It’s 1947. The second world-war is over but the cold war is just beginning. Critics rave about David Lean’s film adaptation of Great Expectations. Or, for the more lighthearted movie-goer, Miracle on 34th Street and Friz Freleng’s animated Rabbit Transit also hit the big screens.
In the world of comics, things were changing. The distant moans and groans of the emerging horror genre could be heard with the publication of Avon Periodicals’ Eerie #1. Timely Comics cancelled their All-Winners title with issue #21. Timely’s rival National/DC cancelled their More Fun Comics title with issue #127. And, in a sad turn of events, Wonder Woman’s creator, William Moulton Marston, died. He was only 53. But, just as this pioneer of super-heroines died, a new super-heroine, the brainchild of Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino, was on her way. She didn’t carry a magical lasso. Instead, she was a martial arts expert who looked great in a blonde wig.
Golden Age Black Canary – A Thundering Origin
Proving that behind every good woman is a goofy jackass, the Black Canary, AKA Dina Drake, started out as a supporting character in Johnny Thunder’s monthly stories in Flash Comics. For those unfamiliar with Golden Age Johnny Thunder, Johnny is an exceptionally lucky, if clumsy, guy who can summon a genie-esque, sentient thunderbolt whenever Johnny says the words “say you.” If you’re wondering, yes, Johnny Thunder comics are about as good as they sound. Luckily, though, the Black Canary ditched Mr. Thunder for her own monthly title by 1948 and never looked back.
Instead of the hackneyed Johnny Thunder tailing after her, with Flash Comics #92 and the first solo appearance of Black Canary, readers meet Larry Lance. Lance is a down-on-his-luck private eye who works out of Dinah Drake’s flower shop to save money on rent. And, though he works with Black Canary on every single case, he doesn’t figure out that Dinah and Black Canary are the same woman … some private eye.
Golden Age Black Canary – Feminist in Fishnets
One interesting element that came out of having Black Canary start out as a supporting character to Johnny Thunder was the power dynamic that her relationships with men presented. Rather than the chauvinistic, if traditional, story of a beautiful woman acting as either an object of passion for the male lead (Betty Dean, Rathia, Betsy Ross) or as his charming but generally brainless assistant (Namora, Lady Dorma, Betsy Ross), the old power dynamic is turned on its head. Instead, Black Canary is the able-bodied and brilliant investigator. Her male counterparts are just window dressing or unwitting victims of her enemies.
It’s also worth noting that rather than having special powers, the Golden Age Black Canary just beats guys up. Much like Golden Girl (Betsy Ross’s super-pseudonym), she just knows how to kick butt, but unlike Golden Girl she has no bulletproof clothing.
Golden Age Black Canary – Split Personality
More than some of her contemporaries, the Golden Age Black Canary’s superheroine persona seems rooted in a desire to escape from her official identity as Dinah Drake. Unlike other super-folk, Batman for one, the Black Canary isn’t on a crusade against crime. Instead, she seems to get a thrill out of her super-job. That her crime-fighting garb consists of a blonde wig, leather jacket, black bathing suit, fishnets, and utility choker (not belt) definitely supports this notion. And, though these costume elements are the result of springing from a generally chauvinistic medium (Golden Age comics), Dinah Drake’s transformation into the Black Canary reads as a sloughing off of patriarchy in favor of her own sense of unbridled sensuality.
Instead of donning a suit of armour and doing battle with the night, Black Canary seems as if she’s connecting with a secret and sensual part of herself every time she dons her fishnets. Dinah Drake’s tightly wound black bun is replaced by a flowing blonde shoulder-length wig and her all-business personality as a semi-successful florist makes way for that of a kickass martial arts expert freed by the night, or the wig — it’s hard to say.