Fists and Fishnets: Celebrating the Golden Age Black Canary
You'd never have known the Black Canary was going to be so important. On June 11, 1941, a new character appeared in Flash Comics. She wasn't introduced in the "Flash" strip that gave the anthology it's name, or the co-headliner "Hawkman." She made her debut in a six-page "Johnny Thunder" story, by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino.
Canary is introduced as a femme fatale to play off of the hapless Johnny. She's a criminal, but she only steals from other criminals, putting her in a morally gray area that makes Johnny a little uncomfortable, and for which his magical Thunderbolt genie (who was always smarter than Johnny himself) has even less patience.
The most memorable thing about Canary at first is her striking appearance. She's drawn to look like movie star Veronica Lake, with her hair in those unmistakable blonde waves. She's dressed in bold shades of blue, with a bolero jacket, high-heeled buccaneer boots, and blue fishnet stockings. There have been times in her history when Black Canary has gone without fishnets, but she's been associated with them from day one, and still is. She wore a mask in that first appearance, but soon abandoned it.
Black Canary became a regular feature in Johnny's strip, and six issues later, in Flash Comics #92, she replaced him entirely. Johnny Thunder wouldn't reappear until the Justice Society's Silver Age return, and Black Canary got a feature all to herself. It was even celebrated on the cover of the issue, which is more than Johnny ever got.
This was 1948, and superheroes were already on the wane. Trying new things, and specifically highlighting female characters, was a common element of publishers' efforts to revive interest.
Now that Black Canary had her own stories, her character could be fleshed out considerably. Dinah Drake was a florist by day, and a brunette. She donned the Veronica Lake wig as part of her crime-fighting costume. She also got a new love interest. Goofball Johnny Thunder never stood a chance with her, but handsome two-fisted detective Larry Lance was a perfect match.
Black Canary also joined the Justice Society of America, with Wonder Woman's sponsorship, as their second official female member and the last new member of the Golden Age.
The contrast between Dinah Drake and Diana Prince, easily the two most important female DC superheroes of the Golden Age --- and two of the most important of all time --- is an interesting one. Wonder Woman steps directly out of Greek Myth, with a dash of sci fi thrown in, while Black Canary is a street-level brawler. Wonder Woman is the product of her creators' radical politics; Black Canary is rooted in the popular culture of the day. Wonder Woman has a wide array of powers, but all Black Canary has is her wits and her fists.
As time went on, Black Canary got more complicated. She was reintroduced in the Silver Age with the rest of the Justice Society, but she was the only Golden Age member who eventually crossed over to Earth One and joined the Justice League. Along the way, she gained the "canary cry" sonic powers that have been associated with the character ever since. With the death of Larry Lance (who she had eventually married), she found romance with fellow Justice Leaguer Green Arrow.
But then it turned out that the Black Canary of the JLA had never been the same one from the JSA. Rather, she was her own daughter, with implanted memories. Bronze Age DC was pretty weird.
After Crisis on Infinite Earths, things were made simpler. One Earth, two Black Canaries, no shared memories. Dinah Laurel Lance had taken up the mantle of her mother, Dinah Drake Lance.
In recent years, various versions of Black Canary have found their way into television and animation. In the comics she broke up with Green Arrow, teamed up with Barbara Gordon to form the Birds of Prey, and later got back together with Green Arrow. As part of DC You she starred in a twelve issue series by Brenden Fletcher and Annie Wu, in which she was the lead singer of a touring band. DC Rebirth saw her reunited with both Green Arrow and the Birds of Prey. Everything old is new again.
Her debut in that issue of Flash Comics may not have felt very auspicious, but she has become one of DC's most iconic characters. And it all started with that Veronica Lake wig and those fishnet stockings.
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