Today, Mark and Spencer are discussing Black Canary 8, originally released February 10th, 2016.
Mark: One of the privileges of adulthood is the opportunity to choose your family. Even if you love your immediate family, the family that raised you, as you grow older and move away you build another sort of family — a family comprised of friends, romantic partners, mentors, work colleagues, and so forth. This new family is your social circle, the ones your rely on on a day-to-day basis as an adult. No matter your childhood, this chosen family is an essential part of being an adult, of being independent.
The great gift and the great tragedy of life is that people can flit in and out of our lives seemingly at a whim. I moved to LA with no job and no friends, but have lucked into the most wonderful circle of human beings imaginable. Still, some friends with whom I was once super close have become more like acquaintances, and through no fault of either party. What can you do? Life moves you in one direction, and your friend in another. So even in adulthood, as much as we choose our family, life still finds a way to intervene.
Black Canary 8 speaks a lot about Dinah’s family history. We learn her mother was the world’s greatest martial artist, a woman who created a place for learning martial arts and then left it all behind to start a family. But when an unnamed, powerful evil threatened her school, Dinah’s mom leaves to set things right. Now with her mother still missing, Dinah is being recruited by her Aunt to help her take down the evil forces in the school and find the whereabouts of her mother. But throughout this book Dinah has never really been alone. Over the past seven issues, her Black Canary bandmates have grown to be her surrogate family.
The great weakness of Brenden Fletcher’s writing, then, is that the band members have never really grown into anything beyond their archetype introductions. Black Canary 8 doesn’t feature any scenes of the band performing, and it feels like we’ve gotten away from what made this book unique compared to other hero stories in the DC lineup. What started as a fresh take on a superhero is becoming more and more rote, right down to the seemingly obligatory secret ninja cult and mysterious family past.
Dinah’s relationship with the people in her life are hardly ever explored either, and that’s partially because there’s no time when nearly every line of dialogue isn’t an exposition dump. If there’s one thing every character in Black Canary 8 can agree on, it’s ‘why show the reader something when they can talk about it?’ Like Vixen’s Totem, which gets a paragraph of exposition dedicated to it:
This feels unnecessary, even for those unfamiliar with Vixen’s powers, and could easily have been omitted since Vixen uses her Totem a few pages later and it’s very apparent what its properties are.
So despite a large amount of dialogue, in the end when Dinah chooses her new family — her friends — over her blood relative (if the woman claiming to be her aunt is telling the truth), there’s no weight to the moment because what she’s sacrificing emotionally with her decision is unclear. Dinah has been a bit of a blank slate in Black Canary, and nothing this issue changes that. It certainly doesn’t help that she spends most of the issue silent, and when she does talk it’s mostly to deliver kiss-off lines to whomever she’s beating up.
Did this one work better for you than it did for me, Spencer? I completely neglected to mention Sandy Jarrell’s art this issue, though it’s really the color work of Lee Loughridge that makes this feel a piece of the greater Black Canary whole.
Spencer: Absolutely, Mark. Colorists really are essential in keeping books feeling consistent even in the face of shifting artistic teams (with the most obvious example probably being Ronda Pattison’s work on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), and Loughridge has been doing a fine job of that in Black Canary. Loughridge’s color choices immediately bring previous issues of this series to the reader’s mind, be it through the pale, more faded pallet he uses for most of the issue, or the more extreme choices he makes in action sequences.
Yup, that’s classic Black Canary, all right.
As for Jarrell, I think she does a fine job with this issue. Her art feels like a natural fit for this series’ aesthetic, taking on elements from previous artists (such as Pia Guerra’s clean line-work and Annie Wu’s frenetic energy) and marrying them into something that feels both different and original. My favorite aspect of Jarrell’s work, though, is her action sequences.
They’re not necessarily smooth or tightly choreographed, but I can feel the power behind her attacks. That punch in the second panel there especially looks like it smarts, and the angle of her attack and the stiff-ness of her arm sells the power she packs behind that open palm. The most important aspect of a Black Canary title is probably selling Dinah as a badass, and Jarrell’s got that down pat.
When it comes to the story, though, I’m sad to admit that I’m in agreement with Mark. There’s a lot of little elements that don’t work, and it makes the entire issue feel messy. Dinah and her “aunt’s” plan, for example, makes almost no sense to me. I don’t necessarily think Mark is right when he identifies this issue’s central conflict as being about Dinah choosing between her biological family and the one she made, because she barely seems to be thinking about her band at all until it’s too late.
I’m going to assume from context that Dinah entered into her Aunt Rena’s plan willingly, so if she’s so concerned about keeping her bandmates from worrying and coming to her aid, shouldn’t she have said something to them before she left? Maybe tell them she was taking on a mission, or lie about her whereabouts, or even quit the band? Escaping the compound was a last-second, impulse decision, so for her to only think about her bandmates then doesn’t make it look like she actually cares all that much about them — certainly not as much as she claims to.
And again, Dinah’s escape doesn’t seem to be motivated by her new family, but by Vixen’s pleas. In that sense, Dinah’s choice is to either follow the infiltration plan of an aunt she just met, or the escape plan of a hero she barely knows. It’s not exactly a compelling conflict, made even worse by the fact that we know almost nothing about Dinah and Rena’s plan or the cult they’re attempting to take down. Details matter, especially when it comes to establishing stakes; the lack of any definable stakes leaves the central conflict of this issue feeling awfully toothless.
It also makes Dinah look particularly ineffective and easily-influenced. Dinah abandons her infiltration mission due to Vixen pointing out that Rena might not be her Aunt; did Dinah really not consider that possibility before taking on this mission, especially considering that Rena had basically kidnapped her at the end of issue 7? Dinah also seems to abandon the mission as soon as she sees Vixen in danger; it’s heroic, but it doesn’t feel like something a seasoned spy/secret agent working undercover would do. Dinah isn’t invested at all in taking this cult down, so why should the readers be? Honestly, Dinah just seems to be following the command of whatever character’s talked to her most recently, and that’s so not Black Canary. I expect her to have more conviction than that.
It’s a real shame this issue’s story is such a mess, because there are a few worthwhile ideas hidden away in here. Unlike Mark, I really like the idea of Black Canary (the band) working as Kurt’s agents; it allows the series’ musical aspect to stay front-and-center, provides a reason for them to keep getting involved in larger-than-life situations, and also keeps the door open to a wide variety of threats for the band to face. It won’t be much help to this series, though, if these missions end up as poorly conceived as the one in this issue, and that legitimately worries me.
I’m also quite fond of Fletcher’s take on Vixen. Cut out the overly-expository dialogue and you’ve got a surprisingly fleshed-out character, a hero who’s cultured and perhaps a bit arrogant, yet strong, moral, and caring as well. In fact, it’s Vixen who leads to Black Canary 8‘s best moment:
This moment does a great job of making both Vixen and Black Canary look good, and it’s such a charming, powerful example of women finding strength in each other, something comics can always use more of. One of the best aspects of Fletcher’s DC books is their numerous complex female relationships, and Dinah/Mari could easily be the next addition to that list. I would love to see an attempt to spin Vixen out of this book the way Black Canary was spun out of Batgirl — I just hope the messiness of this issue doesn’t screw up her chances.
Actually, as someone who’s followed all three of Fletcher’s current DC books from their beginning, I’m starting to get the impression that Fletcher might work best as a “big idea” kind of writer, as someone who can come up with killer concepts but needs a partner to help effectively execute them. Gotham Academy‘s last few issues, without co-writer Becky Cloonan, have been some of its weakest, and likewise, Black Canary — where Fletcher has neither a co-writer nor a consistent artistic partner — is easily the weakest of Fletcher’s titles. That’s not to say it’s a bad book, as I’ve loved more than a few issues of Black Canary and plenty of individual moments and ideas, but it does make it an inconsistent one, and sadly, issue 8 is just a weak installment.
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