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Monday, 25 January 2010

Green Arrow Black Canary: For Better Or For Worse

Writers:  Various, but includes Alan Moore, Denny O'Neil, Mike Grell, Chuck Dixon and Kevin Smith
Artists: Various, but includes Mike Grell and Dick Giordano
Inkers: Various, but includes Dick Giordano
Letterer: Various, but includes Todd Klein
Publisher: DC Comics

What's it about?
Green Arrow, Oliver Queen, and Black Canary, Dinah Lance, are one of DC's most enduring couples.

Green Arrow is a non powered superhero who's skills lie in archery.  He was a millionaire playboy who got shipwrecked on a remote island and had to develop his archery and survival skills, along with his common sense, in order to survive.  Eventually he was rescued but not until after he'd broken up a drug business operating from the island.  Once back to civilisation he took up nighttime crime fighting, decking himself out in a Robin Hood style costume.

Black Canary is superpowered.  She has a canary cry - basically a sonic scream which she can use to incapacitate evil doers.  Now I've just written that I feel I should add that this ability is not remotely related to stereotypes of shrill nagging women and is never, ever, presented as such.  As well as her canary cry, she is an expert in many types of martial arts, in recent years she has become one of the best practitioners of martial arts in the DC Universe.  She was inspired to start crime fighting by her mother who was the first Black Canary.

In 2007 these two heroes finally got married and this collection of stories was published as a retrospective of their lives together.  It collects 13 stories from 1969 to 2003 providing not only a narration of their relationship, but also a good overview as to how comics have changed over the years.  There are villains, fights, infidelity, sex, death and long lost children.  This sounds dramatic and shlocky, I promise you it's not.  Most of all, this book is simply about two people who are very much in love. 

What's good about it?
As stated above, it's a story about two people who are very much in love and their lives together.  On the whole, the stories are told with humanity and feeling.  This collection includes some of the best Green Arrow/Black Canary stories out there, beautifully told and with the relationship problems dealt with tactfully and sensitively.

The Black Canary, Dinah Lance, is a brilliant character.  She is very sure of herself, a very good fighter, and doesn't put up with chauvinistic rubbish from the men in her life.  Green Arrow, on the other hand, starts off as a pompous ass.  This is partly due to the culture of the time, and as the stories become more recent he loses this arrogance.  Dinah remains fabulous throughout.

As the book progresses into stories from the 1980s we get some really good quality, lasting stories that continue to resonate with us now.  Alan Moore, creator of Watchmen and Promethea, wrote a tale titled Night Olympics about the state of crime in Star City.  The Hunters is by Mike Grell, who wrote and drew a run intended for mature readers, (for mature read sophisticated and not porn).  This story also has some of the most beautiful art I've ever seen in a comic.

From The Hunters onwards the collection becomes more about Dinah and Ollie's relationship and less to do with crimefighting.  The stories remain high quality as we look at the implications of key changes in their lives and there is prose commentary inbetween the strips to explain how they link up.

A special mention should be made for the cover.  A particularly nice type of paper has been used that is weighty and pleasing to the touch.  It feels absolutely lovely!  Quite rare for a comic book.

The cover art is by Alex Ross.  Ross paints all his art and uses real life models for his subjects.  Subsequently, his art features characters with real proportions, clothes that fit, hang comfortably and could feasibly be worn by real life crime fighters.  If you look at Black Canary's outfit, and exclude the high heels, it is a fairly sensible costume.   It looks real.

What's bad about it?
The first few stories from the 1960s and 1970s aren't specifically focused on Ollie and Dinah's relationship, and Dinah is not always the focus of the story, in the same way that Ollie or some of the other chaps are.  However, this is reflective of the era in which the stories were written, which unfortunately weren't too Dinah focused.

I should also probably mention that one of the characters, Thomas Kalmaku, was created in the 1950s when it seems that racial slurs were all the rage.  He's referred to as Pieface.  On the other hand, the collection does feature Earth's first black Green Lantern, John Stewart, architect extraordinaire.  Some of the the dialogue will make you cringe, but again it's a product of it's time.  Make of that what you will.  Both of these characters appear in the strip called Lure of an Assassin. 

What's the art like?
Varied, because it's been culled from three decades.  So instead of explaining it I'll show you some panels (be warned, there is some nudity):



Other Information
Price: £9.99
ISBN: 1401214460

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