Black Canary has been established in an unusual niche for mainstream comics; a superhero without a city, a setting that is almost a road movie somewhere between Almost Famous and Easy Rider, and a visual style as much devoted to the physicality of live performance and the paraphernalia of the music tour as it is to traditional action scenes of comic books. These qualities are often on display, but the real strength of the writing is in how it uses the book’s central conceit (superhero-in-a-rock-band!) as a generator for intriguing plots, diverse characters, and interesting settings. This issue lets the lead take something of a backseat in order to delve deeper into the formation of the original band and the fallout from changing the line-up. It’s an usual approach, but it’s one that pays dividends, offering up some compelling and sympathetic character work whilst maintaining the brisk and engaging pace that previous issues have established.
The world of Black Canary has slowly been growing with new heroes and villains emerging from not just Dinah’s past, but the band’s collective history too. The book started strong, but it was in the last issue that the various narrative pieces really started to come together. Dinah is of course the heart of the book, but her relationship to the band Black Canary has become a central focus so the reappearance of a spurned former lead singer is one with a great deal of thematic resonance. Writer Brenden Fletcher takes this issue to build on what we know about the characters and the band itself, almost sidelining Dinah from a narrative perspective, but with wonderful results. The history of Black Canary that we have been piecing together from news articles, blog posts, and passing hints, finally takes centre stage, along with a woman who considers herself the victim of it.
Whilst this is certainly another high quality issue, I was sad to see that it was without the greatness of Annie Wu’s art. Fortunately guest artist Pia Guerra is a good sub for Wu, and whilst I miss the punk brilliance of Wu’s art, Guerra gamely steps up and delivers a very well put together issue. One of the hallmarks of Fletcher’s writing is the use of diegetic visual elements to help support the storytelling (emails and texts in Batgirl, for example) and here Guerra delivers great character work via the faux album covers that open the issue. It is clear just from these panels that Meave is both an outlandish fantasist and something of a self-serious diva. The panel work is also on top form throughout, continuing a strong run of well laid out pages in this book. The panels of Ditto mimicking Maeve’s dance moves were simple, but effective, giving a great sense of motion and adding the atmosphere of playful consequence-less-ness around Maeve (despite her gravely serious actions). The mirroring of this layout in the scuffle between Dinah and the car thief was another great moment, one that highlights the differences between these two women – Maeve is able to breeze through life focused on a single thing, her own vision of success, blithely sacrificing anyone to the cause whilst Dinah is constantly side tracked by the needs of others, she can’t even complete a mission to save Ditto without having to take a break to save someone else. For Maeve life is about having fun, or dancing, with people until they get you where you want to go, for Dinah it is about putting your own concerns to one side in order to do the right thing and stop, or dodge the punches of, criminals.
The entire book works to establish this theme, the contrast between these two people. I appreciated the effort to round out Maeve’s character here, yes it is clear from the start that she is unwell, but great care was taken to cast her in a sympathetic and engaging light. She never endangers Ditto’s life (although it was perhaps naive of Maeve to assume Amanda Waller and the paramilitary types wouldn’t do so) and in fact become quite likable despite what she is doing to everyone. Her back story was also compellingly told and Fletcher does well to establish that she is an unreliable narrator giving a slanted version of events at the same time as showing us the core of the truth. Maeve admits to abandoning her family claiming that they were viewing her as a “commodity” before going on to describe herself in basically the same terms (her ability to money and invest it wisely); we see that her parents are concerned about her leaving, but it looks more like it is out of love than for lost profits. She admits to being a difficult artist, even is she sees it as a virtue rather than a byproduct of ego. She even openly admits to trying to burn down a recording studio full of people (!) and goes on to demonstrate that Dinah has become a focus of her disquieted mind (the conflated timeline here further suggests troubling aspects of Maeve’s mental state: almost immediately after she walks out on the video shoot and contract talks she sees Dinah on the stage in her place). If Maeve’s telling is to be believed it does seem like she has worked hard and sacrificed a lot to succeed in a tough business, so it is a small tragedy that she can only see Dinah as an obstacle to her success who ‘had it easy’ given that in many ways they could be kindred spirits. In her life Dinah has never had it easy, nor I suspect would she want to take the easy route, but Maeve hasn’t been privy to the darkness she’s lived through and doesn’t seem to care in case. It’s an interesting story to tell and the team are making great work of it: a Behind the Music-style story of petty band squabbles, diva tantrums, and broken contracts given a super-heroic twist in the form of Canary Cries and magic bassists.
One qualm that I have had with this book so far is the tendency to disregard the support characters, a tactic that I thought had come to an end last issue when Byron, Paloma, Heathcliff, and even new boy Kurt seemed to be growing more integral to the book’s story telling. This issue dials all of those characters right back though, with barely a handful of panels between them, even despite the fact that they are essential ingredients in the brewing revenge plot. It’s an unfortunate side-effect of the time taken to flesh out Maeve so it is probably a net gain for this arc at least, but I must admit it’s a shame not to see the band more involved in the plots by now; the book’s name does refer to the entire band Black Canary rather than just Dinah ‘D.D’ Lance after all.
Everything is in place for this book to continue getting even better; the cast, the writing, the distinctive visual style that Wu has developed and Guerra has sustained, it’s all well established and the introduction of an intriguing new potential hero ninja only raises the stakes even more. Each issue of this story has strengthened an already strong concept, and helped to turn it into an excellent read. This issue is no different, and I can’t wait to see where Fletcher, Wu, et al take this band next!
Black Canary #4 // Writer Brenden Fletcher / Artist – Pia Guerra / Colours – Lee Loughridge // DC
– The cell tower ping was an interesting moment as Maeve is clear that she won’t be using her phone so as to avoid tracking via GPS. Did Waller’s crew ping the tower on Maeve’s behalf to put people off her sent, or was something more mysterious going on? it seemed pretty clear that the ping was a miss-direct by someone given that the Dinah’s search ultimately hit a dead end and no one recognised Maeve or Ditto. At one point I wondered if Ditto herself used Maeve’s phone somehow, but it didn’t seem like she was that concerned about the whole affair.
– I loved that Dinah called on the technical expertise of the New DCU’s Oracle Frankie Charles for that tracking assist.
– Lee Loughridge continues to deliver wonderful colour work on this book – from the sun down Easy Rider opening to the washed out memories to the car headlight bleached finale, Loughridge is able to enhance the writing and artwork and evoke just the right mood.
– Something in the timing of the appearance and Ditto’s face made me wonder if the ninja in white might be a manifestation of Ditto’s unusual powers. But then she was watching over the motel at the end so that theory kind of doesn’t make any sense any more.
– No Burnside Tofu this ‘ish – where am I going to get my fanzine-fix?!
– I have literally never understood the name ‘Maeve’ or how to pronounce it. Help me out here, does it rhyme with ‘pave’ (so why the extra ‘e’) or ‘Neve’ (why the ‘a’), or is it somehow like the colour (why not a ‘u’)?