Thursday, July 19, 2007

Black Canary: Real woman

So, Black Canary #2 came out yesterday and my comics shop had restocked their supply of #1, which I'd missed thanks to not picking up my stash the week of July 4th. I'm all caught up now, and apart from a couple of weird lines of dialogue, I'm liking the mini-series.

I'm not saying that Batman would never say, "I was here the whole time, in case you rookies couldn't hack it," but it felt off. Or maybe it was the idea that Batman could actually sit patiently and watch a couple of young superheroes prove themselves without just stepping in himself and taking over.

The really strange line though was Kobra, not usually a great humorist that guy, telling Green Arrow, "I sssaid you hit like a girl." The joking made for interesting juxtaposition with his seemingly un-ironic hiss-talking, but it's still weird.

But, like I said, I'm liking it. I like the flashbacks that track Black Canary and Green Arrow's relationship, and I like the adventures of Sin trying to fit in with other kids. But I especially like that Black Canary's taking her time and thinking through Green Arrow's proposal. Even though we already know what her answer will be, it's good that she's mulling it over first. 'Cause honestly, Green Arrow's not good enough for her.

Not that anyone is or that marriage is about finding someone who "deserves" you, but Green Arrow's history with Black Canary is especially troubled. And that sounds odd for me to say since I became a Black Canary fan through Green Arrow.

I was a huge Robin Hood fan as a kid (still am), so it was a pretty easy transition for me to start digging Green Arrow once I heard of him. Then when I eventually discovered the "Hard Traveling Heroes" stories with him and Green Lantern, I was smitten by his dedication to the Little Guy and social justice issues. Before long, I was not only collecting his appearances in comics, but those of his "family" too: Speedy/Arsenal and Black Canary.

I eventually got tired of Arsenal. Too much baggage; too big a chip on his shoulder. But Black Canary I liked. I didn't think about it in these terms back then, but I think the reason I dug her was that she was an interesting combination of Wonder Woman's confidence and Rogue's neediness, both traits that I find attractive in a cognitively dissonant sort of way.

In her earliest appearances in Flash Comics, she was a femme fatale: bold, confident, and deadly. She was initially a guest-star in Johnny Thunder stories and since he was a doof, she got to be the hero. Eventually though she got to star in her own stories, but she was still the confident hero. In her secret identity as Dinah Drake, she ran a flower shop and pretended to be as mild-mannered as Clark Kent, but that was a disguise. In reality, she always saved the day for Larry Lance, a private eye who frequently ran his business out of her shop.

She got to be popular enough that she joined the Justice Society of America, but that unfortunately meant that she had to play second-string to more powerful (more male?) heroes like Green Lantern and the Flash. It's nice to see her participating in such a prominent team, but I much preferred seeing her solo in her own adventures. It's too bad that Flash Comics was cancelled shortly after she started appearing in the JSA's All-Star Comics.

She stayed with the JSA for three years until All-Star was cancelled and was mostly unheard from again until the JSA started appearing in yearly Justice League of America events. During that time we learn that Dinah and Larry got married. When Larry is killed during one of the team-ups, Black Canary decides to avoid memories of him by leaving the JSA (and Earth-2 where the JSA lives) and join the JLA on Earth-1. That's where she meets Green Arrow.

There's a huge gap in my collection right there, so I don't know what Black Canary and Green Arrow were like back then, but the sense that I get is that she was sad a lot (though I may have formed that impression after reading retcon tales, so take it for what it's worth). So -- at least in my perception -- she went from being this very confident character to being this emotionally vulnerable character and it was during this time of vulnerability that she started her relationship with Green Arrow. Not that he took advantage of her. I don't know that. But even if she was completely into him, it's not the healthiest way for a relationship to begin.

After Crisis on Infinite Earths merged the two Earths into one, DC explained that there were actually two Black Canaries. Dinah Drake Lance was a member of the JSA and her daughter Dinah Laurel Lance was in the JLA and had the relationship with Green Arrow. Eventually though, both Dinah Laurel and Green Arrow quit the JLA and moved to Seattle from which Mike Grell launched the Green Arrow ongoing.

I don't have many issues of Grell's GA, but it's common knowledge that he really put Black Canary through the ringer. She was tortured and as a result lost her Canary Cry superpower and her ability to have children. Green Arrow stole money from her florist shop and the final straw was when she caught him in a kiss with her shop assistant. Fans have hugely differing opinions about that kiss and who was at fault, but based on what I've heard (not having tracked down the issue for myself yet), Green Arrow wasn't as much of a lech as he later got a reputation for.

But he did get the reputation and it eventually came to be accepted by Green Arrow writers after Grell. As Black Canary was climbing out of her funk and becoming a cool, confident character again in Birds of Prey and JSA, Green Arrow seemed to be slowly winning her back under the writing of Kevin Smith and Brad Meltzer, but there was a general acknowledment that he'd screwed up at some point in the past and needed to regain Black Canary's trust.

And I was okay with that. Especially since I hadn't read the actual kissing scene back in the day, but also: even if he was more innocent than his reputation deserved, he wouldn't be the first guy to accept responsibility for something he didn't do just to give in and let the fight blow over. I was rooting for Green Arrow and Black Canary to get back together again. They didn't have a perfect relationship, but it felt like a real relationship and I wanted to see it continue. Until Judd Winick ruined it anyway.

Winick took over the Green Arrow series after Brad Meltzer and in his second story arc he had Green Arrow, who was supposedly still trying to woo Black Canary and prove his trustworthiness, fall for a completely new character and do things with her that in no way allowed room for a misunderstanding or any innocence on his part. At that point, I lost interest in him, threw my allegiance completely over to Black Canary who was apparently right about him all along, and dropped the Green Arrow series.

So, here's what I like about Black Canary. Wonder Woman is the ideal, confident woman. Rogue is the poster-girl for "damaged and vulnerable." Both are attractive in those ways, but Black Canary is a mixture of both, sometimes all at once, and that makes her real. She's one of the most real, complex women I've ever read about and that's why I love that DC and Tony Bedard are giving her some time to think over Green Arrow's proposal. It's what a real woman in her position should do. I don't know that she should accept, but I certainly buy that she would. I'd also buy that she wouldn't, if that was the direction DC wanted to take her. Where the heart and all her history with Green Arrow are concerned though, it makes sense that she might be willing to take a chance that he really has changed. And I'm excited to learn along with her if her taking that chance will pay off.

Except that after the wedding, Judd Winick will be her primary writer and that makes me exceedingly nervous.


Anonymous said...

My favorite Black Canary moment can be found here:

Michael May said...



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