Saturday, September 15, 2007

Least Likely to Change: Black Canary and Batman

Batman or Black Canary?

It's a pretty easy choice, actually. Black Canary is still very similar to her Golden Age version. Same outfit for the most part, same martial arts schtick. There are a few differences, of course.

Controversial though this decision might be, I don't count "Dinah Lance, Junior" as a different person from the original Dinah Lance. She's her daughter only in a retconnish way, kind of like how John Byrne made the current Wonder Woman the daughter of the one in WWII. In fact, she's just a different generation's version of the same person. I've noticed that you almost never see Dinah with her mother; is "Senior" dead now? And I mean, really; know how many women name their daughters after themselves? Zero. Only men are that vain and uninterested in fostering sense of individuality in their children. And don't bother giving me any real-life counterexamples of women with the same name as their mothers; it won't prove me wrong, it will just prove that those people are really, really weird.

No, Dinah doesn't "lose" because she's a replacement. It's for other reasons... .

The modern Black Canary has a superpower; in the Golden Age, she didn't. That's such a powerful difference in kind that almost nothing else matters. It happened, you'll recall, when she "migrated" from Earth-2 to Earth-1 . It may seem cool or perfectly natural for her to have a power now, so many years later. But at the time it was one of the most painful examples ever of "Ironic Superempowerment", the phenomenon by which unpowered characters just happen to acquire superpowers that just happen to fit with their previously chosen name or identity.

She's pretty much the same otherwise, but she's 'traded up' a good deal. She still has a macho jerk for a boyfriend, but now he's a superhero macho jerk. She still has a daughter who could follow in her footsteps, but she didn't have to quit her career on go through anything like, you know, childbirth, to get her. She's still a respected hero in her own right, but is now also known for her leadership in Birds of Prey and the Justice League. Black Canary's changed a lot, and, unlike most of her contemporaries, she's changed for the better.

This brings us to Batman, who I think is our winner. And how does Batman win? The same way Batman always wins.

By cheating, of course.

I'd been avoiding trying to tackle the issue of how different the current Batman might be because I couldn't figure out exactly what "the Golden Age Batman" meant. A lot of people think it just means "the dark and eerie figure of the night", the lone avenger of Gotham. Not so.

Smiling Batman, happy Batman, Robin's partner, deputized by the Commissioner and awarded a diamond-encrusted police badge? That happened in the early 1940s, folks; the Golden Age. In fact, that corner was turned, in my opinion, in "The People v. Batman", Oct/Nov 1941, Batman No. 7, in this very scene:


The nice thing is that, while Batman became Smiling Batman early in the Golden Age, he never forgot how to be scary. For example, in the panels below, B&R find themselves in a corrupt town where they can't work with the police. "That's okay, " Batman says. "We'll do in the old fashioned way and just scare the bejeezus out of 'em.""By reverting to our earliest technique-- cracking the nerves of the underworld. Remember the bat costume's origin and how the press described it? 'A dread shadow that silently stalks the nocturnal corridors or crime.' "

And so he does.


This is the Batman who, as a bad guy fell to his death from a skyscraper construction site, said to his little boy sidekick, "Quick, Robin! Snap a picture!" Do you really want to know what he means by "or else"? Shudder.

Anyway, my point is that Batman's entire literary history has been the process of weaving back and forth between the two sides of his Golden Age personality: Smiling Batman and Frowning Batman. And I love the statement above that it's a conscious tactic that Batman employs. Batman is neither crazy nor a fool, but a master of psychological warfare. He's accessible when he needs to be and implacable when required.

That's what he was in the Golden Age; that's what he is now. Least changed? Batman

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Comments:
Ma Canary died in the early 1990s. I remember seeing her funeral in an issue of "Green Lantern Quarterly".

Also, Ma Canary started out her career as a criminal. I don't know whether that matters.
 
Additionally.
 
Not that there were established rules on how to reach a conclusion, but those Batman panels don't look like they came from a DC comic book. They appear to be from a newspaper daily comic strip.

In my opinion, it feels a little bit like cheating that in your ultimate conclusion, you end up referencing other media (even if it is DC approved.) I mean, you didn't factor in the Bruce Timm-Paul Dini animated series, or the Brandon Routh movie, etc. when arguing the case for the other candidates -- so why does Batman get the benefit of external (possibly non-canon) sources?

It would have been better if you played by the same rules for the entire game.
 
Scip did say that Batman cheats. Which is true.

Also, does anyone else find it weird that Black Canary has a canary cry when female canaries can't even *sing*?

(leaving aside that there aren't even any black canaries as far as I know...)
 
"And I mean, really; know how many women name their daughters after themselves? Zero. Only men are that vain and uninterested in fostering sense of individuality in their children. And don't bother giving me any real-life counterexamples of women with the same name as their mothers; it won't prove me wrong, it will just prove that those people are really, really weird."

One of the things I find most endearing in my male friends is their sweet naivete when it comes to the female of the species.

And don't forget, Scip;
if women ran the world there'd be no war (Margaret Thatcher, Joan of arc, and Boadicea),
women can't drive (Danica Patrick, Valerie Thompson),
and they're the "fairer" sex (I wonder who chose that particular adjective to describe them?).
 
"so why does Batman get the benefit of external (possibly non-canon) sources?"

Whoa. Setting aside the disturbingly serious tone of your objection, which acts as it this were some actual contest and not merely a literary device for me to explore the evolution of various popular DC characters...

How about, "Bob Kane wrote the comic strip"?
 
And really, how can anything from the Golden Age be considered "canon" when Crisis wiped it out?
 
Don't know any woman named after their mothers, do you, David?

What I find really naive in MY male friends is that they fall for the idea that men and women aren't different.
 
"by which unpowered characters just happen to acquire superpowers that just happen to fit with their previously chosen name or identity."

And it's a useful power, not something like "undergoes annual moults" or "eats cuttlebone".
 
Well, Black Canary did once have the superpower to summon a flock of black canaries to do her bidding. Sure, she only ever used it once but I haven't seen any evidence to indicate that she does not still possess this power.
 
I think "Cuttlebone-Eater Lad" needs to fight Aquaman.

The real Aquaman, I mean.
 
I always remember with a cringe the retcon that turned the Earth 1 Canary into her own daughter, with the explanation that she had been given all her mother's memories - think about this for a second before contacting the psychiatrists.
 
Wasn't GA Black Canary's name "Diana"and not "Dinah" like her daughter? I might totally making that up...that or it was one of James Robinson's retcons from Starman or something. Incidentally, my mom was named after her mom...just throwing that out there.
 
Name changes in Robinson's Starman (brilliant as that title was) weren't so much "retcons" as "screwups never to be mentioned again." IIRC, we got Jay Garrett as the Flash. (and, yes, I remember the Dinah/ Diana thing, and everyone commented on it being a screw-up at the time.)

I didn't know female canaries didn't sing, but even so never really considered BC's power excessively (so-called) "ironic," since canary songs aren't really ear-splitting door-smashing howls. If her name had been the Black Banshee it would have been excessively "ironic." Or if she'd acquired that most routine superpower, flight, even that might have been.
 
Well, if you consider "written by Bob Kane" to mean "produced by the same writers and artists who produced the comics", then yeah, they count. There's some darn good readin' in those 40s comic strip collections.
 
I started reading Batman when he was flying off to space and travelling in time on a regular basis. The many Golden Age reprints I read at the time were even stranger. When people would talk about taking Batman back to his dark roots, I never knew what they were talking about. Even after DC took him in a more mysterious direction in his own books, you would still see Batman popping up at charity shows and getting the key to the city in JLA or B&B. The police still had him on speed dial.

Holding Batman to the darkness standard of his first year or two would be like complaiing that there's no marching bands and spankings in Wonder Woman.

It's only been in the Post-Frank Miller years that I've heard people asking the Hamlet question about Batman. Nobody questioned his sanity before. The spooky stuff was all an act. Batman went on picnics with orphans. He didn't brood in a cave about how to kill the Justice League.

I could argue that Batman has changed the most of them all. All of the other heroes have the same basic relationship with the world that they have always had. Batman does not.
 
"with the explanation that she had been given all her mother's memories - think about this for a second before contacting the psychiatrists."

Like, having sex with her Dad?

EWWW~!~~~~
 
I think most female birds don't sing much, at least compared to their female counterparts. Definitely true of most parrot-type birds and cockatiels. (Same reason the male birds are more colorful - the singing and colorful plumage are to attract mates.)

It's fascinating to me that way back in 1944, not only was "Batman acts differently than he did at the beginning" noticed, but it was actually a plot point!
 
"How many women name their daughters after themselves?"

Well, there's my mother. She made my sister a "junior" and saddled her with "Martha Lorine" to boot. Women are diabolical, especially right after childbirth.
 
"with "Martha Lorine" to boot. Women are diabolical, especially right after childbirth."

Zowie!

Martha Lorine, Junior, totally needs to be a Blue Beetle villain.
 
Back in the (now sadly out-of-continuity) pages of JLA: Year One, there was actually some mention of the creepiness of Dinah Sr. not only saddling Dinah Jr. with her name but also foisting her florist's shop off on her, while forbidding her to become the Black Canary -- as if she was trying to attach those parts of her identity she no longer wanted to someone else and keep the really interesting parts for herself!

It's true, though...I don't think I've ever encountered a mother hanging her own name on her daughter outside of the funny pages either.

My parents divided us up, namewise.

My dad's initials are J.E.G., so he got to give "his" child the same initials. My mother's initials were K.P.G., so she gave her kid a name with those intials.

Maybe it's not quite the same thing as naming your daughter after yourself, but I think the only reason she didn't do that was to avoid comedic mix-ups.
 
My Dad's sister is named after her mom. Both Teresa.

And then she named her daughter Teresa too.
 
I don't think the Batman has really changed as much as modern writers don't understand the notion of a master of psychological warfare and would just rather write our favorite hero as truly nuts.

On the other hand I enjoy the idea of Batman being open to the original Justice League veterans and hero veterans that are just that old and experienced, and being a bit elitist and closed off to guys like Kyle Rayner and... I've stopped paying attention.

I can buy Booster Gold knowing that Batman is Bruce but I still don't see him trusting goofball Kyle.
Of course I still see Kyle as the Space Cadet he was when Grant Morrison wrote the character. He's changed.
 
While we are on the microtopic I think Kyle Rayner has become a more generic superhero character.
 
>> It may seem cool or perfectly natural for her to have a power now, so many years later. But at the time it was one of the most painful examples ever of "Ironic Superempowerment",<<

A dim tiny flickering 5-watt lightbulb just appeared above my pointy little head ...
BC-2nd got her superpower because The Wizard whammied a curse on her newborn little self, right? And The Wizard has a long-standing grudge against JSA members, right? So could it be that Wildcat Junior got HIS fur coat by that same means? Huh, could it, huh? Or has another explanation for that particular weirdness gotten published while I wasn't paying attention? Or what?
Inquiring interlopers need to know!
 
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