I’ll admit it, I was wrong. When we first heard that a new Black Canary series would star Dinah Lance fronting an indie-rock band, I rolled my eyes and took no notice. It felt like a forced-concept akin to Josie and the Pussycats with superheroics thrown in for good measure. It almost harked in the early days of Dazzler, a comic giant trying to be “hip and cool” with the kids by publishing a series inspired by the emerging musical culture of the time. Back in the 70s, it was disco and nowadays, it’s indie-rock. The project seemed like the industry trying to be “with it” without having realised that “it” changed on a regular basis. Having just binged the first seven issues, I take it all back. Brenden Fletcher and Annie Wu have created something very special and you need to rock out to it.
Dinah Lance is another DC character who never seemed to find her footing in the New 52. The once universally revered Birds of Prey title quickly fell into disrepute and was unceremonious cancelled. She featured in a Team 7 book which turned her origin story into an M. Night Hyamalan plot. She also appeared in All-Star Batman and Robin, but the less said about that the better. Lately she’s been hanging out over in Burnside with Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl (also penned by Brendan Fletcher interestingly enough)and has been on the mend. The titular Black Canary is Dinah’s new band which gets involved in a conspiracy involving a little girl called Ditto with a mysterious control over sound itself. Issue 7 culminates the series’ first story arc as revelations regarding their mysterious corporate benefactors emerge as they battle the Quietus.
Fletcher has developed each member of the band over the last seven issues and while, much remains to be explored, we have a firm sense of who they are and what they stand for. Naturally, they embody a variety of the characteristics of the musician archetypes and that starkly contrast with Dinah’s less traditional experiences. Lord Boyne and Paloma grew up together and the original third member Bo Maeve of their band was expelled by the record label. Dinah was forced upon them by their corporate masters and so their initial ambivalence towards her is totally understandable. There is a wonderful “Behind the Music” feel to the arc that gives us an understand of how this band came to be and what they had to do or sacrifice to get where they are. Their experiences over the course of the first arc help to transform their opinion of Dinah and manifest as a willingness to become heroes in their own right. Likewise, Dinah’s initial reluctance to be a rock-star gives way as she begins to care more and more about her band mates. The spectre of the past has been a constant theme throughout the series and each of the characters are haunted by what’s come before. For Dinah, this results in a cathartic attitude and the simple desire to be able to make enough money to get by. She still stands up for the little guy, but its often on a smaller scale. It’s the personal stakes that matter here, something that writers often forget in their rush to give their take on Darkseid. Fletcher has done an excellent job of making the intersection between superheroism and music stardom feel like a natural evolution of her character. Plus, if we are being honest, Dinah’s classic Black Canary costume makes much more sense if she’s a rock-star, even if naming your band after your old code-name isn’t the best way to keep a low profile.
Fletcher makes a number of interesting choices which set this comic apart from its contemporaries. The incorporation of music critique pieces into the narrative as a representation of the songs we can’t hear is an incredibly clever mechanism for having a comic ostensibly about a rock band simulate the feeling of a concert without any actual songs being included. It gives a level of authenticity to the suggestion that these characters are a real band striving to make their way in the music world, despite their superheroic misadventures. Should they release an accompanying playlist for the comic, it’d probably go to the top of my Spotify.
The notion that the record company itself is a source of suspicion, engaging in shady business throughout the arc is an entertaining way of engaging in a sub-textual discussion of the constraining influence of mainstream record labels on an artist;s creativity within the music industry. The clash between corporate and artistic approaches to music have been raging of a longtime, but artists such as Tailor Swift and Adele have renewed the debate in recent years. Whether that was Fletcher’s intent or not, it’s an interesting way to view a comic where a battle of the bands can often take a literally meaning.
Annie Wu’s interiors resemble a living album cover. The artwork is one of contrasts, with the subdued colours of ordinary like, illuminated by the neon of a rock concert. Wu’s work on Archie illustrated her ability to convey realistic emotions in a heavily stylised, but believable manner. Black Canary allows her to produce some innovative approaches to fight scenes, with one memorable instance sees Wu substituting physical strikes for guitar chords and another features the silhouettes of combatants being displayed against sheet music. The choreography as a whole feel like being in the middle of the mosh pit in terms of the sheer physicality involved. Wu’s work on Black Canary is dynamic with panels flowing seemingly into each other, which give it an animated effect.There is nothing that looks like this on the market at the moment and Wu excels in this experimental approach unconstrained by the established orthodoxies of the form. Music is the heart and soul of the book and it creeps into the very artwork itself, almost as if it panels themselves were a song.
Wonderfully dedicated to the memory of the David Bowie, Black Canary #7 is epitome of how to innovate within the medium while still being able to appeal to a broad readership. It doesn’t feel the need to ram continuity down our throats and is content to let the strength of the book alone carry itself. It’s a comic about music without having it seem like a gimmick to make it stand out or appeal to fans of The Wicked + The Divine, ending on a banger of a cliffhanger that will leave you eager to hear Fletcher and Wu’s next EP. Black Canary is much like the niche indie-bands it is so heavily inspired by; a gem you might not have heard of, but you’ll definitely enjoy.
A review copy was kindly provided by the publisher. Black Canary Vol. 1: Kicking and Screaming will be available for purchase on March 3rd.