Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Luckiest Character Ever?

My vote goes to the Black Canary. She got a very late start, debuting as a guest star in the Johnny Thunder feature in Flash #86. Johnny Thunder had a long history in the DC universe at that point, having appeared in such historic comics as NY Worlds Fair Comics #2, Flash Comics #1, and All-Star #3, in which he became a charter member of the Justice Society of America. And yet just six issues after her debut as a guest star, she not only bumped Johnny Thunder from Flash Comics, but she was granted a cover appearance:
With the exception of some small insets, it was the only time a feature other than Flash or Hawkman was highlighted on the cover of that magazine.

But even before her own series debuted, she appeared with the Justice Society of America in All-Star #38, and with the next issue she began appearing on the cover:
By #40, she had replaced Johnny Thunder in the JSA; he never again appeared in the Golden Age. She appeared on every cover until #45.

At that point, she found herself without a feature as Flash Comics had been canceled by DC. By rights she should have disappeared like Starman and Dr Fate and many others had. Except... she got lucky. You see, she was not the only JSA member without a feature; longtime members the Flash and the Hawkman had their series canceled at that time as well, and Green Lantern was on his last legs. All-American had been converted to a western comic title the year before, and GL's own book mostly featured Streak the Wonder Dog on the cover for the last few issues. So she continued appearing in every issue of All-Star and occasionally popped up on the cover as well, until the JSA made its last appearance in #57.

Fast forward 12 years. In Flash #137, the JSA made its first appearance since that last issue of All-Star. Although the bulk of the story concerned Jay Garrick and Barry Allen teaming up against Vandal Savage, at the very end the two Flashes freed the old JSA members who'd been captured by that villain:
Ironically, as you can see, the Black Canary did not appear there. Instead Johnny Thunder returns. Note as well that Wonder Woman is in that scene; that's the Earth-2 (JSA) Wondy. She has a suggestion:
And sure enough, only a month or two later, JLA #21 appeared on the newsstands, inaugurating the annual "Crisis" teamups between the JLA and the JSA. But guess who did not make an appearance?

The GA Wonder Woman vanished and in her place was:
The Black Canary. There would appear to be two possible, non-exclusive reasons for her appearance rather than the GA Diana Prince:

1. DC was still unwilling to acknowledge the notion of the GA and SA Wonder Woman being separate people, as it raised uncomfortable questions about whether the GA Superman and Batman were not the same characters we were reading in the 1960s. I note that the GA Superman and Batman did not appear for several years in these teamups (although oddly enough the GA Robin was prominently featured in the 1967 crossover).

2. There was little to differentiate the GA Wonder Woman and the Silver Age version (at the time). The GA and SA Green Lanterns had markedly different costumes, as did the two Flashes. The SA Hawkman hadn't entered the JLA as yet, so his similarity with the GA version didn't matter.

At any rate, Black Canary got lucky and was tapped for that very important team-up. And the next one:
She missed the next one, but there was a big consolation prize, as she was featured in Brave and Bold #61 in a Starman teamup:
In which, by the way, we learned that she had married her longtime sweetheart, detective Larry Lance, who had appeared with her back in the Golden Age Flash stories.

The Starman/Black Canary pairing got a second outing the following issue (with a guest appearance by Wildcat). Those two issues are superbly entertaining, with terrific art by Murphy Anderson, but for whatever reason they did not result in a solo book for either character, and so it might appear that her luck had run out. Still, she got back into the JSA/JLA teamups with JLA #46-47, but then she got a bad break; in JLA #55 not only did the Earth-2 Robin appear, but so did that world's Wonder Woman. A big reason why the Black Canary had been featured in all those team-ups save one so far was that she was the only other female member of the JSA.

And then she got lucky again, and this time it was really a big break. In Wonder Woman #178 Diana Prince lost her super-powers and became an Emma Peel clone. A few months later, in JLA #69 WW left the Justice League to pursue her non-super career. This left the JLA as an all-male bastion, and in 1969, that was becoming an increasingly untenable situation. So a few issues later, when it comes time for the annual JLA/JSA teamup, a couple of things happen:

1. Larry Lance dies, heroically.
2. Black Canary decides to switch to our world:
We'd love to see you bare, but we can understand why you can't bear to go on living on Earth-2. And so she becomes a JLA member effective with the next issue, JLA #75. But there is one little problem. Black Canary never had any super-powers on Earth-2; like Batman she was just a good fighter. So she got lucky again; it turns out that the trip over to Earth-1 gave her some sort of sonic scream that was quite effective (if hard to control):
And you can even argue that's not the end of her lucky streak. In the Crisis on Infinite Earths series, one of the very notable casualties was the Barry Allen Flash, who had been responsible for opening up the whole Earth-1, Earth 2, Earth X+1 can of worms. And yet the Black Canary survived, and even thrived beyond that. Of course, she did have to put up with the insufferable Green Arrow for awhile as a boyfriend....

But all that is beyond the scope of this blog. Black Canary, you must be Irish!


Anonymous said...

I'd never thought about it but you're right, it is quite remarkable. Though as a kid i thought it was obvious the Golden-Age Superman/Batman/WW were not "my" versions since they lived on Earth-2.
I don't know why they thought team-ups were the way to go with Earth-2 characters (Spectre aside) but as I'm sure you know, they also tried Hourman/Dr. Fate as a team.

Diabolu Frank said...

I don't know. Golden Age editors weren't exactly known for their politically progressive altruism. You have to figure that if BC pushed Johnny Thunder aside and got a major cover appearance, somebody thought they could make some money off her back. Flash Comics #92 likely wouldn't have had production time for anybody to have firm enough sales figures on #86 to warrant a Canary cover, but letters and/or anecdotal evidence would surely have played a role. Beyond that, I wouldn't say she's been any luckier than any other JSA member revived in the Silver Age. She just kept feeling an obvious void... although come to think of it, Perez jerking Wonder Woman out of the JLA in the '80s was a pretty lucky break. Never mind...

Matt Celis said...

(1) Luck of the Irish is an ironic statement everyone uses incorrectly for some reason. Check Irish history.

(2) Black Canary is very lucky. A boring character elevated to star status based solely on fetishes for fishnets, much like the equally dull Zatanna.