Monday, October 27, 2008
Introducing Black Canary: Flash Comics #86
Black Canary's first appearance was pretty humble. She showed up in a back-up story in Flash Comics #86 and she wasn't even in a Flash story, but a Johnny Thunder one.
If you don't know Johnny Thunder, he was a comedy character who hung around Flash and the other members of the Justice Society of America in the '40s. His gag was that he was incompetent and mostly blundered his way through adventures with the help of a magic, genie-like character called the Thunderbolt. If Johnny ever said the magic word "Cei-U" (pronounced "say you"), the Thunderbolt would appear and grant Johnny's wishes for an hour. Of course, Johnny didn't know the magic word; he would just accidentally say "say you" at the right time ("Who'd you say you were?") and he'd be covered.
Anyway. Black Canary.
In her first story, Black Canary is sort of a criminal. I'll explain that "sort of" in a minute, but as you can see from the panel above, they introduced her as a straight-up crook. Johnny meets her when she's having trouble getting into a second floor room to steal something from a vault.
I'm not sure why she didn't just go after it herself. She's certainly capable. But for whatever reason, she decided to use a patsy and Johnny's the very definition.
In the Foreword to the Black Canary Archives, Carmine Infantino talks about his influence in designing Black Canary's look. He mentions Milton Caniff's Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon, which I can totally see. He was 20 at the time, so he basically just created his fantasy woman. He doesn't mention her, but based on the panels above, I have to think that Veronica Lake also did some muse work.
Johnny steals the mask with no problem, but Canary gets rid of his escape route and strands him in the room. I'm still not sure what that's about, but the mask's owners soon show up and interrogate Johnny. That's when we learn that the Canary has a particular m.o. She only steals from other crooks.
Don't worry. With the help of his Thunderbolt, Johnny will be fine.
Meanwhile though, Canary's using the mask to get into an exclusive masquerade ball being thrown by a local gangster. He gave out the masks ahead of time to his guests and they also serve as invitations. At the party, Canary tries to complete her real mission, stealing back a famous jewel that the gangster has recently stolen.
Johnny and the Thunderbolt show up long enough to provide a distraction and give Canary a chance to fight back.
And all is well. That wraps up the story except for one last gag between Johnny and his magical friend.
There are a lot of unanswered questions about Black Canary here. For one thing, we're not told why she only steals from criminals. Did she return the diamond to its owner or did she lose control of it in the fight and Johnny turned it in? Once we get to know her better in future stories, we can figure out that she must be the one returning the stolen merchandise once she gets it, but you can't tell that with any certainty from this adventure. As far as we know here, she's just a crook who steals from other crooks. And she's not afraid to put innocent fellas in harm's way to do it.
That moral ambiguity adds a sense of mystery to her though and I don't wonder that DC liked her enough to use her again in the very next issue.