Black Canary Volume 1: Kicking and Screaming

Now that I’ve got the bulk of DC’s continuity under my belt, I’ve been slowly going back and filling in gaps, reading comics that strike my fancy, expanding my knowledge base on characters I really like, etc.  Most of Black Canary’s main history is collected on “the shelf”, but a few gaps exist, specifically from the New 52 era. I came across the two trades of this mini-series in my local comics shop, and decided to pick up the first (okay, I was going to buy both, but Mistah J suggested I only buy the first one in case I wind up not liking it. He’s smart like that).  Before I begin addressing the trade itself, I should preface it with this: On the whole, I really didn’t like the New 52 reboot.  The entire reboot essentially focused on wiping away 70+ years of comics knowledge and starting with a clean slate. Having literally just read my way through that entire history, I wasn’t too keen on being told to forget all of it and start again.  So yes, this review will probably be a bit biased.

It also feels like it’s been a while since I’ve written a negative review, partly because I’ve just been reading so many great comics/books lately, and partly because I sometimes feel like negative reviews are unnecessary and somewhat mean.  I try to only write them if something is really sticking out to me, otherwise it just seems nit-picky. This is one such instance where my personal problems with the story were just too glaring to ignore.

Black Canary’s history has not always been set in stone, and like most long-standing characters, it’s gone through a number of revisions. Golden Age Black Canary was Dinah Drake; as the Silver Age was ushered in, Dinah Drake retired and her daughter, Dinah Lance, took up the mantle of Black Canary (allowing for the character to retain her place in the Justice Society stories without confusion).  Dinah Lance is the character that has stood the test of the time, the character that falls in love with and marries Oliver Queen. The badass fighter who helps form the Birds of Prey and who has regularly served as a member of the Justice League.  There’s a lot of history with the character, and a lush field of storylines to delve into.

…and then came the New 52, and apparently that all went out the window.

Some New 52 stories I can sort of appreciate, because at least the writers seem to be familiar with the characters and do their best to pay homage to their histories, even as they’re attempting to rewrite them.  Here, it seems That Brenden Fletcher was either completely unaware of Black Canary’s vivid history, or simply didn’t care to include any of her past in his take on the character.

With no preamble, we’re tossed into a story where Dinah is the lead singer of a band called Black Canary. She’s good, but doesn’t seem particularly vested in her current career path.  What’s more, each and every concert the band puts on seems to be disrupted by Dinah getting caught up in a brawl and causing massive damage.  The story doesn’t give much insight into her history, focusing instead on a mystery surrounding her child bandmate, Ditto.  Ditto doesn’t speak, yet something is tracking the band, attempting to capture Ditto for some unknown reason.  All we know about Dinah is that she fought with the Justice League “a couple times”.

We get a small glimpse into her past when her estranged husband, Kurt Lance, shows up, offering to help her protect Ditto. We learn that Kurt is part of some secret, unnamed government agency, of which Dinah was also a part.  Very little information is given here though, with the story progressing around Ditto and the band’s efforts to keep her safe.

The story alone did nothing to grab me. The band-members weren’t fleshed out enough for me to have any real interest in their story, and even Dinah felt pretty flat.  What really stood out though was the fact that so much of the comic centers around the band’s performances.  There were literally pages of the band performing on stage which, as one can imagine, doesn’t really translate well onto a comics page.  If it was used sparingly it would have been a fun detail, but with page after page of nothing but drawings of a band on-stage, it didn’t do much to progress the story. It most certainly didn’t do anything to expand on Dinah’s storyline at all.

I really disliked the fact that Dinah’s history wasn’t drawn on more within this story, but what most bothered me was that the new story created didn’t even feel like Black Canary.  She’s not a superhero here; she’s just a somewhat apathetic singer with a powerful cry and some fighting ability.  This could have been the intro for an origin story, but if so it’s much too slow.  The entire trade felt as though Fletcher wanted to write his own original story and just happened to be doing it under the “Black Canary” title.  It didn’t fit, and I found myself getting annoyed with the way the entire story was playing out. Maybe it’s not a horrible plot, but it really didn’t feel like Black Canary at all.

To its credit, the artwork was decent.  Given that music and sound plays such a huge part in the storyline, there were a few scenes that were creatively drawn to show this, particularly this page, in which the bad guys are literally being beaten with music, and it’s all shown happening on lines of actual music:

While these images kept the artwork visually interesting, it wasn’t enough to keep me invested in the story playing out on the page.

This New 52 iteration of Black Canary did little to expand on Dinah’s story, and definitely didn’t make me want to pick up Volume 2 of the mini-series.  With how this first half played out, I’m not surprised to find that the mini-series wasn’t picked up as a regular monthly publication.  If anything, this would have done better as an independent comic, with no ties to DC whatsoever.  As a Black Canary story, it was too far removed from the history of the character to feel like it had any real place in continuity.  As with most everything else in the New 52, this left me unsatisfied. I’m just glad I read this knowing that all would be righted with Rebirth. Had I read this trade when it was first released, I would have been much more upset…so at least there’s that.

-Jess

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