Tuesday, March 20, 2012
YEAR 1947: BLACK CANARY
Back in 1947 no one, even Black Canary's creators, could have anticipated how significant she would become to DC Comics.
As her first appearance above indicates, the Canary originally appeared as a foil to the JSA's daffiest member, genie-wielding Johnny Thunder. She was a female Robin Hood who sought to steal from wealthy crooks but appeared to possess no self-defense skills, though she's seen once holding a common pistol. Johnny was gaga over her but might not have been so besotted had he known her series would replace him in FLASH COMICS.
Once Black Canary had her own series, she dropped the Robin Hood schtick and picked up some fancy judo-fighting skills. All of her FLASH COMICS appearances, credited to Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino, are fast-paced action-thrillers. Many tough judo-girls had appeared in comic books prior to Canary, but she enjoyed a healthier run than the majority of martial-arts superheroines. Nevertheless, her brief appearances with the Justice Society team during that period probably contributed the most to her longevity. When Julius Schwartz revived many of the Society's stars during the Silver Age, the Canary was the only Golden Age heroine so revived. She was teamed with the hero Starman for a couple of adventures in the BRAVE AND THE BOLD comic, almost certainly as a "trial balloon" to determine if either had drawing-power with contemporary fans. At the time of her revival she was one of a very small number of heroines who depended entirely on physical skill rather than super-powers.
This changed when the Canary was inducted into DC's popular "Justice League" title. Despite the fact that the JLA included Batman, whose main feature was his merely mortal martial skill, writer Denny O'Neil decided to bestow a super-power on the character: a sonic "canary cry" which could blast enemies hither and yon. Though the addition may have been a little dubious at the time, it did help the character fit in with the hyper-powered DC universe a bit better. Most felicitously, the possession of a super-power in no way restricted the Canary's penchant for virtuoso violence.
Due to the many years during which Black Canary served in the Justice League, she became, after the fact, a founding member. When DC's 1980s CRISIS reboot eliminated Wonder Woman from the history of the JLA, the Canary was retroactively declared to have done all the things Wonder Woman had done in the original stories. Talk about filling large shoes!
The Canary doesn't seem to have been at her best in a solo feature since the 1940s, but as any DC reader ought to know, she gained an even more auspicious place in the company's history when a 1995 one-shot, BLACK CANARY/ORACLE: BIRDS OF PREY, became the template for a forthcoming series about DC's first all-female (at least most of the time) superhero group, the BIRDS OF PREY. Various female characters have come and gone from the feature in all of its incarnations (one of which is still currently on stands), but Black Canary and Oracle still comprise the characterizational core of the super-team.