Tuesday, October 02, 2007

JLA 13: Black Canary, still not the leader of the JLA

One of the complaints readers had about Brad Meltzer's run on Justice League was that he wasn't able to show effectively why Black Canary was chosen as leader of the team, or show her leading it effectively afterwards.

But, you know what? McDuffie has been fixing many of Meltzer's gaffs, one by one, but this one has gotten even worse. In JLA 13, it seems almost that McDuffie has gone out of his way to show that Black Canary isn't leading, or certain not leading well.

1. While Black Canary is still recovering from kissing off Ollie, Green Lantern has already begun the meeting and briefed everyone on the situation.

2. Superman, Black Lightning, and Green Lantern debate Hawkgirl's fitness for duty. Black Canary has no say in the matter.

3. Black Canary mentions that one team has been out of contact for a while, Superman and Green Lantern decide what that means and that something needs to be done.

4. When Red Tornado asks for a battle plan, Black Canary does come up with one. But "Split into two groups and retrace their steps, okay?" isn't the single greatest example of clear and decisive leadership I've ever read. Can you imagine Hawkman, Wonder Woman, Power Girl, or Aquaman saying, "Split into two groups and retrace their steps, okay?" They would say, "You, you, and you, do this; you, you, and you, do that. Let's go, troops; stay close to one another and be careful."

5. Then Superman decides he's leading one of the subteams, and decides who he's taking. THEN, when they let Canary pretend she's picking the other team (it's everyone who's left, natch!), Green Lantern questions, then countermands the decision, points out a huge flaw in the decision, and changes the team. Far as I can tell, Green Lantern is leading the JLA.

6. Black Canary is utterly unaware that anything is amiss with Vixen's powers. Superman has to figure it out and confront Vixen. Then, neither of them say anything to Canary about it. Can you imagine him not telling Batman, Wonder Woman, or Aquaman? Can you imagine them not knowing already?

7. Then, when the villains show up, Black Canary shows that she's not a very good leader or, for that matter, Heroclix player. Canary; you're a Secondary Attacker. Use your Primary Attacker, Superman, first. Then, once they are softened up, your own attacks will be more effective. If you'd attacked with Superman and/or Vixen first, then you would have been free to tie up Parasite.

8. Black Canary shows that, not only is she a bad leader, she's a bad team member, and a crappy Heroclix player. When faced with three villains all of whom would be sensitive to her superpower, she decides instead to kick one in the face. Why? Mostly because she's indulging a delayed emotional reaction to something he did, oh, maybe 7 years ago. Yes, I can forgive BC for being emotional about rape in general, and the rape of her friend in particular. But if she can't do her job because of it, then she shouldn't be leading the JLA, or even in it. Can you imagine Aquaman or Wonder Woman doing what she did? I can't.

9. Once the villains have retreated, who retrenches and starts to make plans for their next move? Superman and Black Lightning.

Now, you could make the case that this portrayal of Black Canary is sexist. In fact, I'll wager there are about 147 blogs, livejournals, and podcasts that already have done so this week. And maybe it is. But there's another possibility:

Maybe McDuffie isn't to blame here.
Maybe this isn't the way Black Canary is being written.
Maybe it's the way she is.
Now, a good number of you will immediately dismiss me as insane or sexist for writing that. But I've come to believe these characters, having been around a long time, develop quite a lot of "inertia of characterization". Big ships turn neither quickly nor sharply. It's hard for anyone (at least, anyone who knows enough about them to become their writer), to change dramatically who they are, or even to write them too far out of character (except for, you know, Frank Miller).

For example: Geo-Force is a pompous, callous, ass. Recent attempts to refresh him in the public eye have led to a re-evaluation of the character in a new era, with new writers, and new readers, who seem to have reached a new consensus: Geo-Force is a pompous, callous, ass. I happen to think that's simply because... he is. The frog should not blame the scorpion for stinging, folks.

Blame it on Julius Schwartz, for inculcating me with the tenet that everything the writers here on "Earth Prime" write is merely a "reverberation" in their brains of what's happening on the "other Earths". Blame it on collective fandom memory, for whom each story of a character is merely an instantiation of the unalterable Platonic idea of that character. Blame it on me, for being a pompous, callous ass. But don't necessarily blame it all on McDuffie.

Some may object that Black Canary proved her leadership under a different writer (the glorious Gail Simone), who is the principal architect of the modern day grooviness of Black Canary. Perhaps. But (1) Black Canary was more of an MVP in Birds of Prey; Oracle was, and is, the leader. (2) Birds of Prey was, and is, a great team. But they are a great B Team, and Black Canary was the big fish in that smaller (but still rather large!) pond. The JLA is the A Team, folks, and Black Canary is surrounded by fish that are larger than she. And it's showing.

Don't get me wrong; I like Black Canary. I like her now more than I ever have. But, I like lots of characters, without thinking they are the appropriate ones to be leading the JLA. I don't think it's just because she's a woman or isn't the strongest member. After all, two of the greatest leaders in comic team history were Saturn Girl and Dream Girl of the Legion, neither of whom is exactly a powerhouse. I wouldn't buy Superman as the leader of the JLA, either; no matter how many times writers try to foist leadership onto Superman (usually in crossovers) it's always extremely ill-fitting. Superman is a fullback, not a quarterback. Aquaman is a quarterback; John Stewart is a running back; Flash, a wide receiver. Black Canary? Tight end.

It's exactly because I like Black Canary that I don't like seeing her lead the JLA; frankly, it's making her look bad. Brad Meltzer "promoted" her out of some misguided sense of Affirmative Action when the previous characterization to support it hadn't yet been built. Now JLA reads like a theater group where a weak director is being gently back-led by her company of strong actors.

When do Aquaman and Martian Manhunter get back?


G. Bob said...

Aquaman is NOT the QB. Look, he's a player who is very useful in a particular circumstance, like when you have to fight underwater. Other than that? Not so much.

Look, I love the man and his fishy friends as much as the next guy, but he's a field goal kicker. He's not needed on the field for every play, but when you need him you need him.

Batman is the quarterback.

Anonymous said...

Oh, they should just hand the keys to Wonder Woman so that everyone's happy.

Did anyone else read JLA/Hitman #1?

Now that lady could lead the JLA All-stars any day.

Rob Pugh said...

Batman's the coach. The smartest dude surrounded by folks bigger and smarter.

Superman's a QB. Guy who can get things done on the field but still needs the coach to send in the plays.

I see Oracle as a GM.

WW and GL are your 2nd and 3rd string QB's, respectively.

Aquaman's the smartest special teams player in the league. Takes over as the scab QB in the event of a player's strike.

Martian Manhunter is a player/coach, who usually watches the action from the box, in the head coach's ear, but suits up when needed.

Black Canary is a Jim Thorpe throwback. Can do everything really well, but would be outshone by specialists of the modern era.

...and that should hammer that analogy to death.

Anonymous said...

I've never read any Black Canary stories where she gave me the idea she could or should be the leader of any team, especially the JLA.

Not every player can be captain. Some folks are great at being soldiers. It's not a knock to her character. But it is politically correct to a fault to insist she be presented as something she's never been before, mostly just because she's a female.

Anonymous said...

Aquaman's the tight end they use for 3rd and short plays when they show run and the other team tries to blitz but then the QB (Superman, with Batman being the coach who called the play) throws a screen and they end up with the first down plus.

I see Superman as the QB because 1) he can call audibles if the play needs to be altered; 2) he's certainly the MVP, and 3) all the kids in America have a poster of Superman on their wall. The same can not be said of most fullbacks.

And how can anyone but Flash be the running back?

Siskoid said...

Great posts, once again, and a great idea for the week. I might well be buying JLA if it weren't for the art, ah well.

You're right about Canary's inertia. Look at her career: She's been either a soloist, or a footsoldier in the JLA, often relegated to keeping Ollie under control. In JLI she wasn't a particularly good team player, argumentative and putting down her sillier team mates. Certainly, that League would not have rallied around her. Field leader of Birds of Prey, with a much more limited canvas of powers and abilities, isn't on the same level.

I have no doubt MacDuffie is heading towards her realization that the task is overwhelming her, which would be better than a putsh by other member (though this is equally likely).

If she reverts to the serious ass-kicker from JLU, I think everyone will be happy.

The Mutt said...

I see it as yet another example of hanging the title Leader on some character just because the writers can't come up with any other way to make the character interesting in that setting. I've seen it happen many times. The readers complain that a female character doesn''t do anything, so they make her the leader and think their work is done.

Black Canary was a great character in Birds of Prey because she fit there. She's never been a good fit in the JLA. I've never played Heroclix, but even I know you don't send Black Canary to fight Despero or take on an alien invasion.

The urge to balance things out in the white male world of superteams is a good one, but it needs to make sense. Jan Pym turned out to be a good choice as Avengers leader, but that's because later writers took the ball and ran with it. It was a bad idea when it first happened.

Good urges plus bad thinking is how we end up with things like an entire decade of Marvel comics where there were no Black villains or criminals allowed in a comic with a White hero, or an entire decade of crime and lawyer shows on television without a single White Male judge.

Mister Terrific as leader of the JSA never once felt like affirmative action because he was the best choice to lead the team. Imagine if they made Jakeem Thunder the leader.

Wonder Woman as leader makes sense. Black Canary or Power Girl does not.

SallyP said...

I hate to admit this Scip, but you may be right. I do like Black Canary, but there is no doubt that she's been something of a twit lately. I WAS just racking that up to Judd Winick.

At least with McDuffie we are actually getting some ACTION for a change. And I am breathlessly awaiting the return of J'onn and Aquaman.

Anonymous said...

It can be forgiven if Black Canary has been acting like a twit lately. She just got married; that can put a lot of stress on a woman. (Ever seen Bridezillas?)

Anonymous said...

Yeah, maybe Dinah should take a sabbatical for a bit - anyway, she did just kill her husband - and Wonder Woman can take the reins.

Dinah can come back once she gets her shit together - as long as she performs the second time around.

Devon Sanders said...

"Black Canary? Tight End."

Sounds heavenly.

Rob S. said...

What is this football thing you're all talking about?

BIG MIKE said...

Scip, I'm impressed with your knowledge of American Football. Personally, I think Superman is the center; Green Lantern is QB if it's John Stewart (running back if Hal, water boy if Kyle, and fan hooligan if Guy); Flash is of course a wideout; Black Canary as tight end actually works pretty well; Batman is the coach... and I actually think Wonder Woman is the fullback.

Caleb said...

Okay, I can't comment on the sports metaphors, but nice post , and analysis of the fictional team dynamic (I'm really enjoying the attention you're lavishing on the post-Meltzer League).

I didn't really care for BC being named leader of a team where virtually everyone is a more natural leader than she is (The Trinity are basically leaders in any room full of superheroes they're in anyway, right? And I can't see Hal being like, "Oh, what's that, My Friend's Girlfriend? You'd like me to do what?").

What really bugged me though was that Canary's sole qualification—that she founded the League—also applied to Hal, and, in Meltzer's stories at least, it's never clear whether Canary did found it or not.

Re her marital status, this whole story arc takes place BEFORE the actual wedding, right? Because the Injustice League attacked at the bachelor/-ette parties and captured folks...folks who attended the wedding.

Derek said...

"Superman is a fullback, not a quarterback. Aquaman is a quarterback; John Stewart is a running back; Flash, a wide receiver. Black Canary? Tight end."

Your sports metaphors are useless against me, but I know a good pun when I see one.

And to the people who believe Aquaman doesn't qualify as a quarterback, please read Justice. Aquaman is a born leader, like the original King Arthur. He's noble and possesses an innate command of battle.

I would even contend that his low-level telepathy helps him coordinate and inspire his allies.

*dons an "Orin for Chairman" button*

Ragnell said...

Now, you could make the case that this portrayal of Black Canary is sexist. In fact, I'll wager there are about 147 blogs, livejournals, and podcasts that already have done so this week.

From what I've seen, you'll lose that bet. This is the first "McDuffie screwed the Canary" post I've come across and I monitor most of the blogs you're referring to there.

I have seen praise of this portrayal. Of course, they are coming off Meltzer around the time Winick's writing her in another book. Might be skewing the perspective.

Scipio said...

"From what I've seen, you'll lose that bet."

Hm. That surprises me. I mean, am I being oversensitive to how she's being portrayed? Why aren't people dismayed by her portrayal/behavior?

Anonymous said...

From what you've described, it sounds like the writer is laying the groundwork for an in-story test of and challenge to Dinah's leadership.

That just sounds like craftful writing, and maybe other readers are picking up on that.

Scipio said...

Well, the death or critical injury of her husband alone would be a good reason for her to decide that now is not the time for her to lead the JLA...

Cameltrooper said...

I know everyone at the store has been talking up this past issue of JLA but I couldn't shake the feeling, after reading it last night, that it was kind of ho-hum. I have a HUGE problem getting by Benitez's art. Its no step up from Ed Bene's (I think he was the last artist on JLA?). There's nothing, imo, kinetic or well laid out in the art of this book. I mean just look at Canary's stance with Vixen and Superman or John Stewart's roided out physique.

I can appreciate that McDuffie has a lot to repair and I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt but I'm not sure I'll be able to appreciate McDuffie's run (at least what I'm being told I should be looking forward to) thanks to the art.

Just curios about a few things like why was superman just standing around while BC and Vixen were jumping into the fray? Wouldn't Parasite know better that he's actually absorbing Superman's powers considering he's done it so many times before? And wouldn't the ring protect Stewart from Ivy's microbes?

I won't keep complaining and I'm looking forward to reading your daily breakdown's on this issue Scip. Hopefully it can help me see the light.

Anonymous said...

And wouldn't the ring protect Stewart from Ivy's microbes?

Interesting point. Ivy didn't actually invade John's body with anything, she took mental control over microscopic floronic organisms that were already there. And yet, the ring is supposed to protect its wearer from all harm. So my answer is: I don't know!