To be perfectly honest, I’ve been worried about Black Canary #1. Putting Dinah into a band is the kind of thing that’s cute when it’s a Bombshell statue but sounds like it could be an overzealous attempt to recapture the youthful electricity of Batgirl when it’s the basis for a series. Brenden Fletcher seemed like a perfect choice to give DC’s biggest badass a new ongoing, but the Dinah we met in Batgirl was a little too angry to get an honest sense of and, with all the focus on the rock and roll polish, would there be enough Black Canary in Black Canary? I’m almost certain that fans of the character, and even more neglecting to admit that they couldn’t care less about her, have been quick to raise these concerns, but here’s the truth: Black Canary rocks.
While the hook of putting the DC Universe’s most powerful roar into a Burnside band is front and center, Brenden Fletcher delivers a rollicking, character-driven first chapter that is strengthened, but not defined, by its rock and roll high-concept. Jumping between perspectives – reviewers, Dinah, her bandmates – sounds like a risky move but Fletcher makes it look effortless and efficient. The simplicity of the band’s dynamic is immediately available to the reader, but Fletcher imbues each of his characters with the same understated reality as the people you know. In fact, one of the greatest strengths of this issue is its attention to the inner life that’s left unsaid. He seems utterly unafraid to turn the storytelling over to Annie Wu at crucial moments and the book benefits from this greatly. Our first look at Dinah in the flesh is quiet and ambiguous, the opposite of much rock and roll showmanship and superhero action alike, but it feels like reality rather than faux profundity because Fletcher and Wu are willing to let “D.D.” fear and to fear without releasing her power.
I’m also already coming to love Dinah’s bandmates. Lord Byron is especially real and her will to succeed is present without driving out her other character traits. She’s a great grounding character who doesn’t feel like the book mom. Ditto is obviously one of the most important characters and the member of Black Canary who gets the least direct characterization. Nonetheless, the mystery surrounding her is strong enough to get me invested and the protective feelings her bandmates harbor for her help make this book what it is. I will say that the world at large seems oddly unfazed by this prepubescent guitar virtuoso and that’s a little weird, but it’s not like it goes entirely unmentioned and maybe that would be normal in a world of Supermen.The weak link this issue is Paloma, who plays a familiar role in creating tension within the band. Despite the relative lack of development, I suspect that Paloma will be one of my favorite characters before long, as her down to earth sensibility seems fun and interesting. I also think that there’s plenty of potential for Heathcliff, the band’s fresh-faced, pompadoured merch guy, who, despite his low billing, steals a bit of the show by enabling one of Dinah’s best scenes.
The villains of the piece are not the standard Black Canary fair, but they essentially justify Annie Wu’s artwork all on their own. Our unnamed antagonists look fantastic and prove worthy of D.D.’s martial prowess. While it’s not what fans of the character have come to expect, the story does a strong job of making it feel natural.
There’s a little more Lady Gaga in Black Canary than I would have expected, but its hard to remember the last time a DC superheroine looked this different or this expressive and that spreads out to each of the characters, male and female. Moreover, these characters just look great. The designs are pleasing to the eye and the characters read through the visuals as much as through the writing.
This whole issue just looks cool and it does so in a way that makes me think that ten years from now I’ll still think the same. Annie Wu packs this comic with movement, subtle things that make panels. The physicality and performance of Dinah’s life is present in the art and the former comes out in full force when it’s finally time to see her in action. Though it won’t go down as the most brilliant fight choreography in comics, Black Canary’s attention to the flow of battle does its heroine justice and makes good on Fletcher and Wu’s promise that Dinah’s skill would be a focal point of her character, not just in speech but in action.
Lee Loughridge’s colors are fascinating, using swaths of single colors to give the impression of a rock show and communicate all kinds of clever hints to the reader.
As a debut issue, Black Canary #1 hits essentially all of the necessary beats. We get to know our characters, set up an engaging mystery, and sample the tone of the series to come. It’s neither too wordy nor too vague and the script allows Annie Wu to show off what she can bring to the book as well. The issue ends rather abruptly and it would probably have helped new readers if Fletcher had snuck in a reminder that Dinah’s house burned down in Batgirl #35, but, when that’s a serious issue with a comic, you’re not in a bad place.
Some will wonder if they need to have read Batgirl or still do, but the simple fact of the matter is that this isn’t a Batgirl spinoff, Black Canary more than stands on its own.
It’s probably just nostalgia, as the tone and designs are rather different, but Dinah’s battle with her mysterious pursuers reminds me just a little bit of classic Sailor Moon Youma, what with their transformation from odd but seemingly normal humans, melodramatic dialogue, and fairly one-sided battle structure.
Black Canary #1 is a great first issue, by far the best of the DC You launches I’ve read so far. The tone is strong and unified through both writing and artwork and it’s all supplemented by some fantastically well-thought out character work. Every reasonable concern I had about this series has been quieted, if not explicitly answered. Though the series isn’t an absolute must-read the way books like Saga or Hawkeye have been, it seems destined to claw its way to the top of more than one pull list. If Black Canary represents the direction that DC will take in their handling of classic characters, I think DC You will be remembered fondly.