She’s my daughter!
She’s my sister!
She’s my sister and my daughter!
– “Chinatown” (1974)
In 1983, it took three esteemed DC Comics writers to answer a question nobody was asking – and in doing so create perhaps the creepiest JLA/JSA team-up in history.
In “Crisis in the Thunderbolt Dimension,” in “Justice League of America” No. 219, cover date October 1983, Johnny Thunderbolt’s beloved genie seemingly has gone rogue.
The extra-dimensional creature attacks the Justice League – Flash, Green Lantern, Elongated Man, Firestorm and Zatanna – while leaving the Justice Society – the Flash, the Huntress, Power Girl, Starman and Hourman and
JSA traitors Earth-2 natives Red Tornado and Black Canary virtually unscathed.
Thunderbolt is frying the JLA while essentially ignoring the JSA.
Why that’s –
– well, it’s just so –
Obviously, this can’t continue.
If the JLA dies, then that will put a serious crimp in the annual team-ups. The JSA would have to carry stories by themselves and DC would have to give them their own title and – I’m not seeing a downside to this crisis.
With the Crime Champions – Earth 2’s most dire villains – popping up all over Earth 1, the JSA splits off into smaller teams. Starman suggests he and Black Canary drop in on the Thunderbolt dimension to find out how Pinky lost his brain.
There, they find the evil Johnny Thunder of Earth 1 – and a glass casket containing the bodies of Larry Lance – and Black Canary!
Sweet Midvale High, what’s going on?
In “The Doppelganger Gambit,” “Justice League of America,” No. 220, cover date November 1983, while the JSA struggles to defeat the Crime Champions on Earth 1. Sargon the Sorcerer pops up – because there just weren’t enough heroes in this team-up.
This issue is so packed with action, exposition and characters, it’s amazing Roy Thomas could cram it all into a mere 24 pages. (Gerry Conway and Thomas scripted part one; and the overall idea is credited to Marv Wolfman.)
And what a sad tale emerges:
After the JSA disbanded in the 1950s, Black Canary married Lance and had a baby girl – also named Dinah. When the child was a toddler, the Wizard, seeking revenge, attacked their home.
“The children must suffer, alas, for the sins of their parents,” the villain sneers, casting some foul hoodoo.
The child opens her mouth – “and the world went over so slightly mad.”
That first Canary cry levels the Lance home.
The Lances turn to Johnny and this Thunderbolt for help. To save the world, the genie takes little Dinah to his dimension, where she sleeps “like a female Rip Van Winkle.”
He also does one other thing unbidden:
He alters Johnny’s and the Lances’ memories so they think the child died.
“It seemed – easier that way,” Thunderbolt says.
Yeah, maybe for him, but not for the Lances, who could have, I dunno, reconvened with all their old JSA pals to search for a cure. Hey, what do I know? What does Black Canary know?
Turns out nothing. She doesn’t even remember giving birth.
The JLA members revive from their comas and help the JSA put down the Crime Champions, who so don’t live up to their name.
Earth 2 Johnny helps defeat his evil counterpart in the Thunderbolt dimension.
All is well in all the realities – except –
Black Canary wonders: “Is that my daughter over there – a daughter I’d forgotten – or is the answer even stranger than that?”
Hey, we’ve got two pages left. What do you think?
Superman and the Spectre appear, revealing the last pieces of the puzzle.
Turns out Larry Lance wasn’t the only victim of Aquarius’ radiation poisoning back in “Justice League of America” No. 74.
Flashback: As a stricken Dinah begs for one last chance to see her daughter’s grave, Thunderbolt and Superman grant her wish – and she realizes her child never died and is now a full-grown woman.
“Then – she’s been alive all these years. If only she could take my place,” a dying Black Canary says.
Superman butts in. “Wait a minute! It’s crazy I know – but maybe – just maybe!”
We can thank Kal-El for this stupid plan.
Thunderbolt magically exchanges memories between the two Dinahs. The younger Dinah proceeds to Earth 1 as the newest member of the Justice League. Apparently, no one from the Justice League questioned how their latest recruit dropped 20 years – and Superman let everyone believe that Aquarius’ radiation gifted her that super-sonic cry.
Grant Morrison once devoted an issue to “Doom Patrol” to the question of which rules us, the body or the mind, as Robotman’s body rebelled against his brain.
From her body’s point of view, Black Canary has just discovered she is her own daughter.
From her mind’s perspective, Black Canary has just learned she is her own mother.
She’s her daughter! She’s her mother! She’s her daughter and her mother!
To drive home the sheer lunacy of this switcheroo, Superman explains, “Thunderbolt also erased all memory of the very existence of a child from your brain, though he thought it wisest not to expunge your mother’s remembrance of Larry Lance.”
That’s right, Black Canary II recalls doing it with her dad.
The very mature comics reader in me then and now has the same reaction to this entire retcon reveal:
Ew Ewww Ewwww Ewwww Ewwww Ew
Black Canary exits the Thunderbolt dimension looking a bit teary but at peace.
What’s missing from story is the sequence in which she runs to Zatanna and says, “Yo, girlfriend, you know that mind wipe trick of yours that works so well on heroes and villains alike?
“Play some of that backward magic on me.”
All this work – and confusion – to explain how Canary picked up her ultra-sonic cry?
Don’t you believe it.
The opening in JLA No. 219 suggests the real problem with Black Canary – her age.
As the JSA’s Flash notes, the JSA went into action about 20 years before the JLA formed. (Jay also wonders why his planet is called Earth 2 when it is clearly the oldest.)
The implication has never been more clear. If the JSA formed two decades before the Justice League, Black Canary should be at least about 45.
To seem as young as she is, she would have had to join the JSA when she was 5 years old.
That’s so not the case.
In comics, women typically are ingenues or crones. There’s Gwen Stacy and then there’s Aunt May, with little between. Just two years later, Marv Wolfman would challenge this with the creation of Lady Quark, last survivor of her planet and a heroine clearly in her fifties, in “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” but she is the exception who defies the cliche.
The idea that Green Arrow could be dating an older woman – that he would want to date an older woman – was ridiculous, from a comics point of view. Black Canary would have to change her name to Black Cougar, and that particular species of wildlife wouldn’t be discovered until “Sex and the City” hit the airwaves.
As Conway told “Back Issue” No. 82, cover date August 2015, Thomas “wanted to explain the age of the character and why she is younger … It was mostly something he wanted to accomplish.”
This retcon’s impact on Black Canary and the Justice League was short-lived. “Crisis in Infinite Earths” in 1985 merged Earth 2 into Earth 1 and ultimately led to a Canary with an even newer origin, as a young woman following in the footsteps of her mother and becoming a founding member of the Justice League, taking the place of Wonder Woman. Even that origin would not stick.
The “Crisis on Multiple Earths” trade paperbacks stopped just short of this story, with Volume 6 and the 1982 team-up.
DC Comics has not made this story available through its comic app – not yet anyway.
Maybe that’s just as well.
It’s just so damn weird.
6 thoughts on “The Shocking, Strange, Somewhat Skeevy Secret Origin of Black Canary!”
And then the real scandal hits: Larry Lance was not, in fact, the father. It was Sandman!!
Hah! Now don’t you start giving those “New 52” writers ideas!
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I believe at the end of the story where Superman, the Spectre, and Black Canary in the Thunderbolt dimension (or whatever it was called), the Spectre calls BC “Dinah Drake.” Um. No. That would be Dinah Lance. Probably an error, but I always wondered if it was planting a seed for a future story.
Michael, you raise an intriguing possibility – I wonder how a follow-up to this story would have worked, if someone recognized the utter weirdness of it all.
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