Comic Book: Black Canary

Black Canary is a Legacy Character crime-fighter, most famous for her leather and fishnets costume, who fights evil with her mastery of multiple martial arts and an ultrasonic scream capable of various effects from rendering people unconscious to demolishing robots and buildings.

Black Canary was created by writer Robert Kanigher and artist Carmine Infantino. She first appeared as a supporting character in Flash Comics #86 (August 1947) where she was seemingly a villain plotting against Johnny Thunder. However, it was quickly revealed that she was actually a hero working undercover to expose criminals. Black Canary became something of a sidekick to Johnny Thunder for several stories, using her superior fighting skills to save the well-meaning but bumbling hero from danger.

By the end of the year, Black Canary proved to be more popular than Johnny Thunder, and his back-up feature became hers in Flash Comics #92 (February, 1948). It was here that her Secret Identity was finally revealed, as was the meaning of her Code Name. Dinah Drake was a raven-haired florist, who used a blond wig and flashy costume as a disguise while fighting crime in her native Gotham City. Her path frequently crossed that of her boyfriend, private detective Larry Lance. She also joined the Justice Society of America and continued to be a part of that team even after their adventures ceased publication in 1951, at the end of The Golden Age of Comic Books.

In The Silver Age of Comic Books, Black Canary was revived in 1963 as part of some of the first Crisis Crossover stories in comics history. The Justice League of America and Justice Society of America — two similar groups belonging to two similar Earths — would join forces to face threats to both their realities. It was during one of these adventures that Larry Lance (whom Dinah Drake had married sometime in the 1950s) gave his life to save Dinah's. Desiring a fresh start, Dinah decided to leave her home-dimension behind to start over on Earth-One. She joined the Justice League of America and — for reasons involving her exposure to cosmic radiation — developed a sonic scream super power a.k.a. "The Canary Cry".

In the early days of The Bronze Age of Comic Books, Black Canary began dating fellow JLA member Oliver Queen a.k.a. Green Arrow. She was a regular part of his adventures with Green Lantern and was developed by writer Dennis O'Neil into a more proactive, feminist character — one who ran her own business, had her own solo adventures and chided Green Arrow for his possessive attitude and referring to her as "his girl". Indeed, she was so much a part of Green Arrow's life that she became a foster mother to his sidekick, Roy Harper a.k.a. Speedy, and it was she who got Roy treatment for his heroin addiction during the infamous "My ward is a junkie?!" incident.

Toward the end of The Bronze Age of Comic Books, in an effort to explain why Dinah Drake didn't appear to be a day over 30 despite being well into her 60s, a Retcon in Justice League of America revealed that the Black Canary we'd been seeing since the end of the Silver Age wasn't Dinah Drake but was actually her daughter, Dinah Laurel Lance!

An Earth-Two Super Villain called The Wizard used his powers to curse the infant Dinah with an uncontrollable scream (yes, yes... A Wizard Did It) and Black Canary asked her old friend Johnny Thunder to use his magical genie pal The Thunderbolt to end the curse. The Thunderbolt was unable to break the spell, but was able to place the infant Dinah in a sort of Suspended Animation in his home dimension until such time as a cure could be found. Years later, during the Crisis Crossover that killed her husband, Dinah Drake was critically injured by the radiation and The Thunderbolt then used his magic to put Dinah Drake's memories in the still-sleeping-but-now-adult body of her daughter (which had since then learned how to adapt to the once uncontrollable scream) and erase everyone else's memories so they wouldn't remember what happened.

This confusing and creepy chain of events would be Ret Conned again not too long after Crisis on Infinite Earths. Now, the Lance family had a relatively normal life together, with the elder Dinah still working as a florist in her Secret Identity and Larry still a private eye. Dinah Drake was also given further motivation for having chosen the path of the vigilante, having tried and failed to follow in the footsteps of her cop father, thanks to the then rampant sexism and corruption of the Gotham City Police Department. But the greatest changes were reserved for the Dinah Laurel Lance who was now a founding member of the Justice League of America and whose sonic super powers were now the result a mutation — a third vocal cord.

As The Dark Age of Comic Books opened, Dinah was still a member of the Justice League, now Justice League International. She briefly adopted a new "modern" costume which was quickly abandoned and is widely regard as being an embarrassment — both by the character and by the artist who designed the costume!

She was still dating Green Arrow, though their difference in ages was reversed, with a 30-something Oliver Queen having started dating a college-age Dinah Lance several years earlier. For most of this period, she was a supporting character in Mike Grell's Mature-Readers Green Arrow book, where — in an effort to limit the usual Super Hero elements of comic books and create a more grounded, realistic story — Grell removed Dinah's Canary Cry in The Longbow Hunters following an extended torture session. She would later dump Green Arrow and — for a time — disappeared into Comic Book Limbo.

Thankfully, she would return with a vengeance before The Dark Age of Comic Books was over. In 1996, Dinah Lance abandoned her fishnets and wig in favor of shorter hair, a dye job and a Kevlar leotard as one-half of the original Birds of Prey team — the brawn to the brain of Oracle (a.k.a. former Batgirl Barbara Gordon). Conceived by editor Jordan B. Gorfinkel and written by Chuck Dixon, the two would headline a number of mini-series, eventually being given their only monthly title in 1999. At about the same time, a new monthly Justice Society of America title started, simply called JSA, which also featured Black Canary as a member.

Over the next ten years, Black Canary would come to take a more prominent role in The DCU at large. She regained her superpowers after exposure to the alchemical Lazarus Pit (her boyfriend at the time turned out to be the immortal terrorist Ra's Al Ghul) and it healed her injured vocal cords. Shortly after that, she began dating Oliver Queen (Green Arrow) again following his return from the dead. The two would eventually marry and begin to share a title together several years later.

Most agree that it was in 2003 when Gail Simone took over the writing duties on Birds of Prey that Black Canary really began to achieve her full potential as a character. She became the field commander of an expanding Birds of Prey team. She continued her martial arts training, becoming a warrior worthy of the respect of Lady Shiva — one of the greatest martial artists and certainly the deadliest assassin in The DCU. Dinah also acted as a trainer to a number of young heroines and briefly tried to care for Sin — a young girl being trained by the League of Assassins to be their next great warrior. It was also during this period that she rejoined the Justice League of America and become their official team leader.

Things then took a dark turn for Black Canary's life. Following the events of the Justice League: Cry for Justice mini-series, she cut ties completely with her adopted family. She was estranged from her husband, having returned her wedding ring. She also apparently washed her hands of responsibility for Roy Harper, who returned to heroin use following the loss of an arm and the death of his daughter Lian in the Rise of Arsenal mini-series. The one bright side to all of this, from the fan perspective at least, was that Black Canary was now free to star in a new Birds of Prey series written by Gail Simone.

Sadly, this did not last and Birds of Prey was rebooted as part of DC Comics' New 52 line in September 2011, with the team now focusing on Dinah leading a team of anti-heroines while trying to prove herself innocent of a murder charge. The Dinah of the New 52 is Dinah Drake Lance, the original Golden Age character, erasing Dinah Laurel Lance and one of DC's few mother-daughter legacies.

The most familiar version of Black Canary to television viewers is probably the Smallville version, where she was introduced as a conservative radio host in her Secret Identity and a Lex Luthor minion in costume, recruited to stop the "terrorist" activities of Green Arrow. She eventually saw the light and joined the fledgling Justice League.

Alternately, Black Canary was a major, if secondary, character in the Justice League Unlimited animated series, where she was voiced by Morena Baccarin (a.k.a. Inara from Firefly). Appearing without a voice several times in the first season as an object of Green Arrow's attraction, her first speaking role came in the Season Two opener The Cat and the Canary. Black Canary's character in the three episodes she appeared in seemed very close to her portrayal in Birds of Prey, which is not surprising considering that one of these episodes ("Double Date") was written by Gail Simone.

Black Canary has also shown up several times in Batman: The Brave and the Bold, where she is voiced by Grey DeLisle. She had starring roles in "Mayhem of the Music Meister!" and "The Golden Age of Justice!", and had a lead role in "The Mask of Matches Malone!", which features an approximation of the Birds of Prey and was written by Gail Simone.

The character also appears regularly in Young Justice, voiced by Vanessa Marshall, as one of three main mentors and chief combat trainer for the Team, and turned up in the last minute or so of the Green Arrow animated short, where she essentially saved the day. Her prominence in both works is unsurprising given the involvement of Greg Weisman, who has readily admitted that Dinah is his favorite comic book character.

In early 2012, it was announced that The CW would be producing a series based on several of the Green Arrow characters called Arrow. While Dinah Lance (called "Laurel" in press releases) is a character in the show, there is no indication that she has super powers or martial arts training, prompting fears that she will once again be a regular Damsel in Distress for Green Arrow to save. Luckily, episode three has shown she does have some self-defense training, and she works for a firm called CNRI. It was also later confirmed that Laurel's mother, Dinah Drake Lance, will also appear. Season 2 of the show features a new character that interviews and casting have specifically called Black Canary, played by a different actress to the two characters listed above. That character ended up being Sara Lance, Laurel's sister in this version of the story. Having been on the boat with Oliver when it sank and went through many of the same struggles as Oliver, making her more of a Foil to him. She operates under the title of "Canary," splitting the Black Canary of the comics in two.

Black Canary provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Aborted Arc: Dwayne Mc Duffie initially had plans of Dinah going through confidence issues during his Justice League of America run, only for her to develop into a determined leader. Unfortunately, McDuffie was pulled from the title and the next writer decided to ignore most of McDuffie's storylines leaving Dinah OOC.
  • Action Girl: When written properly, Dinah is one of the best in The DCU.
  • Animal-Themed Superbeing: A type II "Animal Alias" variation.
  • Badass Biker: Both mother and daughter.
  • Badass Family: The second is the daughter of the first. The second is also considered to be a part of the Arrow family.
  • Badass Normal
    • Dinah Drake, who earned JSA Membership with no special powers whatsoever.
    • Dinah Lance, when she didn't have powers, also qualified.
  • Balls of Steel: In the Black Canary / Green Arrow wedding issue, Canary manages to land a kick on Deathstroke, but this trope is used as he angrily says that he's wearing over 50 pounds of body armor, so of course he's wearing a cup.
  • Battle Couple
    • Green Arrow and Black Canary.
    • Dinah Drake and Larry Lance could also count. Not officially a couple in their earliest stories, they nevertheless end up often fighting the bad guys together and do end up married later on.
  • Blasting It out of Their Hands: One possible use for The Canary Cry.
  • Bi the Way: Word of Simone is that she considers Dinah bisexual, and the infamous "Heterosexual to the bone" line was supposed to read "75% heterosexual" before placeholder dialog wound up in the final issue and changed the line from what she wanted, and was caused by simple confusion rather than Executive Meddling and Gay Panic.
  • Blonde Republican Sex Kitten: Black Canary on Smallville.
  • Bound and Gagged: One of the few ways to effectively deal with Black Canary. She can easily cripple a man with one limb or her mouth free.
  • Brains and Brawn: She's the Brawn when paired with Oracle.
  • Butt Monkey: Becomes this whenever she pairs with Green Arrow. Every. Single. God. Damn. Time. Their first pairing? Kidnapped by drug lords in a botched sting operation and physically tortured so badly she loses her fertility and her powers (which would eventually be restored). Rejoins Ollie after he gets resurrected? Her adopted daughter is kidnapped and Ollie himself makes her believe she's dead. Despite that, she still marries him - and proceeds to be reduced to a Damsel in Distress whose Canary Cry accidentally causes an innocent bystander's hearing loss. And then Ollie leaving to form a second Justice League team somehow devastates her so much that she breaks up the primary team that she the leader of. Suffice it to say, there are likely a lot of Birds of Prey fans who really really don't like seeing Dinah and Ollie together.
    • She kept this in Birds of Prey, what with being held hostage by Savant and stuff like that.
  • Canon Discontinuity: Andrew Kreisberg's above-mentioned Retcon of Dinah Lance's origin and Dinah Drake's feelings about her life as a superheroine had been steadily ignored by every writer to touch the character since. Indeed, his Retcon is officially Ret Gone as of Birds of Prey, Vol. 2, Issue 4, which says in no uncertain terms Dinah Lance knew about her mother's life as a superheroine and that Dinah Drake was proud of it. Indeed, the original Starman and Green Lantern took the younger Dinah flying as a toddler in a flashback that is also a Heartwarming Moment.
  • Captain Ersatz: Dinah has inspired quite a few of these.
    • Black Siren in the "Legends" episode of Justice League.
    • Lady Lark from Squadron Supreme.
    • Marvel's Mockingbird is often referred to as one due to being an acrobatic bird-themed love interest of an Archer superhero, though considering Mockingbird's origin, the fact the Mockingbird known now is a Composite Character of two different Marvel Characters (S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Dr. Bobbi Morse, and the unusued Spider-Woman villain Mockingbird), and the difference in fighting styles, personality, and powers, the similarities are mostly coincidental.
    • As detailed below, Silk Spectre owes some to her, too.
  • The Cast Showoff: In the Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode "Mayhem of the Music Meister", Grey DeLisle, her voice actor, got to show off her talented singing voice while playing Canary.
  • Chickification: Occurred under the pens of Judd Winick and Andrew Kreisberg.
  • Clark Kenting: A blonde wig really isn't that effective of a disguise, and later on she even ditches the wig and just dyes her hair blonde.
  • Color Character
  • Combat Stilettos: Very much a part of the original costume, the modern Black Canary has thankfully stuck to more sensible flat boots for the most part, although she is sometimes still drawn with them.
  • Depending on the Artist: Flats vs. heels, cleavage vs. no cleavage, jacket vs. no jacket vs. bolero jacket vs. longcoat.
  • Depending on the Writer: Black Canary's level of competence.
  • Domino Mask
    • Dinah Drake's original costume had one, but it was abandoned early on.
    • The Smallville version uses make-up around her eyes that is basically a painted Domino Mask.
    • Post-Crisis, pre-New52 comics will use the domino mask as a quick way to distinguish between Dinah Drake and Dinah Laurel Lance. In the Birds of Prey issue where Dinah Laurel closes one of Dinah Drake's unsolved cases, she wears her mother's costume to bring the crook in, and it includes the mask. (As well as a regular leotard and stiletto-heeled boots, as opposed to her usual leather and flat-soled boots.)
  • Dye Hard: Since the start of Birds of Prey, Dinah has dyed her hair blonde rather than use a wig.
  • Expy: Silk Spectre from Watchmen was one for Black Canary. While primarily based on the old Charlton Comics heroine Nightshade, Alan Moore said that he took the idea of a mother/daughter superheroine legacy from Black Canary and based the younger Silk Spectre's name (Laurie) off of the younger Black Canary's middle name (Laurel).
  • Fanservice: The Fishnets. Dear gods, The Fishnets. As noted in Depending on the Artist, some artists have her outfit showing plenty of cleavage. Occasionally the bottom of her uniform will be drawn as either being a thong at the back, or at the least be shown to be riding up quite a bit to emphasis her behind.
  • Faux Action Girl: Black Canary at her lowest points. The Judd Winick run in particular being notable for it.
  • Fights Like a Normal: She very rarely actually uses her sonic ability. Occasionally the writers like to justify this with things like "it makes her throat hurt" or the fact that it has a high chance of affecting innocent bystanders due to being, well, a scream that breaks windows. Some writers, such as Mike Grell, even outright just pretend it doesn't exist and write her as a Badass Normal.
    • In Justice League Unlimited this is justified by her mentioning that it would be lethal to most opponents (especially at close range) and that would of course go against the League's Thou Shalt Not Kill rule.
    • In Young Justice, she is the combat trainer for the teenage heroes. Lines like "Did Canary teach you that?" or "Thank you, Black Canary!" will occasionally pop up after a character has pulled off a particularly impressive bit of hand-to-hand combat.
  • Girls Need Role Models
    • Thanks to Birds of Prey and Gail Simone, probably one of the best and most recognized ones in The DCU today.
    • In-universe, Dinah acted as a mentor and martial-arts trainer to several other heroines — most notably Barbara Gordon (the first Batgirl), Stephanie Brown (the current Batgirl) and a three-year-old Lian Harper.
      Dinah: Lian, honey. Show Mr. Savage the finger trick Auntie Dinah taught you.
      Lian: Now?
      Dinah: Now.
      (Lian proceeds to snap Vandal Savage's thumb)
  • Groin Attack: One of Black Canary's favorite moves. Cheap, but effective.
  • Guys Smash, Girls Shoot: Inverted with her and Green Arrow.
  • Improvised Weapon: A specialty of Dinah Drake in Golden Age stories, particularly with thrown objects. She displayed uncanny accuracy with improvised weapons, no matter how improbable or unbalanced — including footwear, vases, bulky cameras, random cutlery, and pies. Curiously, while she demonstrates her amazing throwing skills often, neither she nor any other characters ever make particular note of it.
  • Irony as She Is Cast: In an episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Catwoman mockingly says that Black Canary being gagged is a good thing, as she apparently has a lousy singing voice. In real life, her voice-over actress, Grey DeLisle, is a professional singer (see The Cast Showoff).
  • It's All Junk: In Action Comics #609, Black Canary burns her (admittedly ugly) Eighties costume. Oddly, the costume had been established previously as fireproof. There were also several references to the awful Eighties costume in the Gail Simone run on Birds of Prey.
  • Kid Sidekick: Sin
  • Legacy Hero
    • Golden Age heroine Dinah Drake begets Modern Age heroine Dinah Laurel Lance.
    • Additionally, an African-American Black Canary appears as part of an alternate-future Justice League in Judd Winick's Justice League: Generation Lost series.
    • Interestingly, there's an African-American Black Canary in Supergirl & Batgirl: Elseworlds' Finest.
  • Make Me Wanna Shout: The Canary Cry practically makes her The Trope Namer. As it is, her picture is next to the definition.
  • Mama Bear: Dinah has a soft spot for children in general and will give extra helpings of pain to anyone responsible for endangering or harming them. But that's nothing compared to what she did and was ready to do for the League of Assassins members responsible for kidnapping her adopted daughter Sin.
  • Master Poisoner: Stinger, who was able to deliver a dose of curare exact enough to paralyse Black Canary's vocal cords without doing any additional harm to her.
  • Mrs. Robinson: When originally dating Green Arrow, she was the older of the two. She was a cougar before they had a word for it! On that note, it was highly implied that she had a one night stand with The Ray.
  • Ms. Fanservice
  • Not Wearing Tights
    • The Mike Grell run of Green Arrow.
    • Also, The Eighties costume.
    • And The Nineties costume for that matter.
    • Depending on the Artist, her suit sometimes isn't even tights at all, being a leotard-cut kevlar outfit with fishnets on occasion.
  • Official Couple: Green Arrow and Black Canary.
  • Old Master: In the Young Justice animated TV series, she's the team's official combat trainer. Old only relative to the teenaged heroes, of course; Word of God puts her at 24 in that universe.
  • Retcon: Used to create the two separate Black Canaries. Also used to great effect in Birds of Prey, by Gail Simone, to establish the origin of Dinah Laurel Lance's middle name and to give Dinah Drake a proto-Oracle sidekick in the form of Laurel — a librarian who helped the first Black Canary in a manner similar to how Barbara "Oracle" Gordon helps the new Black Canary.
  • Secret Identity: Despite abandoning any attempt at a disguise years ago and having a very public wedding to another superhero (whose own Secret Identity was a Millionaire Playboy and former mayor of a major city), Dinah has apparently managed to maintain one. Dinah was outed as Black Canary, as of Birds of Prey Volume 2, #2.
  • She's Got Legs: Damn straight.
  • Slut Shaming: She acts as if Green Arrow getting raped by Shado was him cheating on her, which was not helped when Oliver was retconned into being a womanizer, followed by another retcon in Blackest Night where the rape was indeed turned into consensual sex.
  • Stocking Filler: Black Canary wears fishnets.
  • Straw Feminist: Depending on the writer, Dinah can come off as one. This was her entire gimmick during her time in Justice League International.
  • Sudden Name Change: The original Black Canary, Dinah Drake-Lance, was later referred to as Diana Drake by some writers (Chuck Dixon in particular), presumably to differentiate her from her daughter.
  • Tap on the Head: EVERY SINGLE ISSUE of her Golden Age series. At some point in the story, Black Canary will be hit on the head and knocked unconcious.
  • Very Special Episode: Many of the "Hard Traveling Heroes" storylines from The Bronze Age of Comic Books.
  • Walking Techbane: Very few things intimidate her. Computers are one of them. Considering the company she keeps, this is often played for laughs.
  • Wedding Smashers: Naturally, villains attacked the Black Canary-Green Arrow wedding festivities.
  • We Would Have Told You, But...: Ollie fakes the death of Sin, Black Canary's adoptive daughter, and has her shipped off to a monastery, without telling Dinah so that her reactions will look natural. Never mind that Dinah's been established to be a better actor than he is. It also didn't help that Dinah — granting that she was under a good deal of stress — was portrayed as being irrational to the point of attacking her comrades when they suggested she needed to hold still for a moment and help them come up with a plan of attack. Ollie's plan wasn't a great one but he never got a chance to run it by Dinah before hand.
  • Women in Refrigerators: In The Longbow Hunters, Black Canary is captured, tortured and depowered solely for the purpose of giving Green Arrow a story-arc where he angsts over killing the men who were torturing her.