04 May 2010

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Star City, Part XX: The Black Canary Archives, Volume 1

Comic hardcover, 227 pages
Published 2001 (contents: 1947-72)

Borrowed from the library
Read April 2010
The Black Canary Archives, Volume 1

Story: Robert Kanigher, Gardner Fox, Dennis O'Neil
Art: Carmine Infantino, Joe Giella, Bernard Sachs, Murphy Anderson, Alex Toth

Collecting all of Black Canary's solo adventures, this volume mostly concerns the character we now know as Dinah Lance née Drake, mother of Dinah Laurel Lance, the Black Canary who ultimately became involved with Oliver Queen. The character is actually somewhat impressive for a 1947 comic book character: after her early adventures with the "humorous" Johnny Thunder, she acquired her own setup, a mild-mannered florist secretly fighting crime with her judo skills at night, much to the consternation of Larry Lance, private detective-- who could never one-up the Black Canary, nor get a date with her. It's an inversion of the good old Clark/Lois dynamic, and it works wonderfully for it. Except not quite: Carmine Infantino's introduction to this volume claims that Dinah Drake "spent much of her time yearning for a good lucking detective whose only interest was in her alter ego", but that's not actually the case; Dinah taunts Larry and never shows a sign that she's interested in him romantically. She's no milquetoast like Clark Kent can be! This unusual setup (and some sharp art) raises Robert Kanigher's twenty-two 6-10-page stories out of the repetitive rut they could easily fall into (see Showcase Presents The Green Arrow). The plots are typically contrived, but I enjoyed the tales nonetheless, especially once Johnny Thunder was nixed in favor of Larry Lance.

Two longer stories come from later in the Black Canary's lifespan, after Dinah Drake has married Larry Lance. "Mastermind of Menaces!" and "The Big Super-Hero Hunt" by Gardner Fox unite Black Canary and Larry Lance with fellow Justice Society member Starman in a pair of stories that are fairly enjoyable, especially the former one. These stories manage to balance all three protagonists well-- Canary isn't sidelined in favor of the male hero in Starman, and even Larry Lance gets to be a semi-competent detective for once.

The last story, "The Canary and the Cat!" by Denny O'Neil is the only one in the book about the second Black Canary... and it shows that O'Neil doesn't really get her character beyond the fact that she knows judo and is in love with Green Arrow. Would Dinah ever sit around thinking about how great Oliver is for fighting crime? Seems unlikely. "I'm an expert at judo... that's all!" she thinks. Geeze, what happened to your floral business, Dinah? Or your own crime-fighting abilities? She does get to kick some butt, though, and Alex Toth's stylized artwork is very nice to look at.

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