Here’s a little something that I’ve owned for a couple of years now, but that somehow has never found its way into a Comic Art Friday post before today.
It’s Black Canary, one of the most venerable comic book superheroines, as rendered by the perspicacious Aldrin Aw, better known to the comics world by the nom de plume Buzz. (If you think about it for a moment, you’ll figure it out.) I acquired this artwork second-hand via an eBay auction, so even though Buzz annotated it “Baltimore ’06,” you may rest assured that I was nowhere near Baltimore in ’06. Therefore, whatever might have gone down there then, I cannot be held responsible.
Black Canary fascinates me, if for no other reason than that she has survived an incredibly long career in comics — she first appeared in Flash Comics #86 in 1947 — without being a particularly interesting or remarkable character. I don’t mean that at all unkindly; as I’ve noted, I’m a fan. It’s just that in any group, someone has to represent the average, the median, the merely competent. When it comes to superheroines, Black Canary falls into that broad central swath.
In her initial incarnation, Black Canary was nothing more than a carbon copy of another popular Golden Age heroine, Harvey Comics’ Black Cat. The two characters had obviously connected code names, wore similar costumes, had similar talents (both were martial arts experts who rode motorcycles), and were frequently drawn by the same artist, the great Lee Elias. As time progressed, the Canary gained a few points of distinction. In 1948, she became the second female member, after Wonder Woman, of the Justice Society of America; the Canary’s Silver Age incarnation would likewise follow Diana into the Justice League in 1969. Also in the Silver Age, the Canary gained a superpower — the Canary Cry, an ultrasonic scream that wreaked havoc on her opponents. (Although it didn’t induce psychedelic hallucinations in its victims, like that of Daredevil’s nemesis Angar the Screamer. Cool though that would have been.)
For the past several decades, Black Canary has been romantically linked to Green Arrow, probably because one way to make two rather nondescript characters stronger is to pair them up. (Again, I don’t mean that as an insult. Green Arrow has always been among my favorite DC heroes. But seriously… he’s a guy who shoots arrows.) The two have been coupled — sometimes married, sometimes not — since the early 1970s. Their stormy relationship has proven to be one of comics’ most enduring love stories, and is a significant part of both characters’ charm.
And speaking of charms…
Can we talk about fishnet stockings for just a moment?
Fishnets have been an identifying hallmark of Black Canary’s costume since her origin. I’m not sure exactly why that is; they hardly seem a practical addition to one’s battle attire. (The Canary’s predecessor and template, the Black Cat, wore buccaneer boots identical to Canary’s, but no hose or tights.) I can only think of one other superheroine who has worn fishnets with any degree of regularity, and that’s Zatanna — for whom it makes sense, because her costume is basically what she wears in her civilian career as a stage magician. (Dr. Strange’s companion Clea wears patterned tights that can, depending on the artist who’s drawing them, look somewhat like fishnets. But they aren’t.)
I’ve always thought the Canary’s fishnets just seemed odd and out of place. The leather jacket and boots I understand — she rides a motorcycle, after all. But why would a top-flight expert in hand-to-hand combat opt for pantyhose from Frederick’s of Hollywood? It boggles the mind. Fishnets seem particularly ill-chosen for a character on a bike. You might want to think about some sturdy trousers there, Ms. Lance. Thighs can be delicate equipment.
For the record, I don’t much care for the look of stockings — fishnet or otherwise — on women in real life, either. I’m probably in the minority here. It’s a taste thing.
I do know that many artists dislike drawing Black Canary specifically because they hate sketching in all those tiny crosshatched lines on her stockings. Several times over the years, I’ve been wandering through Artists’ Alley at a comics convention when a patron requested a drawing of Black Canary, and watched as the artist’s eyes rolled back into (usually his) head. In fact, I recall one occasion where an artist — whom I won’t mention by name, because I like the guy and don’t want to make him sound like a jerk, which he definitely is not — stared pointedly at the customer and grumbled in a weary tone, “Black Canary? Really? Can I just draw her from the waist up?”
One other peculiar note about Black Canary: She is — or at least was, in her original incarnation — one of the most prominent avatars of Clark Kent Syndrome aside from Superman himself. I refer, of course, to the fact that Superman goes about his heroic business with his face unmasked, and yet somehow when he dons Clark Kent’s spectacles, no one recognizes that he’s Superman. (I once read an article that suggested that the Kent protocol works because every nonsuper person in the DC Universe is a complete idiot. There may be some validity to this theory.)
Black Canary’s case was even more extreme. A natural brunette, she disguised herself for crimefighting duty not by covering her face, but by putting on a blonde wig. Just imagine if Tina Turner or Dolly Parton had been superheroines. No one would have ever sussed out their identities. Come to think of it, I’m not entirely certain that Tina Turner isn’t a superhero. More thought required.
For what it’s worth, I think the current iteration of Black Canary is actually blonde 100% of the time. Or as blonde as most blondes are in American culture, anyway. At any rate, I believe she’s wig-free.
And that’s your Comic Art Friday.