Comics // Review // Black Canary #1

Concise

Dinah Lance sets out into the world once again, this time joined by new friends in the form of her mates from hot new ticket Black Canary! This is a fast paced, well characterised, brilliantly realised first issue that introduces new characters, an entirely new corner of the DCU, and new challenges for a much-loved character. The storytelling is wonderfully strong, in dialogue, action, and art, and the stage is set both metaphorically and literally for a long, hard and very rewarding tour.

Black Canary #1 Cover

Spoilerful

For me writer Brendan Fletcher has heralded a reinvigoration at DC. Collaborating with great artists and writers like Babs Tarr, Cameron Stewart, Becky Cloonan, and Karl Kerschl, Fletcher has stewarded two smart, young skewing but suitable for all ages books with wonderfully diverse casts into the must read spot every month, even as the rest of the DC line has stewed in fetid reboots and lukewarm continuity battles. As well as telling action packed and interesting stories Gotham Academy and Batgirl have developed strong female lead and support characters, including in the latter, former Black Canary herself Dinah Lance. In Batgirl Dinah was in a tough time of her life – after her apartment burned down (thanks to Babs Gordon) Dinah was crashing on her friends’ couch, partying hard, and singing in the band Ashes on Sunday. In Batgirl #40 Dinah and Babs fixed their fractured friendship, but this was quickly followed by the announcement that Dinah would be going on tour with her new band.

On that tour Dinah has taken to being called D.D., for the time being at least, whilst her new band has taken the name Black Canary so I would anticipate (and hope) this book will be as much about her band mates Lord Byron, Paloma Terrific, and Ditto as Dinah herself. The last of those names (and aren’t they all just great rock star names), Ditto, belongs to a young mute acoustic guitar player who appears to have a few secrets of her own. Ditto has a magical ability to craft complex music from her guitar without the aid of any technological enhancement; this power is reminiscent of Dinah’s own vocal abilities so there may also be a mentor-mentee relationship in the offing. In fact Ditto ultimately reveals the key threat at the end of the book, a group of alienoid creatures that have come to capture her for some as yet unknown reason. What exactly is the deal with Ditto’s past looks set to be a major plot point, and it certainly looks like a compelling one, but I am also hoping we get to spend some more time with the band, and the world of clubs and gigs. These characters and locations are so well realised so quickly that I hope we really get to know them well.

Even though this makes it seem like the book will be all about fighting and super heroics Fletcher actually goes to great lengths in the opening pages to demonstrate the toll, both physically and emotionally, that constantly fighting can have. Dinah is a little bruised and battered, on top of the physical demands of touring every night  she has taken a few licks from the bad guys and from the press as most of her gigs have ended in out of control brawls. The rest of the band, in particular Byron, are worried that this may have a negative impact on their ability to stick to their contract with the record label, so Dinah agrees to keep things calm. Except for those damn alienoids. Much of Dinah’s arc in Batgirl was about finding her new normal, a way of living that she could be comfortably in. Here she appears to be on the right track, with the right friends, but like for most of us things are never that easy to change.

Annie Wu is so perfect for this book; her tough, realistic, beautiful art style brings exactly the sense of dangerous punk atmosphere to Dinah’s new world, and the detail in every panel is simply brilliant. The art works to tell and enhance the story on every page, but touches like the tour bus heat signatures and the gig flyer add an extra something; it is clear from every panel that a lot of care and attention has gone into crafting this book. Lee Loughridge is also on excellent form with some electrifying use of colours throughout – particularly in the ‘Musical Marvel or Menace?’ streaming video panels, as well as when the band are introduced in their entirety at the final show (Dinah in the spotlight is perfect).

This is a strong début for a book with a high pedigree to live up to; the art is expertly on point, the narrative and characters and interesting and compelling, and the entire thing feels fresh and unique. The team have put together another book with strong and diverse female characters at the fore, but it feels different to what has come before. The issue ends with a playlist of things to come – I can’t wait to hit play.

Black Canary #1 Panel

Black Canary #1 // Writer – Brendan Fletcher / Artist – Annie Wu / Colours – Lee Loughridge // DC

Notes and Observations:

  • Black Canary continues to exhibit a rich visual language similar to that of Batgirl and Gotham Academy, by which I mean they incorporate diegetic elements such as report cards, media players, fanzines, notebooks, and selfies. These elements are really well integrated and tend to serve two main functions; they advance the plot by giving us an insight into the characters mood or current activity, and they look cool and contemporary. It is arguable that they might age the books quite quickly, and there is no doubt that they all feel very ‘now’, but I am very keen on the approach, not least because they again serve to create a shared sense of ‘world’ between these books.
  • Gotham Academy’s Heathcliff is the road manager for Black Canary in this book; this is a great, organic development for the character (he was a major Ashes on Sunday fan) and some welcome connective tissue between the two books. I was concerned by the appearance that Heathcliff went from being a person of colour in Gotham Academy to a white character in this book, but Brendan Fletcher has described this not as a race change, but rather being down to the fact that “Lee [Loughridge]’s approach to color is super stylized“. Whilst I appreciate Fletcher’s candour and the artistic intent here I do think it ‘appears’ that there has been a change, intentional or not, which I find unfortunate.
  • The record label contract is mentioned a few times, but I don’t think the label itself gets named; is it too early to suspect there might be something fishy going on there? After all, as good as Ashes on Sunday were it seems pretty convenient that a major deal would fall into Dinah’s lap (plus there is a magic guitar player in the band). Maybe I’m just reliving Jem/Josie/Wayne’s World, but can record execs ever be trusted?!

All art belongs to the copyright holder

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