End of Summer
 

DCU History 101:

The Secret Origins
of Black Canary

by Simon Brown

Once upon a time there were many Earths. In fact there were many Universes, or a 'Multiverse'. It was brought into existence by the oddly named deity, Julius Schwartz, and nurtured to allow many different heroic eras, and many different collections of characters. Then one day, a higher pantheon - who we shall refer to as 'The Powers That Be' - decided that the multiverse should be streamlined into a single collective. T.P.T.B commissioned the top writer and top artist from the top periodical of the day (The New Teen Titans) to set about pruning and tidying, and streamlining their domain. The result was D.C. Comics' 50th anniversary extravaganza, Crisis On Infinite Earths. And what a job they did. In a short 12 issues, spread over a year, 20 years of comic history was cosmically compressed, and the winner in the final battle for existence was the DC Universe. Everything was compacted, trimmed and placed in an accessible, easy to understand, even-the-new-readers-will-be-able-to-jump-straight-in format. The work was truly staggering, and the new playground enticed stellar talent from all across the industry.

And this is where the problems began.

Seeing a new slate, many creators who had stayed away from the DCU suddenly had great ideas of how to relaunch character 'X' to fit the new chronology. The DCU was no longer embarrassing, with goofy stories of heroes gaining giant heads, or losing half their bodies. No! It was a place for 'mature' stories, a place for angst and brow beating. Somewhere where a character who somehow managed to survive for 30 or 40 years of silly stories, could become a 'real' character who could kill, or have breakdowns at the drop of a hat, or cheat on his wife…

Ahem.

Black Canary Anyway, in their rush to redefine the DCU, certain problems were overlooked. In places, characters had their status changed by T.B.T.B months after the Crisis had ended (Golden Age Green Arrow). Some were revamped, making some of their updated origin obsolete (Powergirl), and some - like Black Canary - had their origins so firmly tied to the multiverse that they had to be given a completely new origin.

Before I launch into the two origins of Black Canary, anyone who may be interested in an excellent use of the multiverse, and it's tie in with Crisis, check out All Star Squadron #50. In the early 70's, Gerry Conway created a World War 2 character, Commander Steel. I think the title only lasted 2 or 3 issues, and the character disappeared, to re-emerge under the careful guidance of Gerry's friend Roy Thomas. Commander Steel played a major part in All Star Squadron for many years, adventures set on Earth-2. He also turned up in JLA when Aquaman's team was operating from Detroit, obviously older, richer, and (somewhat mysteriously) on Earth-1. In All Star #50, Thomas showed how Steel left Earth-2, and the date he arrived on Earth-1, neatly tying everything together before it was all swept away in the wash of the Crisis. But - and here is my point - he made the effort to tie it all together, rather than just saying 'Who cares, in 3 months it won't matter'.

So, on to Black Canary. Originally an Earth-2 character, Black Canary joined the JSA in All-Star Comics #41, and was integral in the first team-up between the JSA and the JLA. In JLA #73-74, the two teams are on their first case, and to save Black Canary from an energy sphere, her husband Larry sacrificed himself. A side effect of the energy in the sphere was to give Black Canary a sonic cry. With nothing there for her, Canary moves to Earth-1 to start a new life, where she fell in love with Green Arrow, and spent a lot of time with him in Green Lantern.

JLA 219 JLA 220
Fast forward to 1983, where in Justice League Of America #219-220 we are given the 'Secret Origin of Black Canary'. Why Ollie never asked Dinah how she looked so good for a 50-year-old is fairly obvious, but Marv Wolfman - to whom this story is dedicated - obviously wasn't so cowed. The Thomas/Conway team concocted this tale for the annual JSA/JLA team-up, and it went something like this:

The two Flashes have met earlier than planned, to spend some time together before the official-get together commences. On the way to the JLA satellite - after stopping some terrorists - they are attacked by Johnny Thunder's thunderbolt. The Flash of Earth-1 is rendered unconscious, and the Thunderbolt escapes before Earth-2's Flash can stop him. The Thunderbolt then appears at the satellite where it attacks, and knocks out all the Earth-1 heroes, leaving Hourman, Flash, Black Canary, Starman, Red Tornado, Powergirl and the Huntress. Various villians from both Earths then pop up around the world, and the JSA leaves to combat them, all except Canary and Starman who travel to the Thunderbolt Dimension to try to find Johnny's Thunderbolt and find out why he attacked them. There they find the Thunderbolt, the evil Johnny Thunder of Earth-1 who has taken control of him, and a case containing the dead bodies of Larry Lance and Black Canary. Living in a box Thunderbolt recounts a brief history of Canary's life, how she married Larry Drake, and they had a daughter, Dinah. The old JSA villian, the Wizard, placed a spell on little Dinah so that if she opened her mouth, a sonic scream would emerge. For her own sake, and the sake of the world, Thunderbolt took the infant to the thunderbolt dimension, and placed false memories in the minds of her parents so that they would think she had died. Meanwhile on Earth-1, JSA members have paired off to fight the villians placed around the world. Flash and Hourman fight Chronos and The Fiddler, Red Tornado and The Huntress fight The Icicle and Dr. Alchemy, Powergirl and newcomer Sargon The Sorcerer take on The Wizard and Felix Faust. In the Thunderbolt dimension, the captured Johnny Thunder of Earth-2 manages to free himself, and regaining control of his thunderbolt frees Starman and Black Canary. Thunderbolt then revives the JLA, who help their JSA counterparts to mop up the villians on Earth-1. In the thunderbolt dimension, Superman and The Spectre appear to explain Canary's origin to her. After Larry died, the energy from the sphere that killed him had irradiated Canary. She asked to see her daughter's grave. Superman takes her to the thunderbolt dimension, where little Dinah is still alive, and grown to adulthood. Thunderbolt uses his powers to transfer all the memories of the dying Canary to her daughter, and the younger Dinah takes over from where her mother left off. The story ends with Canary asking to be allowed to explain what had happened to Green Arrow!

Secret Origins #50 Obviously, the destruction of the multiverse ruined this story completely, as all the dimension-hopping is fairly essential. Therefore, in Secret Origins #50, we get the new origin of the character.

The story begins with Ollie and Dinah receiving a phone call. Dinah's mother is dying and isn't likely to last the night. Ollie begs Green Lantern to help them, which he does unhesitatingly, and the incident helps them rebuild a relationship that had been through some troubles in Hal's run in Action Comics Weekly. Hal leaves the hospital to find an old friend, and with Dinah and Ollie at the bedside, the origin story is recounted.

Dinah Drake became the Golden Age Black Canary, and a member of the JSA, but gave it up when she married. She helped her husband Larry in his detective agency, but still remained friends with her JSA companions, who became honorary Uncles and Aunts to her daughter, also named Dinah. The younger Dinah loved heroes, and being surrounded by them inspired her to take up her mother's mantle of Black Canary. She started training with Ted Grant, formerly Wildcat, learning hand-to-hand combat techniques. The older Dinah was less than thrilled by this, arguing that JLA - JSA get-togetherthe time for non-powered heroes had long since passed, and that it was too dangerous. It was during one of these arguments that the younger Dinah manifested her sonic cry. The JSA surmised that the cry was the result of being around magically-based heroes all her life, but the knowing smiles from some of the JSA members indicted that it may have been slightly more deliberate. The new JLA Using her new power, the new Black Canary became a charter member of the Justice League of America, and eventually fell in love with Green Arrow. In this new continuity, Larry Drake was still killed by an energy blast, and the energy irradiated the older Black Canary, but rather than killing her almost instantly, it manifested itself as the cancer which was killing her now. Thanks to the Spectre, she regained consciousness for long enough to say goodbye to Dinah, Ollie, and Speedy (who Hal had gone to find). She then passed away, and was ushered by the Spectre into the afterlife.

So, two origins for the price of one, and it only took the destruction of infinite universes to do it!

Editor's note: one more change has emerged within the last few years. The first Black Canary has been renamed DianaDrake Lance, apparently as a way for people to tell the two Black Canaries apart.

 
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