REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS BLACK CANARY
I'll have to readily admit here that I'm not the world's biggest Black Canary fan. Relative to other DC super-heroines -- Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl -- she's just never seemed all that prominent. When I first encountered her in the pages of Justice League of America -- more years ago than I'm inclined to admit -- I wasn't even sure who she was. I readily recognized Batman, Superman, Flash, Green Arrow -- who was the blonde with the leather jacket and fishnet stockings? And what sort of name is Black Canary?
Admittedly, even now, the character is not on my top list of favorites. She's had, to put it mildly, a convoluted history. However, I have to admit that she is more prominent in the DC Universe than I realized, with her involvement with the Justice League, and certainly with Green Arrow. So, when Mattel decided to make her a part of their excellent line of DC Universe Classics action figures, making her the female representative of Series 9, I figured I really should add her to my collection.
Let's see what Wikipedia has to say about the background of Black Canary.
Black Canary was created by writer Robert Kanigher and artist Carmine Infantino. The character first appeared in Flash Comics #86 (August 1947).
Black Canary is noted for her martial arts skills and her "Canary Cry" – a high powered, sonic scream with the ability to shatter objects and incapacitate villains. Among the first generation of superheroes, she was a member of the Justice Society of America, the first superhero team to appear in comic books.
In the 1980s, the character's history was rewritten to make her two entities: Dinah Drake, who took part in Golden Age adventures and married Gotham City detective Larry Lance, and their daughter Dinah Laurel Lance, who has appeared in modern stories and joined the Justice League.
Black Canary first appeared in Flash Comics #86 in 1947, as a supporting character in the Johnny Thunder feature of the Flash Comics anthology. Initially, she seemed to be a villain; Johnny Thunder was instantly infatuated with her and was reproached for this by his Thunderbolt. However, she was in fact infiltrating a criminal gang, a modus operandi she would follow throughout her career.
Black Canary proved to be popular enough that in Flash Comics #92, she was given her own anthology feature, Black Canary, replacing the Johnny Thunder feature. The new series fleshed out Black Canary's backstory; in her real identity, Dinah Drake was a black-haired florist whose romantic interest was Larry Lance, a detective on the Gotham City Police Department.
Her costume consisted of a blond wig, fishnet stockings, pirate boots, bustier, and an unbuttoned jacket. Initially, she also wore a domino mask, though this was soon jettisoned. Black Canary soon joined the Justice Society of America, but ceased being published along with the rest of the team by the early 1950s.
Black Canary was revived along with the other Golden Age characters during the 1960s, and was shown as existing on the parallel world of Earth-Two (home of DC's Golden Age versions of its characters).
It was also revealed Dinah had married Larry Lance during the 1950s. Dinah also took part in various annual team-ups between the Justice Society and Earth-One's Justice League of America.
In a 1969 JLA-JSA team-up against the rogue living star-creature Aquarius, Larry Lance is killed trying to save Dinah's life from an attack. Out of grief, Canary decides to move to Earth-One to create a fresh start, where she joins the Justice League. Sometime afterwards, she begins dating her JLA colleague Green Arrow, and discovers she has somehow (possibly due to exposure to radiation) gained the ultrasonic scream later dubbed the Canary Cry.
In Justice League of America #219 and #220, it is revealed this Black Canary is actually the daughter of the original Black Canary and her husband. Born in the 1950s, the infant is cursed by the Justice Society foe the Wizard with the "gift" of a devastating, yet uncontrollable, Canary Cry. Dinah asked her old friend Johnny Thunder to summon his Thunderbolt in hopes of a cure, but it was to no avail.
Instead, the Thunderbolt keeps the child in suspended animation (aging all the while) in his native Thunderbolt dimension, until, the Lances hope, a way to cure or control her power can be found. Seeing his friends in pain, the Thunderbolt decides to erase all memory of the child, letting everyone think she has died.
After the battle with Aquarius, Dinah realizes she is dying from the radiation she was exposed to. She discusses possible solutions with the Thunderbolt and Superman of Earth-1.
The three arrange to transfer Dinah's memories into the body of her now-adult daughter, still held in suspended animation, while not letting Dinah believe anything unusual has happened to her (this retcon was established in 1983 to deal with the fact Black Canary had been active since the late 1940s and would therefore have had to been nearly 60 years old by that time; previous comic writers had apparently overlooked this fact, portraying her as still-youthful).
Following the retroactive continuity change in 1983, Black Canary became two distinct characters, mother and daughter, named Dinah Drake Lance and Dinah Laurel Lance. Dinah Lance would become the current Black Canary. Some references, notably those in James Robinson's Starman series, would attempt to distinguish the two Canaries further by referring to the first as 'Diana', but more recent accounts have confirmed 'Dinah' as the elder Canary's given name.
In post-Crisis continuity, Secret Origins #50 revealed the first Dinah had been trained by her father, Detective Richard Drake, and intended to follow in his footsteps on the Gotham City police. She was turned down by the force, however, and her disillusioned father (unable to use his connections to change the decision) died of heart failure shortly thereafter. Dinah was determined to honor his memory and fight crime and corruption by whatever method possible. This led to her debut as a costumed vigilante; she would use her inheritance to open a florist shop as her day job.
The elder Dinah married her beau, private eye Larry Lance (still maintaining her florist business). In a Times Past-style story in Birds of Prey, Lance was an acquaintance of Jim Gordon, father to Barbara Gordon. A few years later, their daughter, named Dinah Laurel Lance, was born. In Birds of Prey #66, which is a flashback to a cold case investigated – but never solved – by the elder Dinah, Laurel was the name of a librarian that Dinah consulted during the case and later befriended.
Growing up, Dinah Lance was surrounded by her mother's friends in the disbanded JSA and looked to them as uncles and aunts. Dinah wished to become a costumed hero like her mother before her. However, instead of encouraging the younger Dinah, her mother forbade it, thinking the world had grown into a darker, more dangerous place than when she herself fought crime, too dangerous for the younger Dinah to succeed.
However, the younger Dinah had her own "Canary Cry" – in this version, the result of a metagene not present in either parent – which (unlike the Silver Age Black Canary) she is fully able to control.
With this weapon, the younger Dinah next sought out numerous fighters to help her hone her skills, including former JSA member Wildcat. Years of training and intense dedication paid off, and Dinah took on her mother's mantle, even though it was against the elder Dinah's wishes at first. She took an active role in the 'Silver Age' of heroes, operating, like her mother before her, out of Gotham, while maintaining a day job in the family florist business.
In an early issue of Birds of Prey, writer Chuck Dixon established that Dinah had married at a very young age briefly before divorcing. Her ex-husband showed up in a storyline needing her help (Birds of Prey: Wolves), but actually wanted her to rejoin him after he had stolen funds from the mob. This early marriage and ex-husband were not referred to again until the 2007 Black Canary miniseries.
Shortly into the League's history, she met Green Arrow (Oliver Queen). While Dinah couldn't stand him at first, they later became romantically involved despite the difference in their ages. Dinah remained a member of the League for roughly six years, including a brief stint with Justice League International (JLI), of which she was a founding member.
Sometime later, after Canary had left the Justice League and moved to Seattle with Green Arrow, the former Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, was gravely injured by the Joker. Not one to give up easily, Barbara reestablished a crime-fighting career as Oracle, an information broker to the superhero community. After briefly working with the Suicide Squad, Barbara formed her own covert mission team. Barbara concluded that of all the superheroes, Dinah had the most potential and was most in need of direction. Consequently, Oracle asked Black Canary to become an operative.
Black Canary took to this role with great satisfaction. Feeling a new chapter in her life required a few new changes, Dinah decided to abandon the blonde wig, choosing to bleach her hair blonde. Her relationship with Oracle proved somewhat rocky at first, as her impulsive nature clashed with Oracle's tactical planning. However as time passed they began to fully understand how to work together as a team and as friends. Later, when Oracle fled from the villain Blockbuster, Dinah came to her rescue and Dinah met Barbara Gordon face-to-face (Birds of Prey #29). This adventure led to them establishing an even stronger friendship.
In Birds of Prey #7, Oracle provides Dinah with an electronic version of the Canary Cry. In Birds of Prey #34, Black Canary, who is dating a mysterious European named "Raymond", (who Oracle guesses – correctly – is actually supervillain Ra's al Ghul), is seriously wounded and immersed in a Lazarus Pit. Birds of Prey #35 reveals the Pit restored Dinah's metahuman Canary Cry .
Working with Oracle, Black Canary cultivates a covert team of female operatives in the series Birds of Prey whose members include Huntress, Gypsy, and Zinda Blake (the original Lady Blackhawk). In #64, Oracle shows Black Canary the retail space that later houses a reopened Sherwood Florist.
Since they were both trained by the same sensei, Black Canary has fostered a kinship with Lady Shiva. Shiva, impressed by Black Canary's formidable martial arts prowess, offers to provide her with further training. Black Canary turns down the offer, thinking it would compromise her morality. The two communicate nonetheless, with Shiva conveying recommendations to assist Canary in honing her skills.
Currently, Black Canary is married to Green Arrow, and is active with the present incarnation of the Justice League, having even served as team leader.
As to her powers and abilities, Black Canary possesses a "Canary Cry" – a high-pitched, sonic scream which she can deploy to shatter objects and incapacitate her opponents. Analyzing her capabilities, Dr. Mid-Nite found that she can reach ultrasonic frequencies outside the audible spectrum which render human beings unconscious. However, the cry has been shown to be completely useless when Dinah's mouth is covered with a gag, piece of tape, or any other means of forcing her mouth closed.
Dinah states that her Canary Cry is able to inflict serious damage to beings even as durable as Wonder Woman (she has used this ability to overpower Giganta, blow Amazo's head off, and managed to overscream Silver Banshee). Moreover, in JLA/JSA: Vice and Virtue it is shown that Dinah is capable of not only creating sonic blasts, but also could generate an ultrasonic attack, which renders everyone within an ear range unconscious; this specific use of the Canary Cry requires the full capacity of Dinah's lungs. Black Canary rarely utilizes her metahuman abilities during fights, preferring to engage in hand-to-hand combat. Lately, Dinah uses the Canary Cry only against considerably more powerful metahuman opponents.
Black Canary is extremely proficient in the various styles of martial arts, and is among the world's best fighters. Moreover, Dinah possesses uncanny reflexes, on many occasions showing the ability to catch or destroy arrows in flight. Black Canary recently demonstrated that Green Arrow is out of her league in means of fighting skills. Dinah is also an expert motorcycle rider.
Apparently there's also a running gag that Black Canary isn't terribly proficient with computers.
Anyway, you can see why I've tended to feel a certain amount of confusion over this character. Between the wig, the off-again-on-again super-powers, the varying timetable, and the fact that she was more than one person for a while.
Mattel did a clever little thing with the interior packaging frame. Since Black Canary doesn't come with any accessories of her own, the sculpted the interior clear "bubble with concentric circles around her head, emulating her sonic "Canary Cry".
At least they didn't sculpt her with her mouth open. I hated it when several toy companies did that to Banshee of Marvel's X-Men.
So -- how's the figure? Really very impressive! Mattel's done a good job with this figure, and there are some very distinctive aspects to her.
Mattel essentially has two major female body scales for the DC Universe line. There's a somewhat smaller scale, that has been used for characters such as Harley Quinn, Catwoman, and, unfortunately, Starfire, who really needed to be a lot taller. Then there's a taller scale, which has been used for Wonder Woman, Power Girl, and now, Black Canary. The entirely unique figure of Big Barda also fits into this taller scale.
Black Canary uses a few parts from previous figures. I'm fairly certain that some parts of the lower torso and legs are likely common to both Black Canary and Power Girl, and the high-heeled feet are definitely from Wonder Woman, although the upper part of the boots are unique to Black Canary.
Black Canary has an entirely unique headsculpt, of course, and it's really an excellent one. Her features are attractive and serious without looking grim. Her blonde hair is a separately sculpted piece, and astoundingly well-detailed. Although it does hinder head movement somewhat, it's hard to complain given how impressive it looks.
I also want to thank Mattel for keeping the hair relatively yellow, a certain amount of painted-in detail notwithstanding. For some reason, I assume for "realism", Mattel's been in the habit of darkening the hair on some of the blonde heroes -- just ask Green Arrow and Aquaman. This would not, in my opinion, have been appropriate on Black Canary, and fortunately, Mattel saw fit to leave well enough alone. While her very yellow-blonde hair might not look that true-to-life realistic, it does look appropriate to the character.
Black Canary has had a number of costume designs over the years, but her best known is almost assuredly the short black leather jacket, the black top, the black boots, and the fishnet stockings over blue tights. And this is the version of Black Canary presented with this figure. So, how did it all work out?
For the most part, superbly well. Mattel used the standard assembly procedure of molding Black Canary's arms as the sleeves of the jacket, making them distinctive pieces for this figure, and then giving the figure a sort of "vest" to complete the look of the jacket. This is a common practice on any number of toy lines. I've seen it used on Star Wars, Indiana Jones, G.I. Joe, and elsewhere. Most of the time, it works quite well, and it certainly does here.
Black Canary is wearing a small black necklace with a bright silver-painted gemstone in the center, which is a nice accent to her otherwise dark costume. The rest of her outfit is tights, except for the high-heeled boots, which are designed to appear somewhat loose-fitting.
Then there's the fishnets. Okay, how would you go about doing these? It would likely be possible to imprint them onto the blue-molded legs, probably with minimal difficulty. I mean, they can pinstripe the Joker's trousers, right? However, Mattel decided to take a different tactic, and actually gave Black Canary FABRIC fishnets on her legs!
So, how did it work? Hmmm. On a scale of 1 to 10, I'm giving it a 7. I'm deducting 1-1/2 points each for a couple of rather glaring problems that resulted from attempting fabric fishnets on this figure.
Problem #1 -- And I'm not quite sure what this really had to do with anything, but I'm certain that it had something to do with the fishnets. The legs lack an outward articulation point. They move forward and backward just fine, but not outward. I checked my Wonder Woman and Power Girl figures just to be absolutely certain, and their legs do move outward. Black Canary's categorically do not.
Problem #2 -- And this did have very specifically to do with the fabric fishnets. They still had to be sewn in place. And while Black Canary looks perfectly fine from the front and pretty much the sides, the fishnets were sewn in the back. And while I suspect that sewing such loose-woven fabric as these fishnets was no easy feat to begin with and Mattel did the best they could, the end result is still these two very peculiar, uneven black fabric stripes up the backs of both legs.
I sort of get the impression that the fabric fishnets were a "cool idea" that somebody came up with, and it just kept on rolling along, with whomever is in charge of such things trying to determine what was needed to make it work, without really weighing whether or not the trade-offs to make it work were worth it. In my opinion, they weren't. When I first heard about the idea, I thought it was rather cool as well. But hindering the articulation of the figure, and the very strange appearance of the admittedly necessary seams in the back, is just a little too much.
However, I should also point out that this situation, along with a slightly loose and slightly mis-shapen foot, which is doubtless unique to this single figure and not the entire production run, are the only complaints I really have regarding Black Canary.
The painted detail is excellent, especially on her face. She has brilliant blue eyes with extensive detail in and around them, nicely painted eyebrows, and carefully applied "lipstick". I emphasize the face because such details are certainly significant to any action figure, and honestly, there aren't a lot of other painted details ON the figure.
Another interesting painted feature is some nail polish on her thumbnails. Her hands are posed as fists, so her fingernails do not show, but there's a little streak of red on each of her thumbnails. Nice bit of detail that technically wasn't absolutely necessary, perhaps, but it's nice to see it and shows Mattel's dedication to detail.
The articulation is, for the most part, excellent. The head is slightly hindered by the hair, and there is the aforementioned matter of the legs, but Black Canary is still poseable at the head, and very nicely poseable at the arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, lower arms (at the point of the jacket cuff, substituting for wrists), mid-torso, waist (a little loose on mine), legs, upper leg swivel, knees, boot tops, and ankles. The worst thing I can say here is that a few of the articulation points are a little looser than I'd like. While that may be preferable to completely stuck, there needs to be a consistent "happy medium" here someplace that Mattel needs to find and stay with.
Anyway, seriously, I'm griping far more than this figure deserves. This Black Canary is truly an excellent figure, and the only thing I'd really change is the fabric fishnets, which was maybe a good idea, but I don't think it worked out as well as hoped. But, from the proper angles, she still looks very cool.
So what's my final word? Black Canary may not be as prominent as Wonder Woman, or Supergirl, or Batgirl, but she's a more prominent character in the DC Universe than perhaps I've been inclined to credit her as being. This is truly an excellent figure of her, and certainly, she belongs in the growing pantheon of characters being brought into this amazing line of action figures, which I sincerely hope continues for many, many years to come.
The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of BLACK CANARY definitely has my highest recommendation!