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Black Canary (DC Comics) (Golden Age)

Black Canary

(Profile #2 - Golden Age version)


Power Level:
Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game

Context

This profile covers the Black Canary’s appearances during the Golden Age of comics. In her specific case this means All-Star Comics Vol. 1 #38 (1947) to All-Star Comics Vol. 1 #57 (1951), plus two stories made during that era but published decades later, plus Flash Comics #92-104.

A “prototype” Black Canary appeared before that, but she’s effectively a different character. See our for more. In fact it’s best to read it first. There’s also a gisted-post-Crisis profile.

Having been a member of the Justice Society of America, the Black Canary would endure for decades in DC Comics, gradually finding her own distinctive voice as a character.

This profile is an emergent history-style write-up.


Background

  • Real Name: Dinah Drake.
  • Marital Status: Presumed single.
  • Known Relatives: None.
  • Group Affiliation: Justice Society of America.
  • Base of Operations: Earth-2. Her initial flower shops was *probably* in Gotham, and she *probably* then moved to Civic City.
  • Height: 5’5″ Weight: 127 lbs.
  • Eyes: Blue Hair: Black (wears a blonde wig as the Canary).


Powers & Abilities

The Black Canary is fast, smart, agile, creative and crafty.

She is a trained acrobat and climber, who can even do big top trapeze routines.

Black Canary is a proficient boxer and knows quite a bit of jiu-jitsu. She often uses judo throws, making her fighting style different from most. She’s strong enough to lift a grown man right above her head and throw him several metres away, or operate a fire hose by herself.

Black Canary (DC Comics) (Golden Age) using jiu jistu

Furthermore she’s :

  • A competent investigator.
  • A skilled motorcyclist.
  • A seemingly successful florist and shopkeeper.
  • Unusually charismatic.
  • A graceful ice-skater.
  • A strong swimmer.

Though she’s the least powerful Justice Society member, she contributes with her quick wits. Dinah is good at coming up with unexpected plans using improvised resources. She is often useful because she held herself slightly in reserve to intervene where most necessary. She doesn’t do the rational deductions, though – this is Doctor Mid-Nite’s role.

Gear

The Black Canary’s locket can hold one or two tiny items. It can be popped open by pressing her chin against her choker. This means she can use it when bound. And since Golden Age comic book heroes get captured and bound an awful lot, this makes her trick choker a “get out of jail free” card.

In dire situations, the choker will also “just happen” to have the right mini-gadget within. Howbeit, the choker only gets into play once per adventure. And it was seldom if ever used in JSA adventures.

Black Canary (DC Comics) (Golden Age) with Larry Lance, and her trick choker

Items in the trick choker have been :

  • A small, sharp blade. The normal use of this gadget is to cut through ropes and escape, even when it’s… unclear how she could have possibly caught the blade with her hands tied behind her back.
  • Smoke capsules that release thick, billowing green fog. When this was done the choker seemed to also hold the rope-cutting blade, which she used whilst people were distracted by the smoke.
  • When shot at with an early form of laser, she revealed a very small mirror in her choker to reflect the beam back.
  • Another time it was a flint and steel to — somehow — make big sparks and start a fire.
  • Then it was a diamond cutter she could somehow then grab between her teeth to cut through an inch of solid glass.
  • Then a magnifying glass supposedly used to examine clues, though it didn’t reach past her jaw. She could use it to set a fire using sun rays, though.

As a JSA member, Dinah also carried a long-range Amazon two-way radio, though it can only communicate with compatible Amazon walkie-talkies.

Dinah somehow carried her wig and costume in her purse. Yes, including the boots. And the jacket.

Larry Lance

Larry Lance is a private eye with more than his fair share of macho swagger. He’s semi-competent as a P.I., and a decent brawler and gunman – though Black Canary is more skilled. He’s also fairly hard to kill.

Lance originally stopped at Dinah Drake’s flower shop every day to buy a flower and strut his stuff. Since he lacked the money to have his own office, he eventually convinced Drake to rent him a corner of her shop to serve as his agency. That was mostly so he could use her landline.

Black Canary (DC Comics) (Golden Age) on a motorcycle

Though Dinah is irritated by Larry’s conceit and the flirting is one-way, they are clearly attracted toward each other. Lance’s boasts about how great he is also keep Dinah informed about his current cases. This lets Black Canary intervene in time – often saving Lance’s life.

This was the first hook that emerged in Black Canary’s solo feature. The hard-boiled detective is the sidekick, and it’s the pretty blonde love interest who’s the actual hero. Of course, Lance will never admit it. And he will never realise on his own that Dinah Drake is the Black Canary.

Champions small with midnight wings

In Comic Cavalcade #25, Dinah demonstrated the power to summon and control flocks of black canaries. No, really, she did. The idea was promptly abandoned and isn’t considered to be in continuity.

A flock was strong enough to :

  • Catch and carry two falling people.
  • Destroy strong ropes by pecking through them.
  • Keep gunmen blinded by fluttering and clawing at their faces.

The Black Canary even had a Green Lantern-like oath to summon them :
Champions small with midnight wings,
Foe of every evil thing,
Heed my call and arise to flight,
Prove the Black Canary’s might !

Let’s never talk about that again.


History

Dinah Drake is a florist. Some captions in All-Star Comics imply that she lives in Gotham City, other that she lives in Civic City. She may have moved from Gotham to Civic once she became a full JSA member. That’d match what little information exists.

That’s it. Any further biographical data has yet to appear.

Thunderstruck

As noted in the , the cases where Black Canary teamed up with Johnny Thunder are kind of, sort of in continuity. The Canary pretended to be a criminal for some months in order to learn about the local mobs, though it gradually became clear that she was a heroine.

Black Canary (DC Comics) (Golden Age) fighting female cultists

The exact events probably do not match what was published. This is because Johnny Thunder was closer to a gag feature than a super-hero feature. But honestly, the specifics aren’t important. What matters is that she knew Johnny Thunder and he knew that she was a dependable heroine.

Clearing her throat

Comic Cavalcade #25 had a strange, transitional Black Canary story. I am going to reflexively blame Robert Kanigher for that, even though I have no idea whether he had any involvement with it.

In there Black Canary was a costumed vigilante detective who foiled a nonsensical plot to claim ownership of a night club. She had a magic oath to summon flocks of super-strong black canaries.

The plot also involved a shooting lamp post, a flamethrowing fire hydrant, identical twins, and a giant turntable to shoot prisoners high in the air atop a giant vinyl record.

So, yeah. Anyway.

History’s crime wave !

In December, 1947 the Black Canary found Johnny Thunder hovering at death’s door after a car crash. Before he passed on, he told her about the Justice Society of America’s secret headquarters. Black Canary was then knocked out by a man looking like Attila the Hun.

Recovering, she reached Wonder Woman at the JSA HQ. Wonder Woman soon discovered that the other male JSAers had also been killed by evil men from history – such as Nero, Genghis Khan, Cesare Borgia or Captain Kidd. Thankfully, she could resurrect them all using the purple healing ray.

Black Canary (DC Comics) (Golden Age) as Dinah Drake near her flower shop

Disoriented by their death and not finding any clue, the men of the JSA were stuck. Black Canary had them impersonate their new foes, counting on the evil historical personages’ pride to reel them in. It worked and the evil men from history attacked anew. However, the JSAers were captured using disorienting vapours.

Black Canary shadowed their captor. She thus discovered that it was a madman with an obsession about great villains from the past. She rescued the JSA, but the fanatic was accidentally killed. Dejected by this death, Dinah left the scene.

However, Wonder Woman tracked her down and made her an honoured guest of the Justice Society. This was the beginning of a process that would soon allow the Canary to become a full member.

Early cases

In her first documented case, the revised Black Canary investigated a road where trucks loaded with valuables kept vanishing. Larry Lance was also on the case. Albeit the two were briefly captured, they discovered that the trucks were forced to swerve off the road using a giant mirror and a cardboard house façade. She and Lance arrested the criminals.

The Black Canary then intervened in another Larry Lance case. She unmasked a faux swami  who enthralled wealthy women into a strange, murderous cult. The Black Canary also proved that the magical “Crimson Crystal” of the cult was just a prop, and saved Lance’s life (again).

Black Canary (DC Comics) (Golden Age) introduced to the JSA by Wonder Woman

Drake and Lance were then framed for the murder of an inventor. They eventually discovered that the man had co-invented an early form of laser, which criminals stole to use as an invincible weapon. The Canary and Lance narrowly defeated the gang and cleared their names.

A rich man whom the Canary had saved willed his wealth to her. Infuriated by thus being pushed out of the will, his niece impersonated the Black Canary and killed him. Dinah soon unmasked the impostor and had her confess to the police. She then donated the money from the will to a charity.

More early cases

Lance and the Black Canary were then — wait for it — framed for the murder of a druggist. They soon established that the man was a disloyal fence, and that the murderers were about to steal a jewel at a horse race. Chasing the horse-mounted thieves on a motorcycle, Black Canary caught them even though they fled in a small plane then parachuted out.

The director of a chemical mill was then murdered right before Larry Lance. The man gave him a piece of cloth, but Lance was soon kidnapped to repossess the fabric. The Black Canary easily found him and was briefly captured too. The pair soon defeated the crooks, learning that the fabric held a valuable formula for a new dye.

Black Canary then stopped some robbers after a famous set of diamonds. After deducing that a television camera was giving them clues to rob the place, she intercepted the bandits as they fled in a fast boat. Though outnumbered, Dinah repeatedly tricked them so she could take them out.

Lance was then hired to bodyguard the rich owner of a rare stamp. The man was nevertheless forced to surrender the stamp in a blackmail scheme that used Dinah’s florist shop as a front after disguising it as a groceries shop. The Canary and the detective saved the millionaire and stopped the conspiracy.

Meanwhile, at the Justice Society Headquarters…

Black Canary also worked as a sort of auxiliary for the JSA – for instance to conduct surveillance. Thus, while the Society was tangling with the power of the Voice of the Lorelei in the dimension of Fairyland, she saw the dangerous criminal Slicer escape into Fairyland. Chasing him, she ably reinforced the JSA to defeat the Lorelei – and repel the invading Fairyland forces from Earth.

She next helped the JSA defeat the dangerous Crimson Claws gang. More importantly, they reformed the Claws’ kid auxiliaries before they could become real criminals.

Black Canary (DC Comics) (Golden Age) with the assembled JSA

When the original Injustice Society launched its grand competition to capture American patriotic symbols, they captured most Justice Society members. The Black Canary and the Harlequin (Molly Maynne) allied to rescue them.

Though all JSA members, Dinah and Molly were recaptured, the persuasive Canary broke the Wizard’s hypnotic hold over her colleagues. The good guys thus ultimately prevailed.

After these exploits, the Black Canary was voted a full member of the JSA. She effectively replaced Johnny Thunder, who had recently resigned as his powers were fading. This restored the JSA’s roster to seven members – an important number for heroic teams in the DC Universe.

Their first known adventure after this decision was to defeat the Alchemist (Professor Zabor Zodiak).

More cases in Gotham City

More cases occurred around Miss Drake’s flower shops. By this point Lance had apparently enough money to have moved out of his corner in Dinah’s shop, though he continued to visit every day.

  • Another florist was gunned down right in front of the shop after Dinah mistakenly received a parcel meant for him. The Canary and Larry Lance were kidnapped by the shooters, but defeated this gang as they reclaimed the rare radioactive material that was in the parcel.
  • The pair then stopped a murderous sculptor and his gang, using the fact that the sculptor compulsively made scale models about his next crime. This case also involved an explosive giant music box, somehow.
  • They defeated crooks who nearly drove a rich man insane by convincing him that he was forever reliving the same day. The plot was using recorded radio broadcasts, piles of newspapers from the same day, acting, etc. but it crumbled before the Black Canary.
  • The nephew of yet another wealthy man hurriedly hid a stolen ruby in Miss Drake’s shop, reneging on a deal with criminals. He was murdered, but Canary and Larry saved his uncle from the gang and recovered the ruby.
  • They then prevented a gang from stealing some professor’s Element X-99 invention after he hired Larry Lance to protect him.
  • They then stopped a criminology professor who killed one of his students and several hired thugs, and almost killed Larry and the Canary, to prevent being exposed as a murderer.
  • While Lance worked as a courier, his client was murdered. The murderers then tried to kill the private eye as he was visiting Dinah’s shop, to recover the message he was bearing. The Canary saved him. Then the pair worked with the police to trick the murderers into confessing, thus clearing Larry of any suspicion.

Near the end of this era, there’s a *loose* implication that Lance and Drake have become an item – though in any case they aren’t living together. However, Larry is then forced to crash at the flower shop after he fails to pay his rent at his new place. So that may have changed just as Flash Comics finished its run.

Birds of a feather

Though her solo cases (well, solo with Larry Lance as a helper) stopped being chronicled at this point, Dinah continued to be a JSA member.

The further adventures of the Society included :

  • Confronting the schemer Aurikon in his home dimension, where life is based on gold like Earth life is based on carbon. Aurikon reactivated three mighty mechas  using iron stolen on Earth, to conquer his own world. Though his plan initially succeeded despite the JSA’s opposition, he ultimately lost.
  • Exposing Evil Star (Guy Pompton), the master criminal preying on Hollywood’s greatest studios.
  • Stopping a gang of mediocre crooks who had stolen items powered by cosmic radiation. Though the JSA defeated the crooks, they were captured by the mad scientist who had discovered the radiation.
    However, Black Canary convinced the scientist that she was on his side and had betrayed the JSA. She then turned against him and freed the Society, who defeated the scientist.
  • Arresting the Invisible Band, a gang of thieves who tricked the students of a detective school into coming up with cunning robberies.
  • Apprehending “the ghost of Billy the Kid”, actually the crooked but clever rodeo champion Hal Hampden using a few tricks.
  • Saving the life of Edmund Blake, a young boy, by showing him his future using Amazon technology.
  • Repelling the invading fire aliens from the yellow comet – even though these seemed unbeatable and had already destroyed an advanced human civilization on Earth a million years prior.
  • Stopping Mr. Alpha (Fred Kincaid) from committing crimes that had been jokingly predicted 10 years before.
  • Defeating diamond men from far underground before they could destroy and conquer Civic City, and from there the world.
  • Stopping the four kings of an ancient race of African super-men (though of course these guys were White) who returned after 100,000 years in suspended animation. Albeit they used their hypnotic powers to put the JSA in a trance for months as they built four separate power bases on separate continents, then sought to start a global nuclear war, the JSA prevailed.
  • Diving back into time using the Time Chute machine in order to recover a murder weapon thrown into it, and prevent a wrongful execution. The JSA then confounded the real killer, of course.
  • Discovering the secrets of the Circus of 1,000 Thrills, and stopping these travelling criminals despite their perfect alibi.
  • Flying to Jupiter using Professor Napier’s incredible gravity rocket to derail the conquest of the solar system by aliens from the green star. The JSA then invaded Mars to stop the green star aliens from destroying Earth, and discover who was the man who would conquer the solar system.
  • Being summoned to the XXXIst century, where the advanced Earth civilisation did not know how to deal with crime anymore. The JSA’s expertise was necessary to defeat the alien Chameleons, who could perfectly imitate anyone’s appearance for 24 hours – and kept stealing stuff.
  • Defeating crime genius the Key, even though he had kidnapped the world’s best four detectives so they couldn’t deduce what his plan was.

End of an era

This case was the last period appearance of the Black Canary during the Golden Age.

A dozen years later, the Canary returned. However, DC Comics stories had changed. This was now the Silver Age  of comic books, all characters were subtly different, and the cosmology had changed. For instance, the reality of the Golden Age characters was now called Earth-2.

Furthermore, a different Black Canary existed on Earth-1, and… by golly, I guess this all belongs to another profile, girls and fellows !


Description

Though Dinah is raven-haired, she famously wears a blonde wig as Black Canary. It is permanently styled in a 1940s glamour wave (think Veronica Lake, but without the signature peek-a-boo). She’s sometimes depicted with an impossibly small waist, which I guess is handy for when Hawkman has to carry her in flight.

The Black Canary costume evolved slightly. The floating, broad shorts (or short culottes, I suppose) make their exit. This leaves the costume’s torso piece with a cut much more like a 1940s women’s one-piece swimsuit (itself an evolution on the groundbreaking Annette Kellerman  design). The “swimsuit” might be leather.

The short, dark leather jacket is also interesting. Back then these were chiefly associated with military flight jackets (such as the A2 bomber jacket ) or motorcycling enthusiasts (the landmark Perfecto  vest is from 1928).

Leather jackets were thus developing a tough guy image, with the help of post-demobilisation incidents such as the so-called Hollister biker riots  of 1947. The design choice is probably because the Black Canary was originally intended to be a hard-boiled quasi-villain.

Fishnets apparently also had a edgy image back then, and were primarily associated with burlesque dancers and some pin-up models .

Though it might be a stealth BDSM allusion (these aesthetics apparently already existed in the 1940s, and having such details sneaked into comic books does happen) Dinah isn’t sexualized in the stories.

So the costume likely caught on to such an extent (with Black Canary ascending to DC Comics’ all-star team book within mere months) because it was a semi-practical, attractive-yet-strong tough girl outfit that had few if any equivalents. It does make Wonder Woman’s contemporary outfit seem quite dated and childish in comparison, for instance.


Personality

Black Canary is a standard Golden Age crimefighter, of the two-fisted detective sort. She’s determined to fight crime, and frequently does small puns – especially to make fun of her enemies as she attacks them.

As often in stories of this era, nothing really stands out – except that she’s intelligent, dauntless, crafty and serves the common good.

Larry Lance is a boor and a blowhard, and some of his actions toward Miss Drake would be considered bullying in a more enlightened era. What Dinah Drake sees in him is something of a mystery. Though he is courageous and virile, and his overconfidence gives him a small amount of charm.


Quotes

“Tell the police about these phoney racketeers who promise you the sky in return for your valuables ! If you want to give away anything — remember the charities !”

“Well if it isn’t sleeping beauty, alias Larry Lance, the smartest private eye in the business – if you ask *him* ! Larry – it’s time to get up !!”

Larry Lance: “If only I knew how to reach the Black Canary, I’d send her some flowers !”
Dinah Drake (in her shop): “Oh, I’ll bet she’s just surrounded by flowers !”

The Atom: “Perhaps criminals have been scared into hiding by the new comet and the meteors !”
Black Canary: “Quite possible, Atom ! Superstition goes hand-in-hand with low intelligence !”

(Fighting ancient swordsmen) “You plug-uglies with those toad-stickers have no footwork – that’s your trouble ! You could use a few boxing lessons – such as always keep your chin covered, get me ?” (Conk ! Ooof !)


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Game Stats — DC Heroes RPG Print Friendly

Tell me more about the game stats

Black Canary (Golden Age)

Dex: 05 Str: 03 Bod: 03 Motivation: Uphold Good
Int: 05 Wil: 05 Min: 04 Occupation: Florist
Inf: 05 Aur: 05 Spi: 05 Wealth: 004
Init: 017 HP: 045

Skills:
Accuracy (Thrown objects): 06, Acrobatics: 05, Artist (Actress): 04, Charisma (Persuasion): 06, Martial Artist (AV, OV, Techniques): 06, Martial Artist (EV): 05, Vehicles (Land): 05

Advantages:
Area Knowledge (Gotham City), Edge (STR), Familiarity (Disguises, Flowers, Shopkeeping, Ice-Skating, Criminology), Headquarters (Confined).

Connections:
Larry Lance, P.I. (High). Once Black Canary becomes associated with the JSA, she gains a Low Connection with most American police forces.

Drawbacks:
Secret Identity.

Equipment:

  • Choker [BODY 01, Miniaturisation: 02, EV 01, Thief (Escape artist): 04].
  • 1x ABC 3 APs Omni-Gadget in her choker, though it must be a commercially available item.
  • Amazon 2-way radio [BODY 01, Radio communications: 12, Limitation: can only communicate with similar JSA radios].

Larry Lance

Dex: 04 Str: 03 Bod: 03 Motivation: Mercenary
Int: 03 Wil: 03 Min: 04 Occupation: Private dick
Inf: 03 Aur: 03 Spi: 04 Wealth: 003
Init: 012 HP: 010

Powers:
Damage Capacity (Physical): 02

Bonuses and Limitations:
Damage Capacity is Form Function, and doesn’t protect against Stun.

Skills:
Artist (Voice impressions): 02, Martial Artist (no Techniques): 04, Vehicles (Land): 03, Weaponry (Firearms): 04

Advantages:
Misc.: P.I. licence.

Connections:
Black Canary (Dinah Drake) (High).

Drawbacks:
Debt 1 (he’s just bad at managing money), MIA toward Smug Macho Behaviour.

Equipment:
Manly .38 Special Revolver [BODY 03, Projectile weapons: 04, Ammo: 06, R#02].


Knocked out from behind !

As a Genre Rule that is almost universal in Golden Age comic books, the Black Canary has both an Attack Vulnerability (-1 CS OV/RV vs. Blindside attacks) and a Partial Attack Vulnerability (+2CS OV to detect Blindside attacks).

Sneaking behind people to knock them out is just that easy. However, it must be Bashing Combat for the penalties to apply. That’s not much of a penalty though, since Bashing Combat is the default.


That thing with the canaries we’d rather not mention

Powers:
Animal summoning: 15, Enchant: 04, Animal control: 08

Bonuses and Limitations:

  • Animal Summoning only to summon flocks of black canaries.
  • Enchant only to boost the STR or Flight of a flock of black canaries, but it can ride the Range of her Animal Summoning (any canary she can summon, she can Enchant).
  • Animal Control only on black canaries, and requires spoken orders.

With the Enchant, a flock can reach STR 03 to carry objects in the air and perform some operations (such as pecking ropes apart with an EV of 03). They can also distract people and block view, which counts as Flash: 05 (Shade isn’t effective).

The stats assume that there’s a known flock of black canaries in town, and gives Black Canary enough Range to reach them from any neighbourhood. She then Enchants their flight so they’ll reach her in time.

No-Prize chirping

If you absolutely have to include that, a No-Prize Hypothesis  is that the power was granted to her by a small magical artefact. It would have been found during an unpublished adventure. The artefact was only good for one or two uses, and hidden in her choker.

Two alternatives :

  • We already know that Hawkman can speak to birds *and* we know that he has taught his fellow JSA members how to speak to birds (as revealed by Dr Mid-Nite on one of the JSA’s adventures in All-Star Comics, when he used such an ability).
    Thus, Black Canary must also have been taught to speak to birds and has her own special birds ready for such a situation.
  • Alternatively, since she does speak a strange incantation to get the birds to help her, it could’ve been a magical spell taught to her by one of the more magical members of the JSA, using the Occultist skill. The smoothest possibility is having the Thunderbolt teach her that to demonstrate that she’s much smarter than Johnny Thunder.

By Sébastien Andrivet.

Source of Character: Golden Age DC Comics.

Helper(s): Darci, Zoomjunkie, Dr. Sean McDonald (No-Prize alternatives).

Writeup completed on the 25th of April, 2016.

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