Black Canary is noted for her martial arts skills and her "Canary Cry" – a high powered, sonic scream with the ability to shatter objects and incapacitate villains. Among the first generation of superheroes, she was a member of the Justice Society, the first superhero team to appear in comic books.
In the 1980s, the character's history was rewritten to make her two entities: Dinah Drake Lance, who took part in Golden Age adventures and married Gotham City detective Larry Lance, and their daughter Dinah Laurel Lance, who has appeared in modern stories.
The combination of the Black Canary's courage, fighting prowess, and her sex appeal (accentuated by her characteristic fishnet stockings) has resulted in her being referred to as "The Blonde Bombshell."
Black Canary first appeared in Flash Comics #86 in 1947, as a supporting character in the Johnny Thunder feature of the Flash Comics anthology. Initially, she seems to be a villainess; Johnny Thunder is instantly infatuated with her and is reproached for this by his Thunderbolt. However, she is in fact infiltrating a criminal gang, a modus operandi she would follow throughout her career.
Black Canary proved to be popular enough that in Flash Comics #92, she was given her own anthology feature, Black Canary, replacing the Johnny Thunder feature. The new series fleshed out Black Canary's backstory; in her real identity, Dinah Drake is a black-haired florist whose romantic interest was Larry Lance, a detective on the Gotham City Police Department.
Her costume includes a blond wig, fishnet stockings, pirate boots, bustier, and an unbuttoned jacket. Initially, she also wears a domino mask, though this is soon jettisoned. Black Canary soon joins the Justice Society, but ceased being published along with the rest of the team by the early 1950s.
Black Canary was revived along with the other Golden Age characters during the 1960s, and was shown as existing on the parallel world of Earth-Two (home of DC's Golden Age versions of its characters).
It is also revealed Dinah has married Larry Lance during the 1950s. Dinah also takes part in various annual team-ups between the Justice Society and Earth-One's Justice League.
In a 1969 JLA-JSA team-up against the rogue living star-creature Aquarius, Larry Lance is killed trying to save Dinah's life from an attack. Out of grief, Canary decides to move to Earth-One to create a fresh start, where she joins the Justice League. Sometime afterwards, she begins dating her JLA colleague Green Arrow, and discovers she has somehow (possibly due to exposure to radiation) gained the ultrasonic scream later dubbed the Canary Cry.
In Justice League of America #219 and #220, it is revealed this Black Canary is actually the daughter of the original Black Canary and her husband. Born in the 1950s, the infant is cursed by the Justice Society foe the Wizard with the "gift" of a devastating, yet uncontrollable, Canary Cry. Dinah asked her old friend Johnny Thunder to summon his Thunderbolt in hopes of a cure, but it was to no avail.
Instead, the Thunderbolt keeps the child in suspended animation (aging all the while) in his native Thunderbolt dimension, until, the Lances hope, a way to cure or control her power can be found. Seeing his friends in pain, the Thunderbolt decides to erase all memory of the child, letting everyone think she has died.
After the battle with Aquarius, Dinah realizes she is dying from the radiation she was exposed to. She discusses possible solutions with the Thunderbolt and Superman of Earth-1.
The three arrange to transfer Dinah's memories into the body of her now-adult daughter, still held in suspended animation, while not letting Dinah believe anything unusual has happened to her (this retcon was established to deal with the fact The Black Canary had been active since the late 1940s and would therefore have had to been nearly 60 years old by that time. Previous comic writers had apparently overlooked this fact, portraying her as still-youthful.).
Following the retroactive continuity change in 1983, Black Canary became two distinct characters, mother and daughter, named Dinah Drake Lance and Dinah Laurel Lance. Dinah Laurel would become the current Black Canary. Some references, notably those in James Robinson's Starman series, would attempt to distinguish the two Canaries further by referring to the first as 'Diana', but more recent accounts have confirmed 'Dinah' as the elder Canary's given name.
In post-Crisis continuity, Secret Origins #50 revealed the first Dinah had been trained by her father, Detective Richard Drake, and intended to follow in his footsteps on the Gotham City police. She was turned down by the force, however, and her disillusioned father (unable to use his connections to change the decision) died of heart failure shortly thereafter. Dinah was determined to honor his memory and fight crime and corruption by whatever method possible. This led to her debut as a costumed vigilante; she would use her inheritance to open a Florist shop as her day job.
The elder Dinah married her beau, private eye Larry Lance (still maintaining her florist business). In a Times Past-style story in Birds of Prey, Lance was an acquaintance of Jim Gordon, father to Barbara Gordon. A few years later, their daughter, named Dinah Laurel Lance, was born. In Birds of Prey #66, which is a flashback to a cold case investigated – but never solved – by the elder Dinah, Laurel was the name of a librarian that Dinah consulted during the case and later befriended.
Growing up, Dinah Laurel was surrounded by her mother's friends in the disbanded JSA and looked to them as uncles and aunts. Dinah wished to become a costumed heroine like her mother before her. However, instead of encouraging the younger Dinah, her mother forbade it, thinking the world had grown into a darker, more dangerous place than when she herself fought crime, too dangerous for the younger Dinah to succeed.
However, Dinah Laurel had her own "Canary Cry" in this version, the result of a metagene not present in either parent which (unlike the Silver Age Black Canary) she is fully able to control.
With this weapon, the younger Dinah next sought out numerous fighters to help her hone her skills, including former JSA member Wildcat. Years of training and intense dedication paid off, and Dinah took on her mother's mantle, even though it was against the elder Dinah's wishes at first. She took an active role in the 'Silver Age' of heroes, operating, like her mother before her, out of Gotham, while maintaining a day job in the family florist business.
In an early issue of Birds of Prey, writer Chuck Dixon established that Dinah had married at a very young age briefly before divorcing. Her ex-husband showed up in a storyline needing her help (Birds of Prey: Wolves), but actually wanted her to rejoin him after he had stolen funds from the mob. This early marriage and ex-husband were not referred to again until the 2007 Black Canary miniseries.
Shortly into the League's history, she met Green Arrow (Oliver Queen). While Dinah couldn't stand him at first, they later became romantically involved despite the difference in their ages (in the Modern Age Oliver is substantially older than Dinah, the reverse of the earlier depiction, although he was de-aged by an unspecified amount when he was resurrected). Dinah remained a member of the League for roughly six years, including a brief stint with Justice League International (JLI), of which she was a founding member. It was during that time her mother died due to radiation poisoning she experienced during a battle with the villain Aquarius. Her mother's death affected Dinah deeply, and led her to accept her time in the JLA was over.
She moved to Seattle with Green Arrow after the breakup of the Justice League, and would open her own florist shop, named "Sherwood Florist" (the name is a play on Sherwood Forest, the domain of Robin Hood, who Green Arrow (in costume) somewhat resembles).
For a brief period in the 1980s coinciding with her membership in the JLI, rather than her traditional skintight black outfit with fishnet stockings she wore a blue and black costume with a bird motif notably looser and less revealing than traditional superheroine garb. This change proved short-lived, and later artists restored her original look.
The move to Seattle with Green Arrow would result in a string of bad luck for the Black Canary.
During this period, she took part in a failed operation to bust a drug ring. Kidnapped, Black Canary was tortured (despite popular belief, she was not raped according to series writer Mike Grell), before being rescued by Green Arrow. The physical and mental effects of this experience were severe: Dinah's vocal cords were mutilated, resulting in the loss of her Canary Cry; She required extensive counseling afterwards, as did Oliver Queen.
Simultaneously, she and Green Arrow would have major conflicts in their relationship. Among other things, she would learn Green Arrow fathered a son, Robert, with Shado (though Shado had drugged him beforehand), as well as taking money from the business (Black Canary #1). The relationship would end when Dinah walked in on Green Arrow kissing her florist shop assistant, Marianne.
Even more bad luck would hit when Sherwood Florist was destroyed, leaving Dinah with no means of paying the debt collectors now calling.
The worst blows of all would come when she learned from Connor Hawke that Oliver was killed (Green Arrow #101), and Connor was yet another of his offspring. Although Dinah and Connor later develop a close friendship, the knowledge that Oliver had kept his existence from her was painful.
Though Black Canary would continue to fight crime off and on (at some point Black Canary became a pen pal of the youthful hero known as The Ray, who had a crush on her, and she participated in some of his adventures, and even had a brief romance), the effects of her misfortunes were taking their toll.
Oracle and the Birds of Prey
Around the time Dinah's life began to spiral out of control, the former Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, was gravely injured by the Joker. Not one to give up easily, Barbara reestablished a crime-fighting career as Oracle, an information broker to the super-hero community. After briefly working with the Suicide Squad, Barbara formed her own covert mission team. Barbara concluded that of all the superheroes, Dinah had the most potential and was most in need of direction. Consequently, Oracle asked Black Canary to become an operative.
Black Canary took to this role with great satisfaction. Feeling a new chapter in her life required a few new changes, Dinah decided to abandon the blonde wig, choosing to bleach her hair blonde. Her relationship with Oracle proved somewhat rocky at first, as her impulsive nature clashed with Oracle's tactical planning. However as time passed they began to fully understand how to work together as a team and as friends. Later, when Oracle fled from the villain Blockbuster, Dinah came to her rescue and Dinah met Barbara Gordon face-to-face (Birds of Prey #29). This adventure led to them establishing an even stronger friendship.
In Birds of Prey #7, Oracle provides Dinah with an electronic version of the Canary Cry. In Birds of Prey #34, Black Canary, who is dating a mysterious European named "Raymond", (who Oracle guesses correctly is actually supervillain Ra's al Ghul), is seriously wounded and immersed in a Lazarus Pit. Birds of Prey #35 reveals the Pit restored Dinah's metahuman Canary Cry (as well as Dinah's ability to have children).
Working with Oracle, Black Canary cultivates a covert team of female operatives in the series Birds of Prey whose members include Huntress, Gypsy, and Zinda Blake (the original Lady Blackhawk). In #64, Oracle shows Black Canary the retail space that later houses a reopened Sherwood Florist.
Since they were both trained by the same sensei, Black Canary has fostered a kinship with Lady Shiva. Shiva, impressed by Black Canary's formidable martial arts prowess, offers to provide her with further training. Black Canary turns down the offer, thinking it would compromise her morality. The two communicate nonetheless, with Shiva conveying recommendations to assist Canary in honing her skills.
Black Canary has had her own four issue mini series titled New Wings, as well as a twelve issue ongoing series. Both were written by Sarah Byam.
One Year Later
During the publication of the Infinite Crisis limited series, most DC Universe comic books skipped forward one year. Following the "One Year Later" jump, Dinah trades life experiences with Lady Shiva in hopes of softening the warrior, undertaking a harsh training regimen in an unidentified Vietnamese bidonville, or shantytown. The regimen replicates Shiva's early life and training; Shiva, meanwhile, assumes Dinah's role in Oracle's group and demands her associates call her the "Jade Canary".
When Dinah realizes following Lady Shiva's path will require her to fundamentally change who she is as a person, she ends the training and returns to the United States. She brings with her a little girl, Sin, who also had begun the harsh grooming process to be Lady Shiva's successor (Birds of Prey #95; the now resurrected Oliver Queen uses his connections to allow Sin to immigrate into the country). Dinah hopes to balance her duties as a superhero with the responsibilities of being a surrogate mother/sister to the child.
Dinah informs Oracle she is quitting the team in Birds of Prey #99, having decided to devote herself to raising Sin. Issue #100 shows Dinah and Sin leaving Metropolis. It is hinted their final destination is Star City; Dinah jokingly tells Sin that she can rip out Ollie's beard if he isn't nice to her.
After leaving the Birds of Prey, Black Canary joins with Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) and Red Arrow (Roy Harper) on a mission to locate the Red Tornado's body, (stolen by his creator and Solomon Grundy). The three heroes join forces with Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Hawkgirl, Black Lightning, and Vixen to defeat Amazo.
The assembled heroes reform the Justice League of America; Dinah is made the Chairwoman, due to her strong abilities and strategic mind. The team's first mission with Dinah as leader sees the JLA and JSA discover members of the Legion of Super-Heroes (a team that lives in the 31st Century) have been located in the 21st Century.
In Green Arrow, Dinah returns to Star City to aid Oliver, Connor, and Mia against Roadblock and Merlyn. During their mission, Dinah rekindles her relationship with Oliver, feeling he has truly changed and all the parts of him she hated are apparently gone. Oliver admits to Dinah many of the changes he made over the last year were for her. As the Green Arrow series ends, Oliver proposes to Dinah. He appears in a four part Black Canary miniseries (beginning in July 2007). Black Canary would see Green Arrow fake Sin's death to protect her from the League of Assassins, to Black Canary's conflicted reaction; Sin comes to live in a "safe" location with Connor, away from her mother.
In Other Media
- In 1979, the character appeared in two television specials Legends of the Superheroes, where she was portrayed by Danuta Wesley.
- In the TV series Birds of Prey, Lori Loughlin played Carolyn Lance the mother of Dinah Redmond (played by Rachel Skarsten) who acted as the shows Canaries.
- In Smallville Dinah Laurel Lance is portrayed by Alaina Huffman.
- In Arrow Dinah Laurel Lance is portrayed by Katie Cassidy.