Black Canary: Where Do I Start?

With or without her Canary Cry, with or without her trademark fishnets, DC’s Black Canary is a force to be reckoned with.  Formerly the leader of the Justice League and currently leading up the New 52-era Birds of Prey squad, this heroine that Denny O’Neill once dubbed the Girl Gladiator is a key part of the DCU and one of superhero comics’ most definitive female icons. And she’s more than just a blonde street-fighter, and in near 70 years she’s been in comics she’s had a whirlwind of adventures as a solo star, a team member, and alongside her one-time husband Green Arrow.

Debuting in the pages of 1947′s Flash Comics #86, the original Black Canary (Dinah Drake) was introduced by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino as a super-hero working undercover to infiltrate a criminal gang. Originally nothing more than a supporting character to the Johnny Thunder serial, in just a couple months the Black Canary took over that feature spot and had her origin fleshed out as a raven-haired florist who was dating a Gotham City police detective named Larry Lance. Dinah joins the top superhero team of the time, the Justice Society of America, and becomes one of its staunchest members. This original Black Canary and her beau Larry Lance eventually married, giving birth to a daughter named Dinah Lance. Although this younger Dinah grew up surrounded by the JSA as friends of the family, her mother — the original Black Canary — forbade her from becoming a crime-fighter, which led to her going out on her own and learning how to fight from various experts such as Wildcat, eventually becoming, according to Oracle, superior to Batman in pure fighting. Eventually taking up her mother’s mantle as Black Canary, the younger Dinah joined the Justice League of America and even served as its leader for a time. She’s best known, however, as one of the founders of the female-centric team the Birds of Prey, co-founded with Oracle and Huntress.

The Black Canary Archives, Vol. 1: As the sole solo comic collection of Black Canary stories by DC so far (hint hint), this Archive Edition is by default one of the best places to go to get started with her. Good thing they had some great comics to include in this. This collection focuses on the original iteration, Dinah Drake, with her run in the back-up stories of Flash Comics in the late 40s and on to a great assortment of solo and team-up stories from the 60s and 70s. Included in this is the iconic story writer/artist Alex Toth did from Adventure Comics, summing up the fighting spirit of Dinah without pulling back on the inherent sexiness of the costume and the character.

Birds Of Prey: Of Like Minds: This collection pulls together the first set of stories from the Birds of Prey series by writer Gail Simone, who can be pointed to as Black Canary’s definitive writer in the modern era.  This collection shows Dinah and Oracle trying to bring the Huntress back in the fold while also squaring off with Savant. Although people might associate Green Arrow as Black Canary’s best partner, I’d throw that off and point to Oracle (now Batgirl again) as the best team-mate Dinah could ever have and this story shows that.

Green Arrow / Black Canary: For Better Or Worse: This 2007 collection by DC aims to pull together the various threads of Dinah’s relationship with Green Arrow into a single cohesive package, and while it’s far from perfect it is the best standalone look at their partnership and courtship. Instead of merely collecting an assortment of BC/GA stories, DC editors went for something unique and collected snippets and pieces of various stories in trying to draw out a larger narrative. Although it fails to show their first glimmer of romance from Green Lantern / Green Arrow, it does hit on most of the other highs and lows of their relationship from 1969 to 2007.

JLA Year One: Black Canary’s role in the Justice League is overlooked by most in the modern era, but she remains a key pillar in the team for me and loads of other fans. This great miniseries by Mark Waid, Brian Augustyn and Barry Kitson boils down the essentials of the team in a revamped origin that bravely (and almost defiantly) keeps Batman and Superman’s role to a minimum and focuses on Black Canary, Martian Manhunter and other characters who usually sit in their shadows. Waid really does a lot to flesh out Dinah Lance here, as a member of the JLA but also someone with allegiance and respect for their predecessors in the JSA.

Black Canary / Oracle / Huntress, Birds Of Prey: Complicated title, but easy description — the founding of the Birds of Prey. At first this was merely a one-time team-up, but it soon steamrolled into something special and long-lasting. Written by Chuck Dixon (who went on to write the title for several years), he positioned Black Canary as an empassioned and optimistic hero who found the former Batgirl Barbara Gordon, now working under the moniker or Oracle, an idea counter-point and support system to carry out her goals.