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The Many Faces of…
Dinah Laurel Lance aka Black Canary
By Rebecca Leo

There’s something about a lady in fishnets. It’s a little bit daring, it’s a little bit calculated. Throw in biker boots, a blonde wig and a styling motorcycle and you’ve got one of the toughest looking heroes in the DC Universe.
But whatever your stance on Black Canary’s superhero getup, she and her fishnets have been circling the DCU for some time, and it’s clear that this feisty hero, with the mouth to match, is much more than a just pretty face.

The Noise Maker

I am Canary, hear me roar.

Blessed or cursed, depending on the origin story, Dinah’s Canary Cry is her not-so secret weapon. She sings, and like tiny ear-piercing earthquakes, sonic vibrations spill from this golden-haired siren’s mouth, knocking the bad guys to the ground.

So simple, yet so powerful.

For what could be written off as the shrill cry of an inconsequential woman, becomes transformed by Dinah’s ability. The Canary Cry takes the stereotype of the helpless victim’s scream, and turns it on its head. It not only gives her a voice, but clears the floor for it to be heard. And in a world where the struggle for gender equality is so rife, and the voice of the minority can often fall on deaf ears, Dinah the Canary shouts back to those that would ignore what she has to say, imploring us all to do the same.

Art by Cliff Chiang.

Art by Cliff Chiang.

The Fighter

Canary is a woman who knows her way around a dojo. Even retroactive continuity couldn’t change that. And while one version tells of Dinah’s rebellious drive to take over the mantel of Black Canary from her mother, the New 52 carves out Black Canary beginnings as an orphan taken under the wing of a martial arts expert. You’ll find whichever you side with, Dinah’s always been a character with drive.

As a hero quick with her wit and her fists, there are few things better in comics than a killer Canary fight scene. The contrast of her fluid martial arts mastery and feisty throwdown, means she’s judo chopping in one panel, and socking jaws in the next. When handled with care, there is true poetry in the combination of restraint and raw strength as Canary’s booted legs fly from panel to panel, delivering one solid punchline after another.

Art by Trevor Von Eden (Penciller) and Dick  Giordano (Inker).

Art by Trevor Von Eden (Penciller)
and Dick Giordano (Inker).

The Lover

Who says you can’t be both.

Fighting for justice is Dinah’s end game, but the stories that resonate most are the ones that showcase her passion. And this character’s got spades of it.

Somewhat bull-headed, prone to outbursts of misplaced rage and never one to let logic get in the way of emotions, Canary’s flaws only make her character that much more endearing and paint Dinah as a hero with one big loyal heart.

Though loyal as it may be, Dinah’s heart has certainly loved more than a few in the DCU. Of course, there is her long-time, off-and-on Green Arrow romance, and her Justice League bonding with Wonder Woman, but the greatest love of all? The Black Canary/Batgirl saga.

Dinah Lance and Barbara Gordon. They are the DCU’s X-chromosomed buddy cop heroes, and their sister-romance is one for the ages. Troubled though it may sometimes be, their friendship, cemented in the original Birds of Prey (and on the rocks in the current Batgirl run), continues to encourage the excellent and growing trend of portraying positive female relationships in comics.

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The Big Sister

If Batman’s the DCU’s strict older brother, Black Canary could easily take the title of Big Sis.

A founding member of the JLA at one time in continuity, Dinah’s played older sibling to the best of them. As a character that slips into the role of leader with a casual ease, Canary stories tend to show her taking the ‘tough love’ approach to guiding her fellow heroes; from saving the butt of a Year One Batgirl, to gently goading a young Zatanna into testing her limits in Bloodspell, and even reality checking the ego of Superboy in the animated Young Justice.

You could say Canary is the more approachable version of Batman, her time as a teacher’s shown that she’s tough and won’t hesitate to watch you make mistakes, but will always be there to grapple hook you to safety in the end.

And now, with the announcement of Annie Wu, Brenden Fletcher and Irene Koh at the helm of a new Black Canary solo series, Dinah’s vocal cords are about to get a big workout one that will hopefully explore the many faces of the Black Canary mythos.

From Black Canary/Zatanna: Bloodspell

From Black Canary/Zatanna: Bloodspell

2 Responses

  1. Gary Chapin

    This is a great piece of writing, thank you. You do miss one interesting facet of Black Canary’s evolution. She actually predates the Justice League, having a considerable career during the Golden Age. She was also part of the Earth 2 crew when the Justice League and Justice Society started having their annual meetings back in the early sixties. At the time she was the wife of Larry Lance (private detective), who died in one of those Crisis on … issues. Superman read the rites for the funeral. Dinah decided to stay on Earth 1, romance with the Green Arrow ensued. Then the retconning so that there is Canary mom and Canary daughter. I still feel like DC went to all the trouble of killing wet blanket Larry Lance because they recognized what a great character Canary could be, and wanted to bring her into the primary continuity. Again, thanks for the piece.

    • Rebecca Leo

      Thanks for the comment, and sharing the Larry Lance era of Black Canary’s continuity changes! Canary’s relationship with Lance and the mother/daughter history creation is certainly an interesting part of the character’s tale. And in total agreement about Canary’s built in potential, she certainly grew out of the boots they originally put her in, and I’m glad she earned a permanent spot on Earth prime’s continuity.

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