The Birds of Prey

Flash Comics #92

The Black Canary (I)

Name:
Dinah Drake Lance (deceased)
Relatives:
Richard Drake (father, deceased); Larry Lance (husband, deceased); Dinah Laurel Lance aka Black Canary II (daughter)
Vital Statistics:
blue eyes, black hair, 5'5" tall, 125 lbs
Base of Operations:
Gotham City
"Real-Life" Occupation(s):
florist, private investigator
Special Skills:
expert martial artist and skilled detective
Affiliations:
Member of the Justice Society during its post-WWII period (though some ret-con stories portray her being a member during the war) until its members chose to retire rather than reveal their identities to the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, and stood with her JSA teammates over the years when they felt called back into action. Acted as her husband Larry Lance's partner (before and after their marriage) in a private investigation firm.

In August 1947, the Black Canary made her debut in issue #86 of the Golden Age "Flash Comics" (Issue #92 of Flash Comics, shown above, gave Canary her first cover appearance). This was the first Black Canary, Dinah Drake, who became a masked crimefighter after her application to the Gotham City Police Academy was rejected. Her widower father, a veteran GCPD officer who had trained his only child for this goal all her life, was heartbroken by the rejection and died shortly thereafter. With the small inheritance he left her, Dinah opened a flower shop, but she still wanted, somehow, to fulfill the dream they'd shared.

Covering her long, black hair with a blonde wig and putting together a sexy costume, she came up with the wholly original "Black Canary" identity and started out her career as a thief who preyed on other thieves. Her first adventure (written by Bob Kanigher and pencilled by Carmine Infantino) which teamed her up with hapless Justice Society of America (JSA) member Johnny Thunder and his Thunderbolt proved so popular she soon replaced Johnny Thunder in Flash Comics and in the JSA as well. Her original incarnation didn't last long. A short four years after her premiere, the JSA and most of the rest of the Golden Age icons disappeared amid shifting trends in the comics world. The three most enduring and best known comic characters — Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman — were also among the only ones to continue on past the Golden Age's end intact.

Justice League of America #75

The Silver Age is generally agreed to have started with the first appearance of Flash II — Barry Allen — in September 1956's Showcase #4. In late 1959, Hal Jordan, the new Green Lantern followed and a few months later in the March 1960 Brave and the Bold #28, the Justice League of America made its debut. The Silver Age was officially underway, and it wasn't long before the Golden Age characters began showing back up (the Golden Age Flash returned to comics in September 1961's Flash #123).

One of the only Golden Age creations to successfully make a comeback as her original self during the Silver Age and later (rather than, as happened with the Flash & Green Lantern, having her identity revived with a new character), Black Canary is also one of the only active female characters in the DCU whose history goes back all the way to the Golden Age (the only others who spring to mind are Wonder Woman, Lois Lane, & Catwoman). Her longevity might be explained as pure luck, but my theory is that she was simply too cool a character to ever fade away. Unlike Liberty Belle, for instance, she wasn't overly identified with a particular historical era and unlike many other female (or male, for that matter) heroes, she wasn't created to fill a narrowly defined role as a foil or a team member or a symbol. She was interesting from her first appearance.

And what a first appearance! Though she only appeared in a few panels in a backup feature in someone else's book, the Canary made a strong first impression. She started life as something of a Veronica Lake I Married a Witch-type femme fatale, but by the time she got her own solo feature, she'd become a better defined and more original creation. Dinah Drake was a tough and classy dame, cool-headed, strong, and extremely competent. Criminals knew to look out if she was on the case. Florist she may have been, but she was no fading flower. The original Canary is reminiscent of the strong, tough actresses of her era — Katherine Hepburn and Bette Davis with a bit of Greer Garson's aristocratic humor and Carole Lombard's cool, easy class (and great looks) thrown in for good measure.

It is in just this mode that Black Canary comes to be a member of the JSA. When the Justice Society is captured and brainwashed by the nefarious Injustice Society, Canary with the help of fellow femme fatale Harlequin, toughs her way through all obstacles including capture and frees the bespelled men. She never breaks stride or loses her nerve. She's exactly the sort of person you'd want around in a crisis. And no wonder they immediately make her a full-fledged member!

(I do intend to continue this bio someday . . . )