Monday, March 8, 2010

National Women's History Month Edition Part 1

Right on the heels of Black History Month in February, comes National Women's History Month in March. Is it me, or are February and March the two WORST months of the year? They're like the Antarctica of months! Also, will we eventually get months dedicated to every minority? I'm declaring May national Mixed Race Gay History Month. Along those lines, I got my first "What do you want for your birthday?" inquiry last night from David, but when I replied, "An iPad," that didn't seem to be the answer he was hoping for. He was probably assuming I'd ask for like a pot set or something HORRIBLE. Boo practical gifts! BOOOOOO!

OH! But quick aside: I've decided that I will no longer be listing myself as "Mixed Race" or "Biracial" or my favorite, "Other." I have decided that from now on, I will be known as a "Cocktail."

So anyway, in honor of Women's History Month, as with MLK's birthday, I will be writing some blogs to honor some of my favorite females. Unlike the MLK blogs, though, I won't be setting a specific number or doing any sort of countdown. And, as is usually the case, on April 1st, I will think, "Aw dammit! I forgot all about ______!" 'Tis always the case. I also thought this would be a good time to pay tribute to some of the characters that I personally love but maybe don't get the love from others, as I would see fit. And there is no one better to salute first than...Black Canary, a.k.a. Dinah Lance, is significant to me because I feel she has always been this close to being a big name like The Flash, Green Lantern and Green Arrow, but she always seems to just miss the boat. Next to Wonder Woman, she is the longest running solo female super hero, and yet she so rarely gets the glory. But as you will see, she has grazed greatness on numerous occasions.Debuting in 1947's Flash Comics#86, in the Johnny Thunder strip, Black Canary is initially thought to be a villain, only to later reveal that she was a hero working undercover. Very soon after, Johnny Thunder and his strip vanished from the pages of Flash Comics to be replaced by Black Canary!
Her early adventures are the very definition of formulaic. In every adventure, she winds up getting bonked on the head, to awaken, tied up or similarly imperiled. Whereas, Batman had a fully stocked utility belt from which to pull gizmos and gadgets, as you can see, Black Canary wore no belt, so instead, she concealed some sort of gimmick in the clasp of her choker. And wouldn't you know it?! She always managed to pack EXACTLY what she needed, be it a gas pellet or a small razor, in order to escape JUST THAT predicament! So maybe she was also psychic to some degree. In one early adventure, she is also shown to be able to communicate with birds, but she's never done it since, so let's just pretend that didn't happen. Otherwise, she didn't really possess any super powers, other than her quick wit and hand-to-hand fighting ability.
To pour salt on poor Johnny Thunder's wound, not only did she usurp his strip, she also replaced him as a member of comics' first super team, The Justice Society of America!When super heroes went out of vogue, Black Canary "retired" along with her cohorts, only to resurface alongside them when they were revived years later in the pages of the Justice League of America.She continued to make guest-appearances in JLA until 1969, when the creators of the Wonder Woman comic decided to revamp WW, removing her powers and star-spangled costume, making her a plain-clothes, kung-fu kicking spy, a la Emma Peel from the TV show The Avengers. Needing a token female in the Justice League, Black Canary came out of retirement and returned to crime fighting full time.She also suddenly developed an actual super power, her sonic Canary Cry, strong enough to smash through a brick wall! Soon after joining, she began dating Green Arrow, a liberal crusading hero. Embracing modern times, Black Canary became the epitome of a modern, liberated woman. She remained a steadfast part of the team, even after Wonder Woman returned to her super powered state and rejoined.

However, by the early 80s, people started wondering how it was that a heroine who'd debuted in 1947 still seemed so young and vivacious. In Justice League #219, it was revealed that the original Black Canary had retired and later died and that the heroine in the Justice League was actually her daughter.She continued appearing as a member of the Justice League and even starred in her own features from time to time. Her biggest break,came when she appeared as one half of the crime-fighting team the Birds of Prey, working with former Batgirl Barbara Gordon, as the computer ace Oracle.
The Birds of Prey series ran for years and is due to return in the coming months, following a break, during which time Black Canary co-headlined a book with her new husband, Green Arrow and served as the leader of the Justice League.Many "household names" in the world of comics, are such because they managed to appear outside of comic books in other media. Sadly, writer Darrell McNeil stated in one article, that he'd actually prepared a script for the second season of Super Friends which would have teamed Black Canary with Wonder Woman to rescue Lois Lane from a Ghost Ship, but the day before he submitted the script Hanna Barbera cut off submissions! So while Green Arrow and others made the ranks of that animated series, she did not.
However, all was not lost in the late 70s, as Hanna Barbera filmed a two-part live-action version of the Super Friends to air in prime time. Since Wonder Woman was already starring in her own hit TV series, her character was not available for these two shows. As she'd done almost a decade earlier in the comics, Black Canary once again replaced Wonder Woman in the JLA's ranks.Portrayed by an actress listed only as Danuta, this was my first ever exposure to Black Canary and I was captivated by the idea of a new hero I'd never heard of!
Her depiction was very close to the comics, she drove a motorcycle and possessed sonic powers. (She is shown smashing a wall with them in the opening credits.) However, they are altered on the show, as she simply yells really loudly. In one scene, she yells to inform the rest of the heroes of where to rendezvous to catch the super villains. The two-part series, entitled Legends of the Superheroes aired in January of 1979, and is vividly remembered by many adult fans today, despite never again airing. (Ahem, bootlegs, ahem.) In Florida, Sea World featured a water skiing Super Friends-inspired show, which featured not only Black Canary, but Aquaman's wife Mera! I never got to experience this... hell, I'd never even HEARD of it, until Plaid Stallions started amassing a gallery of pics from it!Sadly, that was it for Black Canary in other media for over a decade. The next live action depiction was... kinda on a live-action TV series loosely based on the Birds of Prey comic in 2002. Rachel Skarston played "Dinah." In a later episode, Dinah revealed that her mother had been the super heroine Black Canary, played by Aunt Becky, Lori Laughlin.However, this Black Canary's true name is Carolyn Lance. (In the comics, both mother and daughter are named Dinah.) On this series, the original Black Canary had sonic powers and the younger Dinah possessed some strange psychic ability and never went by a code name. The show only lasted one season.Roughly around the same time, the producers of the Justice League animated series crafted an episode entitled "Legends" which was supposed to guest-star the original Justice Society of America. Unfortunately, due to events in the script, DC Comics would not let the Society appear, so the producers altered the original heroes into alternate versions.
The original Black Canary became Black Siren instead, a very un-liberated heroine, which rankled the feathers of modern heroine Hawkgirl in the episode.Finally, Black Canary proper made her animated debut on Justice League Unlimited in 2004, voiced by Marina Baccarin.More recently, she appeared in the fan-favorite "Mayhem of the Music Meister" episode of Batman: The Brave & The Bold and recently returned in the episode "The Golden Age of Justice" where once again it is explained that she is the daughter of the original Black Canary. (Once again, in a flashback scene, the original BC is shown to have the second's sonic powers.) Grey DeLisle voices Black Canary on this series.
And finally, a new live-action Black Canary appeared in a semi-regular role on Smallville, portrayed by Alaina Huffman.
Perhaps most significantly, Black Canary was immortalized in Mattel's recent line of Barbies dressed as the heroines of the DC Universe. This doll made headlines when ignorant parents protested this high-end collectible doll, thinking it was a child-aimed dominatrix doll. Parents who join parents' groups are stupid! Who buys a kid a $50 doll? If you do, you deserve it if she winds up working on a pole.
So, while she may not be a household name yet, she's come a long way... and it's long overdue, in my opinion!

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