Black Canary (2007)
Title: Living with Sin
Writer: Tony Bedard
Pencilers: Paulo Siqueira, Tom Derenick and Joe Prado
Inkers: Amilton Santos, Rodney Ramos and Joe Prado
Layouts (issues three - four): Mike Norton
Letterers: Pat Brosseau and Travis Lanham
Cover: Paulo Siqueira
By Michael David Sims
16 January 2008 — Heading into the recent Black Canary miniseries, I didn't know what to expect. Would it be a cheesecake book, belittling the character because she has breasts? Or would those four issues serve to strengthen her before Green Arrow was relaunched as Green Arrow / Black Canary?
Having just finished the miniseries, I can safely say it's more of the latter — with hints of the former along the way.
What drew me to this, I can't say. Black Canary has never really been on my radar. Yes, I read and loved JLA: Year One, of which she was a major part. Yes, I've read a few issues of Birds of Prey, but my world wasn't set on fire. And yes, I've read her in various issues of Green Arrow. But what do all of those books have in common? She was always part of an ensemble cast; as such, I never really got to know her by herself. This book, however, was all hers. Though Green Arrow surely reared his head and is a large part of the book, it's still Canary's title.
Even if I can't pinpoint why I bought the first issue, I can tell you why I stuck around: the initial flashback. The interplay between the then-rookies is pure comedy gold, and sets the table for those who might be unfamiliar with their relationship: Ollie says something stupid / offensive, and Dinah (eventually) forgives him. It's a compelling — and rather believable — dynamic. After the look back, that goes to the wayside — in favor of Dinah attempting to save Sin, her adopted daughter — but it does its job. Anyone who read Black Canary #1 and then grabbed the Green Arrow / Black Canary: Wedding Special will now get the characters; they'll understand how two people who bicker all of the time can truly be in love.
Character interaction is all well and good, but what of the story?
That's a tough one for me. Though I believe Dinah is a stronger character coming out of these four issues — she had to overcome a tough decision in regards to how to serve justice — but the road was bumpy. Canary's ex-husband lures her and Sin into a trap set by Merlyn and the League of Assassins. Okay, that's typical superhero / action storytelling, which is fine. It's the execution that brings it down some. For instance:
- Along the way Ollie spies on Dinah as she chats with her ex. Is he jealous, or does he not trust the timing of the ex's return? Or is it both? Granted, he claims he doesn't like the coincidence or the fact that the "loser" has connections, but there's definitely a hint of jealously there. Now granted, I'm not the foremost Green Arrow expert, but I've never known him to be jealous. Hell, in The Longbow Hunters he steps aside to let Canary go undercover, realizing she'll have to do whatever it takes to gather information. So this hint of jealousy seemed out of place.
- Merlyn taps into Sin's school's security system, yet somehow Oracle doesn't notice this. Though it's never explicitly said Dinah had Babs check the school out, it is said that Dinah spent three days looking into the academy. With all of that time, it only makes sense that Canary would have used her computer-savvy chum's skills.
- When one villain (or in this case, a group of villains) questions why they're working with a loser, it makes the reader ask, "Yeah, why is the League of Assassins working with Merlyn?" Oddly enough, the question is never answered.
- Dinah keeps telling Ollie she'll have an answer, in regards to his proposal at the end of Green Arrow #75. Each time it was said it made me realize DC was holding the answer until the very end of the series, dragging the forgone conclusion over four issues only to sell a four-issue miniseries. Their forthcoming wedding wasn't a secret — DC rightfully promoted the hell out of it — so why put off the decision? Personally, I feel it would have been much more compelling had Dinah said yes, but then had to go solo on one last mission; sort of like a bachelorette party, she had to get her last side action out of the way.
- Green Arrow sets a plan in motion, keeping the truth from Canary for three days afterwards. Upon learning the truth, upon learning that the man she loves purposely hurt her to make said plan work, that's when Dinah accepts Ollie's proposal. Not when he's being romantic or flirty, but when he admits to deception. Yes, there was very good reason for the deception, but it seems like an odd time to fully give yourself over to someone else.
All that said, how can I claim Black Canary is a stronger character coming out of her miniseries? Quite simple really: for the most part, this was her story. She carried the book from start to finish. She kicked lots of ass (including Arrow's), and utterly destroyed Merlyn. Most importantly, she's now more familiar to readers who didn't read her adventures in Birds of Prey; those of us who only knew her as "Green Arrow's girlfriend" now see her as a strong, viable superhero. Best of all, the writing never player her for cheesecake.
The same cannot be said of the art, however.
For no good reason, her backside if often turned towards the reader. The opening page of the series has us looking directly at her crotch. The cover of the second issue is a terribly uncomfortable "fuck me while I kick some ass" pose. Mia's cleavage is exposed, whereas it's normally not. But worst of all, we get an upskirt of Sin — a child! I feel weird walking past the Juniors underwear section at a department store, so I feel doubly weird looking at a child's panties / ass in a comic book! In my mind the entire series was tainted by the artist's desire to show Sin's ass.
Besides that, how was the art?
The first two and a half issues are quite good. The opening fight with a bunch of assassins dressed as Elvis is not only funny, but chaotic in that superhero sort of way. The power of Dinah's Canary Cry can be felt as men crash into walls and shards of glass splinter the air. No one ever looks like a body builder; they're all simply fit. Sin's brutality is staggering, especially as she escapes a dozen ninjas. And facial expressions speak volumes. If Paulo Siqueira can downplay the cheesecake, focusing more on his awesome action and beautiful faces, he'll easily find himself on major projects, and I openly welcome that. He has a bright future as an artistic storyteller, and I'd pay good money to see him on books I don't normally read — such as Justice Society of America and Green Lantern.
From the midway point of the third issue until the conclusion of the series, however, the art is amateurish — at best. All of the power of Siqueira's expressions and the crispness of his fights are lost when Thomas Derenick and Rodney Ramos join the book with issue three and Joe Prado with issue four. It's pathetic how quickly the series takes a dive in artistic quality. While Siqueira's poses are natural, the men who pick up his slack draw stiff, downright ugly action sequences. These aren't people fighting for the life of a little girl; they're flat, lifeless drawings on a page. Late in the series Merlyn uses his bowstring to choke Black Canary, but by the look on her face one would assume she's having a rough time on the toilet — not having the breath squeezed out of her. And the last four pages — that pages where Dinah finally agrees to wed Ollie — are some of the worst pages I've ever seen in a professional comic book. Instead of being rendered with passion, they're dead. Faces chance shape, the staging is sloppy, an inconsistency in the storytelling pulls you right out, the engagement ring looks large enough to fit around a gorilla's finger and Ollie's eyes disappear. Seeing as how these four issues were released over the course of two months, it makes sense that Siqueira would need some help finishing the gig. But what could have been a great looking series from start to finish wound up being a mixed bag due to the hack job by Derenick, Ramos and Prado. When using two or more artists on a miniseries, publishers need to hire guys with similar styles. Throwing a handful of artists at a book doesn't work in today's market, not when consistency needs to be considered for the eventual trade paperback.
Despite my feelings about the additional artists and some of the rougher story elements, Black Canary is worth your attention. For new readers it sets her apart from Green Arrow. For longtime fans it reestablishes that Dinah can kick some serious ass. For both new and old, it builds a new beginning for both characters as they take the next step in life together. Coupled with the aforementioned Green Arrow / Black Canary: Wedding Special, this is a solid bridge between Green Arrow and Green Arrow / Black Canary.