first hand experience, but that she knows of her mother's exploits from oral histories and a scrapbook of Black Canary's early adventures.

It's not definitive, but to me Joey Cavalieri is treating this Dinah as a separate woman who grew up hearing about the original Black Canary's adventures and has tried to follow in her footsteps.  That's a distinctly different status quo than a time-lost daughter awoken after decades of sleep with the past glory of her mother info-dumped on her brain when she comes to a new world.

The name "Laurel" never comes up, but I believe Cavalieri is the first writer to establish a Black Canary I and Black Canary II as mother and daughter without shared brainwaves or whatever Roy Thomas thought would explain de-aging the character.

Come back next Friday for the answer to Dinah's questions and the first appearance of Black Canary's "new" costume in Detective Comics #554!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

DCAU Homage to George Perez's Justice League

I found this image a long time ago.  I don't remember the name of the artist, but it is a custom depiction of the satellite-era Justice League in the Bruce Timm style of the Animated Universe.

Then, not too long ago I realized that the above image is an homage to the last page from Justice League of America #200 by George Perez.

Click to enlarge.  Seriously, do it!
Note that the DCAU-style version up top corrects the one major flaw of Perez's drawing by including Hawkgirl among the other heroes.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Black Canary: New Wings #4

Previously in Black Canary...

Black Canary: New Wings #4 - "Just Say Thank You" is written by Sarah Byam, with pencil art by Trevor Von Eeden and inks by Dick Giordano.  Mike Gold edited the issue with Steve Haynie providing letters and Julie Lacquement colors.  The issue is cover-dated February, 1992, but thanks to Mike's Amazing World of Comics we know the book was released on Christmas Eve 1991.

The last chapter of Black Canary's first miniseries opens with two pages advertising the situational benefits of Hercules suitcases culminating in Senator Garrenger's son's drug smugglers throwing suitcases full of cocaine overboard and bringing them into port under water.

In Gray's Harbor, where the citizenry hates everything non-whte male American, Black Canary and Gan Nguyen are threatened by neo-Nazis with guns and knives.  While one of the racists talks of slicing Gan's eyes to look less Asian/more caucasian, Canary dumps lantern fluid on a Hercules case full of money, then puts it to better use.

As Black Canary and Gan make their escape, we cut away to young Chad Brennan who finds his father, former Marine Sgt. Brennan, passed out drunk.  In disgust, Chad takes his father's truck and drives off, hoping to never return.

Canary and Gan run through the woods.  She tells him to go on without her as he's in greater danger from the racists' hatred, but he slips and falls in the river and she has to pull him out.  She changes tactics and uses Gan to draw out the gunman pursuing them.  When the baddie emerges from the trees with a rifle drawn on Gan, Black Canary knocks him in the water.

Black Canary stops Gan from killing the man, convincing him that murder won't alleviate his pain, something she knows from experience.  They leave the gunman unconscious on the bank and make their way to the highway.  There, they're picked up by Chad Brennan, who recognizes the danger an Asian man and a woman dressed like a hooker face in his neck of the woods.

Dinah has Chad and Gan drop her off at the Sandbar police station so she can try and convince the local sheriff that his town is the base for a million-dollar drug smuggling operation.  The sheriff laughs her out of his office.

Sgt. Brennan finally arrives at the Port of Sandbar where Loren Garrenger, Jr. oversees the arrival of the drug shipment.  Lorry scolds the elder Brennan for not controlling his son.  Meanwhile, the scene and the crew armed with machine-guns are observed by Black Canary.  She dives off the pier and swims to a small motorboat that she hot-wires.  She strips off her sopping wet boots and jacket and cuts her fishnets to tie around her hair.

Elsewhere, Chad Brennan drives Gan to his girlfriend's place.  His girlfriend happens to be the daughter of Wren Kole, the Native American friend of Dinah's from issue #1.  Gan, Chad, his girlfriend and Wren meet at their place on the Quinault Indian Reservation and formulate a plan.  They figure Lorry has the shipments arrive in the Quinault region because the Reservation doesn't have much of a police force.  They decide to surprise the senator's son by deputizing one and bringing in some neighboring law enforcement.

Out on the water, the smugglers are hauling in the suitcases full of coke when Dinah comes up on them in her speedboat, acting like a dumb girl who doesn't know what she's doing.  That includes piloting the boat, which she bumps into the smuggling ship and falls into the sea.

The smugglers pull her unconscious body out of the drink and bring her into the ship's hold.  One of them gets some rape-y ideas, but luckily one of the other murderous drug dealers shows some honor in that regard.

Fully awake, Black Canary slips out of her room and takes out the guard posted there.  She then sneaks into the ship's bridge and takes out the captain.

Reinforcements arrive and surround the smuggling boat.  Said reinforcements are composed of the ships from three different tribes organized by Gan and Wren.  Hoping to jump on the chance for political advancement, Senator Garrenger arrives with the Coast Guard, unaware that his own son is on board the smuggling boat.  Also, just for good measure, Gan brought the media.

Dinah knocks out Lorry.  Sgt. Brennan has no plan to go quietly and readies his gun for a shootout.

In the aftermath of Chad killing his father and the cops arresting Loren Garrenger, Jr. and the rest, Dinah and Gan meet on the pier.  They reveal that the senator was more or less ignorant and innocent of the drug deals.  The story ends with Dinah and Gan sitting together, comforting each other.

As an individual issue, this story was okay.  The art suffered a lot this time around.  I don't know if scheduling got behind or what, and I'm not sure if the fault was more penciler Trevor Von Eeden's or inker Dick Giordano, but on nearly every page are panels where entire characters are blacked out as silhouettes with no detail or definition.  Still more panels are bereft of any background detail.  Von Eeden's panel construction is also comparatively more ordered and boring in this issue than previous chapters.  I greatly enjoyed Von Eeden and Giordano's work in issues #1 and #2, but the drop off was pretty significant in the second half of the book.

The same could be said of Sarah Byam's script.  Again, I don't know how much blame could be laid at editor Mike Gold's feet, or time's, but each successive issue felt less organized and clear than the one before.  That is, until this climactic issue.  It's not confusing like issue #3 was, but it does feel rushed and kind of underwhelming.  I don't know why Black Canary and Gan had to go to Gray's Harbor and fight the white supremacists there; they spend a good chuck of this issue in that area, and it doesn't feel connected to the rest of the story.  Rather, it feels like putting a cap on a story seed that Byam planted in issue #1 but never grew.

The consequence of that is the final showdown with Sgt. Brennan on the smuggling ship is extremely rushed.  Black Canary's fight with Brennan, Chad's decision to take up a gun against his father, and the elder Brennan's death all happen on one page.  Nine panels crammed onto the second to last page.  Yes, this issue was very, very poorly paced.

It's difficult to praise this series when the stakes were so high and the execution so...meh.  I thought the first issue was great, but perhaps too ambitious.  The story and art needed to be reined in from issue to issue, and these felt clumsy most of the time.  I guess I would blame Gold for a lot of those problems, especially considering he edited Black Canary's first strip in Action Comics Weekly, "Bitter Fruit", which was a mess of conflicting concepts and characters.  He should have known better from that experience, but I guess he just repeated a lot of the same mistakes.

On the other hand, Gold did champion the character more than any other.  His appreciation for Black Canary shows in the letters columns at the end of the issue where he announces the fiscal success of "New Wings" resulting in an ongoing title for Black Canary that would kick off almost a year later.

Was "New Wings" the best Black Canary story?  No.  But it was the first that could be called Black Canary in the direct market's order forms and comic racks.  So there's that.