This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on June 22, 2015.
Black Canary #1 is a beautiful debut, but that’s no surprise coming from artist Annie Wu and colorist Lee Loughridge. Even before the 8-page preview landed, there was little doubt that this dynamic duo would bring something very special to DC Comics’ Divergence relaunch. They prove these assumptions to be absolutely correct, and while Black Canary #1 is far from perfect, none of its major problems stem from the art.
Wu broke into comics in a big way, featured in the almost-concluded (one of these days) Hawkeye as the artist for all of Kate Bishop’s individual stories. Black Canary makes for an excellent point of transition, incorporating many of the strengths Wu has already shown off. It is a street-level, pop culture infused, action comic. Black Canary is touring as the lead singer of a rock group having to face off against thugs and stranger threats while raising money for her dojo. Perfect fit. Loughridge needs no introduction, having consistently ranked amongst the top colorists in comics for the past several years.
The fight scenes in Black Canary are all about momentum. Canary (called D.D. by her bandmates) is a martial artist, and those skills are emphasized over her canary scream. Kicks and throws create a sense of flow, D.D.’s actions connecting and driving other characters with them. There is a fluidity to the violence that makes the smooth lines seem perfectly apropos for the brutality.
This grace extends to her time on stage as well. When she is moving about during a performance, it appears completely natural, comprised of a raw beauty. Wu has conceived of D.D. as a character who has complete control over her own body, no matter where else she may lack it. Whether she’s tossing a goon or leaping mid-performance, the choreography is intentionally perfect.
Loughridge offsets this purposeful depiction with dirty, dusty nightclub settings. He captures the grit of a small-time concert perfectly with locales that may remind you of favorite hometown joints, rather than caricatures. The band and stages are still lit up with the harsh lights that small bands and venues can afford. They contrast wonderfully against the darkness that surrounds them and keeps a concise focus on the stars of the issue. Guitar sound effects are wonderfully lit as well, toeing a subtle line between the bright lights and dull walls.
Wu also continues to demonstrate a strong sense of design and fashion. Each member of the band expresses themselves in some small way through their choice of clothing. D.D. is functional, stylish, and rough around the edges with a gorgeous outfit composed of leather, buckles, and torn fishnets. Meanwhile, the band’s youngest members introduction in a cat jumpsuit (one that resembles Chip Zdarsky’s Garfield onesie) provides a lot of information in a panel where she isn’t even the focus. There are plenty of other great detail-rich panels like a cutaway of the tour bus throughout Black Canary #1 as well.
Once you dig beneath the action, visceral experience, and visual details, Black Canary begins to show a structure that is assembled like Ikea furniture minus a few steps. Brendan Fletcher’s script reads like a first draft. All of the elements, characters, plotting, and premise, introduced in Black Canary #1 are solid by themselves, but they never cohere properly. The missed potential begs the question of where the editors were to help refine this set of ideas into a fully functioning first issue.
The most egregious examples on display are the manner in which Fletcher introduces the band. When you meet the band’s manager/merch salesperson Heathcliff, you can tell right away that’s he’s the new guy, fresh outta school. You know this because he states that he’s “the new guy, fresh outta school.” Everyone states who they are, what they want, and how they relate to others. It’s important information, none of which ever rings true.
A variety of drama is ready to confront D.D. and her band, but the various conflicts are scattered, dividing the dramatic push and robbing the issue of much of its excitement. D.D. is trying to get her life back together, but there’s not a lot of detail as to what has gone wrong or how this solves those problems. She’s as much a cipher to the reader as the rest of the band. The constant fights that follow the band between gigs is played for laughs, and never feels like a real problem given D.D.’s imposing reputation. And the biggest problem, posed by shadow-like villains, is given too little shape to feel really frightening. They appear to threaten Ditto, but Ditto never gives readers a reason to care outside of being a talented child. Unable to state her motives like everyone else, she lacks personality altogether.
Black Canary #1 is a jumble of elements that fail to make a significant impression based on the story, but it moves so fast and looks so good that the failings in the script can easily be overlooked. None of the flaws present are fundamental to what comes next. Given some revision and a bit more thought, it’s a series that could easily match the gorgeous layouts, artwork, and colors on display with a streamlined story of equal merit. As Black Canarycontinues, it could afford to take some advice from one of the greatest performers to ever hit the stage: “A little less conversation, a little more action, please.”