BLACK CANARY #12
Written by Brenden Fletcher
Art by Annie Wu, Sandy Jarrell, and Lee Loughridge
Published by DC Comics
Release Date: June 8, 2016
This is the end, hold your breath and count to ten,
– Adele, “Skyfall”
With one last big set piece, Fletcher, Wu, Jarrell, and Loughridge do more than just end Black Canary, they close out the DCYou in spectacular fashion.
There’s a temptation, and has been since the series’ end was announced, to look at Black Canary like Firefly. Finished before its time and to a certain extent a victim of a cruel fate. Especially after this issue, I’d point to Cowboy Bebop instead.
Many fans have clamored for more since the completion of its one year run in 1999 and the follow up movie in 2001 — just like hard done by Browncoats have since Serenity — but that door has remained resolutely shut at the insistence of its creators. Cowboy Bebop blazed across the landscape to spectacular international success partially because it ended so cleanly in a landscape where many anime series stretch beyond their concept’s initial strengths and spiral into oblivion or get burdened by long stretches of filler when they overshoot the source material.
It’s a dynamic that embodies super-hero comics perfectly, especially as DC plays host to a significant number of endings including Grayson, Omega Men, The Batgirl of Burnside, and the Snyder/Capullo Batman epic. There’s always an ambivalence among fans of deeply cherished titles and collaborations when they end, but there’s also an undervaluing of clean endings in today’s media landscape.
Every genre movie seems to want to leave itself as open and unfinished for a follow up as possible, long finished TV series from The X-Files and Twin Peaks to Gilmore Girls are clawing their way out of the grave, and even video games are being sold piecemeal. I think I read somewhere that Kojima’s last Metal Gear Solid game still hasn’t been fully pushed out to players yet.
In the afterword to her debut in Wolf #8, writer J.A. Micheline related the advice she’d been given to write every comic as if its your last, and the wisdom of it is clearly in evidence here.
“For the Woman Who Has Everything” is an alternate title for this issue that would have admittedly ruined the set up for the issue, but nonetheless sums up a lot of the specific type of greatness that the creative team looks to follow.
Dinah’s been stabbed and it plunges her into a timeline where Ravanahatha becomes whole and ravages the planet as RAVEDEATH. Dinah retreats into a hermetic existence of fame and commercial success while the world outside crumbles around her in an execution that recalls David Cronenberg’s film adaptation of Cosmopolis.
While Fletcher and Wu do briefly use the nearly identical imagery of the claustrophobic dimensions of a limousine with screaming fans on the other side of the glass, they venture much further outside its confines than Cronenberg did in adapting Delillo’s novel. Instead, it’s tightly packed, small panels that communicate the confined space that much of the issue projects.
It’s a real testament to how versatile Fletcher and Wu have become as a team that they’ve been able to demonstrate several distinct approaches to controlling the reading experience and pacing from the cinematic wizardry of the third issue through to the finale.
The device that occupies much of the issue — Dinah being locked into a kind of dream world, playing out a deeply personal slide into entropy — is a fairly familiar concept that emerges across examples as diverse as the previously mentioned Superman comic, Seven Soldiers of Victory: Mister Miracle, Inception, and The End of Evangelion, but its always the insights into the character at the center that make or break it.
This issue hews the closest to “For The Man Who Has Everything” because it reflects the fulfillment of many of Dinah’s unspoken desires like a family of her own, but remains deeply gothic. It’s not only because the world is crumbling around her, but due to the complete absence of the pinks and blues that have defined her life of extremes across the series.
As Dinah ages across the time skips and colors are drained of the vitality that Loughridge has maintained since the debut issue, the truly gothic elements of Annie Wu’s art come to the forefront. There’s a subtle etching of time that she applies to Dinah, making her progressively more sallow and drained even as she gives birth to a daughter of her own.
That daughter, in a brilliant move that brings her Ellen Ripley-like protectiveness full circle to a more literal motherhood, turns out to be Ditto infiltrating this world Dinah is trapped within, to bring her back to the present and end the confrontation with Ravanahatha. It’s also the epiphany that leads Dinah to understand the full nature of her Canary Cry in relation to her mother and the secret technique locked away in her mind.
This is where the team reaches back into the delirious metafictional heights of the climax of the first arc and Fletcher’s act of building a personal cosmology out of sound and vibration to create an entirely new context to consider Dinah in.
In issue #7, sound and silence were presented as analogues to creativity and entropy. It carries through here as Dinah comes to understand her place in the universe and relationship to her mother through the Canary Cry, but the motif is extended much further to present how sound can transcend time and space in a similar way to how the Speed Force was created to unite the Flashes across time and space.
It’s a construct that’s become particularly relevant as Wally West returned to life through the Speed Force and reconnected with Barry as the inciting incident in the DC Rebirth special, but the wider implications of how Fletcher and Jarrell put it on the page fit more comfortably alongside the epiphanies Grant Morrison wrote for Animal Man and Zatanna, with more emphasis on the latter.
Seven Soldiers of Victory: Zatanna emerged at a time of controversy and rootlessness for Zatanna even more profound than what Dinah was subjected to when she floated between the dissolution of Birds of Prey and her supporting role in Batgirl. That series focused on the fallout of Identity Crisis and Zatanna leveraging her powers to erase the memory of Sue Dibney’s rape at the hands of Doctor Light. Instead of anchoring Zatanna to an embodiment of an iconic principle the way that he mapped out for the Trinity (most recently in Wonder Woman: Earth One), Morrison codified Zatanna’s rootlessness as her key attribute.
She certainly became self aware of her presence in a comic similar to Animal Man, Deadpool, or She Hulk, but the key takeaway is that Zatanna has, throughout her publication history, gone wherever she wants. To wit her very first introduction was DC’s first intertitle crossover, a fact that wasn’t even made clear until the arc’s resolution when she revealed that she’d appeared in other forms to guide the various heroes together.
It’s remained an underexamined facet of her character that came into play when she had to be depicted with blonde hair in order to appear in The Books of Magic: Life During Wartime when there was a hard line between DC and Vertigo that characters like Swamp Thing and John Constantine were barred from crossing.
What Fletcher does here is very similar in that Dinah is finally and conclusively tied to liminality as her defining trait, the seeds of which were first sown in how Lee Loughridge’s coloring from the very first page of the first issue was used to communicate action and serenity. When Dinah activates the Five Heavens Palm, she steps outside of time and space to stand with four other versions of herself (including her mother), and it’s no accident that Loughridge bathes the entire page in the blue he’s always used to communicate serenity.
Dinah’s true power and what makes her resonate, pun fully intended, is that she’s existed in these disparate versions. The message inherent in Jarrell’s depiction of her various costumes throughout the years is that your bookshelf and longboxes exist in the fourth dimension.
They’re slices through time and space that we can revisit at any time to draw out the essence of what spoke to us the most about her at those times whether it was her Silver Age appearances, Gail Simone’s Birds of Prey runs anchored by Ed Benes and Nicola Scott, or even the Frank Miller/Jim Lee conception that beat the tar out of a bar full of catcallers in All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder.
There are few characters who have as passionate followings for very distinctive visions as Black Canary does. It’s one thing to profess a preference for Frank Miller or Brian Michael Bendis as Daredevil writers, but it’s a whole other ballgame when considering Dinah’s appearances in Green Arrow, Birds of Prey, and this series. Dinah contains multitudes and here is one.
It’s a fantastic statement coming right between Green Arrow: Rebirth #1 as her return as a key player in Ollie’s world and her return to the Birds of Prey. The idea of framing comics as slices through time of a much larger whole have been used to communicate a lot of ideas over the years, but the unique point here seems to be saying that Black Canary is a cake and everyone gets a slice.
That theme also plays out across Dinah’s nightmare future as she pursues music further and further for a mainstream audience, disassociating herself from the intimate audience of her beginnings — and eventually the world as a whole. The dialogue about her work is largely about what it means to pursue success and work in the mainstream in difficult times, which is an evergreen topic in the music world.
David Bowie haunts the issue like never before and there’s a poignant parallel to be made between the splitting of Dinah into five different versions and the various epochs of Bowie’s career and the personas he’s adopted from Ziggy Stardust to the Thin White Duke. It extends to numerous other artists whose careers are directly informed by him like Marilyn Manson’s mercurial quality, but it applies just as equally to the Pepsi commercial in which Beyonce is faced with an array of mirror images of her various incarnations.
These are certainly evoked in the interview questions she faces about her various changes in persona and style across the compressed timeline, but her emergence as a dark horse presence in an established band is possibly the most intimate evocation of Brenden Fletcher’s career trajectory over the last two years.
When the Batgirl of Burnside creative team was announced, Fletcher was a relative unknown flanked by one of the industry’s preeminent artists in Cameron Stewart and a brand new voice to comics with a well established cult following in Babs Tarr. Short of diving into the crowd and beating people up in public appearances, Fletcher was the D.D. of both Batgirl and Gotham Academy until he became the personification of the connective tissue between the titles with the emergence of “Fletcherverse” as a term for their shared sensibilities.
Who is Brenden Fletcher was the subtext of Black Canary’s debut even as it asked the same question of Dinah, and that was a big part of the title’s fundamental appeal, to see what would emerge when his sensibilities appeared disentangled from Stewart and Gotham Academy co-writer Becky Cloonan. What’s since emerged is a writer with a very unique gift for being able to join intimate and cosmic truths together into a cohesive whole.
There’s a lot of self effacement going around among writers in the industry at the moment in light of how artists and colorists are being under-credited for their achievements, with Kieron Gillen and Matt Fraction expounding on the virtues of “getting out of the way” of the artist or Mark Waid responding to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ praise for Black Widow by claiming he’s just the guy who adds the words to Chris Samnee’s work. While the sentiment is likely genuine, it does somewhat detract from what defines true collaboration in the medium and what produces greatness.
Writers, to pull in another music industry metaphor, have the potential to be much more than songwriters in the creation of a comic. They have the potential to be lead singers and producers as well, which does a lot to explain Fletcher’s presence on Black Canary. He isn’t just writing music for session musicians in Wu, Jarrell, Guerra, Moritat, and Loughridge. He’s been given the privilege of working with artists who play best in very specific keys and he’s created spaces for those instruments to work in a special kind of harmony.
As I’ve delved into in previous issues, the way fight scenes are executed differ wildly between artists, but those approaches yield unique and specific results that both work to those artists’ strengths and the goal of the issue in question, very much like what Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner have been able to achieve with a wide array of artists on the Harley Quinn empire.
That really comes into play in this issue when we shift from a showcase of Wu’s gothic sensibilities to Jarrell’s page of jumbled snapshots of the climactic fight. What Jarrell has consistently brought to the table is the ability to freeze a moment of a fight and use that static image to great effect, and there’s no better way to segue from a full page splash of multiple Canaries existing in tandem than a return to the normative perspective with rigid snapshots. That’s the antithesis of getting out of the artist’s way. It’s being able to recognize they play best in a given key and writing a song that brings that out.
The final coup de grace that tells us once and for all that there were never any happy accidents on this title is Wu and Loughridge ending the series the same way they began, with Dinah backstage, bathed in those signature pinks and blues. She steps out of the pink that laid waiting for her in the first issue and into the blue, returned to the meditations on how her costumes inform her performance of identity for one last time before kicking the door open into purple: a brand new color for a brand new era. If that doesn’t cement Loughridge as one of the most powerful storytellers in coloring, I don’t know what will.
Black Canary was an utterly unique experience that lent itself to being pulled apart and examined in a way that few other comics ever have. The lessons it has to impart about storytelling and form will remain evergreen, and if it gets its proper due, will live on with the same kind of cult status imbued on Elektra: Assassin, Batwoman: Elegy, or Flex Mentallo.
The Verdict: 10/10