DC FLASHBACK: Black Canary's Wild Journey

Wed, May 9th, 2007 at 12:00am PDT | Updated: September 16th, 2008 at 11:51pm

Comic Books
Brian K. Eason, Guest Contributor

Black Canary by Alex Ross

When we look at the heroines of the DC Universe, Wonder Woman's name is the one that first springs to mind. Beyond that, we find that the majority fall into the categories of "family members." We have Batgirl, Supergirl, Huntress, Mary Marvel, Oracle, Powergirl and a plethora of others that are, for better or worse, considered junior partners in the legacy of a male character. Yet, for decades, the Black Canary has defied the status quo and has risen to the forefront of strong lead characters. Later this month, the Black Canary will receive a proposal from her on-again/off-again boyfriend, the Green Arrow (don't tell her, it's a secret) and the Canary will be featured in a new four-issue limited series, written by Tony Bedard, with art chores by Paulo Sequeira. In light of the many new developments in the life of the Black Canary, let's take a look at the history of this complex and dynamic character.

Created by writer Robert Kanigher and artist Carmine Infantino, Black Canary first appeared in "Flash Comics" #86 (August 1947). Canary began as a supporting character in the Johnny Thunder series and initially appeared to be a villain. However, it was quickly revealed that Dinah was undercover inside a criminal gang. This tactic would be a common theme throughout her career. The Canary was given her own feature in "Flash Comics" #92, replacing her benefactor, Johnny Thunder.

Black Canary was chiefly defined by her appearance in "Flash Comics" #92
In her new feature it was established that Black Canary was secretly Dinah Drake, who was a florist when she wasn't fighting crime, and that she was dating Gotham City detective Larry Lance. The clever Canary surpassed Superman's cunning eyeglasses ruse by disguising herself with a blonde wig (Dinah actually had black hair). With her fishnets, black bustier, pirate boots, jacket and choker, Black Canary had a unique look in the sea of Golden Age heroines.

The Canary closed out her Golden Age career as a member of the Justice Society of America. But she, along with the other members of the team, ceased publication with "All Star Comics" #57, when the title became an all-cowboy comic and changed the name to "All-Star Western" in 1955.

Black Canary next appeared (along with the other JSAers) in the '60s among the heroes of Earth Two (the parallel world where the Golden Age versions of the DC characters existed). During this period we found out that Detective Larry Lance convinced Dinah to marry him. In "Justice League of America" #75 (November 1969), Larry is killed and the Canary decides to move to Earth One and join the Justice League of America. Radiation she was exposed to grants Dinah a super power in the form of her sonic scream, dubbed the "Canary Cry."

Canary's relationship with Green Arrow has become iconic
Not long after joining the JLA, Dinah is seen dating the Green Arrow. Now, able readers will note that a woman that was fighting crime during WWII was now dating a, well, a hippy. To deal with this odd December-May romance, DC pulled off the strangest piece of retroactive continuity in history. In "Justice League of America" #219 and #220 (October/November 1983), it was revealed that what we believed was Dinah Drake Lance was, in fact, Dinah Laurel Lance, the daughter of the Black Canary and her husband.

The younger Dinah was born in the 1950s and cursed by the JSA villain the Wizard with the Canary Cry. Johnny Thunder's genie-like Thunderbolt was summoned to find a cure. The Thunderbolt was unable to cure baby Dinah, so, the child was placed in suspended animation until a cure could be found. To spare Dinah and Larry the pain of losing their child, the Thunderbolt erased all memory of the child, letting everyone think she had died. Now, stick with me. When Dinah (senior) realizes she is dying from radiation poisoning, she and the Superman and Thunderbolt of Earth One come up with a plan. They decide to transfer Dinah (senior)'s memories into her now-adult daughter (who is still in suspended animation). Dinah, now both mother and daughter in one body, is made to be oblivious to the event. � Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Little did the authors of the former retcon know, but they only needed to wait two more years for that whole aging thing. In 1985, the "Crisis on Infinite Earths" miniseries re-wrote the totality of DC Comics continuity and in "Secret Origins" #50 (August 1990), the definitive origin of both Black Canaries was established.

Issue #1 of the forthcoming "Black Canary" mini-series
Dinah Drake was now the daughter of Gotham City police detective Richard Drake and was raised to follow in his footsteps as a cop. When Dinah was turned down for the force, her father died of a heart attack; it was then that the Golden Age Black Canary was born. The Canary went on to join the Justice Society and to marry her private investigator boyfriend Larry Lance.

The Black Canary of the Modern Age was born to the Lances, and young Dinah was raised around her mother's pals from the (then) disbanded Justice Society. As a result, Dinah Laurel longed to become a superheroine, just like her mom. But, not surprisingly, Dinah Drake forbids her daughter from doing anything so dangerous. Little did anyone know, but Dinah Laurel was a metahuman with her own Canary Cry. Young Dinah then set about seeking out experts in hand-to-hand combat, most notably, Wildcat of the JSA. Years of training paid off and Dinah the younger became the new Black Canary, working out of Gotham City (and running a florist shop) just like her mother.

"Black Canary" #2
Like the Silver Age Black Canary, the new Canary joined the Justice League of America and became romantically involved with the Green Arrow. During this period, Dinah the elder passed away from radiation poisoning and Dinah the younger resigned from the League and joined Green Arrow in the city of Seattle. Dinah opened the 'Sherwood Florist' and settled into housekeeping with the emerald archer, but it was not to last.

Seattle began a truly black time for the Black Canary. During this time, Dinah becomes involved in a drug bust gone wrong, in which she ends up being kidnapped and tortured. She is rescued by Green Arrow, but the impact on Dinah is serious. During the torture, Canary's vocal cords were damaged (thus she lost her Canary Cry), as was her ability to have children. Not surprisingly, she also needed therapy to cope with the experience. Just to add more fuel to the fire, Dinah and Ollie (Green Arrow) encounter some major relationship hurdles: Canary learned that Green Arrow had taken money from the florist shop, fathered a son, and she caught Ollie kissing her assistant, Marianne. But wait, there's more! Dinah's florist shop was destroyed, she went into default with her creditors and, if that all wasn't enough, Dinah learns that Green Arrow is dead from (wait for it) another of his illegitimate children, Connor. At this point, there was nowhere to go but up and thanks to a little book, called "The Birds of Prey," that was exactly where Dinah was headed.

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The "Birds of Prey" titles shot Canary back into the spotlight
In 1996, with a one-shot and a few miniseries, writer Chuck Dixon created a team with two female leads, who had tons of history and made them the focus of their own book - "The Birds of Prey." Barbara Gordon (formerly Batgirl), operating as the information broker and cyber-presence known as Oracle, recruited the Black Canary as her field agent for a series of missions. The miniseries grew into an ongoing series that has lasted over 100 issues and continues to come on strong.

In "Birds of Prey" #7, Dinah was given an electronic device to simulate her lost Canary Cry; but, in "Birds of Prey" #34, she was seriously injured and was placed in one of Ra's Al Ghul's Lazarus Pits. The Pit not only healed the injured Dinah, but restored her own natural Canary Cry and her ability to bear children.

Black Canary leaves the Birds of Prey in issue #99
As with any good idea, if a little is good, more is better. Oracle and Canary added other operatives (who were never actually referred to as the Birds of Prey, the title of the book not withstanding); Huntress, Gypsy and Lady Blackhawk were added to the team. In Issue #64, Oracle set right the last of Dinah's wrongs when they reopened Sherwood Florist.

During the series, Black Canary develops a friendship with the assassin, Lady Shiva. Following "Infinite Crisis," the DC Universe stories were jumped one year into the future (allowing the events of "52" to fill in the missing year). After the OYL (One Year Later) jump, we found that Dinah had traded lives with Lady Shiva. Shiva was now a member of the "Birds" and called herself Jade Canary. Dinah, conversely, travels to Vietnam to live the early experiences of Lady Shiva. Dinah soon realized that Shiva's path will lead her to do things that she cannot countenance and she leaves Vietnam for the US, but not before taking Shiva's successor, a youngster named, Sin, with her.

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In "Birds of Prey" #99, Dinah resigns from the team to become a full-time mother to Sin. Despite that declaration, Dinah is next seen with the newly reconstituted Justice League in the company of Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) and Arsenal/Red Arrow. At the conclusion of the first story arc, Dinah is selected as Chairperson of the new league.

It seems fitting that the 60th anniversary of the first appearance of the Black Canary would see her graced with such a full plate of options. With the upcoming miniseries, in addition to being a co-star in the "Green Arrow" series and chairing the League, Dinah has come farther than anyone would have expected. Wife. Mother. Leader. Heroine. She is a woman of many parts who has survived reinvention time and time again; this latest chapter is only another new beginning for the Black Canary.

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TAGS:  dc comics, dc flashback, black canary

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