Today, Mark and Drew are discussing Black Canary 1, originally released June 17th, 2015.
Mark: It’s well-worn wisdom that you can’t run away from your past. Humans are an accumulation of their past experiences, no matter how much we wish it weren’t so. And if that’s true for real-life humans, you know it’s doubly true for fictional characters. Any character setting out to start a new life will invariably have their past catch up with them.
Now using the alias D.D., Dinah Lance is on the road with the fortuitously named band Black Canary as their lead singer. But whether it’s the sins of the past coming back to haunt her, or if trouble just has a way of finding her, Black Canary can’t seem to make it through a show without D.D. taking out some baddies.
Writer Brenden Fletcher (riding solo here after working with Cameron Stewart on the similar-in-spirit [if not content] Batgirl) throws us right into the middle of things with Black Canary 1. When the story begins, D.D. is already a member of the band, she’s already signed a contract with a record label, she’s already kind of unhappy. It’s nice to skip over the “how” and “why” of Dinah getting involved with Black Canary, but the downside to this approach is that the other members of the band remain vaguely sketched. We know that Paloma is perturbed by D.D., Heathcliff is kind of the lovably klutz/potential love interest for D.D., Byron is nice (I guess?), and Ditto has a mysterious past. Obviously there are potentially many, many future issues to flesh out their characterizations a little more, but this issue coasts purely on the momentum of plot. But, to play my own devil’s advocate, if you were a new reader and not familiar with Dinah Lance as a character you could argue that the focus on D.D. is enough to orient us.
So why is D.D. doing this? There’s a quiet moment in the issue just before a show where she’s talking with Heathcliff. He wants to know if she likes being in Black Canary, and her only response is that she’s good at it. She’s doing this because she needs the money to rebuild her life and, awesomely, to build a karate dojo. Although I can’t help but feel that someone with Dinah’s past couldn’t find an easier way to make a lot of money, and quick? On the other hand, it’s not hard to understand narratively why the idea of “Dinah Lance in a rock band” is perhaps the most appealing.
Working with artist Annie Wu and colorist Lee Loughridge, the Fletcher does a good job overall of showing us pertinent details rather than telling. One of the best examples is D.D.’s introduction in the issue. Cloaked in badass attire, she takes a moment to wordlessly examine her bruised knuckles. Though sometimes the show-don’t-tell philosophy leads to a little confusion, like when D.D. notices the monsters in the audience coming for Ditto.
I’m just not entirely clear what’s going on here. I think Ditto’s supernatural guitar playing skills are causing something to emanate out over the audience and remove the monsters’ disguises, but it’s all a bit too messy for me to be sure. And is D.D. the only one that can see the transformation? Earlier in the issue, color is used more effectively to indicate flashbacks without the need for explanation, alternating between purple for the present and orange for the past. I mean, despite some minor faults it’s a good looking book, no doubt.
What’d you think, Drew? I seem to recall you liked Fletcher and Stewart’s run on Batgirl. Is Black Canary giving you similar vibes? Were you able to make more sense of Ditto’s powers than I was?
Drew: It’s a disorienting moment, for sure, but I think it’s meant to be. Dinah’s “What the –” is quickly followed by the realization that those circles are emanating from Ditto’s guitar (a visual we were actually introduced to earlier in the issue) as Dinah asks “…Ditto?” She doesn’t know what’s going on, so we don’t either. We can see that these “people” are actually disguised monsters, and that Ditto is somehow exposing them, but any further details are left to our imagination. Indeed, Fletcher plays with our expectations just a bit — when these aliens are first introduced, it’s easy to assume their target is Dinah, just because she’s a super-hero.
But actually, what impressed me most about that scene in particular was the graphic clarity of everything. We may not understand why Ditto’s guitar can de-mask aliens, or whether anybody else can see them, but we can follow along with the emotional beats without any dialogue. That’s a skill that comes in increasingly handy as the scene moves into a largely wordless action sequence.
Wu’s has long been a fantastic storyteller, and her immaculate choices are on full display here, but I mostly want to focus on Loughridge’s use of color throughout this sequence. There’s a diegetic explanation for the hot/cold contrast we see throughout the sequence — the stage is well-lit, while the rest of the club is appropriately dim — but it also sets up a simple colorful shorthand between Dinah (always in orange/yellow) and he monsters (always in blue). That mix of color makes the page pop, but I’m most impressed with the third panel on the second page here, where Loughridge breaks that rule, surrounding the monsters in yellow, and coloring Dinah in shades of blue. It’s a subtle way to show how close these characters are in space, and makes for one hell of an image.
As much as I love the art, though, I can definitely see where you’re coming from about not getting quite enough exposition. That conversation you mentioned Dinah having with Heathcliff about why she’s even in the band is a great one for establishing her motives, but it happens oddly late in the issue. Indeed, it happens after Byron confronts Dinah about all the violence, asking if they should maybe throw in the towel. Without any understanding of Dinah’s investment in the group, it’s hard to feel much tension there. Does she actually want to be in this band, or what?
Ultimately, I don’t think those concerns matter — this issue mostly acted as set-up for Dinah’s new motive: protect Ditto. I can’t claim to know what form the next issue will take, but I’m almost certain it will have a clear sense of purpose from the start. I enjoyed this issue plenty even with its more shaggy aspects, but I can’t wait to see what this creative team can do now that the pieces are in place.
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